A few weeks ago I mentioned that we were considering a weekly Liverpool FC feature. New England Sports Ventures’ recent acquisition has resulted in unprecedented interest among Red Sox fans in Premier League Football, and specifically in Liverpool. We’re going to kick the series off this morning.
Matt Ladson is co-editor for leading Liverpool FC website, This Is Anfield. The site is named for a sign that hangs above the entrance to the pitch from the locker rooms. It’s a reminder to the players that Anfield Road, Liverpool’s home, is hallowed ground.
Matt’s been kind enough to answer a few questions for us. We start at a very high level, a discussion designed to give Red Sox fans heretofore unfamiliar with such things an introduction to Liverpool and how the Premier League works. I really enjoyed this, especially the part about how the Premier League is won just by amassing points during the regular season. What a concept, huh? It’s especially timely as Bud Selig considers further postseason
I hope you enjoy it as well.
Sully: Could you talk about Liverpool’s history as a club? Who are its best handful of players of all time? Discuss its stature in English football, recent mediocrity notwithstanding.
Matt: Despite having not won the domestic league title (now named the Premier League) since 1990, Liverpool remain English football’s most successful club. The record of 18 league titles was recently matched by Man United but Liverpool’s superior success in cup competitions and Europe mean they just keep their place at the top.
Liverpool enjoyed unprecedented success in the seventies and eighties, winning the league title an incredible 10 times in 15 years. They also lifted the European Cup (now named the Champions League) on four occasions between 1977 and 1984 to put them firmly at the top of Europe’s elite. Some of the key figures in the club’s rise from mediocrity to prestige where managers Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. Shankly laid the foundations before Paisley went on to become Britain’s most successful club manager.
During the golden decades the key players included Kenny Dalglish who went on to manage the club and is now still at the club working within the youth academy (and whom many wanted to return as manager last summer). Dalglish is widely regarded as LFC’s greatest ever player, he played in a position just behind the main forward and was instrumental in the European Cup wins in 1978, 1981 and 1984. In his first season as player-manager the club won the domestic double for the first time.
Liverpool have been blessed with many players and talented strikers, including record goalscorer Ian Rush, World Cup winner Roger Hunt, and the prodigious Robbie Fowler. Other players instrumental in the history of Liverpool include Scottish defender Alan Hansen, winger Ian Callaghan, goalkeeper Ray Clemence, midfielders Graeme Souness, John Barnes and Billy Liddell, to name just a few. Those are names which are engrained into the history and fabric of what being a Liverpool player is. Of the current crop, you can add Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina to the long list of players whom have contributed to the club’s history.
Sully: We need some help understanding some fundamental aspects of the Barclays Premier League. How many different types of competitions can be taking place at any one time, between the Premier League, Europa Cup, Champions League, other exhibitions, etc? How is a Premier League champion determined? What’s the most prestigious honor a Premier League team can secure? Champions League winner?
Matt: Having spent some time living and working in America you would not believe the amount of times I’ve explained this! As a European I find it simple to understand but many Americans I know find it difficult to grasp the difference between domestic and European competition. The season begins in August and ends in May, with domestic and European competitions running alongside each other throughout – or until your team is eliminated!
Domestic competition is obviously those played in your home country, so in England this is the Barclay’s Premier League, and cup competitions; the FA Cup and Carling Cup. The Premier League is by far the most prestigious, although the FA Cup used to have much greater importance before European qualification via the League was expanded.
Teams play each other twice during the season, so 38 games, with three points for a win and 1 for a draw (tie). The team with the most points at the end of the season wins the league. It’s a simple format and one which the whole World uses – except America of course! I personally find the whole notion of play-offs an absolute farce, especially for fans. I worked in LA the year the Galaxy were the 7th best team during regular season but won the MLS Cup via the play-offs. For fans – and players – there is no passion for games which become pointless either once a team has qualified, or can no longer qualify, for the play-offs.
The two Cup competitions also involve all teams from the lower leagues and within the English football league pyramid. So you can have teams from the equivalent of baseball’s minor leagues against the likes of Liverpool and Man United. These games are played as simple knockout, win and you progress, lose and you’re out, with each round taking place throughout the season. The Carling Cup final is in late February, the FA Cup final takes place the week after the Premier League finishes in May.
As for European competition; teams qualify via their performance in the previous domestic season. For the Champions League teams in the top four of the Premier League qualify – as do the top teams from Germany, France, Spain, Italy etc, therefore forming Europe’s elite league. These games are played similar to the World Cup format, with an initial group stage followed by knockout rounds where teams play each other home and away. The group stages take place from September to December, with knockout rounds beginning again in March.
For the Europa League (Europe’s secondary competition) qualification is achieved via numerous ways – league position, domestic cup victory, even “fair play”. Liverpool are currently in the Europa League due to finishing seventh in the Premier League last season. There is far less prestige involved, hence some “reserve” teams being played and reduced admission for tickets.
Sully: The Red Sox play in a tiny ballpark with famous quirks and a lot of history. Is Anfield Road similar? Talk to us about LFC’s home venue.
Matt: Anfield definitely shares many similarities with Fenway Park. Not just because of the similarities we share over whether to move to a new, modern stadia, or to renovate our current home – which will be a major test of NESV’s ownership. Anfield is world famous, and The Kop stand itself is one of the most famous football stands. Revered in history, in it’s heyday The Kop held 25,000 passionate Kopites who used to sway to the sound of the Beatles and songs the fans adapted, such as ‘Yellow Submarine’ becoming ‘Red and White Kop’. Anfield has housed many famous European nights and domestic glories, had the ashes of hundreds of supporters spread on it and become synonymous with Liverpool FC and its supporters. If the day comes to move to a new stadium Anfield will be sadly missed.
Sully: How does the horrific memory of the Hillsborough disaster
live on in the team’s culture and fabric? Did it foster a special relationship between players and fans? Is there a closer kinship amongst LFC fans than other clubs?
Matt: Hillsborough had a huge impact on Liverpool as a City and a Club, and indeed English football itself. The tragic events are remembered each year on the anniversary, on the 20th anniversary in 2009 over 30,000 supporters paid their tributes at Anfield. Each year the players attend the service and the words of the club’s anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ [ed note: watch the video below to see LFC supporters belting out the anthem] took on a whole new meaning following the disaster.
In the immediate aftermath, players and then-manager Kenny Dalglish attended numerous funerals of the 96 who innocently lost their lives. Dalglish and his wife Marina were estimated to have attended over 50 in three weeks, attending up to 4 services a day at times. Such emotion eventually it’s their toll when ‘The King’ resigned in 1991 for health reasons.
The consequences of Hillsborough live on in various forms; from the club’s crest being changed forever to incorporate the eternal flame, to the supporters groups who campaign for justice to this day.
Sully: What excites you most about the new ownership group?
Matt: Obviously after four years of life under Gillett and Hicks, more than anything what the new ownership brings is a huge weight of relief. All of a sudden going to the match isn’t dominated by protests and feelings of hatred for the people supposedly acting as custodians of the club. Fans are cautiously optimistic about the new owners and all the reports from those who know Henry and co. give reason for such optimism. The most exciting thing is their track record with the Red Sox, which speaks for itself. But this, excuse the pun, is a completely different ball game. Whether their methods translate will be of huge interest to more than just Liverpool supporters. Only time will tell.
Sully: Thanks a lot for your time, Matt.