BUT FIRST … RIP BUTCH
Ray Wilkins, the former England midfielder, has died at the age of 61. Wilkins, whose clubs included Chelsea, Manchester United, Milan, PSG, QPR and Rangers in a 24-year playing career that spanned three decades, fell ill after suffering a cardiac arrest last month and had been in a critical condition in St George’s Hospital, in Tooting, south-west London.
“Everybody associated with Chelsea Football Club is devastated to learn of the passing of our former player, captain and assistant coach, Ray Wilkins. Rest in peace, Ray, you will be dreadfully missed,” the Premier League club said.
A winner of 84 England caps, Wilkins played at two World Cup finals. During his career as a player, Wilkins won the FA Cup with Manchester United in 1983, scoring a beautiful goal in the first tie against Brighton at Wembley, which ended 2-2. He also won the Scottish title with Rangers in 1989. And judging by the sheer number of tributes that have poured in for him, Wilkins will be remembered as much for being a lovely man as for being a great player.
Rumour has it there’s going to be some noise at a football match tonight. Eek! The Fiver’s a meek sort and is easily spooked, so all this talk about the Famous Anfield Atmosphere means it probably won’t even dare switch on the television. Apparently some fans of Liverpool Football Club are planning to wave flags and flares on the streets when the Manchester City team bus rolls through outside the ground. Then when they’re inside there’ll be some songs, shouting and chants of encouragement, plus some more flag-waving and flares, all of which will no doubt make the blood drain from the bodies of the City players. It sounds different and special and holy and it’s no wonder that the NHS is set to release a statement advising members of the public who have concerns about their aural wellbeing to watch Barcelona v Roma instead.
Of course, you’re probably wondering why Liverpool haven’t won a league title for 28 years when their ground is so atmospheric. But it’s necessary to make an important distinction here and point out that we only reserve the awed and hushed tone for European nights under the lights. It saw off Chelsea in 2005 and 2007, Real Madrid in 2009 and Borussia Dortmund in 2015, and we won’t tolerate any mention of Benfica in 2006, Chelsea in 2009 or Basel/Basle/Baarrrrlll/Barzuhl in 2014! Pep Guardiola tried to play down the significance of the Anfield Effect when the three-time Big Cup champion was asked how City can possibly hope to deal with it, but deep down the Catalan knows there’ll come a point this evening when he’ll start to wonder if Robert Huth would make a good emergency centre-forward.
Sergio Agüero’s out, after all, and City do have a wretched record at Liverpool. They might be the best side in England, but they haven’t tasted victory at Anfield since a Nicolas Anelka brace in 2003 and were walloped 4-3 in January. Jürgen Klopp tends to handle himself pretty well when he comes up against Guardiola and Mohamed Salah is all set to terrorise whoever City have at left-back these days. Is it still Michael Ball? Maybe. The Fiver can’t remember. It isn’t even interested. Who cares about the football? Or that City have already held their nerve in the notoriously timid San Paolo this season? Let’s just spend the next few hours talking about the chants. Those hallowed, special chants. That wondrous, magical atmosphere. You’d never get it anywhere else. For here is where you will discover All Football History.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It was a nice goal, but he should try it from 40 metres” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who else?) has his say on a goal by Him that you may have heard about.