Liverpool 1996 – my first “football tragedy”

As a Liverpool fan growing up in the nineties, I suppose I’ve become accustomed to the perpetual cycle of false hope and subsequent disappointment. As an ‘out-of-towner’ I suppose I’m sort of responsible for the resulting heartache that has constantly been inflicted upon me. But the current doom and gloom surrounding all things Anfield trumps anything I’ve seen before.

Let me give you a bit of history. As any self-respecting football fan knows, that magical moment in boyhood when one pledges their allegiance to their chosen shirt is a life-defining act, a decision that simply cannot be reversed regardless of future fortunes. A sort of, “you’ve made your bed now lie in it”-type moment, if you will. Despite growing up in leafy London suburbia, with a plethora of ‘local’ clubs to choose from, I opted to support the mighty Liverpool Football Club.

Why? “You don’t live anywhere near Liverpool, doooo ya?” Well, the seven-year old me was convinced this was the correct decision via a combination of peer pressure, a very loose family tie (my mother hails from St. Helens, a mere stone’s throw from Liverpool) and ‘God’ (he goes by the name of Robbie Fowler). I’m sure Liverpool fans of a similar age will appreciate the impact that Robbie Fowler had on a young Liverpool fan’s childhood, evoking the sort of excitement and idolism in a player that has only recently resurfaced at Anfield in the shape of a certain Mr. Torres (for those thinking “what about Michael Owen?”, you just don’t get it, do you?).

Taking my first baby steps towards becoming a football fan was wonderful in 1995/96. 3-5-2 was the order of the day. Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’ enthralled and oozed with exotic elegance (see: Ginola, Asprilla and errrr…Phillippe Albert). And best of all… Manchester City and Chelsea’s frontlines were spearheaded by Uwe Rösler and Mark Stein respectively (cue the sound of hordes of Chelsea ‘fans’ simultaneously sighing ‘who?).

But being a Liverpool fan was particularly fun. Despite poor Roy Evans’ inability to keep his Spice Boys (aside from WAG, has there ever been a more detestable coinage than this?) from going out on the piss, as a young Red I marvelled at the telepathic relationship between Fowler and Stan “The Man”, the delectable dribbling of Steve McManaman and the frequent defensive master classes exhibited by Phil Babb (well, maybe not that last bit). I mean, compared to the Red Scum and Keggy’s Entertainers, we were never really in it, but it was damn enjoyable to watch. I suppose the naivety of being a child shielded me from the realisation that we weren’t going to win the league, but who cares when God was notching 36 goals and on his way to a second consecutive PFA Young Player of the Year?

Disappointment. “Defeated of expectation or hope; let down.” This feeling should be familiar to every football fan. Some will be more familiar with this feeling than others. It’s a sentiment I’ve currently been holding for the last…five and half months or so. A feeling that has been felt with particular vigour in the last three months. Just as one never forgets the moment when football first makes you smile, one never forgets the moment that football first tugs upon your heart-strings. This is the symbolic moment when you realise your attachment to your club has gone further than simply wearing the replica shirt. The 11th of May 1996 was the day when I first experienced the heartache of being a football fan.

Arriving in THOSE awful crème suits, Fowler & co strolled across the Wembley turf. It was the FA Cup final. Against the auld enemy. Following my father’s quick “FA Cup for Beginners” speech, I sat down in front of t’telly (presumably Capri-Sun and Tommy Tomatoes in-tow) to watch my new-found heroes win some silverware. Or so I thought. After fidgeting through 84 minutes of unbelievably uninteresting ‘football’ (to this day, this match is still the most boring game I’ve ever seen), United had a corner kick. Given the dearth of opportunities thus far, I merely assumed the corner would be cleared and resumption of the tactical midfield battle would occur. However, ‘Calamity’ James performed his soon-to-be-trademark ‘flapping-at-a-corner’ routine and BANG! Through a seemingly impermeable flock of flailing limbs, Eric Cantona executed a perfect half-volley that flew into the right hand corner of the goal. Nine months worth of hope and expectation flushed down the toilet with one swift movement of a Frenchman’s foot. Determined to avoid the ignominy of watching my aforementioned heroes collecting their losers’ medals, I switched off and reflected upon my first “football tragedy”.

Read more of Zarif’s work at the excellent ‘This is Futbol’ website: