If any readers out there share the twin misfortunes of supporting the England cricket team and Liverpool Football Club, then things can hardly get any bleaker. My love of cricket and excitement about the Ashes was sorely tested from the very first moment of the series when Steve Harmison bowled his infamous first ball, and after the 20-20 thrashing on Tuesday, a winter of embarrassing one-day bloopers and catastrophes seems to be all we can look forward to.
It’s the Liverpool situation that has caught me most off-guard, however. As a fanatical fan of the Reds all my life, there have been some decent improvements over the last few years, including a couple of memorable against-the-odds triumphs in cup competitions, and a generally better showing in the Premiership. This season started off in similar vein, with things as we entered 2007 looking pretty rosy – riding high in the league, still in all the cups, exciting times on the horizon.
The last four days have punctured the optimism completely, however. A narrow-ish defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup on Saturday was disappointing, but something that was lessened by the belief that our strong squad would demolish the Gunners’ youngsters in the Carling Cup quarter final on the Tuesday.
Six goals conceded at Anfield is certainly unheard of in my lifetime – in fact, you have to go back to (gulp) 1930 for the last time it happened (against Sunderland, for all you stats fans out there). OK, it’s a competition that many supporters deride as a ‘Mickey Mouse’ cup, although that always seems to be from the fans whose team have just been knocked out. People have pointed out that we fielded a rather weakened line-up, but Bellamy, Fowler, Gerrard, Garcia and Hyppia played most or all of the match. And the ‘weakened’ team excuse really doesn’t add up, as my Arsenal-supporting colleague MSN Money Editor Matt points out, because the Gunners themselves started with a ridiculously young and inexperienced selection.
The inevitable backlash has started online and off, and whilst mitigating circumstances can be trotted out, there are some incredibly important questions to be answered. Having been knocked out of the FA Cup, and with the Carling Cup our only realistic chance of silverware, why wasn’t our strongest team selected? Why was Carragher brought on instead of an attacker when we were 5-1 down? Why was Dudek in goal, when his confidence already looked shot after Saturday’s nightmare, before the chaos of Tuesday even began? Why was our defence ripped open time and time again? All difficult, uncomfortable questions that Liverpool fans across the globe are asking at the moment.
So, are there any reasons to be cheerful? Well, we’re apparently on the verge of signing a new goalkeeper, which might at least eliminate some of the Dudek-inspired worries in future Cup competitions. Midfield giant Momo Sissoko’s return from a lengthy lay-off is just around the corner, and the rumoured takeover of the club by a Dubai investment company could pump much-needed millions into the coffers. The February dates with Barcelona might galvanise us into something special as well – a wounded first team that can now concentrate solely on the Champions League and getting as high up the Premiership as possible may just be able to cause a few shocks.
Whether you’re a Liverpool fan or not, please let us know your own thoughts on the furore currently surrounding the Reds. Is it ridiculously premature to be talking about a crisis, and questioning Benitez’s judgement? Is it all simply a question of who’s got the most money, meaning Chelsea and Man Utd will dominate the football landscape for years to come? Are the Liverpool lads showing the right amount of passion and pride in their club?
Drop us a line and let us know. I’m just off to bury my head in the sand for a few days…