By John Dutton
We all know that July feeling. The anticipation. The hope. Last year, Reds fans were unusually excited to see what the new season would bring — King Kenny’s chance to push on toward the Holy Grail of a first title in twenty-odd years but it didn’t pan out. The hows and whys have been analyzed elsewhere, but the bottom line is that the owners felt it was time to move on. They hired Brendan Rodgers and I, for one, am cautiously optimistic about the man and the manager. But let’s focus for a minute on off-field matters. Not the transfer rumor mill, not backroom staff changes, but ourselves, the fans.
Growing up as a Liverpool supporter in England during the seventies and eighties, I hated Everton. Emlyn Hughes’s “Liverpoolare magic, Everton are tragic” song was right up there with Lennon and McCartney as far as I was concerned. One Saturday evening in April 1978 after Dave Johnson scored the only goal at Goodison Park I even made up my own song called “Singing the Reds” to the tune of the 1950s hit “Singing the Blues”.
The only other teams that I really couldn’t stand were Arsenal, Nottingham Forest and Man Utd. But United didn’t start to really bother me until the 1990s, whenLiverpool slipped off its perch following the tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough, andFerguson’s men took over. So by the time 1996 rolled around andLiverpool’s exciting “Spice Boys” team strolled out onto the Wembley turf for the FA Cup Final, I was expecting victory. One man changed that. A man whose name for years I couldn’t stand to hear or read: Eric Cantona. Yes, I grudgingly admitted, he was a pretty good footballer, but his attitude sucked! He epitomized everything that Liverpool Football Club was not (for you younger fans, the modern equivalent would be Cristiano Ronaldo). He was a preening individualist who also thuggishly karate-kicked a Crystal Palace fan in 1995 and was banned for months. What wasn’t to hate?
And then last week, I saw this on the official LFC website. Eric Cantona sings for Justice. For the 96. For Liverpool fans. He was quoted as saying, “I fully support the campaign for justice.” There was no doubt about it, and my brain didn’t want to compute.
But this started me thinking about the events of last season. I spent hours studying the subtleties of Uruguayan Spanish to better defend Luis Suarez. I was left dumbfounded when he spurned the chance to put it all to bed with a handshake in the game at Old Trafford. I felt bad for Kenny that he had to deal with all that crap.
In parallel, there were accusations of racism by Liverpool fans in the FA Cup fixtures against Oldham and, predictably, Man Utd, the latter culminating in a conviction on June 21st. Suddenly being a Liverpool fan wasn’t so much fun anymore. In the space of a few weeks we had completely lost the respect of the average neutral.
The scandals that surrounded the club had just about died down in mid-May when new kit manufacturer Warrior released its superb no-nonsense design with a badge that harkens back to the glorious shirts of my youth. In what I think is a unique gesture in the soccer world, the Hillsborough tribute has been given its own spot on the back of the collar. But, wouldn’t you know it, the HJC group decried the removal of the eternal flames from the previous badge and it made the news, despite the fact that the club had consulted with the HFSG committee over the design change and they agreed to it. More controversy.
However the wonderful thing about football is that there’s always next season. Right now, the slate has been wiped clean. So how about as Liverpool fans we look upon it as a new beginning in more ways than one? If the greatest ever player of our biggest rivals can support Justice for the 96, let’s have no more songs about Munich. If a referee makes a mistake, well, he’s only human. If we fall behind in a game, let’s do what we’re supposed to do and actually support the team.
Justice is more important than football. Racism is more important than football. But if you’re a true Red, watching Liverpool play is more important than most things in life. Let’s just try to relax, show some patience, and enjoy ourselves this coming season. And maybe the results will follow…
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