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My Favourite Player #20 – Luis Suárez (and other magnificent sevens)

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A couple of quick notes before we begin. Firstly, Ray Osbourne always seemed to like my writing. If I could, I would love to dedicate this piece to him. RIP ‘Shanklyboy’.


Liverpool supporters, and Liverpudlians in general, have often been called maudlin, sentimental, mawkish, and a whole load of other supposedly insulting terms that I (as an outsider) have always been proud to embody because nothing’s more important than community, today more than ever. This has to be self-evident after a year where two decades’ worth of sheer guts, empathy and real, honest-to-God love has finally seen the truth revealed, along with a real shot at justice. A year where the Prime Minister apologised in front of the world, and why? The power of community, of a mother’s love for a child, and the refusal to let gross injustice lie. Nothing ‘sentimental’ about that.

As someone who is living-proof of the life-affirming power of love, I recognise exactly what the publication of that report in September represented, and everyone involved is an absolute credit to their city. Sentimentality? Just another word for love and affection, isn’t it? And what exactly is wrong with that? So I’d like to propose a toast at the outset of this piece, whatever it ends up being – to Liverpool and Liverpool F.C. Check the fucking Villa result in at the door and just raise your glasses. Results are fleeting; personalities, friendships and community endure. And isn’t that what this inaugural RAWK Advent Calendar is truly all about?

For twenty-five days, we’re going to have a party where we simply love our club. Celebrate it, remember it, laugh at the stories, feel the hairs on the back of our collective necks stand up at the images, at the memories. To hell with poking fun at other clubs or their fans, for twenty-five days let’s just love our own. And if anyone’s looking over the fence and laughing, let’s laugh back in the knowledge that they’re unlikely to ever experience what we have – twenty-five days’ worth of memories that barely even begin to scratch the surface. So welcome to my own personal treasure-trove of memories. Oh, and one more thing…

Happy Christmas one and all.

Introduction: Logic is Seriously Overrated
The older I get, the more I think that I might be getting too old for this shit. That this is basically a kid’s game because, to truly love it, you need that certain level of childish innocence and naivety that it’s just impossible to maintain once you realise how fucked up it’s all become. Whether it’s the corruption, the hypocrisy, the greed, or the celebration of all of the above, it’s getting harder and harder to feel the same level of affection for football as I did when it was just a game rather than an industry, its essence defined in goals, skill and moments of magic rather than pounds and pence. When it was just me, a ball, a clear stretch of grass or road and a headful of dreams.

The game has changed, I’ve changed, the relationship has changed, but there are still moments even now when that innocent, joyful magic returns. They’re fleeting in duration and random in appearance, but when they happen I’m transported back to a different time, a time when football was simply fun. No hatred or frustration, just pure enjoyment. When it was all about the playing, the watching and especially the mimicking. In those rare moments, I start to feel like a kid discovering football all over again – bewitched, mystified, thrilled. And it’s beginning to dawn on me that feeling like a kid is what it’s all about.

Football was never meant to be logical or explicable, either in terms of how it works or how it makes you feel. If you can have it explained to you, I mean truly have it explained to you, by pundits, writers, players, managers, fellow supporters, agents, directors, statistics or (shudder) balance sheets, then something is very wrong. Likewise, you should worry if you start to think at any point that you’ve got it all figured out because this game was never meant to be understood any more than love or music were. Perfect understanding of such things will only render them boring and ordinary. If you can quantify something and hold it in your hand, then it’s not really magic.

And I’ll take magic over logic any day.

My Favourite Player(s)
To be honest, if the title of this piece is meant to be taken literally, I probably should have been writing it solely about John Barnes or Peter Beardsley. Or perhaps Barnes and Beardsley, seeing as how I was indoctrinated as a Liverpool supporter primarily on the club’s 1987/88 vintage. A double-edged sword in some ways considering the almost impossible standard of attacking quality it set for the Liverpool teams which followed over the next quarter of a century, but still, what an introduction it was, not only to the club but to football in general. I count myself lucky to have witnessed it, and those two in particular were fucking irresistible.

I probably spent a criminal amount of time in my backyard as a kid trying to imitate the pair of them, one Barnes stepover or Beardsley shuffle at a time, maybe recreating the latter’s acrobatic volley against Everton or the former’s majestic slalom through QPR. They left a mark on me as the first cut always does to the point where, with David Villa in his prime a few years ago and my girlfriend’s little brother gushing over him, I simply grunted, thoroughly unimpressed: “You should have fucking seen Beardsley then…” Fuck it, I stand by it, rose-tinted specs or not. Liverpool’s little Geordie no. 7 may have never won a World Cup, but David Villa never shook the Kop (unlucky, David lad).

Anyway, in this case it wasn’t quite as simple as sticking my name down for one (or both) of them since Digger was already taken and my childhood memories of Beardsley, jettisoned too early by Graeme Souness in the summer of 1991 when I was 11, are far too hazy to form a fully-realised contribution worthy of the inaugural RAWK Advent Calendar. So with that in mind, I decided to pick my current favourite player, the Brazilian with the kind of strength, leadership, uncanny reading of the game and ability to keep an entire team ticking over that only the true midfield generals possess. That’ll work, right? Well actually no, because Lucas was already taken too!

But then, I figure there are different kinds of favourites, you know? I have a lot of admiration for Lucas, but he’s never had me out of my seat pointing my finger at what I hope my eyes have just seen, nor has he ever caused my jaw to drop several inches or made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end or, as a fully-formed 33 year-old man, think “fuck, I gotta go outside right now and try that!” Lucas, for all his qualities, has never made me belly-laugh at the sheer audacity and magnificence of his genius, the same way I once did with Barnes and Beardsley. In other words, Lucas has yet to make me feel like I’m 7 years old again.

Unlike Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz.

Suárez and Beardsley: The Plural of ‘Genius’ is ‘Genii’
Watching Luis Suárez in action is like trying to unravel a mystery. It feels just like it did when I sat as a 6 year-old watching Maradona single-handedly (pardon the pun) destroy England and Belgium at Mexico ’86. He just ran through practically their entire team and scored, I mean, how the actual fuck…? Maybe I was just too young to understand, right? Well ok, but then later on I’d watch Barnes skin someone or Beardsley shimmy this way and that before leaving some poor hapless fucker sitting on his arse, then tried it myself and wondered – Ok, did my eyes just deceive me then? Like, how did they do that? Was it magic? Or was I still just too young to understand?

Alright, so I get to be a (then) 31 year-old man in a responsible job with roughly a quarter-century of games, goals and various Kodak moments stored away in my brain for easy reference. And I’ve seen it all. I’ve well and truly seen it all. Nothing you can show me, no way. And I’m watching a game, and this player who’s just arrived from the Dutch league (so there’s the usual debate) is playing, second home start. A pass is played to him in the penalty area, first-half, back to goal, well-shackled with two defenders around him, nowhere to go. Then mayhem. The joyous, inexplicable mayhem of genius. And suddenly I had something else to add to the scrapbook.

He pivots sharply and puts the ball through one defender’s legs while simultaneously moving away from another. In the next two seconds, in what seems like a blur, he nicks the ball away from two more defenders before placing it through the legs of the goalkeeper and bypassing another defender on the goal line with a pass that sets up a simple tap-in for a teammate from literally inches out. From inside the penalty area, this man has just bypassed six opposition players on a team which would reach the Champions League final and be crowned champions of England less than three months later. How. The. Fuck?

That was against Manchester United in March 2011, and the goal in question was the first of a Dirk Kuyt hat-trick in a 3-1 victory, a goal that belonged to Luis Suárez in everything but name. It wouldn’t be the last time that the Uruguayan would produce a moment (or series of moments) of pure, unadulterated skill that defied rational explanation in the Liverpool no. 7 jersey. In truth, he’s likely to do that in every single game. And for me, it feels very much a case of coming full-circle. It was Beardsley wearing the shirt at the start, a genius in his own right who often had me smiling in wonder at the things he did. Now it’s Suárez who has me grinning like a moron most weeks.

So while, for the purposes of the 2012 RAWK Advent Calendar, Luis Suárez is indeed my favourite player, I can’t have him hogging the stage by himself. For me, Beardsley deserves to be there too, a man blessed with the same mix of sublime touch, movement and flair for the unexpected as Liverpool’s current no. 7, equally capable of making otherwise-decent defenders look like rank amateurs who had accidentally blundered into the midst of genius and immediately commenced shitting their shorts. The man who never got the goals that Barnes, Aldridge or later Rush did, yet everything in that magnificent team flowed through him; the conductor of the magic.

And yet because he was only at Anfield for four seasons, a drop in the ocean of both the history of this club and his own well-travelled career, or perhaps because he’ll always be more closely-associated with his hometown club (maybe in his own mind too), it’s easy to overlook Beardsley when it comes to ranking the all-time Liverpool greats. In terms of talent, he genuinely wouldn’t look out of place with any of them. Blessed with sublime balance, deceptive pace, an eye for a pass and a deadly shot (don’t believe me, check the link below), Beardsley was a magical player who helped me fall in love with the game. The club-record signing from Newcastle who actually lived up to his price-tag (sorry, Andy).

Speaking of Newcastle…

I Missed It…
Liverpool Vs. Newcastle United. Anfield. Sunday 4th November 2012.

I fucking hate missing things. And on this particular day, I was travelling, managing to catch only the last twenty minutes of a game which summed up the first few months of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool reign pretty succinctly. There was plenty of possession; there were chances not taken; there was an opposition goal against the run of play; there was a convincing penalty shout not given; there was frustration. There was also a moment of sheer genius from Liverpool’s current No. 7 which illuminated everything, providing you with one of those aforementioned moments that make football worthwhile. And I fucking missed it.

A percentage long-ball from left-back José Enrique made immediately deadly by instant, utterly perfect control on the shoulder, a run-of-the-mill drone suddenly stocked with enough explosive firepower to destroy everything in its path…which in this case was goalkeeper Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini already well and truly rendered helpless by that one flowing, immaculate piece of control. The rest somehow seemed inevitable. A swerve of the body where it momentarily looked like he was dancing with the ball, a touch of the instep to take it around the ‘keeper, a finish with the outside of the right boot in the same movement…it was simply breathtaking. Did I mention I missed it?

It’s not the first thing I’ve missed, but that’s football – no matter how much you’ve seen, how many triumphs you’ve celebrated, there’s always going to be something you missed. Maybe a trophy won before your time, or a game watched from the pub instead of your usual spec on the Kop, or a piece of sublime skill that happened as you were looking away, or a goal like that outlined in the previous paragraph. Or a player – now those are the ones that really hurt because trophies, games and goals happen in an instant – personalities endure. And if we’re talking about the no. 7 shirt, there has been so much that I and supporters of my age and younger have missed out on.

Needless to say, I ain’t talking about Nigel Clough…

‘Kevin Keegan – A Liverpool Hero’*
*Please click on the link above to find a better tribute to Keegan than I could ever produce, written from both heart and head by the fabulous Yorkykopite

On Christmas Day, Royhendo will present the greatest man who has ever graced this club, so I won’t go into Kenny Dalglish too much here except to say that I was introduced to him as a manager. His days as the finest player ever to pull on that fabled no. 7 shirt were behind him by the time I was first drawn to Liverpool F.C. My loss. As mentioned, the first Liverpool no. 7 that I witnessed was Peter Beardsley. And by the time he was moved across Merseyside to Goodison in 1991, it had been almost twenty years to the day since a man synonymous with the no. 7, who the great Bill Shankly once called the ‘inspiration’ of his second great team, arrived at Anfield – Kevin Keegan.

Keegan was my kind of player – possessed, I dare say, of the same kind of will-to-win, industry and talent that also defines the current incumbent of Liverpool’s no. 7 shirt. Indeed, I would suggest that players like Keegan, Dalglish, Beardsley and Suárez are the reason why the number has been invested with so much mystique in the first place, affording it a degree of significance under which many lesser mortals have fallen (more on that later). Unfortunately, since I wasn’t even a glint in my dad’s eye when Keegan was strutting his stuff at Anfield from 1971 to 1977, it all started at the end of his Liverpool career for my retrospective eyes.

The first glimpse I ever caught of him was the moment where, to quote a certain other Roman gladiator, he ’unleashed hell’ on Berti Vogts in Rome to such an extent that the great German defender who had once marked Cruyff out of a World Cup final was moved to bring him down in a desperate attempt to stop his scintillating run at the heart of the Mönchengladbach defence as Liverpool clinched their first ever European Cup. It was what I earlier characterised as ‘the joyous, inexplicable mayhem of genius’. Go back and look at it and try not to get goosebumps. It was magical.

Vogts’ foul was pure and utter submission, just like Coloccini’s attempt to break Suárez’s leg less than twenty minutes after the Uruguayan’s aforementioned moment of genius earlier in the season with a tackle so late that it was actually verging on being early and so high that his foot briefly started to resemble Paul Merson. In a season where we’ve all wondered aloud at some point what it would take for a referee to actually punish the regular assaults perpetrated on the Uruguayan, it turned out that he didn’t have to have a bone broken after all – just suffer a full-blooded attempt to break one. But that’s what genius does – it often evokes desperate responses from lesser players.

Keegan’s destruction of Vogts was his last meaningful act in a Liverpool jersey, though perhaps not his most important. That arguably came two months earlier when a shot-come-cross (ok, cross) found its way into the Anfield Road-end goal after just two minutes of the second-leg of Liverpool’s quarter-final tie against French champions St. Etienne, a goal which drew the home side level on aggregate, sent Anfield into the kind of rapture that arguably wouldn’t be seen again until Chelsea some eighteen years later, and set the scene for David Fairclough’s late heroics. Keegan, simply put, was a player that made things happen – exactly what the no. 7 shirt has long been about.

The Magic Number
Look – other people will know more about ’77 than I will, but I look at those highlights and I think ‘Suárez would fucking love that’. Ditto Beardsley. And I look at the modern game and imagine Keegan doing just fine. All magical players with special talents. The no. 7 shirt is invested with its own degree of magic, some warranted, some perhaps not. And aside from the small matter of it being the number of Dalglish and Keegan, even those who failed in relative terms while wearing it still had their moments – Clough against Manchester United, Kewell with an excellent performance in that FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea, Keane with that magnificent finish at the Emirates.

Its magic, however, has nothing to do with the likes of Clough, Kewell or Keane. For twenty years, it was donned on a weekly basis by Keegan, Dalglish and Beardsley, that’s why it matters. They form its essence, and the memories they gave us form a huge part of this club’s history. They made you smile. They still do. And to use the words etched below the figure of another great man whose statue stands outside Anfield, they ‘made the people happy’. And that is what football is all about, isn’t it? Why care about it in the first place otherwise? Why persevere through all the bullshit if it never makes you smile?

Luis Suárez makes me smile. And that’s why he’s my favourite player…or at least one of them  :)

Wonderful and thanks mate.


Conveys the emotion when reading this belter!

Great read, thanks E2K.

Magnificent as always mate :)


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