Teams: Middlesbrough v Liverpool – Torres back

It’s one of the most-hated days in Liverpool’s fixture list. More often than not Boro stick 11 men behind the ball in a game that’s never likely to be a first pick for live coverage.

Rafa has chosen Voronin to partner the returning Torres up-front, with Riise likely to start as a left-winger, Yossi on the right. Gerrard and Mascherano will play centrally.

In defence it’s almost the strongest available line-up. The dependable Steve Finnan is at right-back, the bargain Arbeloa at left-back and Carragher as one of the central defenders. Hyypia is his partner today, but his run as a starter is surely coming to an end now, with Daniel Agger’s name at long last appearing on the team-sheet, although only as sub today. With the arrival of £6.5m centre-back Martin Sktrel yesterday Hyypia can expect his appearance to become more limited as the season goes on, although Skrtel is likely to be eased into action over the next few months in much the way Daniel Agger was.

These are still worrying times for Rafa and the supporters in terms of his future, with Jurgen Klinsmann’s arrival at Bayern Munich yesterday resulting in even more claims that he’d been offered the Anfield job by the out-of-touch co-owners. Rafa’s making it clear with every interview that he’s happy to work hard for the future of the club, the owners are keeping very quiet as usual.

Boro are three points above the relegation places, and so once again Liverpool will face a team hoping for a point against one of the bigger clubs. Most of Rafa’s experimentation this season has been in trying to break down these teams, and it’s not always proving that easy. Some would argue that it should be Babel rather than Riise on the left-wing, but the Dutchman struggled last weekend against Luton, and seems most effective when coming off the bench.
Continue reading Teams: Middlesbrough v Liverpool – Torres back

Stadium decision in two weeks

After rushing into revealing plans for a new stadium that later turned out to be too expensive, it seems the club’s current owners are being a little more cautious with their decision over which of the latest plans to go with.

After taking over the club early in 2007, co-owner Tom Hicks criticised the stadium design that had been produced prior to his arrival. In July he revealed new and astounding plans for a very unique stadium. The club were given planning permission for this version, but the rush to show the plans off meant that no accurate costings had been carried out. When they were, the stadium was more expensive than expected, and the owners weren’t able to get finance for it on the terms they wanted. Eventually Rick Parry admitted that those plans were being thrown out, and that two companies – HKS and AFL – would be submitting new plans for a ‘downgraded’ stadium.

Those plans were presented to the owners and Parry in New York yesterday. It had been expected that a decision would be made by the end of the week, but according to a Hicks spokesperson that’s not the case.

The spokesman said: “We made excellent progress on the choice of stadium design and hope to have a final decision in the next two weeks.”

With the stadium already delayed by some years another couple of weeks will make little difference. The new plans will require new planning permission, and given that it sees an increase in the initial capacity of the stadium that may not be a clear-cut process. The plans approved last year had an initial capacity of just over 60,000, with flexibility to increase that to somewhere in the region of 78,000. The capacity on the earlier plans was set to 60,000 because of worries that the local infrastructure could not cope with anything more than that number of visitors on a match day, a situation that the owners planned to help improve before the stadium opened.

Chief Executive Rick Parry was impressed at both sets of plans, but said that the board now need time to reflect on what they were shown: “It was a very full day. We had two very detailed and very informative presentations which were very thorough and extremely professional. It has been another big step forward to finding the best possible solution and the whole meeting was very constructive. Everyone is reflecting on what they have heard and a clear decision will be taken soon.”

Parry suggested that there was no clear-cut winner from the two sets of plans: “They were both very good in terms of coming closer to the right solution. As ever, when you have a competition you hope it produces outstanding results and I think that is what we have seen today. Whichever we do go with it will be an excellent result.”

The reason that Liverpool had been looking for investors was to enable a new stadium to be built, and so increase revenues from home games. Anfield holds 45,000 supporters, which is much lower than competing clubs in the top flight. The new owners also felt that executive facilities were not good enough, and hoped to increase revenue in that area too. The new stadium will be built on Stanley Park, as part of a much-needed regeneration plan for the area.

Carra spat at, abused and showered in beer by Luton yob minority

A certain national newspaper, one we don’t read, because of despicable lies it reported as “The Truth” in 1989, has today tried once again to give Jamie Carragher a bad name.

I’ve not read their article, but have read articles elsewhere that talk about it. I’ve no intention of reading their article either, and hope this particular piece here helps anyone who didn’t already know about the boycott of that rag learn fast. We do not buy that rag.

Their front page story talks of Jamie Carragher being abusive and threatening to Luton fans after the game on Sunday, claiming he overreacted to some harmless banter. It pictures him climbing a fence to confront Luton supporters. What it doesn’t show, or it seems even mention, is the true nature of what went on before that.

It would come as no surprise that this rag would take the word of a few fans without attempting to back-up their story with information from the other side. As it happens anyway, Liverpool FC forbid their players from talking to that rag, the only publication in the world to which that policy applies.

Now the local media and a Liverpool fanzine have made moves to put forward what really happened, rather than the accusations of a few attention-seeking fans who actually brought shame to their club.

The Liverpool Echo spoke to some fans of the League One side who had seen first-hand the abuse Carragher got. They were ashamed to see Carra and other Reds stars come under attack by the drunken yobs as they signed autographs for young Luton supporters. They spat, threw beer and also spat beer at the players, as well as making unnecessarily derogatory and obscene comments about the Reds players, unconcerned at the fact the players were with children as this was going on.

Liverpool’s players had been running up and down the touchline near the “executive” rooms at the ground before the abuse began. The group of Luton fans responsible were seen on television ahead of the game, wearing curly wigs and fake moustaches in a salute to a Harry Enfield sketch that was actually quite funny when first aired sometime in the last millennium, but is now so old even UK Gold don’t show it.

The Echo say Carra went over to a number of fans who had been shouting for an autograph, including eight-year-old Hamzah Ahmed. For this he found himself spat at and pelted with beer, alongside foul and abusive comments about him mother in what the Echo describes as a “filthy tirade”. Carra’s a passionate man, and rather than let them get away with it from what they thought was the safety of their little balcony overlooking the pitch, he stood on an advertising hoarding to ask them why they were doing this – after all he was actually signing autographs for their fans.

In the end some other fans from another of the executive boxes had to step in and move the gang away, embarrassed at what their fellow supporters were doing. Luton fan Sim Hussain, 31, told the paper about how the yobs had turned his nephew’s joy at meeting a big-name footballer close up into despair, leaving the youngster in tears: “It was awful. He was making the kids’ day by coming over and meeting them. He was the perfect gentleman.” Carra was a gent, but not the idiots who were intent on giving the struggling club a bad name: “They were swearing at him. The language was terrible and they were even making references to his mother. Even then, Jamie just told them to calm down.”

He went on: “Then someone spat at him and a drink was thrown at him. We had to jump into the box so it all stopped. I’m from Luton and I thought what happened was disgusting. He didn’t have to come over, but he did.” And as Mr Hussain said, this wasn’t just “banter” as the boycotted rag tried to make out: “There’s banter, but that was something completely different.”

He also says that despite their concerns, the club have been refusing to speak to anyone about the incident: “The lads who did it were aged between 18 and 22. We’ve been trying to call Luton FC to tell them what happened but they just put us on hold.”

And despite John Arne Riise’s gift of an own goal even he was the subject of abuse, according to eyewitness. Once the yobs had been moved out of the way Javier Mascherano went back to the supporters and signed more autographs.

The club today said that they had received phone calls putting across the other side of the story to that reported by a rag that was once told by Kenny Dalglish that the way to put right its wrongs in 1989 was to print a headline admitting “We lied”. It refused, and is still boycotted. The club said of the incident: “Clearly the behaviour of these fans was completely unacceptable.”

The Echo were also told by an “Anfield insider” what they believed had happened: “The players were warming down on the side of the pitch near the tunnel. There were family in the executive boxes and they were running up and down near those boxes. They were asked to go and sign some autographs which they did. But as they were jogging up and down they started to get a lot of earache from some supporters, some of which was quite nasty.”

Then came the final straw for Carra: “Somebody showered Jamie with a drink, possibly ale, which caused him to briefly react.”

A Luton FC spokesman said earlier that, “There was a problem which is being investigated by our safety officer.”

Liverpool FC fanzine, The Liverpool Way, has also commented on the incident after speaking to Carra. They say that Carra was upset at the fact he was showered in beer and abused when he was signing autographs for their own – so-called – fellow fans. See ‘Sad Hatters‘ for the full story and hints as to why the boycotted paper doesn’t think a great deal of Carra.

Liverpool supporters have long had a dislike of Luton Town given their antics in the FA Cup back during the Kenny Dalglish era, alongside their away-fans ban and their plastic pitch. But that can hardly be blamed on the fans, who were given a bad name by this wig-wearing minority. However it’s clear that not all their supporters are like this, and huge credit goes to those fans who tried to contact the club and the press to put the true story out there.  Let’s hope that Luton Town act quickly to ban these idiots and to issue an apology to Carra and his team-mates. It’s not just Liverpool fans who boycott that rag after its lies of 1989 and other lies since, perhaps that boycott will grow in light if this incident.

Further evidence of how the boycotted rag has once again told front-pages lies comes from another Luton supporter. Further proving that this small group of “fans” has embarrassed Luton’s true supporters,  Luton-born Simon Lamport told the Press Association that what he saw happen was quite different to what had been reported, and he was desperate to make sure the true story was put forward: “I witnessed what happened and it is nothing like what is being portrayed. I was in the executive box with my son a couple down from the one where it all happened. All the other fans had gone, but Liverpool players were jogging round the pitch. Afterwards, those players had come across to sign programmes, shirts and so on for the fans, including my son.”

Mr Lamport went on to describe the group of hooligans: “There was a group of Luton fans who had been dressed up in wigs as Scousers, and they started taunting Jamie Carragher. Then what looked like spit, or maybe it was beer, was aimed at Carragher. Yes, he did jump up onto the barrier to talk to them.”

And Mr Lamport claims the allegation in that ‘newspaper’ claiming Carra had to be dragged away by security staff was untrue: “He was not led away by security staff, or anything like that, and then he jumped down again. He could easily have gone straight into the executive box, but did not.” It also seems the bullying yobs weren’t quite so brave when faced with Carra up close: “But the eight or so fans in the box backed away pretty quickly. There were references also to Carragher’s family.”

Mr Lamport spoke no doubt for most Luton fans when he said: “What happened to him was completely out of order. I don’t think players should have to put up with that sort of thing, especially when they have come across to kindly sign autographs and talk to the youngsters. I’m not a Liverpool fan, I was born and brought up in Luton, but the way this has been portrayed is not right.”

It’s unlikely the  paper will be making any kind of apology tomorrow in light of its failure to check the allegations made by the drunks in the box, but as the afternoon has gone on more and more coverage has been devoted to putting Carra’s side of the story across. No doubt the story will fail to get even a mention in tomorrow’s paper.

After we first published this article another Luton supporter came forward to express his disgust at the incident on Sunday. Leaving a comment on this site, Peter Birt said, “As a Luton Town fan, may I say how disgusted I am at the behaviour of a small number of our fans to Jamie Carragher and some of his team mates after the match on Sunday, it leaves a very sour taste in the mouths of the vast majority of Hatter’s fans after what was a great advert for the FA Cup.”

As we said earlier, let’s hope for a hard-fought replay at Anfield next week, with some good-natured banter between both sets of fans. And of course – please – for a Liverpool victory!

Rafa: Sunday paper quotes were not from me

Reports in the Sunday press claiming “a friend of” Rafael Benitez had spoken of the manager’s fears over his future once against stirred up the storm that has been hanging over Liverpool Football Club throughout the winter. Today Rafa Benitez spoke out to say that none of the claims came from him.

It’s not unusual for managers at any club to wait until the cameras and microphones are all switched off at the end of a press conference before imparting some information that they’d like to see reported, but reported without their name on. It also isn’t unusual for those involved in the game to use members of the press to put their story forward – again without any direct quotes – by speaking to them off the record. So when a story quotes “a friend of” or “someone close to” a player or a manager it often actually means that player or manager was speaking, but off the record. Often – but not always.

It’s certainly a tactic the club and the manager have used this winter, but there seemed to be problems with the way this particular story was reported at the weekend. Certain journalists have stronger links to Anfield than others – despite having his critics Chris Bascombe now of the News of the World is one of those, as is Oliver Kay of The Times, to name just two examples. If one of those mentions information received from someone close to someone at the club, it’s certainly worth reading carefully. Obviously less so if it’s a journalist with little connections to the club, if at all. It’s not been unknown for some reporters – particularly on Sundays – to use a story they got third-hand via a celebrity connected to another club entirely, unconcerned about how it might just be that their source had been lied to. There’s a laughable example spoken about here.

Those reports on Sunday appeared just as Rafa was preparing his team for the FA Cup clash with Luton. He was asked about the quotes repeatedly, and denied any involvement in them. Then came the realisation that Rick Parry was setting off to New York for a meeting later today with the owners about the new stadium. Rick Parry denied that the meeting had been arranged purely to discuss Rafa, which was true because it was arranged some time ago to discuss those downgraded plans. However he didn’t deny that Rafa’s future might be a part of the discussions, and given that there has still hasn’t been any unequivocal backing of Rafa as being the man to take Liverpool towards the day they finally move into that new stadium, it’s no surprise that Rafa’s future remains high on the list of topics on the back pages. Again today the press talk about Jurgen Klinsmann being a potential new manager at the club, a move that would finally put to bed any ideas that the owners understand this club and the game of football. Continue reading Rafa: Sunday paper quotes were not from me

Momo set for Juve move

Liverpool midfielder Momo Sissoko has told French radio station RMC that he has not yet signed for Juventus, but that he feels a deal is close to completion. Reports in Italy talk of a fee of €15m being agreed between the Juve and the Reds, which is around £11m.

Momo said: “A lot of journalists have called me, saying had I signed for Juventus. It isn’t done yet, but my agent is in advanced discussions with them. I hope that they can reach an agreement, but I am very pleased, I want to join a club like this. Today, I want a new challenge. The last few months with Liverpool have not gone as I wanted, but that’s one of the risks of football and I now want to move onto a new stage and show what I can do on the pitch.”

Continue reading Momo set for Juve move

Reds set to sign Skrtel

Martin SkrtelAfter missing out on Gabriel Heinze in the summer transfer window in dubious circumstances Rafael Benitez is at last getting closer to signing a new centre-back. The player in question is Slovakian international Martin Skrtel who currently plays in Russia for Zenit St Petersburg.

He arrived on Merseyside last night ahead of a medical this afternoon, after Rick Parry spent time in Russia over the weekend to negotiate the deal.  Sources differ on what the agreed fee is to be, either £4m or £6.5m.

Assuming no snags are hit the deal is expected to be completed by Wednesday, by which time Rick Parry will be in the US.

If the fee does turn out to be £6.5m it would be a Liverpool record fee for a defender, despite being a lower fee than had been bid for Heinze. Certainly an announcement of a £6.5m fee would help Hicks and Gillett in their PR battles, and seems to be the figure that Rick Parry has been quoting off-the-record this afternoon. However given the way the club allowed the true Fernando Torres fee to be exaggerated in the summer then there would be little surprise if the other sources were correct in their belief that the fee was just £4m. Continue reading Reds set to sign Skrtel

FA Cup 4th Round Draw – Swansea or Havant and Waterlooville

If Liverpool can overcome Luton Town in the 3rd round replay next week they’ll be playing at home to either Swansea or Havant and Waterlooville in the next round.

Havant and Waterlooville are a non-league side, playing in the Southern Conference at West Leigh Park in Hampshire, a ground with a capacity little over 5000.

Swansea are in the same division as the team that held Liverpool to a draw yesterday, Luton Town, and were held to a 1-1 draw themselves in their game at home to Havant at the weekend.

The Liverpool-Luton  replay is scheduled for Tuesday January 15th, with the Havant-Swansea replay taking place 24 hours later. The fourth-round ties are to take place on the weekend of January 25th and 26th.

Continue reading FA Cup 4th Round Draw – Swansea or Havant and Waterlooville

Rafa: Madrid links “untrue”

After the 1-1 draw in the FA Cup at Luton, Rafa Benitez was asked by Sky Sports for his thoughts on the game and also about reports he thought he was soon going to be sacked by the owners.

On the game itself he said it was no surprise to find the game was difficult: “I think we knew that it could be a tough game, so the first half we had some chances, they had some chances. After, when we scored a goal, you need more experience, we conceded a goal three minutes later.”

He was asked if he was happy with the result, but rather than admit any relief at drawing a game that had ‘upset’ written all over it, he said he was certain that the replay would play out quite differently: “I am happy because we will have another game in Anfield, so that is positive, and we are in the cup and will continue trying to win. And I have confidence that at Anfield it will be different.” Continue reading Rafa: Madrid links “untrue”

FA Cup Result: Luton 1 Liverpool 1

FA Cup Third Round – January 6th 2007 – Result

Luton 1 – Liverpool 1

An awful performance from the majority of the Liverpool team today, opposed by a Luton side playing out of their skins, saw this FA Cup tie end in a draw. Morale at Anfield is at a low ebb these days given the uncertainty created by the owners, yet somehow Luton – facing uncertainty themselves – were able to raise their game to earn a lucrative replay at Anfield.

When Peter Crouch scored the opener 16 minutes from the end any neutrals watching would have felt extremely sorry for Luton, who had worked hard to keep Liverpool out and in had fact managed to control the game for the most part. John Arne Riise soon made them feel better, having problems dealing with a cross and knocking the ball onto his arm and into the net for an own goal.

Rafa’s critics will have enjoyed today’s game, but really there was no reason why that team should have struggled like it did. He’d picked his strongest available back four, but as a team the players seemed almost uninterested, with perhaps a couple of exceptions. It comes as no surprise: the mood inside the club is at a very low ebb thanks to the new owner’s terrible handling of the club since they arrived. New plans for the now downgraded new stadium will be in soon, after which they can try again to get a loan to build it and pay themselves back the money they used to buy the club in the first place. In fact that seems to be the point where they will make a decision on whether to stick around at the club or sell to another bidder, likely to be DIC. The sooner the staff, players and supporters know what’s really going to happen the better. Continue reading FA Cup Result: Luton 1 Liverpool 1

Team: Luton v Reds, FA Cup

Sami Hyypia’s return from injury sees Jack Hobbs miss out on a chance to start today’s game against Luton at Kenilworth Road. Hobbs is on the bench as Sami partners Jamie Carragher, with Steve Finnan and John Arne Riise playing the full back roles in the absence of the injured Fabio Aurelio and Alvaro Arbeloa.

Torres has been left out of the 16 against the League One side, instead Rafa starts with Crouch and Kuyt up front who are both desperate to prove that Rafa shouldn’t have to rely on Torres for all the goals. Lucas gets a start alongside Xabi Alonson in the centre of midfield; Mascherano is on the bench with Gerrard absent through injury. The wide positions are taken by Yossi Benayoun and Marcus Babel.

Pepe Reina is rested too as is the custom in cup games for Rafa – and many other top-flight managers. In comes Charles Itandje, with David Martin on the bench as cover.

Striker Andriy Voronin and winger Nabil El Zhar make up the places on the bench.

Former Red Don Hutchison is on the bench for Luton, who are still remembered most by Liverpool fans for plastic pitches, banning away fans from their own ground and also for their team not turning up for an FA Cup replay due to snow in Luton, even though their fans had no problems turning up. They caused an upset that year, and Liverpool need to be wary of there being another one this time round. Continue reading Team: Luton v Reds, FA Cup