20 long years for Liverpool faithful
Madrid-based correspondent Martin Roberts writes:
One anniversary Liverpool fans will not be celebrating this summer will be the 20 years since their side last won a league title, a long wait that not only frustrates supporters but must dent any team’s claim to be more than also-rans.
It must be humiliating for those supporters who can remember when Liverpool had the League trophy ready and waiting if a home win sealed the title – all they had to do was fetch it down from the trophy room and give it a quick polish.
Until last season, Liverpool fans could always proudly remind rivals that they still held the record of 18 league titles, but as the years passed without success, it was only a matter of time before that would be matched or even overhauled by Manchester United.
Rafael Benitez’s line has been that Liverpool are simply having an off season, that they are nearly there, that the last step is always the hardest and it just need perseverance.
But the fact remains that a whole generation of supporters have now grown up on Merseyside without knowing what it is like to join in the chant of “champions!” at the end of a season.
For the formidable team led by Alan Hansen in the 1980s, a trophyless season was a brief aberration. If success somehow eluded Liverpool, with Ian Rush, John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Ronnie Whelan and Bruce Grobelaar in the side, to name only a few, supporters could always put down taunts by replying: “Wait till next season!”
But that rings a bit hollow now. Think about how the world has moved on since 1990: no Liverpool fan has ever sent a congratulatory email or text message after a league title win.
The point was brought home when I suddenly heard “The Fields of Anfield Road” bellowed out on the Madrid metro by a bunch of determined Liverpool fans who had made it over for Thursday’s Europa League semi-final first leg tie against Atletico Madrid, after days of travel chaos due to an Icelandic volcano spewing ash.
They rocked the carriage and astounded commuters with their boisterous praise of King Kenny (Dalglish) and Stevie Heighway, legendary players none of them looked old enough to remember.
And what did they get, these lads, in return for taking time off work and spending a chunk of hard-earned cash?
A dismal performance by a team fielding two holding midfielders and barely a sniff of a crucial away goal.
This has left fans with a coach´s gamble that the Anfield roar can overturn a 1-0 deficit next week, when Atletico will have Sergio “Kun” Aguero back from suspension and Liverpool will be wondering who will be able to put the ball in the net with Fernando Torres out injured.
Will it be up to midfielders like Steven Gerrard or Yossi Benayoun to save the day yet again? Anyone fancy betting on David Ngog scoring?
For those who do remember the unassuming Heighway slotting goals from impossible angles, or Dalglish turning on a sixpence to destroy defences, there is little point boasting about it in front of 20-something fans, because nostalgia has never been enough – not for Liverpool.
Liverpool fans say Stevie Gerrard, Carra, El Niño, Pepe Reina, Javi Mascherano and Yossi all deserve to be sung about. They bear comparison with the 1989-90 side.
But they also point out that quite a few others do not, and say how galling it is to see mediocre and unmotivated players and timid — not to say boring — tactics let the side down again and again.
Fighting for a Champions League berth year in, year out, is not what Liverpool are meant to be about. So whoever their new owners may be come next season and – dare one say? – whoever the manager will be, they have an urgent task: stop the title drought.
PHOTO: Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard leaves the pitch at the end of their Europa League semi-final first leg against Atletico Madrid at the Calderon stadium in Madrid, April 22, 2010. REUTERS/Juan Medina.