There were two major thefts in 2010. In May, the Musee d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris reported that over €100 million worth of paintings were stolen. In July Roy Hodgson started stealing a living as the manager of Liverpool Football Club.
Germany finally finished paying war reparations for their role in the First World War, meaning that Liverpool were likely the only former European power that was still in a shitload of debt. 2010 was also the year of the WikiLeaks saga – which was still only the second most controversial moment of the year behind the fact that Hodgson managed to keep his job at Anfield after being knocked out of the League Cup by Northampton Town.
In short, 2010 was a grim, grim time to be a Liverpool supporter. Anyone who’s dissatisfied with the beautifully healthy condition that the club is currently in wants to dial it back a little. Take a walk with me back into the dark days of Liverpool past, when relegation was a real prospect and two American cowboys took the club to the very brink of oblivion…
Before the return of Kenny Dalglish to relieve the stupor that the club found itself in at the turn of 2011.
The worst a fan can get
George Gilet. One of two names, alongside Tom Hicks, that will long live in infamy in the minds of Liverpool supporters, and makers of Stetson hats. Why? Because under their ownership of the club, by 2010/2011 – our 119th season to date – we came so very, very close to the very real possibility of administration.
This is not the place to dissect the financial woes that plagued the club from top to bottom during their reign. And there are far better, far more qualified people that can do that anyway. But suffice to say, with Rafa Benitez leaving the club after many, many months of broken promises and the strain of trying to emulate the heights of 2005–2009 – arguably the brightest moments the club had experienced since 2001 – the club was a listing super tanker, holed below the waterline.
And while it wasn’t “abandon ship” just yet, the distress signals were being sent out into the night.
The man seen as an answer to the problems was Roy Hodgson, who in boxing terms was a journeyman of sorts. He had managed to take Fulham to the final of the Europa League the season before, and was identified as being ready to take his chance at a top side.
This writer was taken in by the idea too. He was a steady, if uninspiring feller who I believed would steady the ship for a time until she was seaworthy again. That is, until the club had gained new owners and a decent footing in the league.
Whilst I never thought that Hodgson – who was hounded out of Inter Milan some years earlier and who managed to help relegate former Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers in the 1990s – would light any fires, I never expected just how quickly he would take us from listing ship to sinking ship.
The first sign that something was amiss was Hodgson’s first transfer window. At a time when the World Health Organisation had declared the Influenza Pandemic to be officially over, it was still silly season at Anfield. With Danny Wilson, Milan Jovanovic and Joe Cole arriving to pose in the most infamously depressing new signings photoshoot of all time.
Hodgson stood over them, like a proud grandfather who hadn’t realised that his grandkids were knocking off shops and stealing from him behind his back.
He also added Christian Poulson to the squad, as well as Paul Konchesky – a definite contender for worst ever Liverpool player. The most high profile departure of the season was of course Fernando Torres, but arguably the most damaging was Javier Mascherano who downed tools in anticipation of a move to Barcelona right before a complete humiliation against Manchester City.
Hodgson would try to spin the story as a slight on Mascherano’s character, but clearly it was a protest against the archaic methods of the new man at the helm.
The feeling around the ground was one of a lack of direction, or even a lack of care. Every home game was (rightfully) used as a chance to protest against the ownership and to put it bluntly, nobody was paying too much attention to the dull, uninspiring and un-Liverpool “style” that Hodgson was implementing.
It was hard to watch, frankly. It began with a pre-season that saw us win no games, and this mood was taken into the league campaign, with a 1-1 draw to Arsenal. A great strike from David N’Gog masked huge deficiencies against a side that was confident, playing slick possession-based football around Liverpool players who looked like they were stuck in a tin of treacle.
Joe Cole was sent off in a moment that would prove ominous for his ill-fated Liverpool career. Pepe Reina’s gaffe led to the Arsenal equaliser. The ground was muted. All around, it did not feel right at all. August continued with the Reds barely scraping into the Europa League knockout stage, and beating West Brom away from home in spite of – and I’m not kidding – battering Liverpool for the vast majority of the game.
From there we moved into September and a goalless draw against Birmingham City that saw the Liverpool goalkeeper claim the Man of the Match award, because once again Liverpool found themselves outplayed by another Midlands outfit.
A royal disaster
Despite clawing back a two-goal deficit at Castle Greyskull (after one of the worst first halves in certainly my memory), Liverpool managed to blow the chance for a point against Manchester United. Dimitar Berbatov nodded United’s third home to leave us with only five points from five.
However, up next was Northampton Town, of League Two, in the League Cup. Surely it couldn’t get any worse? Yes, it could. And don’t call me Shirley.
Hodgson fielded a weakened side, but that was no excuse for the appalling performance served up by the Reds as we barely scraped through to a penalty shootout. In fairness, Town deserved to go through in normal time. Such was the level of quality between the two sides on the night. They had their just rewards however and beat us in the shootout, at the Kop End too.
It was absolutely shocking that Liverpool should lose to a fourth-tier side for the first time in the club’s history. But Hodgson was not done setting records yet, oh no.
As September rumbled on, with the sale of the club gaining traction in the background, the calls to sack Hodgson became incredibly loud following draws against Sunderland and Utrecht.
A calamitous defeat at home to Blackpool came hot on the heels of the draws, leaving us in the relegation zone. The club was finally sold to the Fenway Sports Group in October. The new owner John Henry jetted over the Atlantic to the Theatre of Beams, Goodison Park, to watch the Reds in the Merseyside derby.
What he saw was an absolute car crash of a performance. A 2-0 defeat that truth be told could, and should have been much worse. Everton absolutely battered us and it could have been a cricket score at the end. As we left Woodison, dazed and confused, we all hoped that at least the manager would come out swinging for the players after a performance with less life than Theresa May’s government.
But what we got was Hodgson insisting that it was – and I quote – “the best performance of the season so far”. To say I, and thousands of others, were stunned was an understatement.
Then again, we shouldn’t have been surprised, not really. This is the man who said in a press conference that he hoped that he and “Sir Alex” (Ferguson) would remain “friends” despite him taking the Liverpool job. Ginsoak must have been rubbing his hands at that statement.
Hodgson also stated that he “wouldn’t stand in the way” of Fernando Torres if he wanted to leave. The man was a PR, and footballing, disaster for Liverpool from start to finish. His tactics were outdated, his style was stale, and his attitude frankly stank the place out. Anybody who thinks that he is a kindly old sort of bloke is badly, badly deluded.
He was rude to the press without a single shred of humour to go with it. He publically doubted the quality of players like Glen Johnson, statements that would have done the players absolutely no good at all, and his signings were utterly, utterly awful.
It would only get worse as December approached. A small winning ‘streak’ took the club out of the relegation places but the football was still woeful. Fans were in open revolt, their attention turned from the business of the ownership saga back to the pitch and what they saw was diabolical.
Back in November, scientists in Switzerland became the first to complete the terrifically difficult process of trapping antimatter, yet there wasn’t a soul on earth who could make Paul Konchesky understand the complexities of the offside trap.
Despite beating Aston Villa 3-0 at on the return of Gerard Houllier in the opposition dugout (with Maxi Rodriguez playing a starring role), Liverpool capitulated to Newcastle and then to Wolves at Anfield.
The Wolves game saw open fighting on the Kop. I know, because I was there. Grown men actually throwing hands as the bad blood in the fanbase boiled over.
Sylvain Ebanks-Blake made Torres look like Sylvain Ebanks-Blake as a Stephen Ward strike earned the visitors a 1-0 win. Liverpool looked desperately all at sea, and Hodgson looked utterly lost as the chants of “Hodgson for England” rolled down from all four sides of the ground.
All around the clamour for Dalglish to rescue a floundering campaign (and club) reached fever pitch. In the aftermath of another appalling showing away to Blackburn with Steven Gerrard blazing a penalty over the bar that would have salvaged a 3-3 draw, Hodgson was finally sacked.
The experiment with a seemingly unassuming, safe pair of hands ended in dismal failure. Hodgson was never the right man for Liverpool. His football – as England fans would later find out – was wretched. His tactics non-existent and his relationship with the fans about as warm as the cell in which Tommy Robinson will hopefully soon occupy.
A collective sigh of relief turned into something akin to rejoicing as his successor was named: Kenny Dalglish.
The return of the King
Defeats to Man Utd and Blackpool showed Dalglish the extent of the damage he had been drafted in to repair. His arrival suited everybody. The owners welcomed having a club icon at the helm while they got started. The fans were extremely glad of the return of the greatest player in the history of the club, and the television cameras got absolute gold whenever Kenny was on screen. Famously telling Arsene Wenger to “f*** off” at the Emirates to cite one example.
He also had a great deal of pulling power, by taking the sting out of the Torres sale with the signing of Andy Carroll and one Luis Suarez.
The next few months would be tough. Progression through the Europa League was always a slog, and for every decent performance – the Suarez-inspired 3-1 battering of United at Anfield, for example – there were defeats to West Ham, Braga and West Brom.
April saw the Reds embark on their best run of the season. They went six games unbeaten, including the 5-0 evisceration of Birmingham and the 5-2 battering of Fulham (and a Maxi hat-trick), meaning that the club would eventually finish sixth in the table. An utterly remarkable finish given the near-disaster that was Hodgson’s tenure.
Dalglish was granted another season off the back of the impressive run-in. This would see two domestic cup finals in the following campaign – resulting in a League Cup triumph (the last trophy the club has won to date) and an FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea.
After the tumultuous former ownership saga, and the horrendous reign of Roy Hodgson, Liverpool had regained something akin to stability under their iconic manager. In 2011, a year that saw, for some unknown reason, nearly two billion people watch the marriage of the future King of England, Liverpool Football Club got rid of the pretender to the throne and anointed our own once and future King.
In Alan Bennett’s outstanding play The History Boys, the history teacher Irwin remarks on the difficulty of looking back in time. It’s easy, he surmised, to look back at a time long ago, but much harder to examine recent history. “There is nothing as distant to us as the recent past… Looking back, it’s dead ground. We don’t see it.”
There could be no better quote to use to take a look at how some people currently look at the Reds. Here we are, battling for the top spot, taking on the most expensive English side ever assembled, and back to being one of the best sides in Europe…
Yet inexplicably there are those among us calling for the head of the manager if we don’t win the league, or lamenting that the season is over because the manager plays Jordan Henderson ahead of Naby Keïta.
If these people just looked back, and down, at the ‘dead ground’ they would be reminded of just how bad things really got at our beloved club, a mere 8 years ago, and perhaps they would change their minds.