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In print

September 24, 2011

I wrote a piece about Luis García on here a while back. I’ve since amended and updated it and it’s been published in the new edition of Well Red, the Liverpool supporters’ magazine. At only £3 a copy it’s superb value, and as well as my little contribution there’s some genuinely excellent writing.

In a similar vein, Late Tackle magazine is a more general football magazine from the same team behind Well Red, but without the focus on one particular club. The first edition is currently in the shops and I’d urge everyone to buy it. It’s an independent publication featuring a range of writers from national newspaper journalists to online bloggers. It deserves to be supported.

An open letter to ESPN

September 23, 2011

Reports have emerged today claiming that ESPN has offered a job to Steven Cohen, who claimed two years ago that Liverpool fans without tickets were responsible for the Hillsborough disaster. For a reminder of what was said, have a look at EPL Talk’s report from the time.

Here is an email I have written to Chris LaPlaca, ESPN’s head of communications (@espn_chris on Twitter). Feel free to use this as a template, or send your own email entirely. Either way, 2009 showed that bad publicity was bad news for Cohen. Major sponsors of his show withdrew and his contract with Fox was not renewed. Hopefully a similar outcome can materialise this time.

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Dear Mr LaPlaca,

It is with great disappointment that I read reports claiming that ESPN has hired ex-Fox Soccer Channel pundit Steven Cohen.

As you will know, Cohen became embroiled in controversy in 2009 when he claimed that Liverpool fans without tickets were responsible for the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster in which 96 people were killed. These claims ran contrary to the findings of the Taylor Report into the tragedy, which established that neither fans without tickets nor drunken fans were to blame.

Cohen’s comments and the resulting backlash from football fans – not just those who support Liverpool – caused advertisers such as Heinken to withdraw from sponsoring Cohen’s programs. Fox opted not to renew Cohen’s contract.

I am urging you to reconsider your position and withdraw any offer you may have made to Cohen. He has demonstrated a stunning lack of judgement and shown that, for whatever reason, he has let prejudice get in the way of established fact. His appearances on television, backed up by the logo of a major television network, would be offensive to those who take seriously Britain’s worst sporting disaster.

ESPN proudly claims to be “the worldwide leader in sports”. The company is one of the biggest and most respected sports media organizations in the world because of its high-quality approach to sports broadcasting and journalism. It would be a shame is such a reputation were to be sullied by an ill-considered decision to hire a man who has displayed such callous insensitivity.

Cohen may argue that he has a right to freedom of speech and his past airing of controversial opinions should not bar him from future employment. While I would not dispute his right to hold an opinion, let us not subscribe to the fallacy that all opinions are equally valid. The claim that the Hillsborough disaster was caused by fans without tickets forcing their way into the stadium is no less false that the claim that the earth is flat – both have been shown to be untrue. ESPN would be doing itself and its viewers, listeners and readers a huge disservice were they to allow Cohen airtime.

I hope that you will take time to reconsider Cohen’s suitability for your company. I hope that you will take into account the effect that Liverpool supporters were able to have on both Fox Soccer Channel and its advertisers, and realize that hiring Steven Cohen will do nothing positive for ESPN or its customers. I hope that you will appreciate that the families of those killed at Hillsborough are still battling to discover precisely what happened to their loved ones, and that characters such as Cohen undermine the fight for justice.

Yours sincerely,

Liam Milner

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EDIT: James Grant has been in touch on Twitter and reminded me that there is a little more to add re: Cohen’s behaviour in 2009. Not only did he dig his heels in following his initial claims, arguing that even if the number of ticketless fans were to be disputed, the presence of some fans seeking to bunk in was inarguably a cause of the disaster, he was also rude and abusive to many Liverpool supporters who contacted him. It would be inexcusable for ESPN to hire him.

EDIT #2: Last night I received the following email from Chris LaPlaca:

Thank you for your inquiry.

Contrary to earlier reports, Steven Cohen will not be contributing to ESPN.

This, I’m sure you’ll agree, is good news.

Pre-season Friendlies or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Watch the Cricket

July 29, 2011

At some point over the summer we all realise we miss football. For some, competitions like the Copa América, the U17 World Cup or the women’s World Cup sate the appetite and plug the gap. For others though, the prospect of watching such tournaments does not appeal. Forget the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in competitive action; these people are after the real cut and thrust of their club’s programme of pre-season friendlies. After all, who wants to watch South America’s finest when the reserves are getting a run-out on a cash-counting tour of the Far East?

Before the days of 24 hour sports news and club TV channels, pre-season friendlies were relegated to the classified results section of the sports pages. Now these warm-up games are much more significant, for the top clubs at least. They form part of lucrative foreign tours. For supporters back home, matches are shown live, either on TV or the club website. This exposure is welcomed by advertisers and sponsors, and indeed fans, but it can cause problems.

Anyone who frequents football forums will be aware that sanity and rationality are often hard to find. It’s the same on Twitter. Anyone who doubts this is the case need only to peruse the big Liverpool messageboards and read reaction to recently friendly results. The first two matches – a 4-3 win over Guandong Sunray Cave and a 6-3 win over a Malaysia XI – resulted in general contentment but concern at the six goals conceded. The next two results – both 3-0 losses, the first at Hull and the second at Galatasaray – caused anger, consternation, anxiety, and a belief that Liverpool could kiss goodbye to any meaningful tilt at success this season.

Well, not everyone reacted like that. But a large number did. Never mind that some of the players involved in these games are unlikely to feature much, if at all, during the coming season. Never mind that the main purpose of pre-season games – on the playing side – is improve the players’ fitness levels. Never mind that the combinations in which players were appearing on the pitch are unlikely to repeat themselves in mid-season. Does anyone really expect Martin Kelly and Sotirios Kyrgiakos – who started in central defence against Galatasaray – to be Dalglish’s favoured centre-back pairing? Let’s just forget that Liverpool were missing the likes of Gerrard, Reina, Suarez, Johnson, Lucas, Adam, Henderson, Downing and Meireles in Istanbul. Rational response to defeat can evade football supporters at the best of times, but when a loss or two in July is met with predictions of doom, the line between overreaction and stupidity can become blurred.

In the pre-season of 2006, Liverpool lost 5-0 to Mainz, who were then in the second tier of German football. In May 2007, the club was competing in the Champions League final. Essentially, pre-season matters a lot less than many believe. The league begins on August 13. That’s when we should really start to care about poor performances and results. In the mean time, there’s a test match on…

Luis García – Keeping tabs on a cult hero

July 4, 2011

Most European footballers almost certainly do not aim to play in the Mexican Primera División. But a former Spanish international, Champions League and English FA Cup winner, not to mention a cult hero at one of Europe’s most successful clubs, has just signed for Puebla FC. Luis García’s career is winding down at the age of 33, but in an environment less strenuous than a top European league, the former Liverpool number 10 may be able to show glimpses of why he is so fondly remembered by the red half of Merseyside. As one Luis lights up Anfield to the delight of the Kop, let us not forget the exploits of another who did likewise just a few years ago.

Arriving from Barcelona in 2004 as part of the ‘Rafalution’, García’s style of play soon became evident. He was attacking, could score from distance and enjoyed flicks and tricks. He also appeared to be fairly lightweight, and misplaced trickery could easily frustrate if employed at the wrong time in the wrong match. Nevertheless, he was an exciting player who could make things happen, and quickly made his mark on the scoresheet, netting in his second game for the Reds in a 3-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion.

It was his goalscoring – and general performances – in Europe which garnered him most praise. He scored in every knockout round of the Champions League in his first season, up until the final, and can be considered crucial in helping Liverpool secure the trophy in Istanbul, even if his performance in the final did not stand out. His goals against Bayer Leverkusen displayed his quick movement and deft touch; his strike against Juventus in the quarter-final was thunderous; and his disputed goal against Chelsea ultimately separated the two teams.

García’s second season at Liverpool was a little more inconsistent, but still contained moments to remember. Quick reactions allowed him to score in the Merseyside Derby at Anfield, while a dipping volley – not unlike the one he had scored against Juventus the previous year – dumped Chelsea out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage (although a red card against West Ham in his next match meant he was suspended for the final).

The third and final season García spent at Anfield was blighted by injury, and he was sold to Atlético Madrid at the end of the season. It is unfortunate that his Liverpool career ended with such a whimper, but he had succeeded in leaving his mark on the club and the supporters. An appearance at Jamie Carragher’s testimonial in 2010 – where he scored a typical curling shot from the edge of the penalty area – allowed the Kop to say a final goodbye to a man who had been such a central character in the story of 2005.

Since leaving Liverpool, García has struggled to match the heights reached in 2005 and 2006. Returning to Spain, he struggled to hold down a starting position at Atlético, with only 12 of his 30 league appearances in the 2007/08 season coming as starts. The following season he started only five La Liga matches. Successive seasons at Racing Santander and Panathinaikos failed to provide García with regular football, and this disappointment appears to have led him to Mexico.

As with any cult hero, one remembers the good and turns a blind eye to the bad. There were certainly matches where García drew the ire of the crowd, and his growing role as a substitute reflected this. But in spite of his faults, there is no doubt that García deserves to be remembered fondly for those moments when his efforts paid off. He will not be remembered as a player who left a particularly significant impression on the Premier League. Indeed, outside Liverpool’s fanbase it is doubtful as to whether his performances in European competition – his “ghost goal” against Chelsea aside – are remembered especially strongly. It is a shame that he is not seeing out his career in Spain, but perhaps a move to Mexico will allow García the chance to play regularly and excite another set of supporters.

Elsewhere…

May 27, 2011
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There’s been nothing written here for a while, and that’s unlikely to change until mid-June, following my exams. In the meantime, content yourselves with these gems unearthed earlier this week.

1. The Swiss Ramble takes a look at Liverpool’s finances. It’s detailed information, but very accessible to those of us who instinctively shy away from spreadsheets.

2. Issue 1 of the Blizzard launched this week. There’s no let-up in quality after Issue Zero, and the article on Richard Nixon may just get a mention in my American history exam next week.

3. Over at Watching and Thinking, Tom Goulding outlines the value Luka Modric brings to the centre of Tottenham’s midfield.

4. Brian Phillips contemplates the mortality of Barcelona for Slate.

Sir Kenny Dalglish – better late than never

April 15, 2011

When Kenny Dalglish was reinstated as Liverpool manager in January, I wrote that the decision was about more than football. It was about uniting the supporters and the club once more. Apart from his excellent record both on the pitch and in the dugout, Dalglish has the utmost respect of all Liverpool fans because of his actions away from the trivialities of football.

In the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, Liverpool the club and Liverpool the city sought a beacon of hope in their darkest of days. It was Dalglish who filled this role. “They supported Liverpool,” he said of the supporters, “now it is the turn of Liverpool Football Club to support them.” Along with his wife Marina, he attended funerals, up to four in one day, visited hospitals and consoled the bereaved. An unforgettable effort.

The strain ultimately proved too much. “All the emotion and stress of Hillsborough, all the weight of responsibility he felt, had taken its toll,” remarked Dalglish’s daughter Kelly. The emotional burden he bore prompted his resignation in 1991. But the efforts and personal sacrifices made by the Scot would never be forgotten on Merseyside.

With this in mind it is heartwarming to hear of plans to press for a knighthood for King Kenny. At the memorial service on the 22nd anniversary of the disaster, Steve Rotheram announced that he, along with other MPs, would be putting forward an Early Day Motion in support of the bestowing of such an honour. One can only hope it succeeds. Footballing achievements are easy to quantify. Record books and websites immortalise the goalscoring or managerial prowess of an individual or team. Personal sacrifice when dealing with life and death is different. While a knighthood for Dalglish may partly reflect his success on the football pitch, his words and deeds post-Hillsborough are the most deserving of thanks and recognition.

Justice For The 96

April 14, 2011

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