This Sunday sees the clash of two once dominant clubs in the English game, Liverpool and Manchester United. While United are slowly picking themselves back up after a disastrous 2013-14, Liverpool have just been dumped out of the Champions League. Domestic form has been mediocre at best. Tony Dawber speaks to Liverpool fan group The Spirit of Shankly.
The showpiece fixture of English football for decades, the Premier League’s own El Clásico, is close to becoming a sideshow.
‘Liverpool and Manchester United are historically the two biggest clubs in English football, full stop,’ says Roy Bentham, who sits on the management committee of leading Liverpool fan group The Spirit of Shankly.
‘That won’t change any time soon due to the traditions and trophies they have both garnered this past 50 years, going back to the Shankly and Busby years.’
But a shadow hangs over this Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Manchester United.
‘The similarities between the two are striking. Both sets of fans were borne out of working-class communities. And both are now feeling the predicament of their clubs most acutely because of that affinity.’
Chelsea and Manchester City now hold sway over the English game.
While Liverpool were edged out of the Champions League at home by a competent but limited Basel this week, City went to Roma and won. Chelsea have sailed through their group. Manchester United… well, the former three-time European champions aren’t even in it.
‘It’s a big ask to stay on the coattails of those two teams,’ says Roy Bentham. ‘They’re flying, thanks to the open-chequebook philosophy of their mega-rich owners.’
While Reds fans agonised over Brendan Rodgers’ failed signings and wondered how much cash was available to strengthen in January, City cruised on in midweek even without crocked maestro Sergio Agüero.
Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and Madonna topped the charts when Liverpool last clinched the league title in April 1990, a 2-1 home win over QPR.
The subsequent 24-year title famine has been rendered even more painful for the Reds faithful by the fact that Sunday’s opponents and bitter rivals Manchester United then assumed the mantle of kings of the English game.
‘Last season’s tilt at the title shows that it’s not insurmountable,’ says Bentham. ‘Though only if we get it right in the transfer market.’
Also this week, work began on expanding Anfield from its current 45,000 plus capacity to 59,000, a project that will cost £100 million.
Clearly the aim is to provide more revenue, but will that be enough to keep up with City and Chelsea, both backed by benefactors with bottomless pockets?
While he acknowledged that the Reds, and indeed the Red Devils, are feeling the heat, Bentham retains a burning belief that the rich tradition and global support of both clubs still counts for something, and that the game is not up yet.
‘Football does go in cycles and I believe both clubs will challenge again,’ says Bentham.
For Sunday’s losers, however, any return to the heady days of dominance will seem a long way off.