An absolutely brilliant game to grace the trophy ceremony. Liverpool had nothing to play for; Chelsea, sitting in 3rd spot, needed a point to seal a Champions League spot. The game started in a balanced way, then the Reds just got on fire, and 3-0 wasn’t flattering. Chelsea pulled one back just before the half. Things looked easy at 4-1, but credit the Blues for fighting to get back to 4-3 before the win was sealed at 5-3. Great final performance at Anfield, in front of an empty stand 😦 but with families present 🙂 after safety local officials had reversed a decision to not allow them into the match.
So, onto the real main event, the League Champions trophy presentation. Fittingly, Sir Kenny Dalglish was there for the honours—who was the manager when Liverpool won the First Division in 1990. Klopp came up first, and then went stage left as did the back room staff, then the rest of the squad that didn’t play, then the squad for the day, then ‘Hendo’, captain Jordan Henderson, sadly injured. He did the now-customary fast feet shuffle and then the hoist.
It was surreal to have the players as joyful as they could be but without the normally raucous Anfield crowd. But, the ceremony was in the Kop. Many watched in pubs and at home and I imagine the city is rocking and will be still till the weekend and the last game of the season, away at Newcastle.
James Robertson made a fitting connection of the 96 points and the 96 who died at Hillsborough.
This is the prelude to an historic moment; Part 2 will get written once the trophy presentation is over, following today’s match with Chelsea, at Anfield. So, this is really about anticipation, and it’s been a long time coming, whether you want to measure it on the 30-year arc, or the much shorter, but still intense arc of this current season, with the totally unexpected shutdown of most of the world due to a global pandemic. The title was a sniff away, when the league suspended matches after the last fixture on March 9, and Liverpool needed 6 points to assure the title. The 3-month wait till resumption on June 17 was filled with lots of anxiety for most Liverpool fans, especially when talk involved making the season null and void, when the lead was 25 points! (It was also anxious for other clubs, too, who were either looking from near the top of the table at possible European qualifying places through those who were even mid-table but could see possible relegation in their future. A lot of juggling was happening below the Premier League, though these will all be resolved today, when the Championship has its final match day today. Leagues below have all been settled with play-offs or standings determined by statistical trends.)
Liverpool FC today will hoist the trophy for winning the Barclays Premier League, having never won it, and 30 years on since they last won the top league in England (and Wales). The joy of hoisting it at home in front of fans at Anfield will have to wait a few more weeks, because the country is still in the grip of various forms of restrictions on crowds gathering and social distancing.
It’s bitterly ironic that this happens after the last home game and the opponents are Chelsea FC, who cruelly snatched the title away from Liverpool in 2014, as a result of ‘the slip’ by Steven Gerrard.
They lost the game 0-2 and missed the title by 2 points, behind Manchester City. In the days before VAR, it was no saving grace that Raheem Sterling had had an equalizing goal disallowed against City, for an offside decision that was about 1 metre wrong :(: “Such a poor decision; you could see it with your naked eye.”
So, the bitter taste in then-manager Brendan Rogers’s mouth at the end of that season must have been awful. Scoring 101 goals, for the highest tally for runners-up. Last year, with 97 points, they lost the title to City, again, by one point; the highest total points for runners-up. That, after having a massive lead in the title race, months earlier. That, added, to the long wait for the Championship was a head of pressure that’s hard to fathom and to keep going for a club that had its heyday as league leaders and cemented itself into European Cup/UEFA Champions League history with astonishing comeback victories.
Fast forward. Rogers leaves Liverpool and moves to Celtic, where he gobbles up domestic trophies for a few years before coming back to manage Leicester and show with their resurgence of form that he is really a good manager. But, it opened the door for Jürgen Klopp and the rest is history.
So, the title-winning side was built on a solid base over a half decade and more.
The 2018/19 season was amazing and capped with a great UEFA Champions League win that was more than deserved after the summary dismantling of Barcelona in the semi-final 2nd leg at Anfield. “The unthinkable, the unbelievable…comeback”, from 0-3 after leg 1, to win 4-0. And how!
I guess an absolute neutral can watch and imagine the task and how it was managed and feel unmoved. But, every time I watch the 2nd half of that match, I am covered totally in goosebumps.
That Spurs pulled off a similar feat in their semi-final to beat Ajax 3-2 away, with similar last minute drama—winner in 90+5 minutes—makes the whole story both bizarre and pleasing beyond description. “I do not believe it!” I still don’t believe the 2nd goal Lucas Moura scored.
So, Liverpool went on and lost to the Community Shield to City on penalties, then won the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup before December, and were already soaring in the Premier League, and the 2019/20 season was already one for the ages.
Yesterday was a momentous day for me. I should have had no reason to beg excuses. The football team, which I’ve supported all my life, were playing a final on Wembley’s hallowed turf. It was a match that I wanted to watch, but, thanks to the vagaries of modern global marketing of television rights, I was forced to play a round of golf with two doctors instead. I never knew the drama of the match as it unfolded. Again, globalisation made it nigh impossible for me to track the match via the Internet. The cost of roaming is too prohibitive. Had I stayed in the swanky clubhouse at the golf course, I could have used their wifi connection to get Internet access. Instead, I was getting stuck in sand chasing a small coloured ball.
When I’d finished with the neurosurgeon and the spine surgeon, I checked my news feed. My team had won the final. I then took a stroll through history, Internet-style. I went back through tweets from before the match, so replayed events 140 characters at a time. I will bore you only with some highlights. At half-time, the score was 0-0. Near the 65th minute, my team had a player ejected; so played the last quarter of the match with 10 men, versus 11. After 90 minutes, the score was still 0-0. I thought that we had won on penalty kicks: not my liking, but take it. But, no. About two minutes into added time, Bobby Zamora scored. What!?
I am sure that I would’ve needed at least two changes of underwear had I seen this live, and maybe a defibrillator. One of the team greats, Rodney Marsh, who was in attendance, tweeted ‘Destiny’.
So, QPR will be back in the English Premier League next season, after only a season away. I know of at least one other Jamaican who supports QPR; I met him on his holiday here last year.
Last week, Jamaicans who follow English teams, were alight because ‘their’ team had won or not the EPL. I’m going to presume that few, if any, would follow those teams if they were not in the EPL. They would flee like rats on a sinking ship. Their waggons only have pull when they’re on the high road. In the ditch? See ya!
All of the emotional energy I have, would have been spent had I seen the match.
I really wanted to write about what the case of Brendan Bain has told me about Jamaicans. But, in part, I won’t because someone has said all I wanted to on it already, and with elegant simplicity. Read yesterday’s letter in the Gleaner about his falling on his sword. The baying and partial presentation in the mainstream media on this topic really showed the colours of some people. That’s not really a surprise when emotions get raised. But, I was more bothered by some of the blinkered views. Some of that was like the Jamaican EPL fan, partisan, without really going deeply into the history of why they should be so. Anyway, I leaving that subject. “Let your meat stop your mouth,” and old man used to say.
I’m saving emotional energy for a day of more finals, when Jamaican athletes go for more wins at the IAAF World Relays. They left nothing behind last night, with a world record in the 4×200 metres relay, anchored by Yohan Blake, while Usain Bolt had not been on the team.
Awesome! Beastly. I will there again, in my national colours of gold, surrounded by a sea of aquamarine last night. Today, the hosts will wear gold, so I shall don black and green. I’ll stay seated on the waggon that I’ve ridden all my life.
Wayne Rooney? This is your life. He scored a sensational volleyed goal yesterday against West Ham United.
Of course, immediate comparisons will be made with David Beckham’s long distance lob against Crystal Palace.
My vote goes to Rooney, who never controlled the ball, but volleyed it, after a lovely little nudge on his opponent. Becks had the ball at his feet and was under no pressure, waltzing in midfield. “Incredible!” “Astonishing!” That’s what the commentators said. F****** brilliant! Oh, but not on the telly can that be said.
Arsenal will be seen as English Premier League Champions-pretenders this season for one reason. Against other top four teams they have been given a royal tonking by the other three when paying at their grounds. Yesterday, they suffered 6-0 to Chelsea, but had been roasted 6-3 by Manchester City and 5-1 by Liverpool. That big loss spoiled Arsene Wenger’s 1000 EPL game as their manager.
But, the match was also memorable for a refereeing howler. Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dived and handled the ball on the goal line, but a bizarre case of mistaken identity meant that his team-mate Kieran Gibbs was sent off instead. Referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot for a penalty, but sent off Keiran Gibbs, rather than Oxlade-Chamberlain, who could be seen on television vainly telling the official: “Ref, it was me!” Do I really want ‘to go there’ and say, “We know they all look alike?” No, I’ll let Marriner stew on the skewer for a bit first.
Refereeing decisions. I may have to start a petition to see if FIFA will review refereeing decisions in a transparent fashion. But, the no-men of Zürich are not easily persuaded to do things that are sensible for ‘the beautiful game’. They argue that ugly is pretty, in the sense that “mistakes are part of the game”. Well, yes, if you allow them to be and do not use simple means to correct them.
A report from last year, highlighting refereeing incompetence, could easily have been written this past weekend. I’ll keep hammering this topic, hoping that like many a real person, FIFA will feel the sting of shame. But, I wont hold my breath. After all, we’ve got the murky World Cup bidding process to occupy them. What is it about organizations based in Switzerland that makes me feel a bit queasy when thinking that transparency is not high on the agenda?
Back to Sochi we go. Jamaica’s two-man bobsled came in 29th out of 30 teams. That was no ‘flop’ as one of our national papers, the Jamaica Observer, headlined it. They qualified by entering races and getting enough points. They funded themselves by having friends with imagination who helped raise money through crowd-funding. They competed even though they had difficulties getting their equipment to the Games site on time. They raced very well–without qualifying their performance–ending 4.41 second behind the leading Russian pair, after three rounds. Think of that, over three runs on a 1365 meters course. Measure the difference between first place and the Jamaican time and you will find a minuscule difference. Meaning? The Jamaican team was very competitive, in a highly competitive and tight field. I could talk more about equipment, facilities, support, etc., but why bore you with what you know already in principle as the impediments they faced? The real flop? The sloppy journalism of taking a report from Agence France Presse and just dropping it onto the pages of the nation of the bobsledders, with little more thought that it takes to watch 4.41 seconds tick off a clock.
FIFA is not far from being considered a dinosaur in terms of its willingness to embrace technology to make football better in terms of quality of decisions at the highest levels of the sport. I am biased because I think certain changes are long overdue. I applauded the acceptance of goal-line technology this season, which has avoided many repetitions of egregious mistakes of goals not given (or even ‘no goals’ happening). Just this Saturday, we saw a crucial goal given to West Bromwich in their English Premier League draw with Fulham, after the ball barely crossed the line–all that’s needed. Mistakes are costly in many ways–monetarily, standings, etc.
This week, I again saw the case for instant replays in matches, especially to review decisions that concerns goals or goal-scoring possibilities. Liverpool lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup, but were denied what seemed like a clear penalty kick. Review would have at least given the officials the chance to see what they missed in the blur of action. Barcelona were awarded a penalty against Manchester City during this week’s UEFA Champions League. Let’s just focus on where the foul took place. I say outside the penalty area, definitely: no penalty. Some, even former referees, talk about ‘continuation’ and ‘second touch’. Guff, if ever I heard it. You handle a ball twice, one hand outside, one inside, it’s not the second touch that counts.
I’m not convinced by any arguments about losing flow of matches or time lost. The flow of games is broken more by many other things, and the importance of some decision argue against wanting to just ‘keep the game flowing’ above other considerations. My argument is simple: referees are asked to do something that is humanly very difficult–see everything clearly, even when at high-speed and from bad angles. Replays give officials the chance to look again. They can have their decisions confirmed or denied. It’s that simple. The use of replays has been good in removing much uncertainty from the minds of players and officials–fewer simmering arguments for decades. If FIFA wants to pretend that officials are superhuman, good for them. The world increasingly knows an ass when it sees one.
I don’t know which is worse: the alleged sexual assault on a woman in the care of the St Mary Infirmary, or the case of cover-up on the part of administrators at the Infirmary. Both are disgusting. Desmond McKenzie, Opposition Spokesman on Local Government condemned the matter, and said that the incident took place on the February 9, but following what is suspected to have been a case of cover-up on the part of administrators at the Infirmary, was only officially brought to the attention of the St Mary Parish Council Wednesday at a meeting of its Poor Relief Committee. Add to this reports that the perpetrator was allowed to ‘clean himself up’ before fleeing. Jamaica has some people who are desperate. But, we also have a desperate shortage of people running institutions who are capable of making good decisions.
I was standing very close to the CEO of a Jamaican television broadcasting company last weekend. It was Sunday morning. I should have been at church, but was supporting the congregation in other ways. We were waiting for the now-customary delayed start to an event. It was just after 8am. In our part of the world, that’s the hour to get ready for the first English Premier League match of the day. So, I asked the executive a question that had been bothering me for a while: “Why do Jamaicans have these love affairs with English football teams?” His answer was one word: “Waggonists.”
I can understand my passion for a team: I grew up in their shadows; they made my weekends exciting; now, I am a lifelong fan. In places like Liverpool or Manchester, England, passions arise for similar reasons. In the same way that some people want to pick out schools for their children before they are born, English (European and South American football fans, too) have made sure that onesies fit the colours of THE team. Blue for boys? Not if you support Liverpool: red or nothing. Blue is for Everton–cross-city rivals, to be hated, despised, defiled, destroyed. This is not the stuff of casual acquaintance.
I notice the way in Jamaica (and I’ve seen it in Barbados) that on game day the local fans sport the jerseys of their ‘favourite’ team. A man with whom I was due to play some golf yesterday had his son with him when he arrived at my house. The boy, whose brain had clearly not yet fully developed, was wearing an Arsenal shirt. I asked him if he knew whose house he was visiting. “Three points, today,” he answered. Clearly, he did not feel any fear or danger to his life. (For the record, I lived in Tottenham as my last address in England. You should understand the aversion to Arsenal’s colours, based on that. If not, then, please do a little research. :-))
In London, where more than a dozen top clubs are based, cheek by jowl, people don’t walk around, aimlessly eating pizza, with their team colours on. Unless, they are with a group of 10 others dressed the same. Unless, they are looking to ‘have a bit of bovva’. It’s just not proper behaviour; it’s truly disrespectful. Don’t come singing YOUR songs in MY neighbourhood, either.
But, Jamaicans are oblivious to this. They are ‘followers of fashion’. Not just any fashion, though. The fashion that is winning. So, when I’m asked what team I support and smile while saying “Queens Park Rangers”, I have to be ready for a few hours of guffaws. “Are they still in the league?” is a common attempt at humour.
Jamaicans want to be associated with the teams they think will be raising trophies. So, Manchester United and Chelsea have a hearty following. The local fans may have no idea where the teams really are in England, apart from ‘up North’ or ‘in London’. Not for them, the nuances of east or west side of a city, or north or south of a river; things that would clearly divide the fans in their home area. ESPN understands that those lines exist and are real, even though they are less meaningful in substance.
Arsenal have a strong following; so, too, do Manchester City and Tottenham. I have seen or heard fans like me, who support lesser teams, let alone those outside the Premier League. The mighty old English teams, like Burnley and Blackburn? Derby County or Leeds or Sheffield Wednesday? Who?
The Waggonists are nothing if not international, though. Barcelona or Real Madrid (who have an academy in Jamaica) seem to have some serious followers in Jamaica. I’ve not seen or heard any fans of German teams, like Bayern Munich. The Italians have a smattering. The Scottish? Nah!
It’s mainly about the diet. What Jamaicans had been fed for years was a steady helping of football matches from England. As I noted above, the early mornings here were ‘game time’, through lunchtime, at least. Sit down with your mates. Grab a Red Stripe or Heineken. Pull out some fried dumplings and ackee and saltfish. Game time!
I overheard two Jamaicans this week discussing how ‘their teams’ had players who were not ‘their ballers’, meaning that they did not seem worthy of undying love. One man, a Barcelona fan, was saying “Messi’s not my baller…Ronaldinho’s my man.” The debate went on, with not clear rationalization being tossed into the air. “But, Ronaldo’s my baller, no doubt,” the other man said. They went on again, rationalizing.
Most of the Jamaican fans have no way to see their teams live. The CEO was different and had recently had the need to visit London and manage to see ‘his team’ play. But, I haven’t seen him cut and show what colour is his blood. Will it be red, like his team’s colours?
Arsenal were playing ManU yesterday; it ended as a goalless draw. Neither team walked away devastated. Arsenal are doing better so far this season. ManU have seen better starts to a season. I’ve yet to see in Jamaica the depths of despair that home fans show when defeat has struck their teams. Perhaps, things are so bad here that a defeat is just another day’s events. No reason to go out and kick a goat? Jamaican fans are not the real thing.
The English Premier League is shaping up to be a tight race this season. I’m trying to see if the waggonsts are nimble. Who will stay the course with Liverpool, or Chelsea, or Arsenal, or Man. City or Spurs? Will there be some jumping ship? True waggonists would. I’ve seen a few men bravely sporting their Man. United shirts on Satruday’s. I’ve asked if they have no one to do their laundry. They’ve puffed their chests. Results have hurt them and their team so far, but they stand proudly. Waggonists may be the order of the day, but not everyone will let the wheels fall off easily. Maybe, they are real fans in the making.