Whether the past 10 days represent, for you, the tedium of an international break or thrills on the road to Rio 2014, the return to Premier football is welcome enough to justify bringing forward this week’s ‘Who are You?’. Sunderland play Liverpool on Saturday evening and we asked David Wooding, a Liverpool-supporting journalist and broadcaster who runs political coverage at the News of the World’s successor, The Sun on Sunday, to talk about his club. Whatever we feel about The Sun’s role after the Hillsborough disaster, this item from David’s own website indicates that he shares the broad view of supporters everywhere, using the term ‘slur’ to describe the disgraceful suggestion that drunken Liverpool fans arriving late for the FA Cup semi-final were to blame (from the damning independent report: ‘The evidence shows conclusively that Liverpool fans neither caused nor contributed to the deaths of 96 men, women and children’).
He was born in Liverpool and was taken to Anfield by his father as soon as he was big enough to sit on his shoulders. His dad was a Class One referee and when he wasn’t officiating, took David to Anfield, usually at floodlight mid-week games. He was lucky enough to be an ever-present fan through the long, glory years and was at the greatest games, including all seven European Cup finals. David gave up his season ticket when he moved to London in the 1980s – but has since regained it and travels up to as many home fixtures as he can, and also goes to games when they are playing in the capital.
David talks to Salut! Sunderland’s Colin Randall.
Salut! Sunderland: What do you make of Liverpool’s worst start to a season in half a century?
David Wooding: I’m not as disappointed as I thought I’d be, because I realise we are at the start of a complete rebuilding exercise. My biggest worry is our lack of strike power. It is surprising we offloaded Andy Carroll just before the transfer deadline without having a replacement lined up.
John Henry seems to blame past owners and/or managers and says the ethos is to win … “we will invest to succeed. But we will not mortgage the future with risky spending”. Wise words or the prelude to a lengthy spell of mediocrity?
They are wise words indeed, but if that’s how they feel, why did they blow £131 million on, for the most part, a bunch of mediocre players last season? It is clear that poor Brendan Rodgers is paying the price for Kenny Dalglish’s disastrous spending spree. Sadly, in today’s Premier League you have to splash the cash if you want to keep pace with the nouveau riche at Chelsea and Manchester City, whose owners demand instant gratification.
What were your feelings about the replacement of Kenny with Brendan Rodgers?
King Kenny is, and will always remain, a legend at Anfield. He is the finest player I ever saw in a red shirt and brought so many happy memories both on the field and in his first spell as manager. However, I was against his return as manager after Roy Hodgson’s departure. I never believe in turning the clock back and did not think he was the right man to take us forward. We’re an emotional bunch on The Kop and my pals genuinely believed he would turn things round. Clearly his return raised morale and paid dividends, giving us three trips to Wembley and some long overdue silverware. Kenny probably deserved another season, but then if he isn’t the person to take us forward, why waste any more time? Perhaps he should have stood down in May to avoid what was inevitable – it all ending in tears.
Is there any player in the current Sunderland squad you’d be delighted to see in Liverpool colours and do you think Jordan Henderson will ever become an Anfield favourite?
Adam Johnson is exciting to watch when he’s on form and our defence will have to keep a close eye on him. Sad to say, Jordan Henderson was probably the biggest disappointment of all our signings last season, failing to make any impact at most of the games I attended. He would probably have benefited from a season or two in the reserves but these days, young signings are thrown straight into first team action. Still, he is young, and who would have ever guessed that one of our most unpopular young midfielders, Lucas Leiva, is now a firm favourite.
How embarrassing was it to be a Liverpool supporter during the Suarez saga and do you think the club’s reputation suffered lasting damage as a result of its approach to it?
The whole affair was handled badly from start to finish and I hear the PR unit has been overhauled since then. It was an embarrassing chapter, poorly dealt with, but it doesn’t leave any lasting stain on the club or its fans. There were several things that should have been done differently but when Suarez was found guilty (even though it was one man’s word against another) [editor nb. - The FA report clearly states the opposite is true, with Suarez's legal representation agreeing. Report: “215. It was accepted by both Mr Greaney and Mr McCormick in closing submissions that this is not simply a case of one person’s word against another.”] , the club should have accepted the eight-match ban as a sign of how determined it is to stamp out racism of any kind. That would have sent out a strong message, put the club on the moral high ground and handed it a PR coup. Liverpool could have said they expect this to be the FA’s minimum punishment for future incidents.
Tell me this season’s top four in order and the bottom three
Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United. Bottom: Southampton, Reading, Norwich.
And where will our clubs finish if not in either of those groups?
Liverpool 5th, Sunderland 8th.
Name the greatest players you’ve ever seen for Liverpool and who should have been allowed nowhere near the club?
Kenny Dalglish stands out as the greatest ever and had a key role in so many historic games. Steven Gerrard is a close second, but the King’s medal haul gives him the edge. Others I was proud to have seen often were 1966 World Cup legend “Sir” Roger Hunt, and other local-born strikers such as Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush. Steve Heighway on the wing was a joy to watch as was the Keegan and Toshack partnership. A word also for Ian Callaghan, who in a magnificent 18-year career, was a young player in the team which won promotion to the top flight, he was in the first Reds team to win the FA Cup, collected five league titles, was in the side which won the European Cup for the first time in Rome in 1977 and the 1966 England World Cup squad. He played 865 games for Liverpool and was booked only once.
Perhaps the worst player to don a red shirt was Jimmy Carter. He is living proof that even the King makes mistakes. Kenny Dalglish signed him from Millwall for £500,000, handed him his old number 7 shirt and then quit soon afterwards. Carter lasted eight months before new manager Graeme Souness flogged him to Arsenal, where he sank without trace.
Did the success of the Olympics make you blasé about the resumption of football or couldn’t you wait?
I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the athletics finals and watched a lot of the Games on TV.
What struck me most was not only the sheer commitment of the competitors but their generous sporting spirit. I will find it much harder this season to tolerate highly-paid footballers who aren’t prepared to put in 100 per cent for their supporters – or those who hurl abuse at opponents and officials.
Which leads on to the cheating question: who do you consider the worst culprits and what would you do to stamp it out?
Every team has them. We seem to idolise those who play for the club we support – and loathe them if they are the opposition. It ranges from shirt-tugging, to diving, time-wasting and gamesmanship. I’m afraid it’s all down to the referees. If they were strictly to apply the rules of ungentlemanly conduct then it would be stamped out in a seaon.
Is it club before country for you. Either way, explain why.
We’re not English, we are Scouse. So goes one of the Kop cries. It’s probably because it’s the team we support week in, week out and it’s important to have the bragging rights over the Toffees when Monday morning comes. But there’s something magical about a World Cup when, for just a few weeks, we’re all on the same side and even cheer on the likes of Wayne Rooney!
How will you follow our game and what will be the score?
Saturday is a working day for me (I only get to the Sunday games) so I will be watching on TV at my desk. Hoping for a lull in activity at about 5.30pm!