Last Wednesday Liverpool Football Club, one of the most iconic and successful sides in English Football (yes, football did exist before 1992!) played current A-League champions Sydney FC in front of over 72,000 fans at ANZ Stadium. This was LFC’s 3rd visit to Australia in the last 4 years with the club having a pre-season game against Melbourne Victory in 2013 and then against both Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United in 2015. This was the first time the club had come to Australia for a post season game. LFC arrived in Sydney a mere 11 hours before the 8pm kick-off and just over 60 hours after the final whistle in the last game of their EPL season against Middlesbrough.
What followed was a classic game of two halves. A first half masterclass from Liverpool, with goals from Sturridge, Firmino and Alberto Moreno. The second was more like that of a traditional friendly, lots of substitutions (with youngsters replacing first team regulars) causing a breakdown of fluidity and less of a spectacle.
However, this isn’t a match review.
This is a piece that’s responding to the criticism that has surrounded the match.
Why do I care? I’m what other people would probably refer to as a hardcore LFC fan. I get up to watch all our games live at all hours of the morning, whether that be with the LFC Wellington Supporters Club or at home. I wear my LFC shirt with pride. My 6 year old knows all the LFC players names and supports the club too. I’m also a Wellington Phoenix fan. I attend most home games and should technically dislike Sydney because they are an A-League rival who get looked upon a lot more favourably by the FFA than the Nix do.
I want to speak up in opposition to the criticism levelled at both sides.
#1 This was just a money grabbing exercise by LFC
Without a doubt the decision to do this tour would have been heavily influenced by the commercial terms offered to LFC. But, it does go deeper than that. LFC have forged a close bond to Reds down this end of the world. What often goes unnoticed is the work that goes on off the field whilst they are in Australia. Whether that be coaching clinics with young footballers, raising awareness and fundraising activities for Australian charities, and meet & greets and signing appearances for fans. This was the first time they haven’t held an open training session with ticket revenue going to charity, but only because they arrived in Sydney the morning of the match. But we can’t have it all, right? From my point of view, we should just be grateful that they keep coming down here. Klopp has already said he’s not a fan of long haul travel for pre-season games, so it could be a case of these post-season matches or nothing.
#2 Adding legends to the LFC side devalued the experience for fans
I’ll admit I was sceptical about the 4 former LFC players taking to the field. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. LFC needed to pad out their squad so that all starting players could be substituted. At 32, Daniel Agger could still be playing if it wasn’t for his terrible back injuries. Gerrard too could be playing at A-League level if it wasn’t for his desire to move into coaching at his boyhood club. Jamie Carragher, like the two above, is loved by LFC fans and he showed that if surrounded by top players he was good for 45minutes. They all acquitted themselves well. Steve McManaman, at 45, was probably the one who stood out as being well off the pace but by the time he was on he was surrounded by youngsters who could do the running for him.
#3 The atmosphere was terrible/poor/didn’t meet expectation
Part of this has to be down to the size of ANZ, how far away the fans are from each other and the field, but primarily down to the short turn around from announcement to tickets going on sale. It was a mad scramble to get tickets with the fixture only being announced on the 10th of April and tickets being on sale a couple of days later. For the last tour LFC Supporters Clubs (Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, New Zealand and Wellington) had a few weeks to organise members to bulk purchase tickets which meant we were all sitting in the same area and could get LFC chants going which helped build the atmosphere. This time around there was no time to organise group bookings so fans had to organise their own tickets and were spread around the stadium. From what I’ve been told, apart from the rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone at the start, it was hard to get anything going. Social media from Sydney fans mentioned that it was the same for them as LFC fans were scattered throughout the area that would have normally been reserved for The Cove (hard core Sydney fans).
A common criticism from them was also one I’ve heard from other A-League fans before “why do you need the words to YNWA on the big screen, if you’re a loyal fan you should know them”. What a load of crap. There were a large cross-section of fans at the game; hard core, fair weather, kids and those that aren’t even LFC fans who thought they’d go and watch a premier league side. Other than a section of the hard core fans, none of the other groups should be expected to know the words. As mentioned above, I go to most Phoenix home games but I don’t know the words to a lot of their chants (there’s only a one I choose not to sing – in the jungle just has to be binned!). That doesn’t mean I’m not a loyal fan, it’s just that I haven’t made the effort to learn the words. Do all Sydney fans know the Cove’s chants? Do all rugby fans know the rules to their game? I doubt it.
#4 Sydney were an embarrassment to the A-League
This is the same Sydney side that swept aside all and sundry to win the Premiers Plate, breaking numerous A-League records along the way, before winning the Grand Final on the 7th of May. They earned a well-deserved break after the season which no-doubt included having a few ales and switching off from the stresses of gunning for the title. Sydney player David Carney said post-match that “when you win the championship the last 2 weeks we were just probably not really training well, enjoying ourselves…it was a game that we took seriously but obviously we’d just won the championship”. Sydney also came across as a physically dominant side during their A-League campaign. They couldn’t / shouldn’t be thinking about replicating that during a friendly.
The A-League didn’t help themselves on the day of the match releasing pointless stats comparing 2 sides that play in different leagues. They compared the winning %, average goals scored, clean sheets, top scorers, etc which all painted a rosy picture for the Sky Blues. Klopp said in his postmatch conference that he didn’t expect more from Sydney and “we have a better football team than Sydney, this shouldn’t be a surprise…”, also that no one should expect more from Sydney given they’d finished their season a few weeks ago and they were a team missing several players (including their 2 marquees – Ninkovic and Holosko).
There is one key difference from this tour that the knockers are missing; it was a post-season game, not pre-season. LFC were at their peak fitness level after a 38 game EPL season under a manager who expects high levels of fitness from his players. Physically and mentally they were fizzing. The fact they tore Sydney apart in the first 45 minutes shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. I can only imagine that those reacting negatively have tribalism at heart and are thinking “Brisbane and Adelaide put on a better showing in 2015”, or “remember when Melbourne competed with Liverpool in 2013”. Fact is, those three games were at the start of pre-season for LFC. Klopp sums it up best when he says “In all of the pre-season games we will play, we will play out full training, so if we play our best in pre-season then I’ve done something completely wrong. It’s another session, it’s not about beating our opponents. I don’t care about how big the opponent is we will say nothing about the situation.”
My hope is that one day my beloved LFC will come to Wellington to play against the Phoenix. I know if it was to happen that the knives would come out, not only from A-League fans, but also LFC fans who felt their city ‘did it better’. It’s a shame that we can’t just enjoy the moment anymore and see these games for what they are. A great occasion for fans, and a not so serious hit out for the footballers involved.
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