Goodbye 2007, and Good Riddance ...

Posted by Mark_P on January 4, 2008, 09:43:05 PM

It’s pretty fair to say that 2007 has been an eventful year in the history of Liverpool Football Club.  After the previous two years heralded cup wins and on the pitch progress, the past year saw a final defeat, fans protesting outside Anfield, a takeover that had the shortest honeymoon period ever, and finished the season where we have the last five years – watching others fight over the title.

Not the best of years then …

Although the above paints 2007 as a disastrous year in the Reds fortune, there have been some successful stories from 2007.  Whilst the European Cup ended in a reversal of the 2005 final, who could forget the victories over Barcelona and Chelsea, with a confident victory over PSV sandwiched in?  Or the signing of Fernando Torres, our first real striker since Michael Owen was in his pomp at Anfield?

The first important event of the year was the FA Cup third round against Arsenal, a defeat that left hardly anyone caring.  For the first six minutes of the match the Kop held up the mosaic ‘THE TRUTH’, in reference to the vile lies the paper the odious Kelvin Mackenzie edited at the time of the disaster, whilst continuously chanting ‘Justice for the 96’.  It must be said that when people put the mosaic up too early it looked like things wouldn’t go to plan, but it was superbly orchestrated by the Reclaim The Kop group, meaning the national, and international, media could not ignore it, and thus highlighting the hurtful lies Mackenzie peddled to get readers – not exactly the best thing for your CV.  Although it doesn’t seem the BBC discriminates against people with ‘Proven liar’ in their portfolio, does it?  Let’s hope the next time Mr Mackenzie is mentioned in an annual review for Liverpool it’s in reference to the party had after his death.

Off the pitch the long awaited search for investment reached an apparent climax as the Dubai International Capital group, a large successful company worth billions, was apparently considered not good enough by Mssrs Parry and Moores, and George Gillett and Tom Hicks arrived at Anfield announced as the saviours of the club.  With a liverbird upon their cowboy boots and Yankee charm they bought up the shares they needed to control the club and a part of Liverpool Football Club was never the same again – more on that though a bit later …

Javier Mascherano was signed on a complicated eighteen month ‘loan’ from West Ham (My arse).  It wasn’t clear yet just how important the Argentine was to become, both in matters off the pitch as well as becoming a huge part of what goes on on the pitch.

After beating Chelsea 2-0 there were murmurings of a revitalised title challenge, but those hopes pretty much ended as the school of science came to Anfield with their fancy passing, tactical nouse and somehow managed to only get a goalless draw against us.  Their fans though obviously celebrated such a great result as only they can – like they’d won the league.  The match report for the game could be done in two lines – “Liverpool dominated the game, but, despite lots of chances, just couldn’t put the ball in the net.”  Hmm, sounds familiar doesn’t it?  No wonder there’s a clamour to get into sports journalism; if you covered Liverpool you could just copy and paste the above weekly and be right on the money.

Focusing on matters on the pitch, there was a famous win the Camp Nou, the Reds coming from one behind to win 2-1 and take an impressive lead into the home leg against much fancied Barcelona.  Ironically the media had whipped up a storm in a teacup before a big game (Never!), and it was the two they involved in the ‘drunken shame’, ‘Kop’s night of all out violence’ etc, that scored the goals, Craig Bellamy and John Arne (For fucks sake!) Riise.  Despite an equally impressive display at Anfield, Barcelona won the home leg 1-0, still enough to put out the holders and favourites and get ourselves a quarter final berth against PSV Eindhoven.

After a defeat at home to Manchester United in between those two ties with the Catalans, the focus was swiftly turned to continental action.  PSV were easily swept aside, a 3-0 win in Eindhoven followed by a one nil win at Anfield, in a game only remembered for the fourty minute “Rafa Benitez” song.  God did people’s head hurt that half time.

So to Stamford Bridge it was, another invasion of Trafalgar Square, and a defeat that left us needing to beat Chelsea to go on to Athens.  Things were made a bit tasty by the fact Man United were in the other semi final, and more tastier by the fact that our old ‘friends’ AC Milan were their opponents. 

Another famous night at Anfield ensured it was to be the Reds in the Athens, rather than the Cockneys (Cockneys and European Cup finals?!  One was enough I think) as Daniel Agger’s goal brought penalties.  Tension, nerves, all round shit yourself time – we never do things easy do we?  Thankfully Geremi and Robben were going through similar emotions, and Pepe Reina made sure it was to be our second European Cup final in two years.

And so, to Athens …

Now, cup final tickets have always proven a source of controversy.  Watching as corporates suddenly decide they give a fuck whilst season ticket holders run around looking for spares is never fun.  But when Liverpool decided that season ticket holders with six credits (£800) were to be in the same boat as non-season ticket holders with six credits (£190) there were a few moans of dissent.  A ballot, we were told, would sort it out, and so everyone logged on to the official website to see if Parry had decided we were good enough to go.  Groans could be heard around Merseyside as people were greeted with “Sorry but you were unsuccessful”.  Anger, disbelief and devastation.  Flights booked, excitement flying around and no tickets.

But then people talked.  “Were you successful?”  “No”.  And no-one knew anyone else who had actually got a ticket.  Reports of groups of twenty with no-one successful all failing were common.  "Where then did the tickets go?" we asked Parry.  Only to be told we were not worthy of such information.  Tony Barrett of the Echo pressed Parry further still, offering him an easy way out of the mess by being honest.  Yes, we’d be pissed off, but at least if it was known Liverpool had too many obligations to sponsors and the like, we knew.  At this point there was just a huge fucking hole in OUR allocation.  But, still Parry would not budge.  “We’ve never disclosed these figures before, so not now” he told the Echo.  In other words “I’m not telling you lot, none of your business.”

Prior to the more or less meaningless Charlton game two hundred people met at the Sandon, with a feeling of disgust and dissatisfaction.  Here we were, last home game before a European Cup final, ready to protest against the club.  No-one there wanted to do it, but it was a protest that needed making.  “ANY SPARES PARRY?  I BET YOU HAVE!” read one banner, whilst another one at the front of the march read “LIVERPOOL: SUPPORT AND BELIEVE, BUT NOT RICK PARRY.”

At the end of the protest, accompanied by “We don’t care about Parry, he don’t care about fans; All our tickets, are in the wrong hands” and “Parry, Parry, Parry, Tout! Tout! Tout!” a rousing chant of “Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool” came in the Main Stand car park, a sign that the protest had been made.  We weren’t going to be fucked over quietly by Parry while he sorts out his mates and business partners.  But, now it was time for support.  And, so to Greece …

Didn’t feel the same did it?  There was no ‘feeling in the air’ as there was in Istanbul.  The turn out was around the same, the superb support was, as was the price unfortunately.  The scorching Istanbul heat was replaced by the flooding in Athens.  The journey into the unknown of Istanbul was replaced by knowing what to expect from the biggest game on the football calendar.  And the fans who gave so much in Istanbul were occupied to Greece with people out for a day out, looking to get on TV to boast at how they had a ticket and fuck those who didn’t.

The match itself – ““Liverpool dominated the game, but, despite lots of chances, just couldn’t put the ball in the net.” 

But whilst Sky Sports News took great delight in replaying a skirmish outside the ground, and the media went into overdrive, the sporting nature of the travelling Reds is overlooked.  Everyone stayed to clap Milan on their victory, a fact shown when Carlo Ancellotti acknowledged us.  Okay, there were a few knobheads going too far in an attempt to get in, but we then became the divvies bearing the brunt of every idiot who wanted to slag us off, without any experience of being there.  And that includes the two individuals who are supposed to be governing our game.

The first signs of discontent came the morning after the night before, as Benitez told a press conference that things weren’t going smoothly with the new owners, and they “had to learn fast” about the ways of a totally different game than they are used to.  Unfortunately, as would become apparent as the season went on, learning doesn’t seem to be something Gillett and Hicks have got a grip of yet.

The signing of Fernando Torres was one that many saw as evidence of the Americans being serious about Liverpool, and, coupled with the outstanding stadium designs replacing the old “Reebok/Riverside on steroids” design, things were looking good.  Young Dutchman Ryan Babel was added, alongside Yossi Benayoun, Lucas Leiva, and an assortment of youngsters from Europe and beyond.

But, was this really proof that Moores and Parry were right to pick the Americans over the rest?  The above spending takes us to around £40m spent, not a bad sum and an improvement of the squad certainly.  But if you take into account the fact that Luis Garcia, Djibril Cisse, Craig Bellamy, Gabriel Palletta and Sinama Pongolle were all sold – an income of around £25m, the Reds spent around £15m all in all – around the same Alex Ferguson was allowed to spend on unknown Anderson or Nani with no gripe from his superiors. 

But, with optimism at it’s highest at Villa Park, it looked like another opening day would result in a draw for the Reds, as –““Liverpool dominated the game, but, despite lots of chances, just couldn’t put the ball in the net.”  Gareth Barry scored a penalty to cancel out Martin Laursen’s own goal.  Steven Gerrard stepped up though to fire a superb free kick in, sending the excellent away support into scenes of superb celebrations.

After a superb Fernando Torres goal was cancelled out by a certain Rob Styles, the Reds could still take heart from an excellent display, especially from Torres who had a great battle against John Terry, who was told his Ma loves Scouse docks or something.  I presume she’s a fan of the nightlife on the Albert Dock.

A superb victory against Everton came in October.  Not only did we win through two stonewall penalties; we also restricted Everton to one shots on target, which was Sami Hyypia’s own goal.  That means that Everton had zero shots on goal, whilst we had seven.  That’s one less than one, by the way.  The dominant Reds won after a piece of blatant cheating by Phil Neville, who has recently told the media how he hates these foreign cheating bastards coming into our game.  After Lucas Leiva smashed the ball goalwards, Neville blatantly handled the ball, and was rightly sent off.  Dirk Kuyt finished it, and 2006’s Goodison showing (Available on DVD from all poor DVD Shops) was banished into the discount basket.

The rest of the year though has gone from bad to worse.  A poor European start was rectified by superb showings against Porto, Marseilles and a Champions League record against Turkish side Beşiktaş.  But on the field events have taken a back seat to what is unfolding off the pitch.

As Rafa Benitez told a press conference he is ‘focussing on coaching and training the team’ for the twelfth time to an assortment of journalists banging their heads against the Melwood wall, it was clear something was up.  His less than cryptic response to the laughable question of his chances of the England job also told its own story.  And as things came out from inside Anfield, things got uglier.  And uglier.

We were told Rafa wasn’t happy that he had no idea how to get the ball rolling on potential new signings.  Rick Parry was probably down at Chester Races, while Foster Gillett had vanished after the Arsenal game.  He had, apparently, e-mailed the owners a few times to no response – what a way to run a multi million pound company.

Then we were told that the Americans were not happy with how things were going with Rafa and had plans to sack him.  And let’s face it; had the fans, especially the 2,000 who marched around the ground to the World’s media – no anti-Gillett and Hicks chants, just total support for the manager, not kicked up a fuss, Rafa would not be in the hot seat now.  Maybe Hicks and Gillett believe this is like any other business were a poor display in results end up with those in charge being fired, but, as Rafa alluded to on May 24th in Athens, they obviously still haven’t got their heads round ‘soccer’. 
Whilst the league campaign has slumped in the last few weeks of the year, and this year review has taken a negative tone, it should be made clear that if we look at the good things that have happened this year, Rafa has to stay.  The Chelsea semi final can be added to Istanbul, Chelsea 2005, the FA Cup and Barcelona in ‘one to bore your Grandkids about every time you’re pissed’.  The talent of Fernando Torres was brought in by Benitez, who looked beyond what others thought were indications he couldn’t cut it in England – homesickness, the physical nature of England – and did the deal almost single handedly.

Look at the signings Benitez has brought in that have been over £10m (A figure Mssrs Wenger, Mourinho and Ferguson are regularly backed with).  Torres, Babel, Alonso, Kuyt.  Four players, two proven quality, Babel looks likely to be well worth that and Kuyt going through a poor 2007.  In that same period Mourinho has bought the likes of Schevchenko, Ferreira, Drogba and Carvalho, Ferguson has been back with Nani, Anderson, Hargreaves and Carrick.  Whilst Rafa has to try and sell before buying and look at any bargains about, Chelsea and Manchester United are backing their men in charge with shopping trips to Harrods, alongside the rest of the European elite.

In the so-called ‘big four’, only Arsenal have a similar spending pattern to us, with Wenger usually buying players for around £5m like Benitez.  Unlike Wenger though, Benitez has not been given time to buy youngsters and bring them through, in a youth system he had time to make an influence on.  Whilst Arsenal gave Wenger time to bring in and then nurture an illustrious alumni of his youth system like Clichy, Fabregas, Bendtnar, Diaby and the like, Benitez should be given time for us to see if the fruits of his labour at academy level produce a similar success – if not, then is the time for the owners, whoever they may be, to start talking about making changes.

Whilst we’ve had highs that many clubs can only dream about in 2007, the fact that a year review is signing off with an attempt to defend Benitez is a sad reflection on what has gone on in 2007.  Don’t get me wrong, I disagree with things he does or say, and I come away from some matches scratching my head and screaming in frustration, but I am yet to talk to any Red who wants him sacked.  Rafa is under as much pressure as Gerard Houllier was in 2004, simply ludicrous when you consider the vast majority of fans actually wanted him out at that stage.  At the end of the day it’s us not some owners looking in from a different continent who should decide if a manager should be in charge or not.

Whilst 2005 and 2006 will always go down as great years in the history books due to silver wear and on the pitch events, 2007 will go down as the season of wrong choices by those at the top, titles hopes again extinguished and the ludicrous situation of a manager the fans want keeping fearing for his job.

Here’s to 2008!

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