In the summer of 1955, Allen Ginsberg wrote Howl, his stirring Beat poem, an ode to those peers and intellects left destroyed and ravaged by life in America during a difficult, oppressive Post-war period.
Today, his achingly raw words take on a fresher tone when applied to myself and fellow Liverpool fans struggling to make sense of the modern football culture that’s alarmingly close to leaving us behind, for we are the ones “destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,” and “burning for the ancient heavenly connection” to the glory days that are now distant memory.
This might seem a bit too hyperbolic or melodramatic, but I woke up this morning to a soccer universe in which Liverpool were beaten out of a rather unimportant tournament by a team some 70 places below us in the current Football League pantheon. Northampton Town fully deserved the win, and in defeat, this team finally deserves my own disparate, disgruntled thoughts.
On a micro level, losing to the Cobblers of League Two seems like yet another embarrassment in domestic cups, indistinguishable from the rest on face value. Last season, it was a home defeat to Reading in extra time of a FA Cup Third Round replay, outplayed on home turf like we were last night. In 2008-09, it was Barnsley, also at home, in the FA Cup. And so it goes.
This is less about the lack of priority given to these tournaments, but about the fact that when your second string team, dotted here and there with players purported to belong to the first XI, can’t beat a League Two side, it stands to reason that playing other teams is, and will be, equally laborious. This is 2010-11 at Anfield, folks. A Sisyphean struggle to stay within touching distance of the teams that actually matter.
Do we blame Roy Hodgson? Too early to tell. Though his pedestrian, modest practices have dovetailed too regularly with the Control Freak that was Rafa Benitez, he’s doing what he was hired to do: handle the squad with limited budget and maximum restraint. Keep things in a holding pattern. Steady the ship. Keep the shape, etc.
Do we blame the players? They’re certainly part of the problem. Coddled yet seemingly bulletproof to overwhelming dissent from outside the ranks, they’ve responded much how I’d expect: by playing and doing everything within their power to try not to lose. With all these emotions internalized and brooding, their style is timid. Dull. Overly protective. Afraid to do anything that might make the situation worse.
Do we blame the owners? They certainly take a slice, for their endless remonstrations with banks, lenders and investment groups for more rope with which to hang themselves have led the club to be labeled, perhaps forevermore, as a “toxic asset.”
Solutions are few and far between, all involving wholesale change. This is a club that cannot heal slowly, for everyone in England’s top flight is living in borrowed time. Ask the Icarus that was Leeds United, gambling away their future for a chance to take one more ride in Europe. It failed, and so did they. The effects lasted nearly a decade.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t read too much into one calamitous result in the Carling Cup, though that in itself was just one more mark against a season of disappointment so far. It’s so utterly strange to think that opening day’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal might well be considered the high point of this long, long campaign.