Friday, 6 August 2010

Hello my friend, we meet again

I wrote this last season as a response to people's worries about Xabi Alonso leaving Liverpool Football Club and what effect it would have on us.

You could say I was wrong about that, but the underlying message still remains strong: no matter what happens, we'll still be there on the first day of the season. It's just as poignant now, I feel, with Hicks and Gillett reaching endgame.

Last night was our first home game of the season. It was good to be with friends old and new. So I thought I'd post this up.

Warning: there might be a few swear words here and there - had to be realistic, like. ;)



Lime Street. Still there after two World Wars.

A grey, concrete backdrop, rapidly filled with hundreds upon thousands of trabs; blue with white stripes, black with yellow stripes, white with a darker shade of white. An abundance of Dassler littering the landscape. They hold up short lads, tall lads, fat lads, thin lads, brown-haired lads, ginger lads, men stylishly grey. And they hold up bottles of Fosters, cans of Skol, vodka, rum, gin.

Holding everything up, a train sitting upon the track with the destination ‘LONDON EUSTON’ illuminated on the front. It’s not just a support but the synergist. It’s the reason the police don’t say their goodbyes with heavy hearts or why the station’s concrete floor doesn’t cool. The trabs might come back a little worse for wear or the Skol cans cleared out, but the train’s function remains the same and it remains as efficient as ever. Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston, London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street.

Just another away day. The Liverpool boys are in town.

A mad scramble for a decent seat - one by the toilet to avoid the inspector, or one where the day’s papers can be read in comfort. John and Billy are seasoned veterans; they’ve been on the train innumerable times. Both blonde, in their mid 30s and with a whisky in their hipflask, they settle down with the day’s newspapers. John has worked on the docks all his life, whilst Billy took a night class twice a week for two years and is now a pastry chef at a French restaurant in town. But they’re both on the 6/1 shot in the 1.45 at York.

“Good form and from a good stable, 6/1 is a sound price Billy.”

“Yeah, yeah, not bad. I’ve gorra couple of bob on it like.”

There are a lot of scientific peculiarities on this train, but none more so than the ability to hear individual conversations amongst the gentle buzz of mass communication. Other conversations through the carriage about horses, football and the missus work together to provide background noise for the interesting individuality of your conversation about football, the missus and horses.

“What you reckonin’ about today then?” asks John, with the same glint that’s been there for 20 years. “Nice day out in London, few scoops with the lads, and three points for the Redmen.”

“Hope so, John,” says Billy, with his usual enthusiasm lacking – something which John picks up on.

“What’s wrong with your gob eh? Face like a smacked arse today lad,” says John.

“Xabi Alonso,” responds Billy, instantly.

“Yer wha?”

He folds up the paper, sighs and looks out the window as the train begins to depart. Welcome to Lime Street Station, even though it’s saying goodbye.

“He is an individual talent. How can we ever replace him? He is the heartbeat of the team, the conductor who waves the baton as his team-mates dance to the music. Torres and Gerrard will get the plaudits, but Alonso will prove to be just as important as them and to our system. Xabi controls the play perfectly, sitting in the centre of midfield and dictating tempo. At Anfield, it helps us break down teams. When he is on the ball, it will very rarely be wasted; he will use the possession effectively and efficiently. Away from home, he makes sure we’re never under pressure; he has the calmness and intelligence to relieve any pressure we’re under. No superlative can explain his range of passing. He’s a decent free-kick taker. And those shots from the halfway line...he’s irreplaceable, there is no other like him.”

A dejected Billy looks outside the window. Blue skies – it is summer, after all. The train edges nearer to its destination, but the two towering Liverbirds still preside over the city, still there after two World Wars.

“It’s not even about individuality, it’s about the team. Our game was based on his controlling of the tempo. Squeeze the life out of the opposition and then strike. That is our game. Like a pack of pythons. So close to the title, so close, and now it all has to change. We won’t play as well as we did with Alonso there. No one can replace him, so we’ll have to change to a less effective style. The balance was right, it was near enough perfect; all the players knew their functions. Now, there will be players who struggle to adapt to their new role and consequently, results will suffer.”

Another sigh. It accompanies the gentle chug of the train which is still moving. Another thing in motion is the crease upon John’s forehead.

“Billy,” he begins, with all the intent of responding to the soliloquy in kind, “who the fuckin’ ell is Zabby Alonso?”

The question doesn’t really compute, much like the book on Mill he picked up from the second-hand shop three years ago.

“Billy, you’re a fuckin’ crank, yer know that? Xabi Alonso, Torres? Gerrard? Who are they? This is another one of your mad arse visions, innit?”

“But they’re so vivid,” explains Billy.

“Look lad, you need to go the doctor. You’ve been having these dreams…visions…worreva you wanna call ‘em since you got twatted on the head in Rome in 84 with a baton. That was four years ago and you’re still havin’ trauma?”

“You don’t know that’s why I’m having these though mate, you’re not a doctor.”

“No I’m not, but I’m sane. It was funny at first, comin’ on the specials, tellin’ the boys about these Liverpool teams of the future. But then they become unbelievable and, to be honest, a few of us are worried. A six foot seven striker scorin’ overhead kicks and white suits at a cup final? Christ, you even told us we’d win the European Cup from three-nil down against AC Milan. We’re not even allowed in the effin’ competition! Go the shrink lad, there’s something funny in your head.”

“You’re right, I’ll get it sorted this week. I’ll go the doctors.”

“I’m not saying it to be nasty lad, you know it’s ‘cause I’m concerned. Us boys on this train, we’re a brotherhood; we’re here rain or shine. If the Redmen are playing, we’ll be there. As long as this train is moving, nothing else matters.”

“I know, ta mate.”

Both are content to sit quietly for a minute, hearing their supporting cast fill the silence with talk of horses, the missus and football. As always.

“Cheer up anyway Billy, we’re league champions and we’re going to celebrate in style at Stamford Bridge today. 1-0 at home to Spurs last week and Bob’s yer uncle, champions with four games to spare. Pissed it. Liverpool FC, league champions 1988 and a trip to Wembley still to come.”

His psychic interlude forgotten, Billy is back with the rest of the train, moving towards Euston. Gerry walks down the aisle and brushes past him, smiling. 78 years old, Gerry went to Anfield for the first time in 1919 - a 3-3 draw with Bradford Park Avenue. Still there after two World Wars.

“Do you reckon Molby will be fit today?” asks Billy.

“Hope so, the fella deserves it – he was our best player in ’86 and he’s been dead unlucky with injuries. Would be nice to see him passing the ball about in the middle a few more times this season.”

“Hope Kenny puts himself on and all.”

“Defo. Who woulda thought it ten years ago, eh? Just over four-hundred grand. Bargain. Not only did he turn out to be one of the best ever on the pitch, but he’s on his way to becoming one of the best off it too. Three league titles speaks volumes, doesn’t it?”

Billy doesn’t need to answer. The sound of the train as it continues to move towards its destination, synthesised with the familiar static of his fellow Redmen heading along with it, answers for him.

“Lets have a look at that paper please John,” says Billy.

John was passing it to him before he asked.

He starts at the back page of the paper and begins to work his way to the front, but stops after three turns of the page. Continental football, page 56.

“Fucking hell,” exclaims Billy, in a rare outburst of profanity, “Rushie’s having a terrible time at Juve, isn’t he?”

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