Friday, 5 March 2010

LIVERPOOL FC: You can't beat a bit of bias

IF there's one thing that never ceases to amaze about football, it's how two people can watch the same game and walk away with totally different opinions.

I've noticed it a lot in recent weeks.

Take Liverpool's 0-0 draw at Manchester City. If some are to be believed, this was the worst game in the history of football. A game devoid of incident, passion or entertainment, according to most reports in the media.

Not for the first time, I saw it differently. Yes, goalmouth incident was lacking. But I still found it intriguing nevertheless. A game that had so much riding it on it was always likely to invoke a cautious approach, particularly from two managers well known for that trait.

Yet Liverpool took that game to City, and apart from the lack of a telling final ball (a common theme throughout this injury-hit season) some of the build-up play was to be admired, as was the defending - an aspect of the Reds' game that all and sundry were queuing up to criticise earlier in the season.

The result too, against a team that has beaten Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United on their own turf, wasn't bad either.

But that still didn't stop fans throwing their toys out of the pram and dramatically declaring that was the final straw with Rafa Benitez.

The media men were at it, too.

Watching from the press box, and keeping my ears open, it's hard not to think some journalists will find fault no matter what.

The 'terrible game' concept was thrown up in the air by one hack - who had clearly learnt to whisper in a helicopter - within 20 minutes.

The idea stuck - and soon they were all at it. By the time proceedings had reached the post-match press conference, the knives were out for the "negative" managers and the party line had been agreed.

"Is your first thought defence?" was the opening gambit fired at City boss Roberto Mancini - and so it went on from there.

Barely a mention of a horrendous refereeing display from Peter Walton - or an acknowledgement of how important it was for both sides to avoid defeat.

On to the Blackburn match at Anfield and it was the same again, this time a fan outside the Main Stand loudly stating the 2-1 win over Sam Allardyce's side was the "worst game of the season".

Granted it wasn't a classic, mainly due to Blackburn's spoiling tactics. But Liverpool played well in the first half and Sam Allardyce's team of giants should have been brought crashing down to earth by half time.

That they weren't - allied to a dip in the level of Liverpool's play in the second half - made for a nervy ending to the match and the quality suffered accordingly.

At least referee Alan Wiley did his best to keep the crowd entertained with his own comedy sideshow.

How Pascal Chimbonda - for stabbing his studs into Maxi Rodriguez's chest - and Steven Nzonzi - for shoving Lucas in the face - didn't see red are definite 'answers on a postcard' moments.

So, "worst game of the season"? Not even close. Ask the fans who travelled to Portsmouth to watch Liverpool roll over at Fratton Park or the supporters who went up to Sunderland to watch a beach ball get on the scoresheet. A scrappy win over Blackburn was Liverpool 4 Newcastle 3 in comparison.

The problem seems to be some people - managers, fans, pundits, journalists - have a mindset about Liverpool now.

And however they play, or whatever they do, they will perceive it negatively.

There are lots of factors at play though - anti-Rafa, pro-Rafa, supporting another team, despising Liverpool for their past successes, or being influenced by a negative voice from within the club - all can sway the opinion of fans, writers, broadcasters and the rest.

Look at the appropiately-named Andy Cryer of the Lancashire Telegraph.

Mr Cryer is clearly a dyed-in-the-wool Blackburn Rovers fan. Perhaps he has posters of Sam Allardyce on his (very big) bedroom wall?

In this article he took exception to national newspaper journalists questioning Allardyce's criticisms of Liverpool - a long-standing tit-for-tat argument with Rafa Benitez the Ewood Park manager decided to reignite before a ball had even been kicked.

Allardyce must have been visiting Craig Bellamy's glass house when he unashamedly threw stones about Liverpool's "physical" style pre-match.

Blackburn finished the game at Anfield with five players in the book.

But Cryer didn't like the tables being turned, poopooing a "supposed physical approach" and instead praising Rovers for "mixing it with the superstars."

He illustrates perfectly that an objective report in football is as unlikely as a convincing argument from Carol Vorderman on Question Time.

Everyone, in every walk of life, in every trade or profession, is biased when it comes to football. Including referees (remember Mike Reed 'celebrating' a Danny Murphy goal at Anfield in the win over Leeds in 2000?).

It's just that some are better than others at hiding it.

Andy Cryer isn't good at it, but then he's writing for a Lancashire paper, so why not don the rose-tinted glasses and write a completely biased piece?

It's only down to the internet that so many Liverpool fans have become aware of his musings (see the comments).

And if we didn't have criers like Cryer, what would we talk about, write about, rant about...?

Different opinions in football are as much a part of the game as a ball or a goalpost.

And as much as we all like to moan about it, we wouldn't have it any other way...

New Liverpool FC magazine - Well Red - out next month.