Friday, 27 January 2012

Liverpool v Manchester United - A Secret Shame.

Due to the absurd amount of football we have access to, I think I can safely say that if you are a follower of the beautiful game (and if you are reading this I assume you would be otherwise what the hell are you doing here? ...Go on, shoo!) then you have certainly been spoiled this week. On Sunday, we saw Manchester City host Tottenham and Arsenal take on Manchester United. In midweek, Liverpool hosted Manchester City in the Carling Cup semi final second leg. Further afield, the glutton for big games was satiated even more as Barcelona and Real Madrid renewed pleasantries yet again in the Copa Del Rey quarter final second leg – The highlight of which was this:

....Not the goal, but Carlos Puyol’s faceplant. Classic Fail.

And as all that wasn’t enough, this weekend sees the country’s two biggest clubs square off in England’s very own Classico as Liverpool welcome Manchester United to Anfield in the FA Cup fourth round.

A wee history lesson: Merseyside versus Manchester is actually a feud that transcends football and dates back to the late 1800s when the two cities competed as two of Britain's industrial powerhouses. Liverpool was famed for its Port until the Mancs went and built their own rival Ship Canal. This led to a drop in trade for Liverpool and many job loses giving rise to the resentment between the two cities.

It would be a number of years before that resentment manifested itself on the pitch. In the late 1960s Liverpool, under the guidance of the legendary Bill Shankly began to build an empire that would dominate English football for the next two decades. As we entered the 1990s, they were most decorated club in the land with a record 18 domestic league titles, numerous cup wins and the honour of being crowned champions of Europe on no less than four occasions. A fifth European title was added in 2005.

As Liverpool were running things, Manchester United sat firmly in the shade of their North West rivals until the late 1980s when one Alex Ferguson rode into town, famously vowed to ‘knock Liverpool of their fucking perch’ and duly did so. When United won the inaugural Premier League title in 1993, that took their total number of league wins to 8. A banner was unfurled at Anfield a year later declaring that United should come back when they’ve won 18. Little did they know that baiting would come back to bite them in the arse.

United racked up championship after championship during the 90s and noughties while Liverpool floundered. In 2009, the two clubs went head-to-head in the league but United piped it at the post to make it 18-18. Last season, Ferguson won his 12th league title as a manager and United’s 19th in total. They don’t even make plates big enough for the slices of humble pie being served up. The since honoured ‘Sir’ Alex also won two European cups taking United up to three in total. This isn’t a Liverpool fan on the planet who isn’t crapping themselves at the prospect of United catching them up in this department too.

Needless to say, the rivalry has intensified during this period of United dominance. Hooliganism between the two clubs was rife during the 70s and 80s and even today sections of both set of fans can be found making obscene chants and gestures about the respective tragedies that have befallen the two sides. The number of on-pitch clashes and talking points have been plentiful. The most recent being the racism controversy between United’s Patrice Evra and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez following the two clubs’ last meeting in October. The latter received an 8 game ban after being found guilty of abusing the former and the whole sorry saga has not only dragged the game through the mud but also spat in its face, kicked it in the crotch and dragged it through the mud one more time for good measure - A truly embarrassing situation particularly for Liverpool Football Club and their shocking handling of the whole affair.

Anyway, if you want to read more on that subject then I’ll point you in the direction of EVERYWHERE ON THE INTERNET!!!

Of course, this wasn’t the first major controversy to take place between the two clubs.

A Good Friday clash on April 2nd 1915 saw the two sides square off at Old Trafford in the final game of the season. In a scenario that is almost unthinkable today, United were battling to avoid relegation from the First Division while Liverpool were nothing more than an average mid-table outfit. The home side ran out 2-0 winners to avoid falling through the dreaded trap door at the expense of Tottenham, who ended the season bottom of the table, and Chelsea who finished second bottom.

A team scrapping for their lives beating a team meandering towards an unremarkable final league position of 13th was hardly surprising. However, suspicion arose when Liverpool firstly missed a penalty that would have halved the deficit and then publicly having a go at their own player Fred Pagnam when hit a shot against the United crossbar late on.

When the bookies noticed that they would have to pay out on an unusually large number of bets laid on that exact 2-0 scoreline which was priced at 7/1, they figured something was amiss. Suspicion was aroused further upon the discovery of leaflets circulating with details of the bet. They refused to pay out and contacted the FA who launched an investigation.

As you have probably guessed by now, the game was fixed and the suspicions of skulduggery were proven to be correct as seven players, three from United and four from Liverpool, were found guilty of conspiring to rig the outcome of the match. The legend has it that the players met up in a pub beforehand to come up with the scheme. Just try and imagine such a scene taking place today… Rio Ferdinand would just end up giving the game away by Tweeting it.

Liverpool’s Jackie Sheldon, curiously, a former United player, was said to be the instigator of the fix, drafting in Tom Miller, Bob Pursell and Thomas Fairfoul from his own team and Sandy Turnbull, Arthur Whalley and Enoch West from the opposition to plot his fiendish scheme. Curiously, the man who scored United’s two goals on the day George Anderson refused to take part as did the abovementioned Pagnam who, as you can see, did his best to foil the plot during the game.

In fact, it was Pagnam’s testimony to the FA that helped bring the others to justice. Noble behaviour by a Liverpool player? Who would have thought? Luis Suarez would do well to take note.

All seven men involved were punished with a lifetime ban from the game – there is no evidence to suggest that Liverpool FC wore T-Shirts in support of their cheating players.

Those of you who are clued up with your history will know that 1915 was also the year of the great war. While the idea of fixing football matches is something that would cause us to spew up our Shreddies if it happened today, football understandably wasn’t exactly the most important thing on people’s minds at the time. The league was suspended and the players involved, amoung others, ended up going into battle to fight for our freedom. As a result, in recognition of their service, the bans were overturned - posthumously in the case of Sandy Turnbull – whence they returned. All except United’s Enoch West, who didn’t take his medicine like a man and tried to sue the FA. His case failed and his ban wasn’t overturned until 1945. I’d like to think the authorities cited “for being a whiny bitch” in their decision-making process. It certainly wasn’t to be the last time someone associated with United would be accused of whinging and failing to take responsibility for their actions.

Football, in the modern era at least, with so much money swirling around and so much at stake, has become such a huge all-consuming game that one cannot help to look upon it with a great sense of cynicism. We’ve already seen the Calciopoli scandal in Italy, as well as reports of improper practices in Germany and Turkey in recent years. Only the most naïve fan will truly believe that the English game is whiter than white and that everything is above board. I am in no way speculating that anything dodgy is going on over here, but I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I wouldn’t be the slightest bit shocked if there was.

The incident described above was one of the earliest instances of match-fixing in the game anywhere and it took place in our own back yard between two teams that would go on to be the biggest and most successful. Not just in the country, but the entire world. Both teams love to remind everybody about their glorious trophy-laden history but remain noticeably quiet about this skeleton making itself at home in their cupboards.

Interestingly, the FA at the time decided that the players were solely responsible for the fix so bizarrely no punishment, relegation, fine or points deduction went the way of the clubs themselves. So, owing to a number of factors and the circumstances at the time, both clubs emerged relatively unscathed from what was otherwise a huge and potentially very damaging scandal.

Chelsea, the club who were relegated as a result of the cheating, were elected back into the restructured top flight after the war along with Arsenal who hadn’t even finished in a Division Two promotion position in the final pre-war campaign. Big four favouritism BEFORE they were even the big four?! Spooky....

Go on, show me your Tweets


Anonymous said...

What is this crap about Man Utd knocking Liverpool off their perch?
They are nowhere near achieving it and can never do so.
It has taken them thirty years to simply catch up and win one more league title...thirty years!!
All you do when you win the title is qualify for the next level up competition which we have won five times and are rightly described as the royalty of european football by the hierarchy of U.E.F.A.
Until UTD can compete with the great names in european football such as the Barcelona's Real Madrid, Liverpool etc and win the competition enough times to retain the trophy then I am afraid they will never be able to knock Liverpool off their perch.
The jealousy of all UTD fans towards Liverpool makes all Liverpool fans laugh,they even sing songs about Liverpool when playing someone else which makes it very amusing for us and confirms the bitter jealousy.
By the way will it take the Stretford End thirty years to catch up to the Kop and actually make up a song that isnt just a version of a Kop song with the words changed!!Perhaps not.

Richard Limb said...

Liverpool fans who can't let go of the past make me laugh.
And i wouldn't believe a single word UEFA say.