Rightly or wrongly, the memories of LFC fans and the history books of 2010/11 will be focussed off the pitch rather than on it.
It has been a tumultous 12 months supporting Liverpool FC.
Seconds away from qualifying for another European final, before finishing on 63 points – and gaining place in the Europa League. This was the kind of failure that gave Tom Hicks, George Gillett and Christian Purslow all the power they needed to remove the thorn in their side – Rafa Benitez.
With debts of £300M, interest payments of £30M (not to mention a hidden £150M debt that eventually Hicks and Gillett would have to pay themselves) – the club were facing a PR disaster. Fans had had enough of the debt which was affecting player purchases and on-field performances. There were protests outside and inside the ground, and some fans had even decided to withdraw their money from club merchandise and tickets.
The three wise men running the club in to the ground needed a good PR move. Along came Roy Hodgson – loved by the press – a man who would ‘steady the ship.’
It would prove to be their final and most suicidal move. From day one Hodgson was a calamity. The Liverpool job was his ‘personal reward’. Suddenly every team in the country became a difficult challenge and Liverpool slumped. Fans anger grew at the people running the club, and after two appearances at the High Court and a couple over in Texas – Liverpool avoided administration (and a potential 9 point penalty) with literally hours to spare.
Performances failed to improve on the pitch – and Fenway’s inexperience in football ensured they failed to fire the trigger on Roy Hodgson for a further two months.
Dalglish’ return had been urged by the fans for months – and despite two defeats in the first two games – the ship began to turn away from the impending iceberg and headed back towards calmer waters.
Liverpool were 12th on the 8th January 2011. Since that day – Liverpool have been the third best team in the Premier League – scoring the most goals along with it.
The reds made a valiant effort for European qualification, but two final defeats took some shine off what would have been a sensational turnaround. It makes sense that a 20 game handicap in a 38 game season proved a little too much to turn around.
The January departure of Fernando Torres for an astonishing £50M for Chelsea was serenaded by the London club. Only Liverpool fans are smiling at this move – with Chelsea seemingly now in disarray as his solitary goal failed to help them to a trophy that Abramovich demanded.
The reds moved to secure the services of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll (to replace Torres and Babel). Suarez has had an immediate impact – a player who looks capable of handling the demands of the number 7 shirt.
Carroll meanwhile, was out through injury on his purchase, and has only made fleeting appearances in a red shirt – Liverpool fans will better judge his abilities next season.
So that was the season that was.
A Premier League record identical to that of Rafa’s first season – albeit without a European Cup victory at the end. Liverpool fans will be looking forward to the goings on in the summer – and will take heart from the 82 points the reds landed the season after our last 58 points haul.
But Liverpool will be missing one thing next season – European football. Many have tried to gloss over this – to put a positive spin on us being out of the tournament but it is not a view I share.
It is a failure – it is never acceptable. All the top clubs are now used to playing European football alongside other tournaments and our failure to qualify is only storing up new challenges further down the line.
Next season Liverpool have no excuses not to push hard in the domestic competitions and we as fans, as always, demand the club to be in such a position to return European football back to British football’s most successful European club.
On the field, this season has been abysmal – but Liverpool Football Club is now in a far better and harmonious place than it was 12 months ago. And over the course of the crazy 12 months gone – we as fans never walked alone.