Liverpool were mugged yesterday on a bitterly cold night on the Thames by referee Kevin Friend, their own profligacy in front of goal, and an opportunistic strike by that part-time rapper from Nacogdoches, Texas, Clint Dempsey. Championship-winning teams have enough ability and self-belief to offset refereeing injustices and goalkeeping mistakes; Liverpool last had this quality about them in April of 2009 and we haven’t seen the faintest hint of it in nearly thirty months. To be fair, the referee had about six major decisions to make and each time (whether rightly or wrongly, mostly wrongly) he came down on the side of Fulham. Consistent refereeing would have seen Fulham down to ten men for Dempsey’s absurd headbutting, then down to nine for repeated cynical tackles by Phillipe Senderos. On the balance of play it can be argued that Fulham deserved a point for a well-organized display that required the full attention of the usually magnificent Pepe Reina, but the additional two they won were a gift from the man in black.
I used to get really worked up for the semi-annual encounters between the Liverpool and Chelsea football clubs. In the first decade of this millennium Chelsea represented everything that was vulgar and wrong about football. Here was a club that lived well beyond its means for years, was forced to sell the land under its stadium to ensure that property developers wouldn’t swoop down like vultures in the event the club was declared insolvent, and indeed was minutes from being put into administration before being purchased in 2003 by the corrupt, thieving Russian oil & gas billionaire Roman Abramovich.