The English premier league season came to a close yesterday, one that Liverpool fans like myself will be keen to forget. As a fan, I am the equivalent of that guy who has been saying for years that government bond yields can’t go any lower, continually made to look stupid as bond yields made new record lows. I have argued the case at the beginning of every season why ‘this could be our year’. I suppose I am no different to most fans, living perpetually outside the realm of reality, our judgement clouded by the love for our club.
While bonds have enjoyed a 30-year secular bull market, Liverpool FC have been stuck in a secular bear market going on almost 25 years! Yes there has been some cyclical upticks, most notably the dramatic 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, but the overarching trend has been downwards, an era of mediocrity compared to the previous 25 years. In fact, I was in Anfield when the bear market clouds first began to set in, the date was March 30th 1991.
Title holders Liverpool were sitting top of the league going into the Easter weekend, just off the back of a 7-1 win over Derby County. They were home to Queens Park Rangers, a side that was battling relegation and who had never won at Anfield. The omens were good that my first time to see Liverpool play would surely be a special day, where Rushy would give the Londoners a lesson. I was finally going to see my heroes score goals in the flesh.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Liverpool suffered a shock 3-1 defeat, with my only consolation a Jan Molby penalty. (Game Highlights) As a 9-year old the gravity of the situation was not lost on me, and that walk back to the hotel is still something I remember, a memory that is evoked every time I return to Anfield. Ian Rush has since said of that game: “that defeat was the sign that our title was slipping away from us”. He was right, Arsenal won 2-0 against Derby the same day, reclaiming top spot, something they held on for the remainder of the season as they went on to win the league.
To say this was a turning point in the fortunes of Liverpool FC is not an exaggeration. The “18 Times League Champions” embroidered across the scarf my dad bought me that day, which I still have and has since been signed by Jan Molby, is a reminder of the twenty five long seasons Liverpool have failed to regain the holy grail, the coveted league title. How can it be that after coming so close last year, it now feels that we could be waiting another 25 seasons to win the league?
The immediate response would be the loss of Luis Suarez, now leading the line for a Barcelona side that are on the verge of a treble. Of course, any club would miss the loss of such a talent, but the truth is that Liverpool’s transfer policy has failed miserably since the early 90’s. Remember Neil Ruddock? Graeme Souness signed him in 1993 from Tottenham Hotspur for £2,500,000, one of many poor signings. Since then, each manager that has come in has brought his own philosophy, with huge sums of money spent on players, the majority of which haven’t worked. At the same time, we’ve continually sold our best players, as the club has failed to match their ambitions.
As hard it is to say, Manchester United legend Gary Neville is right, Liverpool have been “stuck in their own mud”. Kings of Europe under Shankly and Paisley, they have been dethroned as other European clubs have adapted to a new world. Even just take Arsenal for example, the club who pipped Liverpool to that title in 1991. Their club has been transformed under the stewardship of Arsene Wenger. His shrewdness in the transfer market has provided the platform to realise his vision for the club, which included a world class stadium, a prerequisite for competing in modern football.
So that brings me to the result yesterday, a 6-1 defeat to Stoke City. This is the worst defeat since April 15th 1963, when Liverpool were beaten 7-2, away to Tottenham Hotspur, four goals for Jimmy Greaves. That sparked a run of 8 Losses, 2 Draws and only 1 win for the remainder of that season, including an FA Cup semi-final loss to Leicester City. The club finished 8th in the league. Ironically, the following season Liverpool went on and won the league. Maybe Brendan Rodgers should get some time?
The difference is that Bill Shankly was in the midst of building Liverpool into a “bastion of invincibility”, earning promotion to Division 1 the previous season in 1962, after 8 years in the second tier of English football. While Shankly took over a dilapidated club, Rodgers precedes over a club where the spirits of the likes of Shankly, Paisley, and Fagan walk the corridors, great men that led a red revolution at home and in Europe. Liverpool’s great history is what attracted Brendan Rodgers to the club, but he will also have known joining that it is this history which shapes the expectations of their loyal following.
Liverpool fans are often accused of constantly looking in the past. It’s true. It’s easier to look at past glories than face the reality of a directionless future, drifting season to season, one step forward and two steps backward. This is not just a failing of Brendan Rodgers, but the owners and directors that are in charge of our great club, the latest of which are doing a substandard job in moving Liverpool Football Club forward. Sacking Rodgers might bring some relief for fans, after a disappointing season, but ending this 25-year bear market will take a lot more than just replacing the manager! YNWA.