by Russ Cowper
10th April 1982. 40,112 in Maine Road. City 0 Liverpool 5
27th October 1979, 48,128 in attendance. City 0 Liverpool 4
I grew up with these results, City lucky to get nil, Liverpool unlucky not to get ten. We turned with dread expectation, boys versus men, City a baby gazelle stalked by a pride of hungry lions. The talk as we queued to enter the Kippax was hushed, we talked of how many Liverpool would score, the optimists would say four, the pessimists fourteen. Liverpool were on another planet in those days. The Imperious Alan Hansen, the man who never appeared to run would always be in the right place at the right time if City had the temerity to cross the half way line. Grobbelaar or Clemence would turn up with a deck chair and a picnic hamper, share it with the full backs. Thompson and Lawrenson would stop by for a brew and a chat about what they were doing after the win. They had plenty of opportunity as the game was played in the other half of the pitch. King Kenny would have his own ball, occasionally he would let Rush have a kick. Rush never passed it back as he was too busy deciding which part of the City goal he would place the ball into. Rinse and repeat. From kick off we would have the ball until Souness, Lee or Whelan decided they wanted it back, they would have it for a minute or two to keep warm then return to Dalglish. The flame haired supersub Fairclough meanwhile would warm up to collective groans from the Blue faithful. We hoped he would come on as late as possible because he always scored against us, so the general theory was if they brought him on with a minute to go he could only get two.
City tried, they never capitulated, were never really disgraced yet it all seemed so inevitable. We were a baby mouse, new to the world being toyed with by a very experienced ruthless cat. Liverpool of course were a fabulous side and I’m honoured to have seen the great Kenny Dalglish play in the flesh. They were a privilege to watch and a team to admire and aspire too. Ian Rush, the Chester City teenage prodigy managed by City legend Alan Oakes was a machine. He appeared unstoppable. I rue the day City ignored Oakes’ recommendation to sign him and instead wasted the money on the has been, never was Channon.
Times move on though. In the mid 90s City visited Anfield, where such was Liverpool’s benevolence they withdrew the magical John Barnes after 33 minutes. They were already 2-0 up. Razor Ruddock replaced Barnes and scored while the one-time teenage prodigy Rush got his usual brace. City fans sang “Alan Ball is a football genius” as he produced one of the most unedifying managerial decisions of all time as he replaced the hard working home grown Ian Brightwell with the rotund, devoid of ability Gerry Creaney. We were 4-0 down and surrendering. New Kop hero Robbie Fowler scored a fifth and Rush himself made the game “safe” with the 6th. It was an embarrassing day to be a Blue, we were humiliated and the result signalled our slide into oblivion. I had seen us lose to great Liverpool sides but that day was awful: we had no pride, no guts and it hurt. It was only our gallows humour that sustained us through those dark times. I don’t want to take anything away from Liverpool that day as Barnes was magisterial and they were simply so much better than us in every department.
In the Premier League era there was a rather strange lull in hostilities in the mid noughties. There was a run of seven games in which only five goals were scored. In the darker recesses of my mind I calculated it would have taken Fairclough less than 10 minutes to score those goals. Liverpool were fading, City were coping with a move to a new stadium and the fare on offer was to be brutally honest dire. On the 11th April 2007 the sides played out an ignominious 0-0 draw in front of nearly 46,000 fans, that being pre oil riches of course when City fans supported Chelsea. Liverpool as ever brought impressive numbers and fields of Anfield Road echoed around the Etihad as luminaries such as Sun Jihai and Emile Mpenza played for City and Arbeloa and Pennant donned the famous Liver bird. City brought on Corradi, Liverpool brought on Crouch, thankfully for us Fairclough had retired and the rest of the Liverpool greats were crammed into TV studios around the world offering their wit and wisdom.
Time moves on. Liverpool the most successful side in English football have never won the Premier League, City stand on the cusp of their third. The managers are no longer gritty Scots or high pitched Englishman but greats of the European game. Rush has long gone but Salah stalks in his wake, Creaney has gone and Aguero lurks in the shadows. The genius of Barnes is now the pace and power of Mane, the jinking boyishness of Kinkladze is now the effortless grace, supreme touch and movement of the extraordinary David Silva. The picnic baskets of Grobelaar and Clemence are now the sweated brow of Karius. The on loan desperation of the ubiquitous Barry Siddall is now the zen like calm of Ederson Morales.
If I had been accosted by a time traveller from the future as I trudged out of Maine Road through dog shit alley and he told me in 2018 City would be playing Liverpool in the quarter-final of Europe’s greatest cup competition, I would have thought him to be nuts.
Bring it on.