Carlisle on a September night could well have gone down as a journey too far for the Anfield faithful in the company of Brendan Rodgers. Kept in the competition by the heroics of goalkeeper Adam Bogdan, this seems a long way from where the team intended to be in the days after the arrival of Rodgers at Anfield in 2012, and a longer way still from Jerzey Dudek’s glory night in 2005.
Placed alongside a League Cup defeat to Northampton in 2010 under Roy Hodgson’s stewardship, and a six-one hammering by Stoke on the last day of the 2015 season, last night’s victory on penalties doesn’t seem so bad. Others have struggled in this competition over recent years, and this time around Newcastle lost to Sheffield Wednesday. But when it comes to Liverpool, this is a club that has won eleven European trophies playing at home against one that was almost relegated from the Football League just over four months ago.
It would be hard to imagine the team of Souness, Dalglish, Rush, and Hansen struggling against the Cumbrians whose greatest period of history actually coincides with Liverpool’s dominance of the late 70s to middle 80s. For most of their history, Carlisle’s fortunes have been up and down, rising and falling through the lower divisions, and still surviving at the end of the day. That’s an achievement in light of what has happened to other clubs who have spent long periods of their history in the bottom divisions. Torquay, Tranmere, and Stockport County are perhaps the best known of those to have had problems in recent years. Others like struggled too, and been reborn from the ashes.
Often a sense of history is what helps such clubs survive adversity. That’s something Liverpool at the opposite end of the League table can understand. Compared to what’s happening at neighbours Tranmere, Liverpool’s problems seem pretty minor but it’s a big deal to have slipped out of title contention in recent decades and then out of the top four, and soon maybe the top six.
For most clubs this might not be such an issue but Liverpool takes pride in its history of European and domestic domination from the days of Shankly right up to the resurrection of sorts under Rafa Benitez. Others though argue that much of this is in the past. Fans of the two big Manchester clubs regularly taunt Liverpool about having nothing other than history in an age when it’s all about finances, global appeal, and stadium size. Recently on Twitter somebody pointed out that just because Wolves were a big club in the 1950s and one of the best in Europe it doesn’t mean that they are entitled to anything now, or have a divine right any time soon to challenge for honours at the top table alongside the super rich.
After all, a century ago Adam Bogdan’s country Hungary was one of the most powerful in the world. Many there still remember the days of its greatness with fondness and lament the passing of such times. Take a holiday there and those locals who speak English will fondly relay tales of past greatness with a powerful sense of emotion over a beer any night of the week. These days though Hungary is a small nation on the edge of Europe, with even their last period of football greatness happening in a similar era to the glory days of Wolves.
Maybe Wolves of the 1950s can be compared to Liverpool’s situation but largely not, for several reasons. Firstly, Liverpool is a global name as a city and a football club in a way that is comparable to London and Manchester of the present day, and thus will always be an attractive proposition to investors.
Secondly Liverpool’s glory years came at a time when British football was starting to get wider European and then world attention, unlike for example Wolves and Nottingham Forest who found success on the continent at a time when there was less of a global profile for football and less money too. The 2005 Champions League triumph under Benitez then sealed Liverpool’s place at the top table and attracted a new generation of supporters the world over. Therefore, the club has the required international support base and foreign owners prepared to invest in them because of this. They just don’t have a stadium and a squad to match their ambitions or their full potential.
What they do have though, and what sets them apart from many clubs who have risen and fallen down through the years is a powerful sense of history and a collection of legends based around the belief that even in the darkest of times Liverpool as a place and a team always manage to rise out of the ashes reborn. It is no coincidence that the city’s symbol The Liver Bird bears more than a striking resemblance to the phoenix. Down through the years the city has come back from periods of economic deprivation whilst the club has come back from Heysel, Hillsborough, and the sudden steep decline of the early nineties.
This gives them hope that they can rise again and fly high once more, even if some would say romance died two years ago in the season they lost the league to Manchester City, just as Stevie Gerrard’s swan song appeared perfectly scripted.
That season it was no small measure of belief, alongside sterling performances by Luis Suarez, that helped the team punch above their weight, and come close to taking back a title belt that went by a different name when last they held it.
Without that belief and attachment to history, they would truly be on the decline. And honestly, despite all the negatives coming out of some quarters, they aren’t that far from the top four, and with their stadium size and finances have been pretty much where they should be, on average, over the last couple of seasons.
Yes, football is changing, but it needs teams with substance, from Liverpool right up to Carlisle and back down the country again to Torquay. The Liver Bird will take flight again some day. Whether or not Brendan Rodgers is there when it does is another question, and one that the jury may still be out on, thanks to the skin of a Hungarian goalkeeper’s fingertips.
PAUL BREEN is the author of The Charlton Men available in paperback, and also on Amazon Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Charlton-Men-Paul-Breen-ebook/dp/B00G8OBOKW/
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