Got Me Some Perspective: Boavista Report September 11th 2001

Posted by Paul Tomkins on September 11, 2004, 08:51:50 AM

Dug this old article out due to today's date - written about the match against Boavista on the 11th September 2001

Liverpool football club no longer needs a mass loss of life to put some perspective into the game of football. The two have been too closely linked for a decade and a half now. This is a match report, of course, but one looked at in a different light. On the journey to Liverpool we listened in horror as events unfolded on Radio Five, and then at a mateís parentsí house in Chester, watched as the World Trade Centre collapsed live on TV. It was football weíd travelled to see, but the twin towers razed to the ground were not those of Wembley, those two landmark football towers earmarked for destruction this year, but receiving a stay of execution. Alanis Morrisette seems to think she has ownership of irony.

So Iíll remember the day longer than the match. This week I have been emailing people about the lack of atmosphere at Anfield, and mentioned the game against Wimbledon in March 1996, when a quiet crowd was brought to life by refereeing controversies; going for the title, we were denied three penalty appeals in a 2-2 draw. So while I remember that match, it was another kind of black irony (very, very unlike rain on your wedding day) that the match I spoke of was the only other one in living memory where Iíd travelled to Anfield listening to a major news story unfold: the Dunblaine massacre. I remember both the game and the events of the day, whereas in five years I wonít remember much about Boavista, bar another picture book goal from Michael Owen.

A mate and I also travelled to Anfield from London on the day of Princess Dianaís death, only to get within half a mile of the ground before the collective realisation that the game was cancelled - deserted streets; on the way up we regularly checked the radio for news, but it only seemed to be sombre chamber music, and frankly that's not really my chosen listening. On that occasion matches were postponed on the day, with other matches allowed to be played the next day; this time it is the reverse - thankfully, as it would have been another wasted journey, but in retrospect, we might have been better playing Boavista at another time, when our confidence was higher.

So to the Portuguese: a lively, inventive side with quick pace and clever movement. But screw that. What an absolute disgrace to the game of football. Iíve never seen a more pathetic collection of unpunished diving in my entire life. This was definitely a new nadir. Any challenge saw them roll in agony, and one challenge - on just one player - saw two Boavista men rolling in agony! At least decide whoís going to pretend to hurt and stick with it.

On a day when tens of thousands, at initial estimates, died in New York, and thousands more were seriously wounded, with limbs torn from their bodies and skin flayed by fireballs, finished off by cascading rubble, steel and glass, you had footballers constantly feigning injury, and then getting up and running around like teenagers. One guy lay on his side waving his arm hysterically for two minutes with more intensity than Iíve ever seen from actors in the most gut-wrenchingly realistic war films, but was back on this pitch in less than a minute of treatment. Maybe itís me, but I just found it distastefully ironic - only far more so than than the kind of Ďironyí of a free ride when youíve already paid.

Then, with the height or moronic stupidity and logic-defying insensitivity, the Boavista goalscorer (weíll call him Cheating Brazilian No.1) ran to the Kop in the third minute and proceeded to fire two imaginary pistols, one after the other, into the crowd. On a day when terrorism ravaged an English speaking nation, you have a player with the intellectual capacity of flotsam and jetsam, pretending to shoot people. Iím just glad he didnít do the old JohnFashanu Ďplaneí celebration; these numbskulls probably had that marked down for goal number two, which, thank God, didnít arrive.

It might be ironic - only in a different way to the good advice that the snivelling Alanis just didnít take. Itís ironic (maybe), but Robbie Fowler gets a two game ban for pretending to take a recreational drug, in response to sick allegations he was a smackhead, as it apparently set an unacceptable standard for children, but itís okay for the kids of the world to see a footballer revelling in the delights of gunplay on a day of unprecedented mass terrorist slaughter? Someone should write to FIFA or UEFA about this guy, and this kind of celebration. It is a profound insult to those in the crowd to have someone pretend to shoot them. If players want to keep pretending to shoot opposition fans, then one day an insane fan will actually shoot them back. Until then, it should be a mandatory red card. You used to get a yellow for taking your shirt off, and unless you were Jan Molby, whereís the harm in that? Pretend to shoot 14,000 people and youíre okay.†

Maybe itís another irony (and thankfully Iím done with Alanis Morrisette quotes), but for a team of footballers happy to show us how tough they are, with their imaginary guns, itís therefore amazing that the slightest contact had them acting like someone actually had shot them. They give it all the macho posturing, then act like snivelling wimps. Were it not such a sad day, Iíd have been more saddened by the plight of football, dragged down to the sewer by men not interested in contesting a football. They had players booked for time wasting, four players were stetchered off, there was a spate of substitutions (each adding 30 seconds to injury time under new laws), and what - four minutes of injury time! It proved that with a weak ref, cheating pays.

What a dark day. Was it irony (the darkest irony) that the last time we played in this competition was on the day of great tragedy? The day we return it is to a competition unrecognisable, distorted by the now financial cash-cow where teams go to get rich before even thinking of winning the damn thing; on the day the worldís most recognisable financial edifice is wiped from the sky. Somehow all the coincidences leave me uneasy. Because maybe itís not irony, just coincidence. Maybe Iím looking too hard for symmetry. Perhaps Iím not clever enough to tell the difference.

And what of our return? A mediocre performance, where we never got a full head of steam going. Steven Gerrard proved the centre is the only place for him, and was a class apart.

Still, it was better than Saturday. And Jerzy Dudek, who had no chance with three against Villa, was picking another unsavable shot out after three minutes; we did, however, get to see two quality saves later on. He again looked bright and lively, and while Sander would have saved both shots (unless in his Bolton mood), itís good to see the new boy settle in quickly. If legendary Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker says Dudek is the best keeper heís seen in 30 years, thatís good enough for me. No one, not even Sanderís agent, said that about the Dutch keeper. Whatever has gone on, itís hard on Sander to be training with the youth team - unless there are too many keepers to train for the first team (there are only two goals!), and he can at least get more time between the sticks to keep up fitness ahead of a decent move.† A friend said he looked sad on TV, in the crowd, and I hope he ends up somewhere good, like Ajax.

I donít think a point from the opening game is a disaster (no, NewYork and Washington were disasters. A point about the semantics of these incidents: ďIt was like a disaster movieĒ say the witnesses of such atrocities. No. It was like a disaster. A disaster movie is like a disaster, and not vice versa).

You see? I canít even use words like disaster any more, words that all football fans use lightly. So Iíll say that a point is okay, considering it was the first game of the tournament, and itís semi-acceptable to start nervously. Itís all been hyped to the point where itís good to get the game out of the way, and we can concentrate on the group, and not just Ďbeing backí in amongst the elite.

A point is okay, especially as it was a point gained from being a goal down, not a point taken after having all three in the bag. We are a team better suited to counter attacking, even though itís not our only mode of play, so we should do well away from home. In two legged ties last season we approached the away leg for a 0-0 draw to take teams back to Anfield all square, but these are one-off matches, and we can be more adventurous away, even if only on the break. And they will be played to packed houses, not to stadia like Anfield where only 30,000 people could be bothered to turn up. A landmark game in our history, in the biggest club competition on earth, not shown live on terrestrial tv, and people still arenít interested. Whereís the need for a 70,000 seater now? It was a very poor turn out.

Football isnít more important than life or death, but it is important all the same: itís one of the main reasons we are happy to be alive, and surely that makes it relevant. Football matters. Life matters more, but football is part of life, not disconnected like some people would have us believe. Football is life, just as music and fine food and films and books and all the other things that go to make our time on earth something for ourselves and others to remember. Football is life.

And who would have thought it figured?

© Paul Tomkins 2001

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