AGAINST LIVING MISERABLY

(Written for The Anfield Wrap online mag)

//Against Living Miserably

PICTURE the scene. You’re in your early twenties and you go to the game with a bunch of mates. Your priorities are simple. First off is Liverpool Football Club. Then, every tiny thing that forms and surrounds Liverpool Football Club.

There are secondary concerns, too. Getting hammered at the weekend, making sure you’ve got enough money for Liverpool Football Club and getting hammered at the weekend. Then there are girls, clothes and music. As Weller once said: “Life is a drink and you get drunk when you’re young.”

This is a joyous time, but it does come with certain responsibilities and constraints. The pressures on young lads are manifold. Money, job, expectation, peer pressure and machismo are all in the mix. The last two are particularly significant. You govern yourself based on your mates’ behaviour far more than societal boundaries.

There are lots of silly rules that must be adhered to – don’t act above yourself, look after your mates, don’t betray them and so on. It reminds me of the story of Jamie Carragher and his mates. Well, I’ll let him tell it.

“I remember I got a wallet once and got slaughtered for that.”

(You mean a fancy Gucci number, with special Premiership-footballer, super-expensive leather?)

“Nah, just a normal wallet. Where I’m from, you carry money in your pockets, and I got slaughtered by my mates. I’d never had a wallet before and they thought I was trying to be someone I’m not. I got rid of it. Never had one since.”

I love that story. Keeping his cash and cards in something other than his pockets is a bit posh and went against the accepted lifestyle of Bootle. So he packed it in because it went against the local grain. Its stupidity makes it funny.

Piss taking is an important part of life. If there are a dozen of you who are close enough to be considered brothers you stay with them for years despite their own peccadillos. You have a code that binds you for life. Call it brotherhood, whatever, but it’s there and it only erodes when the group disseminates and experiences change.

But what if you feel a bit different from the rest of the lads? What if you’re struggling with a few issues? Drinking too much, too many drugs, relationship (or lack of relationship) troubles that drag you down every day, debt, verbal and physical abuse? We all have some of these problems at times but what if you can’t shake off the demons and feel yourself spiraling into dark, dark thoughts? What if you sense something wrong with your state of mind? Can you really turn to your best mate and say “I just can’t face life”? You’d like to think so, these are your mates after all, but not everyone can. Peer pressure means that alternative behaviour is a bit weird and the accusations can soon fly – he’s “gone mental”, just “being a tart”, “full of himself”, “all an act” and so on. You’re always going to be judged and it’s going to be a bit embarrassing, so many don’t discuss it at all. Instead, many just try to make do and hide their feelings. The shame is too much to take. Sometimes there seems to be only one way out.

On average, 12 men take their own lives every day. Twelve! Be it through depression from illness, debt, work pressure or a whole host of societal factors. 77 per cent of UK suicides are by men. That’s an astonishing figure. We can probably think of someone who left the party early when we were young and we probably wish we could have said more, listened more or just been around to offer any support possible but we didn’t see the signs. Unfortunately, I’m in that position.

But it’s not that easy. Stephen Fry recently spoke of an attempted suicide last year. The same Stephen Fry who is almost universally loved, with his impressive CV, talent and charm. Cue the hardline arseholes who gripe about ‘What has he got to be depressed about?’ – like he has a choice. You don’t choose a gammy leg, poor eyesight or piles, but people get them. It’s an illness not a lifestyle choice and no talent in the world can make you immune.

Fry has the world on a plate but his bipolar disorder relegates it to nothing during his downswings. He can barely speak or move. Death seems to be only release and, although he’s clawed his way back to better health, it’s usually an option to end the horror of his condition. That’s the same Stephen Fry you see laughing and joking on QI. Would you be able to tell that there are times that he wants to die? Not really. Could you spot it in your best mate?

Yes, but what about his friends? He has enough of them. Couldn’t they help? Well, not always. Shame is a powerful deterrent to opening up. Fry drew an analogy of discovering a sudden plague of genital warts. You don’t want to show your mates them no matter how much they’re on your mind.

And that’s the problem. Depression is still a taboo subject in a young age group and it’s not easy to detect. Teenagers suffer angst. God knows I did. I would wander around like Hamlet with a hangover (thank you, P.G. Wodehouse) and poor scorn on the world and its inability to see that I was different from everyone else. I wasn’t depressed. I was a teenager and awash with hormonal changes just as you were/are. I enjoyed that period of self-absorption, of sighing and thinking that the world was wrong and feeling the need to disappear from it until one of us changed.

I still get it now but I’m not depressed – just prone to periods of melancholia, as most of us are. That’s not the same as clinical life-threatening depression so it’s easy for your mates to think ‘Dave’s not coming out with us because he’s in a bit of a mood’ when there are darker clouds above.

So how do we help our mates who see suicide as a better option than living? What can they do to see that help and support is available? How do we break the social barrier that stops us talking about things like this?

The charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) was set up to challenge the culture of men who are embarrassed to help or be helped. They offer a helpline and are keen to spread the word of their services via predominately male-related interests, pastimes and media – music, sport, entertainment and so on – one of which is The Anfield Wrap.

The programme works, too. In the year 2000 they launched Merseyside CALMzone – an initiative to reduce the number of male suicides in the local region and numbers have decreased. They argue the plain fact that suicides are not inevitable and that help, be it by phone line or other networks, is available. A similar programme was launched in London two years ago.

How can you help? Well, you can donate here www.justgiving.com/CALM and here uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/finalCharityHomepage.action?uniqueVmgCharityUrl=thecalmzone but they’re also asking for groups and companies to pledge to end the supposed embarrassment of male depression and inability to face modern life.

Have a look at their website www.yearofthemale.com and see what you can do.

I’ll leave you with this from Stephen Fry. It’s more eloquent than anything I can add.

“If you know someone who’s depressed please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation, depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do.”

Amen to that.

Karl Coppack

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MEDICATION: THAT’S WHAT YOU NEED.

Before December 2006 I took no medication whatsoever.  The odd Lemsip or hangover-craved paracetamol maybe, but nothing regular. Ah, those were the days.

Then in the early days of that month with a day off work to do some Christmas shopping, I was rushed to hospital with an unexplained brain haemorrhage. I’d been ill for a few days before then and assumed it was a virulent strain of food poisoning that made me vomit a lot and bite my tongue. Just one of those things. ‘I’ll see the doctor on Monday,’ I told her. It was only when my girlfriend woke to see me having a loud and messy seizure that the truth dawned.

I went to two hospitals—Northwick Park, Harrow and, three days later, the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Russell Square. I remember practically nothing of Harrow.

I survived (spoiler there) an ‘intracranial subdural haematoma’ and was left with resultant epilepsy. The days of no meds had come to an end.

Once I was sent home from the NHNaN, I was given all sorts of meds. Epilepsy medication to stop me seizing (11 in an hour is still my record), tablets to stop me vomiting, painkillers (tongue biting and a pretty wrenched back thanks to the number of seizures I’d undergone) and two oral injections of morphine. At one point I was taking 31 pills a day.

Things got better so  I was soon down to just three—Epilim Chrono and two lots of Phenytoin to control the seizures, which began anew the following February. I had my last fit on the evening of 18th February 2007 while in hospital. I had a mouthful of peas at the time. Messy.

That’s the first tranche of meds.

Eight years later, following a particularly grim period I was diagnosed with ‘high functioning non-endogenous depression’ by my GP. My friend Caroline had bullied me into a consultation when my I talked her through my ever-darkening thoughts in some detail. I was diagnosed and sent away for a week to consider a course of antidepressants. I called my sister—a Pharmacy lecturer at De Montford University, Leicester at the time—and she said it might be wise. More pills in the cabinet.

Oh, you can add to that 10 mgs of Amlodipine a day onto that. My family has hereditary high blood pressure. God bless those genes.

I’m now on five pills a day, plus the odd Vitamin D tab thrown in. Not the end of the world, but just enough to annoy me.

Of all these, it’s the antidepressants which try me the most.

They were supposed to come with some therapy, but my weekly trips to Edgware Hospital ended after six weeks when my local healthy authority could no longer afford to pay for my therapist’s time.  No replacement has been offered.

I was initially prescribed Mirtazapine—a ‘noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressant’ apparently, used for ‘major depression’—and waited till the weekend before trying them out in case there were any nasty side effects. I mean, no one wants to discover that uncontrollable diarrhoea comes with pleasanter moods when sat in an all-day meeting with colleagues.

I was also informed that of the side effects the most dangerous one upon initial ingestion was ‘suicidal thoughts’. That threw me. A bit like using a hammer to cure toothache.

I did the right thing though and planned. I took some at 11am on a Saturday morning so work wouldn’t be affected should anything nasty arise. For the next hour I felt a bit drowsy and closed my eyes before the Saturday football started at 3pm. I woke up at full-time. 5pm. Hmm.

Ah well, a lesson learned, though I was a bit annoyed that I’d slept through the afternoon and would find it tricky to get a good eight hours later. I closed my eyes in frustration.

I woke up at 1pm the next day.

I ate a meal, answered a few texts and lay down.

I awoke at 9pm.

Mirtazapine takes a good couple of weeks to work so I went through with it despite wanting to sleep every second I was awake.  They also gave me a dry throat – one of those Gobi desert ones which can never be slaked regardless of how many pints of water wash over it, so it wasn’t as if the sleep was enjoyable.

I went back to my GP and said that it was a miracle I didn’t nod off in her waiting room.  She told me not to worry as it was a case of finding the right drug for me. She suggested Venlafaxine, also known as Efexor in some quarters. Any side effects? Oh my, yes.

Did you know you have a ‘vomit centre’ in your brain? I didn’t, but I do now. The area postrema is roughly located at the stem of the brain and controls the urge to vomit.  It’s not in one place as such, more of a general area of nuclei, axons and receptors that give the order when it’s time to do a bit of evacuating.

It turns out that Venlafaxine is on good terms with it, though it doesn’t go the whole hog.   Instead it stimulates the part that makes you feel nauseous. For the first few weeks I felt I was going to spray paint whatever room I was in, but couldn’t get around to it.  I wasn’t a fan of that.

That sensation lessens after a while, but if you miss the odd day you have to go through it again. I don’t miss many days.

I’m still on Venlafaxine now. Do I feel any better for them? Hard to say.

I’m nothing like ‘cured’ if that’s a thing for my particular strain of depression, but I’m certainly less anxious.  Here’s an example of how anxiety works.

A couple of years ago I drove home from my Taekwondo class and parked in a space behind a car on my road. It was a tight fit, but I got in. As I was about to get out I looked down and saw that I hadn’t lifted the hand brake. Obviously, I did as I was taught and applied it.

Cool story, eh? My car didn’t roll into the one in front of it because I knew to check it. A thought that would occupy a second’s thought. An ‘Oh. Nearly forgot’ before returning to life.

Not me. I was still shaking an hour later.

See, this is all about scenario building. What would have happened had I forgotten to lift the brake? Well, isn’t it obvious? I would have hit my neighbour’s car and I’d have to foot the bill.  I couldn’t afford a large bill so would be in (more) debt. Then my bank would switch off the overdraft/credit card tap and I wouldn’t be able to afford to run my car at all. Driving is a requirement in my job so I’d lose that if I couldn’t afford to repair both vehicles. Without a job I’d lose my home and be destitute. All because of a forgotten hand brake.

That scenario took less than a second to consider. Sounds a bit far-fetched, doesn’t it? Not to me it didn’t. Not only was all that possible it was downright probable.  That’s how close I’d come.

And that’s just the first wave. Anxiety is only a small part of my problem.  Here comes the Daddy of them all and I’ll explain it as another logical train of thought.

‘Isn’t it typical that such a moronic second of forgetfulness should ruin my life?  Isn’t it just the sort of thing that can destroy everything? What an absolute prick, you really are. Oh,   your friends would show sympathy, but could you blame them if they laughed themselves silly about it afterwards? Of course not.  Good thing too. All you ever do is let people down so not only are you stupid enough to do it, but you’d deserve it. People—beautiful people—would worry about you and even that shows you off for the fraud you are. Getting sympathy when you deserve nothing but scorn for being such a tit.’

Welcome to my world. Leave your cares behind.

That inner dialogue is always there, but can be cowed by drugs and an everlasting battle between logic and feelings. I know I’m nothing like as bad as I think I am, but if you FEEL you are then your mind can say anything it wants and you’ll still hide from society.

The Venlafaxine has reduced those thoughts though I’m still prone to the odd episode.

What’s interesting of late is wondering where my mind stops and the medication begins. Which one is the real me?

Is it the one who cries a lot?

I’ve cried more in 2018 than I ever have in my life.  I’m not ashamed of that and don’t think that I’m judged on it. See, I lost my sister in January.   She was only 13 months younger than me so we were more like twins than an older brother/younger sister. Her passing was completely unexpected. She went to bed one night and didn’t wake up.   My life changed forever from that day. I can even remember looking at my watch at midnight and seeing 13th January become the 14th. I felt a little relieved that the worst day of my life was over. Nothing could be as bad as that day. Nothing.

Anyway, I’ll write about Karen when I’m ready. I doubt that will be soon though. Too much to say and I don’t want to make it about me. Just what it was like to grow up with the greatest person you’ll ever meet.

So, crying is a regular thing. I’m not bothered by it even if it happens on a Tube (One Saturday I was travelling to a work event when The Pixies came on my phone. There’s a bit in the song ‘Levitate Me’ where Black Francis sings ‘If all and all is true/Won’t you please run over me.’ That second line is met with a crashing return from the band and the crowd goes nuts at live shows. It always reminds me of Karen. I sobbed on the Tube that morning and a nice woman had to comfort me).  What’s become apparent is that the tiniest thing sets me off.  A kind smile, a guitar riff, violins.   Actually, violins are bastards for it.

The point is that I wasn’t like this before my medication. I’m not machismo heavy, but I don’t usually cry at funerals and I can sit through the last scene of Blackadder Goes Forth and It’s A Wonderful Life without a lip tremble even though they are both charged with emotion.   I’m not an automaton, but I’m usually to be trusted on a stiff upper lip.

Is that a medicated change? More emotion.  I don’t like emotion. Emotion hurts.

Is that a side effect or just the breaking down of a barrier somewhere that stopped me sobbing in public?

If I forget my meds—something  which can happen as I often work late and can go to bed without taking them—my mood sinks like a stone. This happened this week. I didn’t make the connection but suddenly felt very let down by two people in a work related capacity. Ordinarily this would be a ‘sod you then’ thing and be dismissed accordingly, but this one hit home. Of course, that came with the usual ‘Well, what do you expect? You’re a tit who deserves nothing’ inner commentary and with that came the realisation that I’d skipped a day. I went to the bathroom cabinet again and gulped them down.

I then proceeded to cry about nothing whatsoever for the next 45 minutes. Not about my sister this time. This was just inexplicable. Like I just had to get it done in the same way you have to dry yourself after a shower. You have to perform a perfunctory task before you can go anywhere.  If I were due somewhere I’d have to text ‘Going to be a bit late. Just got to get through a sob. See you at 9pm.’

I’m fine today.

But is that because of the meds or is that me?

Is this Karl—the one who’s writing to you now—a fake Karl because he’d fail an anti-depressant drug test? Is the real one the Karl who wants to crawl under his bed and would never have the courage to send out text like this when everyone in the world knows I’m unworthy of anyone’s attention?

Where, if any, is the line?

How can I be a person when I need xyz to be this version of one?

Anyway, I’m fine today as I’m smacked up on this little orange pill that tells me when to vomit and when to cry for no reason. I think.

So let’s take that as progress at least.

 

Karl Coppack  (@TheCenci)

Falling Without Landing: A Sample

A sample of my novel Falling Without Landing which will soon be available on Kindle.

FWL title

Prologue

 

CRIME FIC – August 2015

HE’S BACK AND THIS TIME IN PERSON

Sean Hutton interviews Klingerman author and screenwriter Alexander Rowe:

A Crime Fic exclusive.

‘Alexander Rowe? The Alexander Rowe?’

‘Yep. The table’s booked for 1.05 p.m. He insisted on Darbetts on the terrace with a view of the river,’ my editor said.

‘Why five past? No, hang on. Did you say Alexander Rowe? Klingerman Alexander Rowe?’

David nodded and then went back to sighing at my expenses. ‘Darbetts, eh?  They do pretty good pasta there. Why five past?’

Alexander Rowe. Lunch with Alexander Rowe. An interview with Alexander Rowe. This needed preparation. So many questions to ask the Invisible Man.

‘That’s 1.05pm today, Sean.’

Shit!

All right. No preparation, then. This could be tricky.

What do we know about Alexander Rowe? We know he’s tall, has wavy hair and once turned his back on Hollywood. Klingerman 7, the latest in the series, sits on top of every book chart and there’s already talk of it being adapted to become the fourth film in the Harry franchise. Rowe writes novels, screenplays, the occasional collection of short stories, The Times Christmas Crossword and, in 2010, a book of poetry called Quater Said. In 1995 he produced his own sci-fi film Odyssey and, under duress, a follow-up two years later. He walked off the third film, stating, ‘I wrote a script, the studio wrote a firework display.’ His fans wear T-shirts bearing that quote.

This much is obvious, but what else do we know of him? Only the most famous thing.

He refuses to be interviewed.

He also refuses to write columns, appear on talk shows, awards ceremonies or give his name to any charity that requires a speech. He is a publicity mute. He is notoriously gruff at signing sessions and will often refuse to answer questions if he deems them to be stupid. The only words that fall from him are through Harry Klingerman—the grizzled detective of New York’s Lower East Side.

But I’m about to meet him. At five past one. Why five past?

I get there early, am shown to a table and, specifically, a seat facing westwards down the Thames. Tower Bridge sits behind me.  Later, Rowe will tell me that he likes to see if the roadway will split to allow a boat to pass below (‘No luck as yet.’).

‘It’s Sean, isn’t it?’

Alexander Rowe looms over me. It’s him all right. The lopsided grin, the beam of hair and the slight leaning of the head. Exactly as his dust jacket portrays, except he’s just spoken. It’s a warm voice bearing a smile. His handshake is strong. It seems he doesn’t appear to fear sunlight, after all.

He sits down and pulls a menu over. He speaks without looking up, although he’s still smiling.

‘How do you want to do this?’ It’s only now that I hear the faint Scottish accent. It’s been trampled on by living in London, but it’s still there.

‘Uh?’

‘The, er, interview.  Straight questions or a chat?’

Oh, right. I bring a Dictaphone out and place it under a napkin. He eyes it with sorrowful disdain.

‘Just a chat’.

He looks up, whispers to a waiter and waits for me to order.

‘So, which was your opening question? The five past thing or the usual one?’

Well …

‘I came in from Kent this morning. The train runs every twenty minutes and I didn’t want to get here early. They know me here, but I get the odd fan bearding me about Harry or those sodding films while I’m trying to eat. You being here should keep them away. You’re a distraction. A welcome one, Sean.’ He grins. ‘I knew I couldn’t be here at 1p.m and didn’t want to be impolite by turning up late.’

‘Thank you.’

‘The second question is a little more complicated. “Why don’t I give any bloody interviews?”’

‘Well … ’

‘Let’s get to that later, shall we? Still or sparkling?’

I shrug my shoulders, a ludicrous attempt at nonchalance. I’m still taking it all in. This brief conversation is the longest any journalist has ever had with Silent Alexander. He seems quite chirpy. Almost normal. I realise that he was waiting for a question.

‘So, Klingerman 7 …’

He begins the sentence with a laugh.

‘Yes, a tricky one this time. I didn’t know what I was going to do with him. We’ve done the drinking, the marriage breakup and the FBI investigation stuff, so I had to look for somewhere new to put him. The usual thing is to move him abroad just to give him fresh legs, but I didn’t want to do that. ‘Klingerman in Paris. I mean, imagine.’ He dissolves into giggles.

Klingerman P.I.?’

‘Yes! Wrapped around three or four Hawaiian lovelies, but always with his raincoat on and wheezing on his inhaler! Actually, I might write that.’ The laugh again.

‘So you kept him in New York.’

‘Yes, I did. Hardly imaginative I know, but I like him there. A bit of reality.  The dockyard setting was a bit of a change, but, to be honest, I had the idea for that as far back as the second book. I like the idea of a port. Ports are always changing—the people, the cargo, the conditions. It allowed me to move a bit while anchoring him to his neighbourhood. It also meant that I could keep the other regular characters around and develop them further.’

The food arrives. He frowns at his lettuce and pokes it with his fork.

‘A bloody greenhouse on a plate.’

He looks past me and down river while chewing his steak. I tuck into my pasta. Rowe looks at it and smirks to himself.

‘The problem with writing, Sean, or at least the problem I have with it, is the demands from the audience. I want nothing to do with them. Is that shocking? Ungrateful? Well, anyway, I only write for me. I like to be entertained, and I’m often just as surprised at Harry’s actions as everyone else. Now, the more successful I become, the more he moves away from me. He’s not really mine anymore. Oh, I’m still his God, but I now have to think about how someone in Droitwich would feel if he shoots an innocent bystander or fancies a bit of crack.’

I gulp at this. ‘Would you do that?’

‘No, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s like those bloody things they do in cinemas now. You know? That thing where they run test screenings to see if audiences will like one ending more than another? I can’t be bothered by that. If anything, it makes me stick to my guns the more.’

‘Hence the shooting of the informant in the sixth book.’

He throws his hands in the air and drops his cutlery in mock disgust.

‘The horror! Sean, I had people standing outside the house! Ha! I thought about issuing a press release! Robbie, my agent, wanted me to stand outside Parliament with a lectern.’

‘It was out of character, though, Alexander.’

He frowns at the thought. ‘Not really. Gilly was going to tell the consortium that he’d blabbed all to Harry and Pete. He had no option.’

‘It was a jarring moment.’

He drops his utensils onto the table with a clang.

‘Yes, but that’s the point. I want you to be appalled. I want his indifference to mean something. I don’t want to be the safe writer. I knew Gilly couldn’t last long—I always had him marked for death—so I wanted him to die. Unusually.’

‘How did you deal with the fallout from that?’

‘Deal? Ha! It’s fiction! I got on with the next book. Oh, I got letters, emails, the internet trolls, etc. Some of the reviews were …were … delicious. I enjoyed yours, Sean.’

Ah.

Was this the reason why Silent Alex picked me out? Was this revenge for the 1,000 words of ire?

‘“Rowe’s use of shock tactics flies in the face of what is an almost perfect thriller. The death of Gilly does all it can to ruin the book and Harry’s reputation.” Ha! I loved that.’

‘Well, I did feel …’

‘Well, of course you did. I gave you more than the usual three acts and deus ex machina ending. I shot Fredo on the boat.’

‘But the readers …’

‘WANT TO BE ENTERTAINED! They want to be shocked. That’s why they love horror movies. They want to judge for themselves. How do I know this? It sold bucketloads! You reviewers don’t give the audience credit sometimes.’ He beams at me, seemingly benevolently. ‘Two stars out of five, Sean? Really?’

The smile evaporates.

‘I just didn’t like it, Alexander.’

He collapses into giggles again. ‘Good! I didn’t write it for you, and this is my point. I don’t want to be a writer that has to write for a reviewer. I’m not bothered by sales. I have a nice life and I love shaping Harry. I don’t go chasing the media buck, so I get to entertain myself first. Thing is, I’m crucified for it. I can’t go into a bookshop without some devious little shit tweeting which book I’ve bought or stopping me to tell me how I should have written Klingerman 7. Buy it or don’t buy it. Like it or don’t like it. That’s fine.’

‘Okay.’

‘It was worth more than two sodding stars, though,’ he adds, a little grumpily.

He slaps my shoulder across the table. This is proving to be a little awkward, but he seems almost pleased that I didn’t like it.

‘It’s the whole ‘taste of the nation’ thing.  “Reading tastes are heading in this direction.” My wife tells me this all the time. NO, THEY’RE NOT! Some lazy bugger has stuck his finger in the air and decided that we all want vampire books for the next eight months, and we’ve all followed suit. Don’t get me wrong, Sean. I don’t mind that. Klingerman 2 put me on the map because probably the same lazy bugger decided that we all wanted more detective novels, but all the same …’

‘And the Odyssey controversy.’

He throws a hand in the air again and sinks back into his seat. He picks up his water and peers at it.

‘So, when do you ….’

‘And this is why I don’t do interviews. People don’t want to hear writers talk about things that annoy them in the industry. They want to read my books because they like Harry and, even if they do want to know about me, there’s nothing more to add. If you want to get to know Alexander Rowe, then read the seven books. That’s me in there. Read the Quater poems, as they’re closer to an autobiography. I just don’t believe in foisting a personality onto a reader as well as a whole fictitious world.’

‘But people are interested in you. Doesn’t your silence do the opposite? Doesn’t it deepen the mystery?’

He screws up his eyes. ‘I suppose, but people like mystery. What they don’t like is when a mystery ends in disappointment. What revelations are they going to glean from our conversation? That I like steak? What time my train gets in? It’d ruin whatever image they had of me. Or improve it, I suppose.’

‘It makes us get to know you a little better, maybe?’

‘But is that necessary? Ultimately it’s all about Harry. I’m asking you to engage with him. He gets to do all the interesting stuff. I get to sit in a small room and type. That’s my sole role.’

‘But what about the real you?’

‘As opposed to the unreal one?’ A smirk.

‘People want to know what makes you tick.’

‘I seriously doubt that. They can buy and enjoy Harry as much as they like and do it all without me. I could disappear completely, but as long as Harry still makes it onto the page they don’t really care. The song not the singer, to contradict The Stones.’

‘I don’t think so, Alexander. People want more than just words these days. Deny it all you want, but you have a cult following and this is an age where the people want to follow you. There’s a mystique about you because you’re an elusive character. ‘The man who walked out on Hollywood.’ Let’s face facts here.  People will read this because you’ve finally faced your readers.’

‘Yes, I can’t deny that. I don’t like it, but I can’t deny it.’

I lean forward. ‘So you’ve inadvertently created the monster you’ve always sought to avoid.’

He turns his water glass by its stem and looks at it. He seems sad.

‘So, what’s coming up? Klingerman 8?’

He stares at me blankly for a second before releasing a high-pitched cackle.

‘I found the poetry book interesting. You’d think it would take less time, but if anything it took much longer. With Harry I could have an average day in the chair and still have a couple of thousand words down even if I cut half of them, but with Quarter, if I had nothing, I just had nothing. Once spent two weeks on one line. Ha! I cut it in the end.’

‘So, more poetry?’

‘No, a holiday first. All these interviews are exhausting, Sean. You won’t hear from me for a while. I need to think things through.’

With that we finish our food, chat a little more and head our different ways. He pats my shoulder as he leaves and wishes me good luck with the piece. ‘I won’t be doing that again, ‘ he says, laughing.

Klingerman 7: The Dock of Death is available from all retailers.

 

 

Alexander smiled to himself as a taxi appeared at his feet.

 

Karl Coppack – 2018

Benitez’s Last Lap At Liverpool: Are Reds Still Reeling From The Decline Of Rafa?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 2, 2010: Liverpool's manager Rafael Benitez during the Lap of Honour, after the final Premiership match of the season at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

SEVEN years ago this past weekend, Rafael Benitez left Liverpool ‘by mutual consent’.

Like many such announcements, this was hardly news to anyone who took an interest in the developments at Anfield. The writing had been on the wall for weeks and Christian Purslow’s prepared statement was merely a rubber stamp at the end of a tired, drawn-out process rather than a seismic shock in the football world. For his part, Rafa told the fans that it was an honour to manage the club and thanked them for their support in his endeavours before heading off to Italy. Liverpool turned to Roy Hodgson.

Even now, through seven seasons and four new managers, the subject of Benitez’s tenure still leads to raised voices, to argument and counter-argument and turns Red against Red. Some will say that, come the end, his football was turgid mush with a reliance on pragmatic control rather than the beauty his 2008-9 squad created. Others want to know just how we could force out a man who had given us arguably the greatest night in the club’s history and certainly the best of the last quarter of a century.

Of course, in 2010, there were far bigger forces at play than a disappointing season where The Reds had finished seventh – 23 points behind champions Chelsea. He wasn’t just struggling with his arch rivals but with the very people responsible for paying his wages. His war with Tom Hicks and George Gillett was a matter of public record and the gloves were long off. This led to numerous games being prefaced by a rumour that ‘he’s definitely walked this time’.

The cracks between Rafa and the then new owners began as early as Athens 2007, when he complained on the pitch that his transfer targets were more monitored than signed – an action, or inaction, which would be deleterious to his 2007-8 plans. There was talk of reduced transfer spend and reneging on deals and promises. In any case, in the space of eight months the owners went from “If Rafa said he wanted to buy Snoogy Doogy we’d back him” (Gillett), to “It is really time for Rafa to quit talking about new players and to coach the players we have” (Hicks). The aforementioned Mr Doogy was not available for comment.

If the Champions League and FA Cup wins in 2005 and 2006 respectively are his highlights then the 2008-9 campaign sits third on the list. From Fernando Torres’s wonder goal on the opening day in Sunderland to the final and ultimately pyrrhic victory at home to Spurs in the sun the following May, the whole season was a rollercoaster with its crushing victories and frustrating home draws. Ask the most ardent Benitez naysayer how they enjoyed the aftermath on the terraces of Craven Cottage in April 2009 and even they would become wistful and smile at the memory. That’s how close we were. That close.

There was the sense that that was the season Rafa would have to win the league. Things had become so fractured in L4 and the Spaniard so vociferous that bodies were falling all over the place. Hicks and Gillett didn’t do themselves any favours by talking to Jurgen Klinsmann as ‘an insurance policy’ should the Spaniard finally answer the inevitable summons to Madrid. By then the club hierarchy was crumbling into factions and counter-factions. Liverpool Football Club was a mess and the site of a war of attrition which could only be ended by resignations and court appearances.

Liverpool, England - Tuesday, February 6th, 2007: American tycoons George Gillett (L) and Tom Hicks (R) proudly hold up Liverpool's famous red shirt after announcing their take-over of Liverpool Football Club in a deal worth around £470 million. Texan billionaire Hicks, who owns the Dallas Stars ice hockey team and the Texas Rangers baseball team, has teamed up with Montreal Canadiens owner Gillett to put together a joint £450m package to buy out shareholders, service the club's existing debt and provide funding for the planned new stadium in Stanley Park. (Pic by Dave Kendall/Propaganda)

In the summer of 2009 the club sold £44.75 million worth of players – which mostly consisted of Xabi Alonso’s move to Real Madrid – and spent a little over £37m. No club with legitimate title and European expectations should end a transfer year in profit, particularly one that had just finished second in the league and had the best striker in Europe. Yet despite the club crying out to make the next step up, money was spent on architects and loan repayments.

Incidentally, half a million pound of that money was spent on the 16-year-old Raheem Sterling, who was then at QPR – Rafa at his best in the market – and over £17m on Alberto Aquilani – Rafa at his worst.

It’s treatment of Alonso which rankles with many Reds and to this day there are people who will wrinkle their noses and mutter ‘should never have sold Xabi’ when his name comes up. Maybe it’s the public courtship of Gareth Barry which still sticks in the craw. Akin to replacing a Rolls Royce with a Datsun Cherry.

There was also criticism of his treatment of the players. Rafa saw the game as a results-first business and held little affection for stars and egos. Didi Hamann tells a story about the names he used when addressing his players. When announcing his team he would use the standard dressing room nicknames – ‘Pepe’, ‘Carra’, ‘Nando’ etc – but when it came to the captain he always chose ‘Gerrard’. Never Stevie. Just ‘Gerrard’. He knew that he would have to keep those particular Huyton feet grounded.

He also brought his extensive research and knowledge to the club particularly when scouting players, keeping detailed dossiers on both domestic and worldwide clubs. This next story gives a glimpse into his obsessive attitude.

A journalist friend had been invited to a restaurant only to find Rafa surrounded by scattered folders and reams of paper. He asked him what he was doing and what the files contained.

Rafa barely looked up: “Goalkeepers in the Belgian second division.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 9, 2009: Liverpool's manager Rafael Benitez during the Premiership match against West Ham United at Upton Park. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

My mate frowned hoping it would be a joke, but was met with a serious expression.

“Why?”

He prodded the folder he was reading with an accusing finger and barked: “There is an anomaly!”

There then followed a lecture about saves, minutes and distribution stats from players who were unlikely to even face Liverpool.

This tale paints him in a rather negative, dull light but he’s actually anything but. Myself along with hundreds of others, saw him interviewed by Tony Evans on stage at a special event in London. This was a long time after his departure so Rafa was on good form and full of bonhomie and humour (‘People may say that Carlo Ancelotti was more tactically adept in Athens. Okay. It’s an idea.’). As they talked, the screen behind them showed the Istanbul highlights and as he was about to answer the next question he noticed that Gerrard was about to lift the trophy behind him. He raised a hand to Tony and said: “Hold on. I want to watch this bit.”

He did too. A beaming smile spread across his face as he watched his former captain raise the most prestigious cup in the world high into the Turkish sky.

“I enjoyed that.”

Somewhat at odds with the cold-hearted logician he showed to interviewers and at press conferences.

And it did mean something to him. Liverpool still matters to him to this day. The city did seep into his marrow during his five years here and there was something about that time which lives with him now.

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Speaking of Tony Evans, he visited Rafa shortly after the 4-1 win over Manchester United in 2008-9 and told him that he recognised United’s tactic of using Patrice Evra as the ‘out ball’ and Rafa’s ploy of squeezing up on Nemanja Vidic. Rafa became very excited that he’d seen this and, finding a ball, proceeded to demonstrate just how it worked, even telling Tony “You be Vidic, I’ll be Torres”. Tony wasn’t best pleased at the casting.

Soon they were booting a ball around his front room, re-enacting the game. Grown men.

Any manager who finds a ball to show how he did something is alright with me.

And he’ll be back at Anfield with Newcastle next season. He couldn’t keep them up when given only a handful of games two seasons ago, but it was no surprise when they were promoted immediately. He’s already been back before with Newcastle and, of course, with Chelsea — though the gloss was taken off his return once Luis Suarez had a nibble on Branislav Ivanovic’s arm.

He’s already bought some experience for the Geordies in the shape of Christian Atsu and, at the time of writing, Newcastle are in talks with Pepe Reina.

It’s good that he’s back. He deserves to be and, as we know more than anyone, his defensive mindset will cause plenty of problems for opposing sides. Newcastle, along with Fulham conceded the fewest goals in the Championship last season. Of course they did.

He’s loved there too whereas he wasn’t at all at Chelsea. That means a lot to him.

As for us, I can’t help but feel that we’re still reeling from the Rafa/Hicks/Gillett era. With the club on the brink of extinction it’s hardly surprising that there is still some simmering anger and resentment at the way things went in 2010, but we’re a much healthier club these days and hopefully on the trail to more European glory.

On June 3, 2010, a dysfunctional club went a little bit more insane. Seven years is a long time, of course, but it serves as a warning at what can happen to even the biggest clubs if things are allowed to slide.

It shouldn’t have ended that way for a man who gave us so much, but this is a club where unusual things happen — for good or ill.

Liverpool: Jürgen Klopp Has Shown Glimpses Of Greatness – But He Shouldn’t Be Immune To Criticism

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 27, 2017: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

LAST Thursday the transfer window closed, or “slammed shut” if you prefer to use Sky’s exaggerated term (I’m not sure that a deadline can “slam” as such), with Liverpool making some pretty decent purchases in the allotted time.

The signing of Mo Salah from Roma is undoubtedly the best piece of business and though many considered £34million to be a tad high at the time, the market inflated over the subsequent weeks to such an extent that he now looks a steal. The Egyptian has already scored two league goals and this is encouraging in itself as it usually takes a player time to settle. He certainly doesn’t want for confidence, as Hector Bellerin will attest.

Dom Solanke, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andy Robertson and the eventual arrival of Naby Keita are all strong additions but, once again the defence – Robertson aside – has been overlooked.

We all know what happened here. We seemingly had the only man in the world good enough to play centre back for Liverpool in our pocket, but managed to fuck it up. Though it was clear that Southampton were as solid in their resolve as we were with Coutinho, Jürgen Klopp decided that it was Virgil or no one and took the gamble of no injuries to the main centre backs till January. There’s the possibility of Emre Can returning to the back four should Ragnar Klavan or Joe Gomez join Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren in the medical centre. Given our injury record and luck, this is not outside the realms of possibility.

Remember that Simpsons episode where Mr Burns creates a baseball team made up of ringers for a bet with a fellow energy magnate? He tells his ‘lickspittle’:

“Smithers, there’s no way I can lose this bet unless, of course, my nine all stars fall victim to nine separate misfortunes and are unable to play tomorrow. But that will never happen. Three misfortunes, that’s possible. Seven misfortunes, there’s an outside chance, but nine misfortunes – I’d like to see that.”

We’re three sprained ankles away from Emre at centre half.

It’s a risky strategy and although our defence isn’t anywhere near as bad as some think, it’s certainly susceptible to the odd breakdown as was demonstrated last month at Vicarage Road. True, we’ve got enough firepower to sort things out at the other end of the pitch, but that’s not a sustainable strategy to securing a very winnable league title. It would be less frustrating if we were miles behind our rivals, but this isn’t the case. Liverpool have a very real chance of winning it this season. So why take the risk?

Jürgen speaks of buying only “Plan A” players and won’t make do with short termism. Again, this is a gamble.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 19, 2016: Liverpool's Sadio Mane sees his shot blocked by Southampton's Virgil Van Dijk during the FA Premier League match at St. Mary's Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

But it’s not that which I want to discuss. It’s the reaction to any perceived criticism of the manager such as the above. It both confuses and concerns me.

During the hours following Jim White’s favourite day of the year, many Reds took to social media to announce their disappointment/disgust at the lack of van Dijk or alternatives. This went on for a day or so before the path led us to a familiar “stop moaning and get behind the team” and “trust Klopp” road. The same thing tends to happen following a defeat or poor performance. Anger ultimately leads to acceptance which in turn becomes “stop moaning” and, almost inevitably, to the worst words in fandom, “these so-called fans”.

The very idea that you’re not a true fan if you hold a certain view or stray away from a commonly held belief is infuriating. They might as well shout “HERETIC!” and “NON BELIEVER!” and call for some Spanish Inquisition-like torture equipment or a trip to George Orwell’s “Ministry of Love” to keep the red mind pure.

An extension of this is the tedious “you think you know more than the manager” retort. No one is saying that. Klopp knows more than me about football. There’s no argument there, but that suggests that he knows everything about the game and is incapable of errors. All managers, even the greatest ever, make them and it’s alright to point that out. I believe that Jürgen has made one here by not bolstering the centre of defence with one or two signings.

Football fans are always going to argue and Liverpool are always closer to fan civil war than most. Even when we’re doing well, we like a fight. As Anfield Wrap columnist Mike Nevin once said, no one wants to admit it, but Liverpool fans hate each other. They just do. We love a faction. The whole wool/out of towners/scousers argument, those who think we’re moving away from what the club means to us (usually made by dinosaurs like me) and the whole commercialism debate are all major bones of contention among the masses. This is what makes the idea of a “LFC family” so laughable. Unless it refers to the amount of time most families hold grudges and bicker among each other, then they might be onto something.

But this “Jürgen can do no wrong” feeling has gone even further of late.

Yesterday a member of the The Anfield Wrap’s subscriber-only Facebook group posed this question.

“Something for the older fellas who were there at the time. Say we manage to win the league while we’ve got Klopp. Do you reckon he’ll be as worshipped as Shanks was?”

It’s a fair question and though I’m not old enough to have seen his side play, the club were still reaping the rewards of Bill Shankly’s years of service when I first started going to the match. He died two months before my first game and you could still feel his presence about the place. Taking the club from its dilapidated pitch and stadium through to the kit change to cups, titles and European finals in seven years is the single greatest achievement made by one man in the history of this club. It may annoy people at times, but without him we’d be – and I’ve no idea why they leap to mind – no bigger than, say, Bolton Wanderers or Sheffield United.

Soccer - Bill Shankly In His Office

While it’s hardly Klopp’s fault, there’s no one who can match up – other than possibly the lads who helped him (I’d add Ronnie Moran, personally) – so I was surprised that many said that, yes, they would consider him to be as equally worshipped if he brought in a title. One even acknowledged that he would still be behind Bill in the pecking order but suggested a statue. Each to their own, of course.

It just made me think about how we worship managers to the point of zealotry despite a lack of trophies. This is not to say that we should not get behind them and we all have our own version of support, but ours is a fan base which goes way above that level. This isn’t restricted solely to the charismatic German. At Brendan Rodgers’ first press conference one fan stated that it could have been Shankly talking with a Northern Irish accent. Never mind not winning a trophy, the poor man hadn’t even seen his team kick a ball in anger at that point and yet he was the new Shankly.

When we commit, we commit early and heavily. Too heavily.

What’s wrong with that exactly? We love our managers (excluding the obvious one) and that’s how it should be. Well, firstly, it’s unfair on the manager himself. How the hell do you live up to that sort of billing? Klopp may have reached two finals, but that’s not the same as winning them so let’s just hold off on this “Shanklification” for a while and accept that criticism is occasionally fair and that it doesn’t make anyone a lesser fan should they choose to air it.

For the record, I’m a big fan of Jürgen and he’s one of the few managers around with whom I’d like a pint. He’s an interesting man and it would be time well spent (though certainly for me rather than him). He’s going to do good things here, but he’s not infallible. It reminds me of this exchange from Life of Brian:

“I am NOT the Messiah!”

“I say you are Lord, and I should know. I’ve followed a few.”

And that’s just it. “Shanklification” makes valid criticism redundant. Instead, any barbs are aimed at the owners which, in turn, creates factions of an Fenway Sports Group in/out nature rather than head scratching on the wisdom of going into the next three months with Klavan and Gomez as backup. I have a foot in both camps of the FSG discussion. I think they’d spend if given the opportunity, but are pretty amateurish at the best of times.

Anyway, supporting the manager is great and laudable. Suggesting that we build him a statue before he’s really done anything is not.

Liverpool: Bouncing Back From A Damning Defeat Is Nothing New For The Reds

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 9, 2017: Liverpool's goalkeeper Simon Mignolet looks dejected after his side's 4-0 defeat during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

THERE’S a scene I love in The Simpsons where Mr Burns hosts a meeting with his highly-paid lawyers in his enormous office.

He’s been informed that Homer has a low sperm count due his daily dealings with nuclear contaminants and they need to act quickly to cheat him into signing a legal disclaimer. Burns needs their help but can’t help screaming at them first. He despises them and everything they stand for. He’s not quite able to keep a lid on his ire and vents his spleen at the mere thought of them and the power they have to harm.

Ah, here you go…

That’s pretty much how I still feel about Liverpool after Saturday.

Oh, I need them in my life and I’ll be there every step of the way when they kick off their Champions League group games against Sevilla on Wednesday night, but I’ve still got some shouting at them to get through first. Primal scream therapy, if you will. There are several faces I want to scream at before I’m ready to consider them mates again. As Burns says: “It’s my problem, I’ll deal with it.”

The most important thing about a heavy defeat is the way you recover from it. Do you stoically go into the next match or do you allow one 90-minute horror — or 53 in this case — to bleed into another and ruin that one too. If you’re professional it has to be put into a box and left to rot somewhere like all poor memories. Don’t let them beat you twice.

This seemed to be Jürgen Klopp’s view during the second half of the Manchester City game when he took off Mohamed Salah and decided that Dejan Lovren should take an even longer rest rather than using him to at least try to cover some of the holes exposed as City blazed through time and again.

Presumably, the midfield had plenty of rest too. Such was their lily-livered approach that I was amazed to see they’d bothered with shin pads for that second half, the spineless, bunch of non-tackling, limpet…

(Get it back, Karl. Come on.)

Liverpool lost both the three points and goal difference they accrued against Arsenal, but there’s nothing they can do about it now, save for hopefully learning a lesson about what to do when heads go. A defeat against Sevilla would merely compound the problem and lead to fingers being pointed.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 9, 2017: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp looks dejected after his side's 4-0 defeat during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If there’s a positive about results and performances such as Saturday’s it’s that you get to take out the frustrations against the poor saps who are next up on the fixture list. Liverpool owe Sevilla anyway for the Europa League final so the blood should already be up, but this should double the motivation to give them a pasting.

They’re not the easiest team to play, true, but I expect – nay, demand – a more clinical Reds display to deliver a performance which would, as Rob Gutmann of The Anfield Wrap would put it: “make Europe sit up and take notice.”

With this in mind, I’ve gone into the annals to see how The Reds have recovered from previous maulings.

This hasn’t been easy. There aren’t many examples of a Liverpool drubbing. There’s the 6-1 at Stoke, of course, but that was the final game of the season and the last time The Reds lost 5-0 away from home was in 1958 at Huddersfield when some lad called Bill Shankly battered Liverpool on his own soil.

Off the top of my head the biggest defeats I can remember include the 4-0 at Tottenham Hotspur in 2011 when Liverpool went down to nine men, a couple of 3-0 thumpings at Arsenal and West Brom and possibly the game at Highfield Road in 1992 when they went down 5-1 to Coventry. On that occasion they followed that up with a less than impressive run of two draws (City and Bolton) and three straight defeats (Aston Villa, Bolton and Wimbledon). Jesus, they were grim days.

That Spurs defeat is more encouraging. Liverpool left White Hart Lane slope shouldered but embarked on an 11-game unbeaten run before referee Kevin Friend beat The Reds at 1-0 Craven Cottage.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 18, 2011: Liverpool's goalkeeper Jose Reina looks dejected as Tottenham Hotspur's Luka Modric scores the first goal during the Premiership match at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

But a more interesting comparison came in January 2007 when The Reds found themselves drawn at home to Arsenal in both domestic cup competitions in a matter of days.

The FA Cup encounter came first and was the highlight of the third-round draw. Older fans may remember that this was “truth day” and began with a six-minute burst of “justice” shouts from The Kop. Mark Lawrenson, ever world-weary, grumbled “can we get on with the football now?”. The answer was no.

Liverpool didn’t and Arsenal tore them to pieces as The Reds’ attempt to retain the trophy lasted just one game. Tomas Rosicky and then Thierry Henry ran amok and put them 3-0 up before Dirk Kuyt gave the scoreline some level of respectability. Jamie Carragher being outstripped for pace by Henry for their third summed up the match perfectly. The Gunners were first to everything, Liverpool were first off the pitch. It was to be The Reds’ first home domestic defeat in 15 months since Chelsea did them 4-1. Actually, there’s another battering there.

The second game was more interesting. True, you can point out that a Liverpool side consisting of Gabriel Paletta, Danny Guthrie and Lee Peltier showed just how seriously Rafa Benitez took the tie, but Arsenal were more or less second string too. No Henry or Bergkamp this time, but a forward line of Jeremie Aliadiere and Julio Baptista. More of an even playing field, surely. Nope. Baptista got four and missed a penalty where — and I can barely believe that I’m typing these words — Aliadiere absolutely ran the show. Seriously, he was astonishing.

Liverpool were 4-1 down at half time and ended up 3-6 losers and that was only due to Steven Gerrard (a beauty) and Sami Hyypia scoring late goals.

In the space of nine days The Reds shipped nine goals to the same opposition and dived out of two competitions.

But…

Liverpool, England - Tuesday, January 9, 2007: Liverpool's Gabriel Paletta, Fabio Aurelio, Steven Gerrard, Robbie Fowler and Sami Hyypia look dejected after Arsenal's second goal during the League Cup Quarter-Final match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool dusted themselves down and got back to business. They went to relegation-threatened, though still tricky Watford and won 3-0. The game was all but over on 48 minutes when Peter Crouch scored his second.

Then The Reds went back to Anfield for the match with Chelsea. This was to be Rafa’s 100th game in charge and it felt like most of them were against Chelsea though he was yet to beat them in the league. Given that record many people felt like a third defeat was almost inevitable, but Jermaine Pennant’s first Liverpool goal set the tone in a 2-0 win.

A fairly drab and dispirited goalless derby followed but Rafa described Everton as “a small club” – a quote dismissed as “disgraceful” by The Guardian. Alan Stubbs claimed that the Spaniard was “bitter” as Liverpool hadn’t won the game and even Keith Wyness got involved, so I’m taking this as a win too. They were furious.

The run came to an end with defeat at St James’ Park, but the next game saw the small matter of a win at the Camp Nou where the newly-signed Alvaro Arbeloa was outstanding against Lionel Messi and his mates. Talk about putting a bad week behind you.

So it’s possible to go on a run following an atrocious act of caving in and sulking because things didn’t go your way after all. Jürgen will have to be on his mettle with the Andalusians, who beat Eibar 3-0 on Saturday, if he wants to truly put City behind him and start a fresh run of games with proper finishing, real tackles and closing down and that.

At times football is all about fear. About “what now?” when things go wrong. That was Saturday. Liverpool sat down and sulked. Wednesday is the perfect opportunity for them to stand up again.

Les Lawson, Gerard Houllier And Graeme Souness: Why You Should Take Heart Health Seriously

LESLAWSON

THIS article isn’t about football. It is not about formations, players, the manager, the club, transfers, the owners or statistics.

It is about you and me.

This week I listened to the TAW Player show ‘Cup of Tea’ featuring Les Lawson, the chairman of the Merseyside Branch of the Official Supporters Club.

Les is well known around the city and club thanks to his work with the branch and his occasional appearances on LFCtv. I got to know him when he asked if we could invite Ray Kennedy to a Christmas lunch at Anfield. He is exactly how he comes across on the interview — a kind and decent human being.

It’s a fascinating podcast. Firstly, because it’s always interesting to hear from anyone who has been to every Liverpool home game since 1976, but also because of the events that led him to Broadgreen Hospital.

https://embeds.audioboom.com/posts/6292825-cup-of-tea-les-lawson/embed/v4?eid=AQAAADtVxllZBWAA#?secret=FxjH3y1GWh

In July Les felt ill at work. He noticed a pain in his breastbone and a tightness in his chest. He felt the need to vomit but could not do so. He booked a doctor’s appointment and went along with his son, Jamie. During his chat with the doctor he collapsed and woke up on the surgery floor. An ambulance was called and he was rushed to hospital. Les had had a heart attack.

Les is 54 years old and healthy. He walks his dog for miles each and every day and doesn’t smoke. He confesses to not being a regular in the gym, but he’s not the sort of man you’d point at when asked to identify someone with heart and circulatory issues.

And that’s the problem. People with such issues don’t always look like they are in poor health. It’s a myth that heart disease attacks only the overweight, the sedentary and smokers — though those can be contributing factors.

Today in the UK an average of 435 people will lose their lives to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Five hundred and 30 will go to hospital due to a heart attack and 190 will die from theirs. More than 110 of them will be under the age of 75 and will thus be classed as a premature death. Twelve babies will be born with a congenital heart disorder.

Perhaps the most frightening statistic is that there are over 7m people in the UK living with a form of heart disease (statistics from British Heart Foundation, August 2017).

Many women don’t realise how heart disease can affect them. Visit our women & heart disease hub for more information http://bit.ly/2vTxl4h 

Les ends the podcast by urging us to have any chest pain examined by a doctor. It is possible to have a heart attack over the course of hours, not just with one violent pain to the chest, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

And heart and circulatory issues have touched our club over the years. Graeme Souness had a triple heart bypass operation in 1992, shortly before the FA Cup final and, more recently in 2001, Gerard Houllier underwent cardiac surgery to fix aortic dissection — a process in which blood leaks between the walls of the aorta and reduces blood flow to the heart. Gerard was on the operating table for 11 hours. The average age for that diagnosis is 63. Gerard, like Les, was just 54.

Last season, Liverpool fan Tony Head collapsed near the ground in Anfield Road. Luckily for Tony, a senior consultant from Aintree Hospital was walking past and helped him in the ambulance. Very lucky indeed. Sadly, others are not so fortunate.

Coronary heart disease affects us all. And not just adults. This summer one of my volunteers suffered her third heart attack. She is 15. As with other people, you wouldn’t think it to look at her. She is just like any other teenager — exuberant, loud and incapable of tidying her bedroom. She just happens to be born with a condition called pulmonary atresia.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, March 19, 2002: Liverpool's manager Gerard Houllier celebrates his side's 2-0 victory over AS Roma during the UEFA Champions League Group B match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This is not to say that things aren’t improving. If you had an out-of-hospital heart attack in the 1970s there was only a 30 per cent chance of survival. Today that number is 70 per cent. This is due to many things — mobile phones with GPS, more people (though not enough) with knowledge of CPR. But it has not displaced the fact that coronary heart disease is the number one killer in this country, despite those improvements. If you had a heart attack in the 1960s the only medical assistance you could hope for was pain management.

Researchers and medics have reduced those numbers but there’s still a long way to go.

A couple of years ago, as my part of my job, I gave a presentation to 30 or so employees of a large retail chain in the hope that they would adopt us as their charity of the year. To be honest, it wasn’t going well. I was the fourth person in to see them that morning and the audience were becoming bored and restless, so I took a risk. Sink or swim. I asked them to raise their hands if they or someone close to them had suffered through heart disease.

Every hand went up.

It’s 2017 and a quarter of all deaths are attributed to various forms of heart and circulatory issues. So Les is right. Don’t take any risks. We can all spare the time to look after ourselves and others.

Les knows that more than most.

As well as being a regular contributor to The Anfield Wrap, Karl is a Fundraising Manager for the British Heart Foundation in London. Should you wish to contribute, support or volunteer for the BHF on Merseyside, please contact Hayley Gough at goughh@bhf.org.uk

Liverpool: Jürgen Klopp, Bouncing Back And What Represents A Successful Season

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 22, 2017: Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool manager) before the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium. (Pic by Paul Marriott/Propaganda)

EVERY defeat comes with a list of extenuating circumstances.

Sometimes, it’s the personnel who are to blame or maybe the system. At others it can be the prospect of an upcoming game which has priority. For example, there were some dire games at the end of Jürgen Klopp’s first season in charge of The Reds, but they came with the caveat of “it’s all about the Europa League now” so were ultimately forgiven.

Liverpool have only lost three times this season and the least hurtful of those encounters was mostly due to the significance of the competition. The League Cup will always be fourth place in our hearts, though it’s always a shame to miss out on what many consider to be a free trophy.

But the league defeats have been totally different – with a definite change in tone between the first and most recent on Sunday and, I’ll admit, I’m a little perplexed by it.

Just over six weeks ago, The Reds went to the Etihad and were warmly presented with their own arses by a rampant Manchester City. The game came just days before our first Champions League group stage game of the season and, with one eye on that, the manager saw fit to take off our only attacking outlet in Mo Salah early in the second half. City helped themselves and we were cuffed accordingly.

Ordinarily you’d expect a 5-0 thumping to be greeted with fury and brickbats from our support, but many were happy to point to the red card for Sadio Mane as an excuse and the need to rest players in the second half in preparation for the big cup a few days later. Not ideal, but not the end of the world either.

I noticed, with both confusion and disdain, that some people on social media lovingly pointed out that the manager was still smiling in his post-match interview despite the heavy defeat. Others noted that this is a team capable of both winning and losing heavily thanks to the “heavy metal football” and our rather gung-ho style of attack coupled with its propensity to leave the back door open, so what else would we expect? It comes with the territory.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 9, 2017: Liverpool's Emre Can, Joel Matip and captain Jordan Henderson look dejected as Manchester City score the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Obviously, there was some criticism after that match, but it was largely met with shrugs. City were just better than us, that’s all. It happens. We go again.

The thing is, we didn’t.

Liverpool have played nine times since that day and won only twice – one against Leicester City in the league and again at Maribor last week. This was no crisis. This was just us being us. Maddening, great and a bit shit all at the same time. The usual.

Then the tone changed.

The masochistic hammering The Reds gave themselves on Sunday (with Tottenham Hotspur more or less just playing a supporting role to our defensive ineptitude) seems to have been the crossover point and while the Newcastle game had many of us rushing to either a drinks or medical cabinet, it was the crushing defeat at Wembley which has finally nudged even the most optimistic Reds in the ribs. This one was viewed as a culmination of shittery rather than the usual “let’s put it behind us and start again” reasoning.

Maybe it was that the standard, weekly errors all came at the same time for once rather than meted out as individual mistakes which gave us pause. Usually, if Dejan Lovren has a bad game Joel Matip will take some of edge off it by being alright and vice versa. Salah, say, may have an off day but Phil Coutinho can lash in a 30 yarder to disguise it – that sort of thing. This was not the case on Sunday.

Had this been another day we may have pointed solely at Emre Can’s atrocious concentration, which led to the third goal and effectively ended the game as a contest, but, such were the poor performances around him that he’s more or less escaped whipping. The only fight Lovren, Matip and Simon Mignolet had was between themselves for the accolade of “worst possible performance of the season”. The Croatian, ever confident, declared on 32 minutes.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 22, 2017: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (L) replaces Dejan Lovren (L) during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium. (Pic by Paul Marriott/Propaganda)

You can get used to seeing one player have a nightmare – it happens to the greats as well as the average – but to see 80 per cent of the defence go together was quite something.

But the most interesting element of that afternoon came from the touchline where Klopp appeared frozen rather than his buoyant self. Gone was the jack in the box on the sidelines and a more pensive man took over. It was as if he was seeing this side for the first time and realised that this wasn’t a one off – it was now the norm. What’s more, it’s now all on him – the formation, the players and the choice of not adding more to the squad. Birds came home to roost from all quarters.

Maybe it was the dawning realisation that not only was this Liverpool team an uneven ragbag of performers, but that the bar has since been significantly raised since last season. For Liverpool to perform as well as Spurs, or at least have their ability to take advantage from weakness as they do, is not going to be an easy task. We are not as clinical as they are, we are not as quick as they are and, let’s face it, we’re simply not as good as they are. Maybe Jürgen saw that at least eight of his lads were wearing the Emperor’s new clothes where he’d once seen them in finery.

This was evidenced in his post-match comments where, for the first time, he pointed the finger at individuals rather than seeing the sunny side of a weak display. I can’t recall him ever saying that one player was as bad as another. He usually just dwells on the positives. There were none on Sunday other than the fact that game ended.

These are the problems, but as we move into the latter half of the week it’s time to look at what happens next; firstly in the context of Huddersfield Town, Maribor and West Ham United and then in terms of the rest of the season.

What do Liverpool do next?

Rob Gutmann, Paul Senior, Josh Sexton and Steve Graves addressed the former issue on the excellent Overview show on TAW Player this week and ran through the list of possibilities with regards to personnel changes and formations. Is three at the back an option we should look at? Maybe it’s time for the diamond which worked so well against West Ham at the end of last season. Who can come in for whom?

“Last year we had two England internationals playing full back… this year we’re playing Moreno and a kid” 👀

🗣 http://ow.ly/y92X30g7LXi 

The current situation at Liverpool was discussed at length on our Overview show, which you can listen to if you subscribe to TAW Player.

The problem with all of these scenarios is that, with Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana out, no one setup looks ideal. It’s just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Liverpool’s players just aren’t good enough, but we have to do something. We can’t throw the towel in as we did at City.

But, for me, it’s the second question, that of the shape of the season, which is the more interesting.

The league has gone. City and Spurs have both thrashed Liverpool and shown just how far away we are from even being involved in a conversation about the title. Even the hallowed top four finish looks a tall order given that we have a record of three league wins from nine games and negative goal difference. Had this start just been unfortunate and had the confidence to turn things around then maybe but it hasn’t looked that this season.

The League Cup has gone too.

What represents a good season for us now, given that even the League Cup has been lost?

Despite a shaky start, we are top of our Champions League group so there are at least some avenues open to us and even though we’re on the floor at the moment, we’ve won the bloody thing with worse options so we should never give up on that. Miracles do happen as we know only too well and Liverpool should always try to win any competition we are entered – not just make a decent stab at it.

But maybe the only other remaining cup competition is more feasible.

Liverpool have all but shrugged their shoulders at the FA Cup in recent years. True, we’ve made a semi-final appearance under Brendan Rodgers and were runners up in 2012 under Kenny Dalglish, but we’ve also gone out to lowly Wolves and Oldham in the last five years – games in which we played our second and arguably even our third 11. For this campaign to be worth anything – and, yes, I know it’s barely started – a concerted effort in “the world’s most famous Cup competition” may just rescue it.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 19, 2015: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers and captain Steven Gerrard during the FA Cup Semi-Final match against Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This will be Jürgen’s third season in charge and, come the end of it, it will be six since our last trophy if he doesn’t win something and though there is no danger whatsoever of him being pushed out, nothing resets the fan base more than a cup win. Sure, the FA Cup is the second least embarrassing competition to win, but I’m fairly sure he’d snap your hand off for guaranteed silverware at the moment.

So instead of playing more kids than seniors, why not take it seriously this year rather than using it as a training exercise.

There are few positives to take out of that weekend and Reds all over the world are licking their wounds, but maybe it will change something in the manager’s mind. There’s no hiding now. There’s no “he will come good” or “injuries are killing us”. Injuries happen. We’re going to get more of them and have to stop using them as an excuse when things go wrong.

But what it should mean is that these players are expendable. I like Jordan Henderson, I think Can is capable of good moments and, on occasion, Matip can be the steady influence in the back we need so badly, but I’d let them all go in a heartbeat to avoid situations like this. That’s not fury speaking (though it was on Sunday) but a pragmatic view of how we get to the next stage.

Sometimes you have to be the bad guy. Sometimes you have to point out that things aren’t working even though you’ve spent two years telling these lads that they’re great. If they aren’t and we can’t move on we have to be cruel to be kind rather than play favourites. I think Jürgen realised that at the weekend.

True, we don’t exactly have a million options in the squad to change this so we can at least answer our critics and calm our hearts – maybe even get a bit of pride back. I want to see Liverpool fly at Huddersfield and make them pay for all this. Then I want Maribor to be beaten into a puree midweek. If we can do that till January and then make significant changes (there are no excuses this time despite all this “you can’t do business” nonsense) then maybe things can be rescued.

One things for sure though. It’s time that the entire club looked at itself with chastisement rather than through rose-tinted spectacles. We’ll go nowhere through excuses. Maybe Sunday was the start of that process. I certainly hope so.