Outside my family, I have two main passions. Videogames are one. The other – and some might be surprised to hear this – is football.
Weirdly, I find that among my journalistic peers, football is rarely a big thing. There seems to be more of a connection between wrestling and videogames – it’s actually quite hard to find a games journalist who doesn’t like the idea of oily, sweaty men pretending to hit each other. I guess it’s because both videogames and wrestling are forms of escapism – so it’s natural that people who enjoy virtual worlds also enjoy virtual fighting. Little wonder that last year’s Street Fighter IV was so popular among the gaming cognoscenti. (Although that’s kind of the polar opposite of wrestling – pretend people actually hitting each other.)
But I was never a big wrestling fan. I knew a few at school who were – it was the time the then-WWF was gaining in popularity. As I recall, wrestling was pretty much exclusive to Sky, and as the son of a man determined to resist lining Rupert Murdoch’s pockets (to this day, my dad refuses to shell out for a satellite dish) I missed out on the phenomenon. I was aware of the big names – your Hulk Hogans, your Ultimate Warriors – but that was as far as it went.
Anyway, as I type this, I’m keeping half an eye on Stoke vs. Liverpool; a fixture that, if the latter team loses, will confirm that the Reds’ decline is far from over. As someone whose formative football-supporting years were in an era of total Liverpool dominance, I’m not finding the team’s current malaise as amusing as many of my friends. Indeed, there’s something almost tragic about seeing this once-great side struggling to overcome opponents that twenty years ago they would have utterly destroyed. As a lifelong Man City fan, one of my first footballing memories is of seeing Liverpool come to Maine Road and hammer us 4-0 (Craig Johnston scoring a hat-trick). It was disappointing, of course, but the overriding feeling was of being privileged to have watched such an amazing football team at the very peak of their game.
(While it might seem odd for a Mancunian to be saddened by Liverpool’s decline, I’ve always had a lot of respect for them. Partly, perhaps, because we share a hatred of Manchester United. Your enemy’s enemy is your friend, and all that.)
Some sports commentators talk about Liverpool’s recent lack of success as if it’s been a new development, but really it’s been a long, slow decline over the years. The fact that I have to go back two decades to their last period of sustained success is testament to that. They’ve secured plenty of trophies in the interim, of course, but no longer do I look at their name on the fixture list and think that’s a week that we’re in for a battering.
It’s the fear factor that’s been lost over the years. That ‘THIS IS ANFIELD’ sign in the players’ tunnel no longer carries the same threat. Since then, it’s been United striking terror into the hearts of opponents, and to a lesser degree over the past few seasons, Chelsea. But not Liverpool, not any more. What must have been galling for the fans – and perhaps the reason they’ve now quite vocally turned on the manager – was that it wasn’t your traditional ‘cupset’ where the lower-division side gets the rub of the green, the Premier League side hits the woodwork seven times and the opposition keeper has the game of his life. No, Reading outplayed and outfought Liverpool and deserved to win the game. But while I cheered at the end for plucky Reading (they’re always ‘plucky’, these lower-division sides, aren’t they?) I felt a twinge of sadness at witnessing a once-great side at its lowest ebb. So should Liverpool’s slide down the Premier League table continue, I for one won’t be joining in with the pointing and laughing.
Now should the same happen to Everton on the other hand…