WRITING
A selection of recent writing examples for your perusal.

Anfield Atmosphere - My Take | November 2017 | Published on Vital Liverpool
A lot has been said and written about the supposed demise of the famous Anfield atmosphere in recent times. Debates and articles have pointed the finger at various causes, most notably the lack of local supporters at games and the cost of tickets.

It is usually argued that these two points are intertwined with the average Scouser who lives and breaths the club, and the city of Liverpool, priced out of supporting 'his' team.

The increased cost of tickets has almost certainly contributed to the broadened demographic who attend games but whether this has impacted on local fans more than other groups is hard to quantify.

You could argue supporters from other parts of the UK, like myself who is based in Kent and therefore also contends with increased travel and sustenance costs, are even more adversely affected.

What is true is the club has always relied upon, and actively pursued, a wider fanbase; initially the Celts, then the Scandinavians and now, as their worldwide exposure increases, Asians and Americans.

Improvements to facilities and better stewarding etc have also made attending matches more appealing to women, the disabled, family groups and OAPs.

This is true of most stadia across the country and owes much to new standards and diversity criteria rightly enforced on owners by the Premier League, the Football Association and the government.

Fundamentally it's all a byproduct of keeping up with the times. Whether we like it or not football is now a lucrative, global entertainment business in which social media followers are almost as important as those who physically turn up each week.

Like all sound businesses, Liverpool cannot ignore trends within their market place and, ultimately, they cannot afford to be choosy as to where their revenues come from if they want to keep apace with others on the pitch.

In a number of seasons over the past decade or so the lack of fervour inside L4 can also be attributed to the lack of entertainment provided and the apathy felt by many towards the team - most notably during Brendan Rodgers' last full season at the helm.

In many ways we've gone from one extreme to another in this facet of the equation since Jürgen Klopp took over the reigns; many fans now go to every match expecting to be dazzled with exciting, goal-laden fare.

Such an outlook is obviously naïve but understandable to a point given the amount of high-scoring encounters we've been involved in and the edge-of-the-seat talents of Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané and now Mohamed Salah.

Sadly football doesn't come with any guarantees and such expectations are arguably chiefly the folly of a younger demographic within the supporter base, who are accustomed to getting everything they want instantly and are therefore quick to lose interest and reach for their mobile phones.

Regardless of this, many fans, rightly or wrongly, chose to sit on their hands until such time that the action warrants or, if the team is struggling, needs their involvement. Anything in between merely produces a reserved air of diligence.

In the world of modern football when 90 minutes on the terraces is regularly compared to going to the theatre, not least in the price of a ticket, this is akin to waiting for the star name to hit his stride on stage or the show to reach a crescendo via an eponymous rabble-rousing rock ballad (or should that be heavy metal ballad?).

You could make a good case that I fall into this particular category. I'm certainly not a regular singer, beyond the standard, badly off-key and slightly hushed pre-kick-off rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone, and I'm not even much of a shouter either. But that doesn't make me any less passionate or caring about the outcome.

My approach to spectating is partly due to a reserved nature but also due to being someone who loves the idiosyncrasies of the game, and who is often busy meticulously studying the tactical side of what is happening or the reactions of the benches.

Perched up high in the middle of the fabulous new Main Stand, as I was for the Huddersfield Town victory, you get a real sense of what is going on and, perhaps equally crucially as a Football Manager fanatic, what could and should be changed or tweaked.

Regardless of this, a defeat for Liverpool still ruins my weekend as much as anyone else's and, as it did for a first time as a 13-year-old boy at the 1996 FA Cup final, the game still holds the power to reduce me to tears of joy or despair when something significant is on the line.

I'm someone who loves football, and sport in general for that matter. Someone who, prior to marriage and fatherhood, would happily attend a local non-league game or watch a mid-table Serie C game on some obscure, legally-questionable foreign television channel.

But still nothing beats going to Anfield. The atmosphere, besides understandable lulls when another opponent's bus is perfecting a reverse parking manoeuvre, is still the match of any other in the country.

Of course if could be better but for the most part this issue should be little more than an aside.

Granted some day-trippers are there predominantly to take selfies but they are also likely to be helping line the coffers by spending a ridiculous sum on merchandise in the club shop.

The rest of us, which is still the large majority, are there for the same purpose; to support our beloved Reds through thick and thin. Some of us just chose not to make a song and a dance about it.

Was 2016/17 A Success Or Failure? | May 2017 | Published on Vital Liverpool
Another season has come to pass and silverware has yet again alluded Liverpool FC but should the 2016/17 campaign be viewed as a success or as a failure?

Taken at face value for a club of it's size and history - a club which legendary ex-manager Bill Shankly once famously claimed "exists to win trophies" - it's no surprise to see many observers taking a negative view of finishing 17 points behind champions Chelsea in fourth.

Detractors point to the embarrassing home FA Cup defeat by Championship side Wolverhampton Wanderers and the deserved EFL Cup semi-final exit to Southampton as further reasons why the season should be regarded as a failure.

This was after all a campaign in which a lack of European distractions, the inspiration of Leicester City's surprise title success and manager Jürgen Klopp's improved familiarity with English football were expected to be hugely beneficial in the search for success.

Perhaps that's the key word in this debate: 'success'. What does success actually look like? The answer to that obviously depends on who you are; success is subjective.

For those who want instant gratification or who compare the Liverpool of 2016/17 to the illustrious days of the 1970s and 80s then the past nine months have indeed been an unmitigated failure.

Football revolves around opinions of course and people who hold such a view are entitled to it but they leave themselves open to criticisms of short-sightedness.

This isn't the same club as that which dominated under Bob Paisley and his immediate predecessors, nor is modern football the same game in many aspects; the landscape has unquestionably changed.

Liverpool may have reached two finals last term but they lost them both and finished eighth. The Reds have won only one trophy in the past decade and amassed more than their 2016/17 tally of 76 points on four occasions since the Premier League came into being 25 years ago.

Against such criteria, particularly when you consider residual factors such as entertainment, style of play and the success of the new Main Stand, this has been a good year.

Arguably, since the days when the Merseysiders were regularly competing in the latter stages of the Champions League under Rafa Benitez, only the surprise title tilt of 2013/14 - a season in which the club also ended up with nothing except verbal accolades - can trump it.

Let's not forget that sandwiched between Liverpool's last two forays into the bloated, modern equivalent of the European Cup the club almost went out of business.

Current owners Fenway Sports Group have subsequently taken an understandably more measured approach to running things and only Southampton made a bigger net profit on transfers during 2016/17 (Source: Transfermarkt).

In contrast to Liverpool, who recouped £4million more than they spent, Arsenal went £87m and Manchester United £117m into the red on new players, only to still end up being leapfrogged by Klopp's men.

As much as we all love talking about football in grandiose romantic terms, it's remise not to take the cold hard finances of the modern game into account when judging success or failure.

Finishing in the top four should never be seen as winning something but it can provide a stepping stone to future trophies via the money and lure the Champions League provides to potential recruits.

Although I'm fundamentally in the camp who view the past campaign, all things considered, as a success, there are obviously regrets and a sense of 'what might have been'.

The way we played pre-Christmas, the unbeaten record against the rest of the 'big six' and the identity of the teams who defeated us, mean so much more could conceivably have been achieved.

Hopefully, however, true success - success that everyone can unequivocally agree upon and celebrate - is just around the corner.

Every journey must have a final destination and under Klopp good progress is being made towards reaching the shared goal of re-establishing Liverpool as a concerted force both home and abroad.

Hopefully the popular German can replicate his time at Borussia Dortmund and deliver the title in his third season but if he doesn't it won't automatically mean 2017/18 has been a failure either.

LFC's January Transfer Window History | Jan 2016 | Published on Vital Liverpool
The January transfer window has become an integral part of the football calendar in recent years, even if many clubs and managers tend to be less than enamoured by the onset of inflated prices and panic buying that can often accompany it.

After a quiet and largely uneventful first few years - Liverpool made no permanent signings under Gerard Houllier in either of the first two January transfer windows - the Reds have been involved in some of the most memorable January deals of recent times.

For the most part, that statement can be taken in a positive context, with some of the club's recruits becoming massive successes, but there are of course some notable exceptions.

In terms of successes, the 2006 January window holds a special place in the hearts of many Kopites, with the shock return of iconic forward Robbie Fowler, on a free transfer, completed in addition to the arrival of popular Danish defender Daniel Agger (£5.8m).

Rafa Benitez was the man in the Anfield hotseat at the time and he was also responsible for several other January success stories, including Alvaro Arbeloa (£2.6m - 2007), Javier Mascherano (loan - 2007), Martin Skrtel (£6.5m - 2008) and Maxi Rodriguez (free - 2010).

Inevitably, the recently departed Real Madrid boss also purchased his fair share of January duds, including Fernando Morientes (£6.3m - 2005) and Jan Kromkamp (swap - 2006).

Probably the most famous January window of all-time was the record breaking 2011 edition when Liverpool, under the stewardship of the iconic Kenny Dalglish, belatedly sold star striker Fernando Torres to Chelsea for £50m before rushing through a £35m deal for a replacement, in the imposing shape of Andy Carroll, all in the final hours of deadline day.

Neither move worked out and the appointment of Brendan Rodgers in June 2012 signalled the beginning of the end for Carroll after the Northern Irishman deemed him unsuitable for his intended style of play.

After a year away on loan, the Geordie target man joined West Ham United on a permanent transfer in the summer of 2013 for a mere £15m.

Despite picking up a League Cup winners medal and scoring the winner in an FA Cup semi-final against neighbours Everton, Carroll will forever be viewed as an expensive, injury-prone mistake.

Thankfully, also in the 2011 window, Dalglish oversaw the Anfield arrival of a far more successful striking recruit in Luis Suarez.

If Carroll is now widely regarded as the archetypical panic buy, Suarez, a £22.5m signing from Dutch side Ajax, is seen as someone who had the opposite impact and provided his new club with some much-needed impetus.

The Uruguayan arrived on Merseyside at a time when Liverpool were at an incredibly low ebb following a protracted ownership court case that threatened the club's very existence.

On the pitch, the Reds had been languishing in the bottom half of the table under Dalglish's predecessor Roy Hodgson, suffering defeats to the likes of Blackpool, Wolverhampton Wanderers and, in the League Cup, League Two strugglers Northampton Town.

Suarez's infectious work-rate and tenacity instantly won over the fans, who believed they had finally found someone worthy of wearing the club's famous No.7 shirt.

A series of serious disciplinary problems would ultimately prevent him being revered in quite the same light as some of the greats of the past but, when purely letting his feet do the talking, his technical qualities and natural ability were perhaps unsurpassed.

In total, during a three and a half year spell at the club, Suarez scored 82 goals in 133 appearances, many of them memorable.

31 of those goals came in 33 league appearances during the 2013-14 campaign when the Salto native was widely accepted to have elevated himself into the top three players in the world (alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo).

His departure, for £75m to Barcelona in July 2014, is still keenly felt now with the club dramatically failing to replicate the vibrant performances produced while the controversial frontman was in their ranks.

The swashbuckling theatrics of the 2013-14 season, in which Liverpool narrowly missed out on the Premier League title, were not solely down to Suarez though.

A couple of other January acquisitions, made by Rodgers the previous season, played a significant part in propelling the Merseysiders to runners-up spot.

Daniel Sturridge (£12m) and Philippe Coutinho (£8.5m) had been bit-part players at Chelsea and Inter Milan respectively when the Anfield club invested just over £20m for the pair.

Sturridge in particular immediately hit the ground running with 10 goals in his first 14 league appearances.

His partnership up front with Suarez the following season yielded 52 of Liverpool's 101 league goals and, despite a shocking injury record in recent times, the former Manchester City striker boasts a fantastic overall return of 44 goals in 72 games for the club.

Coutinho, meanwhile, has grown in prominence as the seasons have passed and is now seen by many, including recently departed skipper Steven Gerrard, as Liverpool's 'main man'.

The fleet-footed 23-year-old is the team's chief creative conduit but has also finally begun to add more goals to his game with five in 14 league appearances so far this season.

Coutinho will hopefully resist the inevitable lures of Real Madrid and Barcelona that await and remain a fulcrum in new boss Jürgen Klopp's team for many years to come.

Speaking of Klopp, if he delves into the market this month it will be the first time in three seasons Liverpool have done so.

Injuries and inconsistent form may well force the German's hand but, at present, the indications are that any arrivals are likely to be with an eye on the future as opposed to the here-and-now.

Ancelotti Would Be My Choice | Oct 2015 | Published on Vital Liverpool
The timing and handling of Brendan Rodgers' departure, an hour after Liverpool had earned a decent point away to local rivals Everton, left a lot to be desired but very few people, myself included, were ultimately surprised to see the Northern Irishman go.

The past 16 months have been nowhere near good enough and all the positivity created by the unexpected, and highly impressive, title tilt of 2013-14 evaporated a long time ago.

A recent return of just six outright victories from the last 22 competitive games, dating back to the 2-1 home defeat to Manchester United on March 22, is downright awful and, quite frankly, unacceptable. And that's before you take into account the modest opposition often faced during the period and the general lack of quality and entertainment produced.

Of course there are mitigating circumstances and Rodgers can point to losing a number of key players and the fact he is only partially culpable for the series of big-money flops that have littered his tenure.

Those excuses can only stretch so far however and the current squad unquestionably has the ability and strength in depth to be doing far better than it is.

With the decision made, attention has already turned to who should takeover and it's no surprise to see ex-Borussia Dortmund boss Jürgen Klopp quickly become the leading candidate amongst bookmakers, pundits and many supporters.

Personally, although I like Klopp and would view him as a marked improvement on Rodgers, I'd hand the Anfield hotseat over to Carlo Ancelotti.

The Italian has done it all in the game, as both a player and a manager, has an unflappable character and, crucially, has previous experience of working in the unique environment of the Premier League, unlike Klopp.

If we are to get back into the Champions League this season, which with the money and glamour it offers is crucial, the new man needs to hit the ground running and I believe Ancelotti is the best placed to do that.

Managing Liverpool would not be a daunting task for a guy who has had spells in charge of Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, AC Milan and Juventus.

Consequently, Ancelotti also has plenty of experience of managing within different structures and setups and Liverpool's much-criticised transfer committee is unlikely to unduly worry him, especially after working within the 'Galacticos' approach of Real.

The 56-year-old has had success wherever he's been; winning 17 trophies to date, including the Premier League and the Champions League three times. If he was to takeover at L4, I can see only further success following.

We've Got Problems All Over The Pitch | Sep 2015 | Published on Vital Liverpool
Two consecutive defeats at such a formative stage of the season wouldn't normally be the catalyst for such ire but when set against the backdrop of last season and this summer's extensive squad and coaching overhaul it's no wonder many Liverpool fans are calling for manager Brendan Rodgers to be sacked.

Up until now I've been a staunch supporter of the Northern Irishman but the last two results, and perhaps more crucially the performances involved, have simply not been good enough.

We've seemingly not moved on one iota from the dark days of Crystal Palace and Stoke City at the end of last season. The only real discernible difference now is that Rodgers is running out of excuses to explain away his team's persistent failings.

The former Swansea City boss got the backing of owners Fenway Sports Group at the end of last season - while others were thrown under the bus it shouldn't be forgotten - and then proceeded to bring in £80m of his own transfer targets, but the same glaring issues still remain.

At the back, Simon Mignolet, Martin Skrtel and co. still seem convinced that they were Franz Beckenbauer in a previous life no matter how many times they are robbed of possession or misplace a simple pass. With Christian Benteke now up front there really is no excuse for overplaying it at the back when under pressure, let alone doing so several times in each and every game.

In midfield, the desire, tempo and creativity which was crucial to our title tilt in 2013-14 remains worryingly absent. Gone are the days when we would harass the opposition from the first whistle and then burst forward the moment possession was won.

Of course the personnel has changed somewhat since then but there's certainly no excuse for the lack of ambition or 'character', as Rodgers calls it, that's been on show recently. The players appear stifled and reluctant to improvise or take charge.

The lack of cohesiveness in midfield causes issues further up the field too where Benteke regularly cuts an isolated and frustrated figure. We need people running beyond the big Belgium international and players to be alive to the possibility of him winning knock-downs and flick-ons.

To me at least, much of these issues can be addressed by moving away from the 4-3-3 formation Rodgers is currently steadfastly persevering with.

I'm a firm believer in the notion of square pegs in square holes; playing Danny Ings out wide is ridiculous when you have a natural winger in Jordan Ibe on the bench.

If the manager was so set on playing with wide forwards why did he let Lazar Markovic leave on loan? Or why didn't he bring in someone specifically suited to the role? Pushing left-back Alberto Moreno forward just isn't an option that should be considered at a club like Liverpool let alone regularly utilised.

Furthermore, we've undeniably played most of our best football under Rodgers with a midfield diamond and two strikers. With Daniel Sturridge on the brink of making his eagerly anticipated comeback from injury, there is simply no excuses for ignoring that fact any longer.

Such a formation would allow us to get Philippe Coutinho, or Roberto Firmino, involved in a key area (tip of the diamond) rather than wasting them deep or out wide.

The perceived downside of the diamond is usually a lack of width but in Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne we have two of the best attacking full-backs around, while the willing running and energy of Jordan Henderson and James Milner from the middle of the park can also help overcome any deficiencies of this nature.

Whatever he decides to do, Rodgers must do something and do it quickly otherwise no amount of media savvy or teeth whitening will rescue him from a date with the dreaded P45.

My Steven Gerrard Eulogy | May 2015 | Published on Vital Liverpool
As a boy growing up in Kent, I remember regularly getting accused of being a glory hunter for supporting Liverpool FC. That I had little choice in the matter due to my Dad's allegiance nor the fact that I regularly visited the city meant anything in the harsh reality of the school playground.

Thinking back, it was somewhat strange to have my credentials questioned given the lack of local alternatives - only Gillingham were, and are, a football league club based in Kent and nobody questioning me ever supported them.

I was seven when Kenny Dalglish steered Liverpool to their last league title and therefore was more accustomed to the club struggling dramatically under Graeme Souness and then winning plaudits, but very little else, under Roy Evans.

As time past, something, or more accurately someone, suddenly emerged that peaked my hopes of glory, and made me even prouder to call myself a Liverpool fan; Steven George Gerrard.

Right from the off you could tell he was different. Dynamic and determined in equal measure, there was soon a very real sense that the outlook for success had brightened significantly.

And so it was to prove. The big stage, which had reduced me to tears in 1996 when Eric Cantona settled the drabbest of FA Cup finals, soon became almost exclusively Gerrard's whenever the Reds were in a final.

I was in my mid teens when he debuted and instantly felt I could relate to this scruffy, down-to-earth kid, who would quickly go on to replace Robbie Fowler at the top of my affections.

I'd never previously been someone to have a player's name printed on my football shirts but for him I made an exception; I wanted to be Stevie G.

After being constantly regaled with stories and eulogies about the likes of Dalglish, Billy Liddell and Ian Callaghan, I finally had a player of a similar standing who's career I could actually follow in person.

The stats - 710 appearances, 186 goals, seven major trophies - only tell part of the story given his impact and significance, not to mention the lack of overall quality in many of the teams he was playing in.

Until my wedding and the recent birth of my first child, the greatest moments of my life were solely intertwined with his; the treble of 2001, Istanbul 2005, Cardiff 2006.

Of course there should have been many more but in some ways his loyalty and the way he conducted himself, particularly in a modern game awash with flash, social media-addicted attention seekers, is of equal importance.

Of course my view, as a Liverpool fan, is somewhat biased but you only need to read the opinions of his contemporaries to understand just how good Gerrard has been.

Such illumines as Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Paolo Maldini and Andrea Pirlo, are united in their passionate assessments of both Steven Gerrard the player, and Steven Gerrard the man.

The fact that Pirlo, one of the most gifted, revered and successful midfielders of recent times, once described him as Europe's 'most complete footballer' says it all.

From a Liverpool perspective, Gerrard is probably best summed up by the giant Kop-end flag which reads: "The best there is. The best there was. The best there ever will be."

Anfield will certainly not be the same without him. YNWA.

Rodgers Out? Ridiculous! | Dec 2014 | Published on Anfield Roar
We all know that football is a fickle old business but sometimes I'm still amazed by just how short-sighted and narrow-minded those involved in the game can be.

That particular statement applies to everyone from FIFA bigwigs and club owners down, but can most commonly be used in relation to supporters.

At Liverpool we are widely accepted to have one of the most passionate and knowledgable fan bases around but recently many of them seem to have lost their marbles. Brendan Rodgers out? Absolutely ridiculous!

Is it that hard to accept that we massively overachieved last season and this year was never going to match those heady heights? Of course it's true that performances and results should be a lot better than they have been but we were never likely to be title challengers again this time around.

That said, when it comes to the reasons/excuses (depending on how you look at it) behind our struggles, I do accept that too much has been made of the impact a high number of new players has on a team's performance and consistency.

Southampton and West Ham United also made wholesale changes over the summer but, in stark contrast to us, are flying right now. Overhauling the squad can therefore clearly be done far more successfully than we have managed.

However, you have to bear in mind that neither of those sides have had to replace a player of Luis Suarez's ability and influence, endured the amount of injuries we have, nor crucially do they have to contend with playing in the Champions League. Unlike us they have had the time to integrate their new players on the training ground, as opposed to spending much of each week recuperating and traveling.

That is arguably the main issue at the heart of our troubles and it's something that I'm sure we will adapt to over time.

To put things into perspective, the match against Chelsea before the international break was our seventh in 21 days. By contrast the Hammers have played just four times in that period.

Last season we had no European football and exited the League Cup early, thus allowing Brendan Rodgers a full week to fully prepare for each league game. It's no coincidence.

Consequently, although I might not agree, I can totally understand why he decided to change practically the whole team against Real Madrid and we can only hope that it bares fruit further down the track.

Regardless of the roots of our current problems, some fans need to cast their minds back to where this team has come from; it's only a little over four years since Roy Hodgson was in charge and we were on the verge of going out of business!

They may have started slowly but I would put my mortgage on the fact that Emre Can, Adam Lallana et al will forge more successful careers at Anfield than the likes of Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic managed.

Of course the current crop of signings were assembled at a far greater cost but even that becomes a slightly moot point when you consider our net spend after outgoings was 'only' around £35m.

That figure is broadly the same as Everton, Manchester City and West Ham spent, £10m less than Arsenal and almost £90m less than Manchester United outlaid in the last transfer window.

It should also be remembered that we are less than a third through the season; we were outside of the top four at the end of the last calendar year before turning things around in dramatic fashion. Everything is still to play for.

I appeal to the many discontented fans to get behind the manager and his players. Rodgers has earned time and deserves our respect. Scurrilous scrutiny and assessment should be saved until the end of the season or, at the very earliest, January when things on the pitch can actually be altered!

In the meantime, keep the faith and try to remember that things could be, and have been, far worse!
BACK TO TOP