Glory at the Santiago Bernabéu, shame at the Riverside. That was Liverpool’s week. Now they face us at Anfield on Tuesday night. Avoiding defeat in successive away games against top clubs is a lot to ask, but Sunderland fans are entitled to expect Ricky Sbragia and his squad to make at least as good a shot of it as they did at the Emirates.
Chris Pyke*, who works with me as a page editor on The National in Abu Dhabi, is a Liverpool fan who traces the Reds’ relative decline in recent years to the 1992 FA cup final. Sadly, for us, he expects much more of a Real Madrid than a Boro performance, and a Liverpool win by the same margin as at Wembley 17 years ago….
When Liverpool play Sunderland I am drawn back to the 1992 cup final and what now could now be referred to as the beginning of the end for the Anfield side.
I was born in 1978 and was immediately indoctrinated into the family’s Liverpool supporters’ programme.
By 1992, my 14th season as a fan, Liverpool had won eight league titles (runners up five times), the FA cup twice (runners up twice), the League Cup four times (runners up twice), and the European cup three times (runners up once). Looking back, I was rather spoilt.
But by 1992, my main recollection of a Liverpool v Sunderland clash, things were clearly on the wane for the Red Men.
Dalglish had resigned the previous year to be replaced by Graeme Souness and the cracks fast became crevices.
Sunderland at this time were a Division Two team and should have caused no problems for Liverpool. But they did. It wasn’t until the second half that Michael Thomas broke the deadlock. Ian Rush added the second to see Liverpool run out 2-0 winners.
But during the presentation the Sunderland team were given the winners’ medals by mistake and Liverpool the runners up – perhaps the trophy givers knew then something the rest of us would discover later.
Since that FA Cup final Liverpool have never regained the heady heights of the 70s and 80s. As with all Liverpool fans, I continue to repeat the “maybe next year” mantra. Just this year we have started to say it a little later than usual.
Sunderland, I must confess, are one of the teams that when I start totting up the points on offer I count as an easy three points. But then I did that with Stoke (twice), West Ham and Hull and this stupid arrogance was compounded on Saturday by the easy three points we should have picked up against Middlesbrough – a team that had gone eight hours without a goal.
But here’s what I made of your questions….
What was your honest view of your prospects and ours at the start of season?
At the start of the season, with Roy Keane at the helm, I was thinking Sunderland could finish in the top ten. For us, honestly, second or third, for us. I dreamt first, but in reality the leap from fourth to first seemed too big.
And now, after much promise, could the season be starting to slip away from Liverpool?
Draws. Liverpool’s inability to kill off games is costing us. West Ham, Stoke (twice), Hull and Man City are all games that should have been three pointers not one. If we have won these Man U would be too far behind…
What did you make of the two Keane departures – Roy and Robbie?
I was very disappointed to see Roy Keane go. I am able to respect former Manchester United players, and I can even acknowledge how good Alex Ferguson is – to not would show no footballing knowledge. With Keane there seemed to come old school management, tutored by Ferguson and Clough. I was surprised at Sunderland’s form under him at the start of the season, but now it is appearing the players did not like him. So could it have been the players deliberately playing badly under him to force his resignation or sacking?
The other Keane departure also left a bad taste in my mouth. I rarely waver my support for Rafa but this was one time I did. It seemed to me that Robbie was caught up in a battle between Rafa, Ricky Parry and the two Americans. With Torres’s early season hamstring injuries they didn’t really seem to get a chance to gel. I was really hoping to see Torres, Keane and Gerrard line up together, I felt they were a trio more than a match for Berbatov, Rooney and Ronaldo, but we never got to see it. That said he did make some howlers, but now we are so reliant on Torres it is scary. I am sure we could have beaten Middlebrough if we had Torres playing. That said, I would have felt more confident if we had been able to field Robbie Keane.
Have you ever been to Sunderland?
I have never been to Sunderland. When you live out in the UAE you start to realise the good things in the UK you never got round to doing, and going to Liverpool away games was one I will rectify when/if I return.
How much does it hurt to be excluded from the really top honours these days?
Well being in two Champions League finals in the last few years is not to be sniffed at, but I still dream at the start of each season we will win the Prem. This season the dream is now just a very faint glimmer, which is not too bad considering some years we started saying, “There’s always next season” as early as September!
How did Heysel and Hillsborough touch your life – or soul?
I was too young to really remember Heysel. It was seen as a real embarrassment in our house, and my Dad firmly told me these could not have been real Liverpool fans. But they were real fans who lost their lives at Hillsborough. I do not know anyone who died or lost a relative that day but it still means a lot to me. Just a sad event where people were simply going to watch a match.
What about the present ownership of LFC and constant rumours about a takeover?
The rumours are ruining Liverpool’s reputation. This is the other bone I have to pick with Rafa. He is throwing too much dirty laundry into the public domain. I am not happy with the debt being saddled to the club and the delays in the stadium – I believe United make nearly two million more than Liverpool every home game. But the fact is they have given Rafa a fair amount of funds. The choice of purchases should be down to Rafa, and I worried about Parry’s role and the whole Keane/Barry saga of the summer. But now Parry is leaving this summer, maybe things can calm down. In Jamie Carragher’s biography he suggests that Kenny Dalglish should have an ambassador role at the club, much in the way Bobby Charlton does At Man U, and would help ensure everyone understands the history and the Liverpool Way.
Rafa. What’s your take on him and his future at Anfield?
He has been slowly building for the future and I want him to stay. As I have said I do not like the public spats or the treatment of Keane but to build a successful team you need consistency. He has brought in a raft of young players and if he went and a new guy came in they would be starting again from scratch. A few of these players are getting close to breaking into the first team. Insua the left-back is looking good. There is Nemeth. Plesis, Darby, Spearing and Pacheo in the reserves who may break through next season.
Everton. Do you think of them as we think of Newcastle or are you too grown up for that?
For me beating Man U is the real joy. If we can do the double over them this year I will be a very happy boy – a bit more so if we go on to pip them for the title. The 2007 Champions League final Milan stopped Man U meeting us in the final and in 2008 Chelsea stopped us meeting them in the final. The thought of losing to them in European final terrifies me. Everton losses hurt, but United defeats are agony.
Club v country. Who wins for you and why?
What I love about England matches is bringing together all my mates. My 22nd birthday was at Anfield watching England beat Finland with an Evertonian and two Man U fans (from the Manchester Satellite towns of Bristol and Bath). But would I prefer Liverpool to win the Premier League or England the World Cup? That is too close to call.
What will be the score on Tues. Will you watch?
You may think the best thing about the UAE may be the sunshine or the tax free salary, but really it is Showtime and the fact they show every Premier League game live. So yes I will be watching. And the result will be 2-0.
* Chris Pyke on Chris Pyke:
I am a great believer in that you support a team from childhood and that’s it. If someone funded a study into the correlation between football fans and infidelity I am sure you would find that the boys who swapped teams every season growing up are the men who cheat on their partners/wives.
Everyone in my family supports Liverpool as they all come from there. I am a second generation scouser, having being born and brought up in the south of England. I am not as active a supporter as I would like and it has been far too long since my last visit. I tend to return to the UK for friends’ weddings and they are selfishly out of the football season.