Monday, June 27, 2016

The European English Who Never Walk Alone

As a lifelong Liverpool FC fan, though not understanding it at the time I was growing up in Ormskirk a few miles from Anfield, with my first identity being formed by epic European games played by the great teams of the nineteen-seventies and eighties, what was culturally inculcated into us SW Lancastrians was not so much blind loyalty (although as a consequence of what happened on the pitch that was a large part of it) but, because we were the best team deserving to win; a sense of blunt, clear-eyed fairness and straight-talking honesty in the critical analyses from fans of the beautiful game. 

And because one of our two local first division teams played the better class of footie, from the age of seven to twenty-three we were on top not only in England but in Europe.

There was something very special about big European nights in Liverpool, and I can remember forty-one years ago and thousands of Liverpool fans first mass exodus to a European cup final and victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach - a three one thriller in Rome - more clearly than most of the nineties.

Then retaining it the next year, in a boring one nil win over Belgian club Brugge at Wembley in 1978.  And the heartbreak of being knocked out in the first round the following season by our main domestic rival of those years, Nottingham Forest, who went on to win their first European Cup that year, 1979. And us regaining it two years later, in '81, with left back Alan Kennedy's eighty-second minute goal, beating Real Madrid one nil in Paris. 

Tempered by sorrowful scenes of soccer hooliganism by Liverpool fans abroad. As ITN reporter Tony Francis told us watching on telly at home:
'Once again British soccer fans have disgraced themselves abroad. But there was somehow a grim predictability about it all. And yet the French soccer authorities aren't entirely blameless. By allocating only 12,000 tickets, when at least three times as many people have arrived, was only asking for trouble.'
And then a penultimate victorious fourth final beating and breaking the hearts of every Roma fan in their home park, with another Kennedy winner, in a penalty shoot out two years later at Stadio Olimpico, 1983. Only to lose it again the following year against the Italian team Juventus in the original sin, stain and tragedy of the Heysel Stadium disaster.

Where Liverpool supporters, after an initial outbreak of flare-throwing between them, thuggishly charged at Juventus fans, breaching a fence separating them from a "neutral area"; and the fleeing Italian supporters were crushed against a concrete wall that fell down on them, killing 39 Juventus fans and injuring six hundred others.

As a result English clubs received a five-year ban from entering any European competition, thus ending a period of great success for English clubs in the European Cup.

Tragedy again struck in 1989 with the Hillsborough disaster, at that year's semi-final of the FA cup in Sheffield with Nottingham Forest; after police deliberately refused to open until it was far too late, gates that would have relieved the crowd pressure that crushed to death 96 LFC fans , and injured 766. 

In the immediate aftermath a panicked and corrupt police began a massive coverup operation, feeding the rabid right wing Thatcher-supporting national press lies about the LFC fans' behaviour, that were repeated and published, by the Murdoch press especially, as they routinely and racily vilify up to this day any number of groups of hopeless, poor people without a voice.

Currently targeting with their brand of textually transmitted diseases, infecting with their poison the millions of under-educated white English people, stirring up division between British Asians, British black people, European immigrants, those fleeing the terror of Afghanistan, Libyan, and Syrian refugees.

The vilest slander was that supporters  were violent and drunkenly urinating on dead, dying, and injured family, friends and fellow fans, laughing as they did so. Yorkshire police's criminal behaviour was entirely to blame, and the families fought tooth and nail to pries the truth from them, as the police kept it covered up, resisting until the chief figures in the cover up died and retired. 

And the injustice of them placing their own guilt onto devastated LFC fans, only fortified the people of the city's resolve to expose the vile lies concocted by panicked cops and spread by the Sun, painting the dead and dying as out of control drunken animals in an orgy of violence.

This grievous wrong resulted in a twenty-seven year campaign that eventually led to this year's Justice for the 96, and vindication by jury at the Hillsborough Inquest, which delivered its verdict of unlawful killing two months ago.   


And though the fans have a chequered history, the LFC football philosophy that brought two decades of success on the pitch was very simple. Start in defence and work your way out from there. You do not go out to win, but not lose. A very subtle and challenging mentality to get right.

Liverpool were known for having an impenetrable defence, Fortress Anfield, with the defenders just as feted as forwards and strikers.

Seventies home town captain, Liverpool hardman, Tommy 'Chopper' Smith, the Anfield Iron, who 'wasn't born, he was quarried', Shankely said of him.

Midfield scouser Jimmy Case, with one of the most powerful kicks in football, whose size and tackling strength terrorised opposition players into submission. The slick Scottish-Scouse twin-engine of midfield, Terry McDermot and Ian Callaghan, who rarely lost the ball, and were as equally at home going forward and scoring, as defending and taking the ball back, playing a game of pass, move, and constant possession.

And then the forwards and goal-scoring legends. Kevin Keegan, who banged home twenty-two goals in his second season, two of which won us our first (of three) UEFA Cup, in 1973.

When we first set on the road to being crowned Kings of Europe, beating for the first time in a two leg home and away final, our earliest arch rival German team, Borussia Mönchengladbach; who we beat again four years later to win the first European Cup final against them in Rome '77.

Supersub Scouser, David Fairclough, a ginger haired pocket rocket talisman who came on at crucial points when we needed goals in the final third to win important matches. And King Kenny Dalglish, the laconic Glaswegian striker and top goal scorer in the sacred number seven shirt he wore when the original English European export Keegan left to play for Hamburg.

England captain, Emlyn Hughes, Welsh wizard Ian Rush, and the England goalkeeper Ray Clemence - replaced by Bruce Grobbelaar. Whose bendy-kneed antics in Rome '83 put off two of the four penalty takers it took to miss before Alan Kennedy banged it home again and won us our fourth European cup final.

A successful technique mimicked to winning effect by Poland goalkeeper, Jerzy Dudek, in Istanbul 2005. What many fans and neutrals claim is the best complete, exciting game of club football ever played in the Northern hemisphere. Twenty-one years later.

The time we waited for a fifth victory in the European cup. A night fans had dreamed of since a dark and curly headed captain Souness last held old big ears aloft in Rome when the price of a pint of mild in the Buck Ith Vine in Ormskirk bygone times was 40p.

A night eleven years ago when Scouse football saint and England captain, Steven Gerrard, was rewarded by the gods for his determination, grit and loyalty to a team with one of the top three most culturally cohesive, potent, and historically significant soccer records in the UK, Britain, Ireland, and Europe.

One of the world's most loved and romantic teams, with incredible highs, and terrible devastating lows, reflecting and representing the people of Liverpool, and that south-west region of Lancashire, half of the NW region of England where seven million of us North West working-class English folk live, love, dream, and believe, with all our flaws, guts and glory, in something that we all share. Humanity.


And so,
to the England national team's performance when recently spectacularly frozen out of Euro 2016 after being beaten by the feet, heart and collective belief of the tournament's smallest team.

A team made up of part-time and amateur players representing the 300,000 people of Iceland, doing it for love alone, the best of Blighty's 'special' boys struggling against a Sunday league team to do their hundred-thousand pound a week job of kicking a bag of wind into a large goal mouth, woefully reminded the world that England did not deserve to win, because there was no sense of 'we'. Devoid of all belief and playing worse than a bunch of directionless amateurs facing players on two-hundred thousand pound a week. 

The ignominious night England team's multi-millionaires representing the soccer hopes and dreams of fifty-three million people, got battered by non-league opposition, was brought about, in part, I suspect, by an out of the blue seismic once in a lifetime European wide cultural and political earthquake outside the game, which created a collective emotional team state of utter head-battering  shock, and instant straight down the middle gutting division of their psyches, in the immediate aftermath of learning the UK European Union Membership Referendum's 52%-48% Leave result.

The LFC ethos of pure belief founded on a process of never losing, and winning most times the team went out and created the cultural soul of Lancashire's second largest city, was wholly absent in England's worst performance ever in any tournament. 


But - B - E - L - I - E - F - did make an unexpected appearance in, what until last Wednesday had also been a team of overpaid national embarrassments, in all its glorious magical and victorious display. From the time we came out looking like winners, to the final whistle, when our belief in a dream team became a one in twenty year event of reality itself. 

That has already been woven into mythic oral poetry by one of Ireland's more naturally gifted and influential living spoken-text love poets at work in the shakalak English language and lingo this druidic Darndale investigator of fact, lies and a truth-possessed poet in nobody's pocket, has woven in another great work of contemporary oral bardic culture and a spoken song emanating from the extra sensory perception area She uniquely bends and tilts to fit any spoken occasion.

Lilting a series of essentially verbal adventures, incidents, observations, tales, and extended fluidly invisible memorised practice of love songs to Dublin and the republic of John Cummins' uniquely individual inventions swiped from the air within first and skillfully spoken with the paint of fiction and a pencil of fact drawing into all of Her he brings to us in precisely dialed slices of language and lingo in all its formalities of back-slang cant, patois, prose-poetry rap-talk, verse and the spoken songs that thrive across the Ireland and entertain any audience.

Snug in Kookulinary bubbalin Dubalern songs of our very own dream we think trippingly toora loora laddy sung in a spoken song of She that brings for you and us, them and me, one and three, it takes only two to believe, that's all ye need to beat the odds, become s/he and be Her every breath the greatest living team in any league of poetry lovers, real and doggerel, this and that, that and this, that and this, that loving on our self sits in silent faith and from our heart turns dream into reality, water to wine, black into white and vice versa, ever spinning never ceasing all new always thing, O spontaneous diddle dee spirit within and without dae do tha dunt thee lawk.

The LFC belief at the match in Lille meant that the team of the Republic either went out as damp squibs, surrendering all faith, hope, and ability that on all but two of our previous fourteen meetings froze in the face of such a better and more illustrious team (four time world-cup winners, seven times finalists) that statistically were odds on favourites to dump us out of the tournament, in what looked odds on to be another embarrassing car crash of inglorious timid frozen clueless capitulation, caused by nought but the phantasmagorical paranoia of our own collective mind. 

Or we beat Italy in a blaze of sporting glory

That, pulled off, is now up there as a two decade high. To do what we achieved.

And it was something powerful alright, because up til l that point I'd been reading of how great the Irish fans were abroad, without sharing in any of the collective buzz, because half of me was sickened and poisoned by the behaviour of English, French, and Russian thugs at the very start of the tournament in France.

But on Wednesday, with just one performance of LFC style belief by a team that until then looked devoid of it; I once more fell in love fully with Ireland, again. Because it was the LFC ethos 'we' displayed. My earliest positive and most powerful cultural influence that transcends race, is more important than religion, nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with a republic of poetry and prayer.

Humanity and love.

Grá agus siíocháin.

PS, Pauline Swords, mother oh Muse bless us this faery woman of Ireland, at home in heaven, give us this day a hopeful prayer, show through your earthly servant this world and earth all share, within and without, from beginning to end, as our maker and parent, through thee come chords, conduits, and the channels of song for silly voices we lay bare before you here as Her that guides our hand to write, our ears to listen, and from your mouth speak in praise and prayer, of you who loves us all.

Oh Mother of every living breath, of each and every prayer, create in this tiny moment of a pointless silly game, the spontaneous cultural gold mimicked and won this and every other day until the twelve of never, by your ever loving son, who airs our songs of joy, freedom, love and sorrow.

Kevin Desmond Swords.