Notes on the 2018-19 title race with a different perspective. Writing with (and about) the enemy. By Sachin Nakrani and Simon Curtis
To Boo or
Not To Boo
1st October 2018 – Raheem Sterling knows the drill by now. Come his first touch on Sunday – and probably at some point before that – he will be booed by the Anfield crowd.
They will also boo his next touch, and the one after that and almost certainly the one after that, and in between will come the chant that has come to define Sterling’s relationship with a group of people who once adored his every move.
It’s part of the dance and no doubt Sterling will shrug off the abuse and look to get City on the front foot and flying forward at every opportunity. Or at least he’ll try because in the three years since he swapped Merseyside for Manchester, the winger has made sod-all impact in games against Liverpool. Indeed in last season’s encounter at Anfield – ‘the 4-3’ – Sterling was so ineffective that Pep Guardiola took him off with 19 minutes remaining. And how those of us in the Kop and elsewhere loved it.
“One greedy bastard! There’s only one greedy bastard! One greee-dy baaastarrrd ...”
I chant the chant, City fans, but, I’ll be honest, my heart is not in it. Not fully. Resentment lingers over Sterling’s decision to leave us for you in 2015 but I’m not angry with him – never really have been and certainly not now, not after all this time when both player and club have moved on so much.
Liverpool are thriving and so is Sterling. He was excellent in the 2-0 victory over Brighton on Saturday, opening the scoring with a strike that means the 23-year-old has now been directly involved in 34 Premier League goals since the start of last season, a tally bettered only by Harry Kane (38) and Mohamed Salah (46).
It’s an eye-catching statistic and one that makes me smile. I’m not 100% sure why, given Sterling’s not only an opposition player but one that ditched us for the trendier girl down the road. I should hate that greedy bastard ... but I don’t.
Thinking about it, there are probably three reasons why Sterling’s good work makes me feel good. Firstly, he’s a fellow norf London boy, raised near Wembley Stadium, whose arch I can see from the spare room at my parents’ house.
I’m not one of those people who gets overly sentimental about the place he was born and raised but, equally, I’ve got a lot of time for my neck of the woods –its working-class ethos, its rich diversity, its cracking transport links, so when I hear an actual, properly-good footballer is also from there it naturally sparks interest and raises the warmth levels. Come here Raheem, let me give you a high-five and a tour of the streets where our paths may have once crossed.
Secondly, he’s a Red. Well, sort of. We signed him from Queens Park Rangers but all his key learning took place at Liverpool - at the academy and then at Anfield, under the watch of first Kenny Dalglish and then Brendan Rodgers. We nurtured and developed Sterling’s talent and, boy, what talent it was, even back then.
I’ll never forget watching highlights of Liverpool’s 9-0 victory over Southend in the FA Youth Cup in 2011 and marvelling at how our 16-year-old winger tore the backside of the opposition, forever frightening them with his pace, skill and directness and, come the final whistle, having five - yes, FIVE - goals to his name. And what was that name? Raheem Sterling, of course. It was the moment I knew Liverpool had a ‘next big thing’ on their hands, a status he more than lived up to prior to joining City for £49m in July 2015.
The other reason I like Sterling? Because the right-wing press in this country don’t. The grief that lad has taken from the Daily Mail and the Sun in particular has been nothing short of shocking. It also speaks to a sinister strand of society, namely that of black people knowing their place, and the fact Sterling, someone so young and, given his family background, so vulnerable, has had to deal with this while continuing to mature and excel as a high-level footballer not only says a lot about his character but also provides inspiration for those that follow his path. Namely, don’t let the bastards grind you down.
So yes, I like Raheem Sterling. I’ll still boo him on Sunday, though, largely because doing so has the clear effect of putting him off his game. It’s tactical rather than emotional jeering, aimed at someone I once loved, hated for a little while but, overall, admire greatly. – Sachin Nakrani
1st October 2018 – I don’t tend to boo very much. It’s a long story dating back to the early 80s but it feels strangely unproductive. Firstly, it’s a daft noise that makes the perpetrator look like a spoon-chinned simpleton and secondly - if you do it with any feeling (and half-hearted booing is not something I have come across) - it makes your brain vibrate and that – if you’ve been drinking all lunchtime – is not a good sensation.
There will be plenty booing at Anfield next weekend, you can be sure of that. The ongoing problem Liverpool fans have with ex-favourite Raheem Sterling has now been successfully exported to a variety of grounds across the country. Burnley? Stoke? This can only be the sterling work of the Daily Mail or The Sun, one supposes. Fling enough bad press at one undeserving target and the great mass of sheep will cotton on eventually.
The booing that will cascade off the Kop and other parts of what will be a raw and stuffed Anfield will be matched by similar noises emanating from sections of the away support. The howling is likely to rise as James Milner wanders into the vicinity to take a throw-in.
In 2015 Milner swapped sky blue for bright red (in itself a rare occurrence, usually in the past on the grounds that Liverpool really had very little need for ex-Manchester City players). Robbie Fowler, Dietmar Hamman and Steve MacManaman might have travelled in the opposite direction along the East Lancs road as their careers wound down, but there have been few tolls paid to go west in modern times.
Milner’s transfer was an odd affair. Having turned down the offer of a £165,000 a week, the player accepted a pay-cut of £15,000 a week to join Liverpool. This in itself was a brave and slightly unusual move: a player seemingly motivated by getting a game more than getting a pay rise. Refreshing, in these tunnel-vision days of money-grabbing greed.
As The Guardian's Andy Hunter reported at the time,
“Milner’s contract at Anfield is believed to be less than he would have earned had he stayed with City, around £150,000 a week, but the lure of a more regular role with Liverpool – and in his preferred central midfield position – was a key factor in his decision. Remaining in the north-west where the England international is settled with his family was also an influence.”
So far so good. Milner’s service to City had been consistent and full of the energy typical of a player who had made it to the international ranks via his indefatigable spirit and apparent willingness to be seen as a utility player.
But wait, this was the crux of the matter. Utility player be gone. Milner wanted central midfield action and trophies. “I’ve come to Liverpool to win things” he stated somewhat optimistically. Emerging as a Liverpool full back under Klopp's tutelage (when he managed to ease into the side at all) raised an eyebrow or two among the City faithful.
As had happened with Raheem Sterling, whose swift flight in the opposite direction hit a raw nerve with the Anfield support, so the City fans felt slighted by Milner’s “made-up” excuses to go. That he has found a niche for himself in Jurgen Klopp’s smooth-running set-up speaks volumes for his perseverance and fighting spirit. It is difficult over time to hold grudges against a player whose honest endeavour puts many to shame. Milner's acceptance of his Boring Milner tag also plays positively, embracing the joke and playing along to it on social media.
The fact remains that Sterling clearly transferred to a club with better prospects and Milner did not. Taking away any partisan thoughts, that is clearly the case.
But, still worth a boo, after all that water has passed under the bridge? My first recollection of booing at Maine Road was from the Kippax for Paul Power. Many clubs have experienced the problem of sections of the home crowd selecting an under-performing player from their own malfunctioning team to moan at and – in the worse case – abuse. City in 1983 certainly gave the faithful plenty of reason to boo, but the singling out of Power was unpleasant and embarrassing. His treatment wasn’t pretty, persuading him to leave and win the league with Everton shortly afterwards. A major influence down the left flank for Howard Kendall's side, Power's treatment was all the more disconcerting as a result.
Whether Milner can rub certain people’s noses in the dirt by helping Liverpool to the title in 2019 is still open to serious doubt. Liverpool's much heralded best-ever Premier League start still sees them 2nd behind City in the table, after all. If he does, he will have helped his club achieve something very special, will have partly vindicated his move west and will help provoke a wave of euphoria in that part of the country that the rest of us may never fully escape.
– Simon Curtis
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
DISPATCHES FROM THE OTHER SIDE 6
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