An epic clash at Anfield ends with Newcastle striking a blow for all of football, while Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool end the week embarrassed and exposed, both off and on the pitch.
It’s not been a good week for Liverpool Football Club. Eight days ago, they were seen as working-class heroes cum good, a team led by a principled manager with the common good at his heart, who played great football and captured the spirit of the neutral with a scintillating two years that saw them win first the Champion’s League, then the Premier League. People were happy for them, seeing a good club with an honourable manager strike one in the face of the oil-rich nation clubs. Then, with one press release, it all changed.
With the announcement last Sunday that they would be joining the Super League, a competition designed to leech off the football pyramid and cement the elitist club’s as financially invulnerable and competitively invincible, the mask slipped. Liverpool weren’t cut from a different cloth after all; their true nature in 2021 as a scab club only out to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else was exposed. Struggling in the league, on the verge of missing out on Europe altogether and of surrendering their title without a whimper, their intention was to create a closed-shop where they would never have to waste their time on the plebs, on the common footballer, ever again.
As football fans unleashed their ire on Liverpool, and the other eleven clubs involved in the formation of football’s Bullingdon Club, we waited with baited breath for the first interview with Jurgen Klopp. A man who has cast himself as a working-class hero in the vein of Bill Shankly, from a country that values the fans enough to mandate majority fan ownership of their football clubs, he was the man to strike the opening salvo for the real football fan against the leeches sucking the lifeblood from the domestic games. Sadly, it was not to be. As we turned off Monday Night Football, Liverpool fans tried to convince themselves that Klopp had stood up for football. Jamie Carragher, in his punditry gig, immediately proclaimed Klopp as the leader of the resistance, an opinion he clearly formed without listening to the capitalist investment group’s frontman’s words. The rest of us, unblinded by devotion or desperation, saw a man selling out his principles to defend his paymaster, turning his back on football fans to protect his job, pleading for people to be nice to his team because they didn’t deserve to be aware of fan’s ire as they prepared for a match. Later on that night, he attacked Gary Neville for standing up for the fans in a way he, Klopp, was unprepared to do, before declaring that a group of men attempting to destroy the communities that build around the smaller clubs, and the livelihoods engendered from them, in pursuit of their own greed were ‘good, decent people.’
Had it been Pep Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel, Mikel Arteta or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer making these statements, nobody would have batted an eyelid. The betrayal only ran so deep because people had believed that Klopp was different, that Klopp was for the common fan, only to be exposed at the crucial moment. This was football's equivalent of the miner’s strikes, and Klopp chose to cross the picket line to side with those empowered by Thatcher’s ideology and legacy; the man many believed to be football’s Jeremy Corbyn revealing himself to be sport’s Nick Clegg, a man who would sell out his principles when his power was on the line, and would defend the indefensible to side with the enemy of the people who believed in him. It’s a betrayal that Klopp continued in the build-up to the game against Newcastle, attacking the fans who continue to protest against billionaire owners and begging them to get back to business-as-usual. It’s a stance that many fans are defending in the immediate aftermath but, as time passes, it will be remembered as being as toxic and reputation-damaging as those t-shirts the Liverpool team wore supporting Luis Suarez for racially-abusing Patrice Evra.
It was with this backdrop that Newcastle strode up to Anfield, in search of the final points required to cement their Premier League status next season, the sort of fight Liverpool Football Club believe they should never be subjected to. The opening minutes served only to fuel their entitlement, with Newcastle offering no competition for a ball in the area and Salah firing Liverpool into the lead. For most of the first-half, Newcastle performed as if they were on strike against the Super League itself, offering little resistance to wave after wave of Liverpool attacks. In what was their game in hand over Fulham, a free hit to move away from the relegation zone, Newcastle couldn’t land a blow, with only the trickery of Allan Saint-Maximin and a solitary break from Sean Longstaff worth mentioning. Jonjo Shelvey, to coin a phrase from Craig Corny, had his best game for Liverpool, stepping aside time after time to allow Wijnaldum and Thiago to stroll through the centre of the pitch unchallenged, while wasting possession with aimless passes every time he had the ball. As the half-time whistle blew, Newcastle could count themselves lucky to only be a goal behind, while Liverpool were grateful to still have a full complement of players after a succession of cynical challenges on the Saint from Ozan Kabak, who remarkably went unpunished despite fouling several times after his early yellow card.
The second half began in a similar vein, with the bizarre sight of the lackadaisical Shelvey playing a seventy-yard back-pass to Martin Dubravka that almost resulted in a second goal. Liverpool, meanwhile, played with a lack of urgency that betrayed an entitlement to victory; yes, they created chances seemingly at will, but there was no urgent desire to score, no sense that those misses mattered. It was a casualness that threatened to cost them, with the otherwise-ineffective Joelinton missing a glorious chance, before being replaced by Newcastle’s star striker Callum Wilson. Entering the field with an urgency to press the defence that had been hitherto lacking, the Liverpool passing game became disrupted, and Newcastle began to exert an influence on the match. Liverpool, meanwhile, reverted to a defensive cynicism that Jose Mourinho would’ve been proud of, with Fabinho lucky to escape without a red card following an assault on Saint-Maximin on the halfway line, attacking the player and sending him to the ground with no intention of or attempt to play the ball that was five yards beyond him when he committed to smashing into the player. These so-called ‘professional fouls’ remain a blight on football, and should result in a red card given that there is no attempt to tackle, only to injure or impede the player. These kind of tackles, if made on a rugby pitch, would result in a penalty try and the removal of the offender from the field, and it’s something that football needs to tackle going forward.
Still, despite the dirty endeavours of an increasingly-desperate defence, Newcastle refused to be bowed, and got the reward they deserved when Callum Wilson broke through, remained on his feet while being fouled from behind, and put the ball in the net at the second attempt. As the Magpies erupted into rapture at scoring the much-deserved equaliser, Liverpool found themselves saved by VAR, a determination that, because the ball had bounced onto an arm pinned against his stomach from less than half-a-yard, Wilson’s goal could not be allowed to stand. Why VAR didn’t then award a penalty for the foul from behind by Alexander-Arnold, whose defensive weaknesses had been exploited several times by a countering Newcastle and had finally cost his team victory, exemplifying Gareth Southgate’s decision to remove him from the England squad, we will never know. If it wasn’t a goal, it had to be a penalty, but the referee and VAR gave neither. Liverpool, one of six clubs who began the week desperate to destroy the English game, had once again benefited from a quirk of the rules that only ever seem to favour those clubs in the upper reaches of the table.
With just seconds remaining on the clock, nobody would have blamed Newcastle for accepting it just wasn’t their day. The Geordies, though, would not be beaten. Having gone on a run of only one defeat in seven games, they were not prepared to succumb to a second, no matter how much fortune seemed weighted against them. With tired legs and heavy hearts, they continued to press forward, and justice was served when the substitute Joe Willock scored his third crucial late goal in three substitute appearances to earn Newcastle a much-deserved point. It was a goal that surely cements Newcastle’s Premier League status for next season, and a blow to Liverpool’s chances of qualifying for a European competition next season that they believe they have a divine right to be in. Willock’s goal, much like that of Llorente on Monday night, was a goal for the whole English football pyramid, a strike against the gluttony and greed of the wannabe franchises that shows why the Scab Six must always be resisted, and why the football pyramid must always be protected and celebrated.
For Newcastle, this match will be remembered for the demonstration of a spirit and heart that, for so much of the season, has been lacking. It was a poor footballing performance, but a courageous comeback with all the odds stacked against them, against a club that desires every unfair advantage they can get. For Liverpool, it will be remembered for Klopp’s pre-match shilling for the super-rich at the expense of those who believe in him, before being embarrassed by one of those clubs they wish to exclude. Mostly, though, it will be remembered for the fact that Liverpool, the defending champions, played twenty-five minutes at Anfield against a Steve Bruce team containing Jonjo Shelvey at centre-back, and they failed to score a single goal while conceding two legitimate ones. That sporting unpredictability is what the Franchise Failures tried to eradicate, and it’s something that should continue to be cherished, protected and celebrated.
Song of the Chapter:
‘’Working Class Hero’ by John Lennon
Quote of the Chapter:
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”