Monday, December 04, 2006


It was my own fault entirely. There was a clear choice to be made; Leeds United or Liverpool. I'd never heard of either and I still don't remember what logic, if any, was applied to my pronouncement. But at that moment I became the world's latest Leeds United fan, barely able to reach as high as Jack Charlton's knee, at four years of age.

The Yorkshire club were enjoying the flourish of the Revie era, I was too young to appreciate their achievements. By the time I'd developed a perspective on English football Liverpool were unstoppable. All around me Leeds United football bags-cum-schoolbags with broken straps, were jettisoned in favour of Liverpool football bags-cum-schoolbags with broken straps. Mine remained a cherished possession; I wasn't about to desert my side - and I didn't. An illicit affair with Irish football in my adult years, meant that relationship didn't last 'though.

But as a football fan I couldn't help but admire the simple brilliance of the all-powerful Liverpool side. They even had a 'Liverpool way' of playing. How the marketing men would love to get hold of that today! Often copied, never equalled. Their unflappable dedication to pass and move was an education. Over the years many managers have attempted to pursue such a strategy only to learn that your players have to be able to pass the ball to begin with.

And so to the red of Cliftonville - defeated CIS Cup finalists 2006. Finalists, it has a hollow tone, a modern euphemism for losers. But rarely does a team walk dejectedly from a football pitch with so much praise accompanying them to their dressing room - and not of the faint or hollow varieties.

Not since the glory days of Bob Paisley have I been so overwhelmed by a team's determination to pass and pass and pass. When all around are screaming at you to get it into the danger area it takes huge discipline to maintain your focus and passing rhythm. Cliftonville may have deserved more from Saturday's final. The Willo what-if's, the back post header what-if's, are the stuff of post match pints; what I hope will remain a constant is the dedication of Eddie Patterson and his charges to the simple tenets of the beautiful game.

Without the tints on my lenses I must grudgingly acknowledge that the onset of December, January and February is not going to help in this regard. It might indeed prove to be the downfall of the Reds' currently viable title challenge. Grainy pictures of FAI Cup finals played on rolled muck remind me that following summer football in the eircom League is a charmed existence. Even the washing powder admen don't use scruffy football gear as a proving ground for their products anymore.

The all important line continues however, from Rinus Michels through Bob Paisley to Eddie Patterson. From Johan Cruyff through Kenny Dalglish to Conor Downey. And it feels good.

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