Sunday, March 30, 2014

In Our Own Hands (and Man City's)

On March 30th 1964, Liverpool FC defeated Tottenham to go to the top of the League. It was the first time they'd been top that season since December and with 6 games to go they didn't look back. Liverpool FC, a team that finished mid table (8th) the year previous, won the title. Their first under Bill Shankly in his second year managing them in the top flight.

That season Liverpool also did the double on Manchester United, beating them 3-0 and 1-0. They put five past Arsenal at Anfield in a thrilling display and ended that season with two players having scored more than 20 goals each (Roger Hunt and Ian St John).

I don't believe in fate, but I love quirky coincidences. Exactly 50 years to the day since that defeat of Tottenham and the same team stood before us at Anfield. The victory, a rather simple 4-0, moved Liverpool back to the top of the Premier League for the first time since December. Now, as then, Liverpool have 6 games left. they've despatched Man Utd 3-0 and 1-0 and put five past Arsenal. Their prolific strikers Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have both scored over 20 league goals, a feat not managed by two Liverpool players in the same year since 1964.

Brendan Rodgers, in his second year managing Liverpool in the top flight, has made our mid table finish (7th) last season a distant memory. Top 4 was the hope in August, now anything less than 3rd would be a disappointment.

There was an odd calm at Anfield today. I sat/stood low down in the Kop, the atmosphere kicking on like the team that have dazzled us all season. No nerves. No heart-stopping moments. No searing doubt. Tottenham came, they submitted within about 90 seconds and that was that.

I've mentioned before that the more we win, the less we can hide from the truth. Liverpool fans, myself included, have been falling over themselves to put caveats onto their belief. We don't want to say "we're gonna win the league" for fear we may wake up and find that Roy Hodgson is still managing the club. There's been too many false dawns. Too many 5 year plans. Too many also rans.

Today I let my guard slip. I sang at the top of my voice "We're gonna win the league" in unison with tens of thousands in Anfield. First time I've ever sung it. Not just this season, but in my life. That's how rarely Liverpool have been "in the equation".

Of course on the drive home the caveats returned. "It's in our hands, but Man City are still favourites". "I hope we'll win it, but nothing is certain". For supporters of one of the most successful clubs on the planet, we can be a very worrisome bunch!

People have compared this season to 2008/09 when Liverpool's dreams were shattered by a different team from Manchester. But the truth is that we were never this close. We went top briefly in the closing stages, but Man Utd had the advantage of games in hand and they didn't falter. At no point in those closing games was the title "in our own hands".

This time it is. Chelsea and Man City slipping up this weekend (the most perfect of Liverpool weekends) make it so. The task is simple now. Win 6 games. Win the title. That's the same number of games a Premier League team has to win to take the FA Cup, a feat last accomplished by Wigan. So how hard can it be?

Time for more caveats. You see it's also in Man City's hands. And on April 13th at 1337 (it had to be Hillsborough commemoration weekend didn't it?), Liverpool and Man City play each other at what will be an emotionally charged Anfield. The winner will certainly be favourites for the title.

How many Liverpool fans truly believed that in mid-April we'd play in a title-decider? When I looked at the fixture list back in July it barely registered. We were hoping to be in a fight for 4th you see.

Typically, I am actually more worried about facing West Ham next week and Crystal Palace in the penultimate game of the season than watching us against Man City. Another quirk of being a Liverpool fan. It's often the smaller clubs that do us the most damage.

And now you're gonna believe us. We're gonna win the league.


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