Six reasons why I was shouting ‘Forza Milan!’
Should we all have been supporting Liverpool in the Champions League Final? Don't talk shite.
Did you put aside your club allegiance and become Scouse for a night during the Champions League final? I certainly didn’t. I was chanting ‘Forza Milan!’ and here’s why.
Before I explain, let’s just rewind to Saturday’s FA Cup Final. The game was so dull that two of my friends actually nodded off on my sofa. However, there was one memorable moment. To celebrate the opening of the new Wembley stadium, assorted ex-players – or ‘legends’ – of the FA Cup paraded across the pitch – to some booing from the crowds. The booing was, in particular, directed at former Liverpool players. The message was clear enough: they’re someone else’s heroes, not ours. It was a reassuring sign that the old irreverent terrace culture hasn’t been completely extinguished by the seemingly inexorable march of sanitisation.
Passion and hatred are inextricably conjoined in football. Yet whenever an English team is playing in a European final, we are expected to call a temporary halt to domestic hostilities and cheer on ‘our boys’ against foreign opponents. My response is simple: ‘Never, never, never, never!’ I don’t often feel the urge to quote Dr Ian Paisley but his famous slogan seems rather apt in the circumstances. I felt the same when Liverpool fluked the European Cup in 2005. After the game Tony Blair sent the team a preposterously presumptuous congratulatory message saying: ‘Unbelievable. Incredible. Brilliant. The whole country is very proud of you’. Well, not in my name, Mr Blair.
Observer sports writer Kevin Mitchell may have convinced himself that ‘the entire nation turned Scouse for one wild night’, but I knew plenty of people who weren’t celebrating, notably fans of Everton and Manchester United. I asked one Evertonian friend if he fancied watching this week’s Champions League final in a pub but he said he couldn’t bear to watch the game in case the ‘redshite’ won. He claims to have stayed in and watched a wildlife programme on gannets instead.
It’s not that I adopt a kneejerk ‘Anyone but the English’ stance for every European game. Sometimes I might side with the English team – though ‘support’ is too strong a word. At other times – for example, when the likes of Bolton or Middlesborough are playing an obscure Slovakian outfit in the UEFA Cup – I just don’t care who wins. What I can’t abide, however, are shrill demands for 90-minute patriotism when British teams are in action.
I was rooting for the Rossoneri on Wednesday night. It’s not because I had any particular affinity for AC Milan. I just wanted to see Liverpool lose, pure and simple. Perhaps it’s because I grew up when Liverpool were still firmly ensconced on their ‘fucking perch’, to use Fergie’s expression. Whatever the roots of my antipathy, I wanted to see Milan take the Scousers down. And, if you were undecided, here are six good reasons why all right thinking people should rejoice that Milan won.
- If Liverpool had won the cup we’d have never heard the end of it. The unappetising prospect of Scousers crowing incessantly about their six European Cups doesn’t bear thinking about. Just think about it. We’d have had to endure even more mawkish, sentimental, self-mythologising claptrap about how Liverpool fans are the best supporters in the world, how the Kop ‘sucks the ball into the net’, how Anfield is the cradle of terrace culture, how Rafa Benitez is a tactical genius, how Bill Shankly was a God, and so on, ad nauseam. In short, it would have been un-fucking-bearable.
- A Liverpool win would have been a victory for ugly football. Now, I’m all in favour of winning ugly when a club of limited means is pitted against a football aristocrat. But Liverpool are hardly paupers are they? We’re talking here about the eighth richest football club on the planet, according to Deloitte, so they really ought to be able to afford a few creative players (a goalscorer would have been handy against Milan). Yet their dull, risk-averse, spoiling style of football makes Italian catenaccio seem cavalier by comparison. Argentine World Cup winner Jorge Valdano was spot on when he described the turgid war of attrition between Liverpool and Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final as ‘shit hanging from a stick’. ‘Put a shit hanging from a stick in the middle of this passionate, crazy stadium and there are people who will tell you it’s a work of art’, wrote Valdano in the Spanish sports paper Marca. ‘It’s not: it’s a shit hanging from a stick’.
- If a team as mediocre as Liverpool had won it would have devalued the Champions League. It is possible to dismiss Liverpool’s improbable victory in 2005 as one of those freakish accidents that sometimes happen in football. But if they’d repeated the feat you’d have to start asking some serious questions about the Champions League. I’m not suggesting that UEFA should restrict entry to league champions only but you can’t just allow any old riff raff in. The teams entering the competition must be championship calibre, something which Liverpool are clearly not. They last won a domestic league title 17 years ago. They have never won the Premier League and only once finished runners-up. Under Rafa Benitez they have become effective cup specialists but they are still nowhere near good enough to win the league. This year they didn’t even come close, finishing 21 points behind Manchester United.
- If you imagined that winning the European Cup might stop the Scousers moaning, albeit temporarily, think again. Scousers have the remarkable knack of being able to celebrate and whinge simultaneously. They moaned last time they won the trophy because Steven Gerrard wasn’t awarded a gong in the New Year’s Honour’s list. They moaned because former manager Bob Paisley never received a knighthood – 45,000 signed a Downing Street e-petition demanding that Paisley’s corpse be posthumously knighted. And they’ve been moaning for the last few weeks about UEFA’s ticketing policies (to be fair they have a point).
- Jimmy Tarbuck, Les Dennis, Chris de Burgh, and Stan Boardman are all celebrity fans. Surely we want to see these people suffer?
- The best reason for supporting Milan was good, honest, old-fashioned Schadenfreude. Flight to Athens: £600. Black market ticket £1,000. Inflatable European Cup: £10. 40,000 Scousers watching Liverpool get mugged by Milan: priceless!
Postscript: Last week I suggested that it was good fun to watch fans weeping when their club is relegated. Relegation is cruel but having Bryan Robson installed as your new manager is a tragedy. Nobody deserves that. I’d like to extend my deepest sympathies to all Blades fans.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.
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