Why Do So Many Liverpool Fans Think We Should Play To Different Rules?

In many ways, the match against Crystal Palace summed up our season. For the opening half an hour, the Reds were absolutely relentless, putting the Eagles under repeated pressure and not letting them get out. Yet that sense of being completely in control was also undone by our own poor play at times, with sloppiness from Joel Matip and Roberto Firmino twice letting Palace get in on goal without really needing to do anything. We were desperate to be the authors of our own downfall and another team would have happily punished us for those mistakes. Thankfully, we’ve got the best goalkeeper in the world between the sticks for us and he very much earned his money at Selhurst Park. Alisson Becker was called upon time and time again to dig Liverpool out of a hole of their own making, coming to the fore and doing his job superbly. Quite why the Reds find 2-0 to be such a difficult scoreline to cope with is something I don’t understand.

Between the launch of the Premier League and the conclusion of the 2016-2017 campaign, 2,766 games saw one side take a 2-0 lead. Of those, the game was won by that team 2,481 times, with 212 ending in draws and 73 in defeat. In other words, 2-0 is not a dangerous scoreline, no matter what the footballing cliché might tell us. For Liverpool this season, it doesn’t seem to matter what the lead is that we’ve established, we’ll find a way to make it seem like we could lose it at any moment. I can’t quite put my finger on why we look less stable than we have in the past, but it is difficult to argue with people that say that it is because of our midfield. I love Jordan Henderson with all of my heart, but he’s not been at his best this season. When you combine that with the manager’s tactical tweak that has seen Trent Alexander-Arnold push inside regularly, you can see that things aren’t what they should be defensively. Even so, it was the penalty that became yesterday’s talking point.

Fans Act Like We Should Be Above Reproach

Like most people, I get annoyed when Harry Kane or Jamie Vardy win a free-kick or a penalty after throwing their leg into an onrushing goalkeeper. For many years, though, that has been the case, with the two English strikers getting penalties for ‘being clever’. Whether we like it or not, that has now become the norm in terms of level of contact needed for a penalty to be awarded. If a blanket rule was put in place that says that if it appears as if a player is initiating contact they won’t be awarded a spot-kick, most people would be happy. Until that is the case, however, I don’t really understand why so many Liverpool supporters think that we shouldn’t be given penalties for the same thing that other teams receive them for on a regular basis. There seems to be an attitude that we should be ‘better than that’, as if that’s something that football matches are decided on. As far as I can tell, you don’t get given three points for being ‘nice’ to opposition teams.

All of which is to suggest that I don’t think it was a penalty on Diogo Jota yesterday when I absolutely do. Had that tackle been in the midfield, with the ball running out of play for a throw-in, and another player had smashed into the side of our player, there would be no debate whatsoever about whether it was a free-kick or not. I can’t get my head around why there are so many Liverpool fans who seem to think that it shouldn’t be a penalty because Jota was unlikely to get the ball before it ran out of play. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t have control of the ball, nor that he wasn’t going to reach it; both are irrelevant as far as the Laws Of The Game are concerned. As David Preece points out on Twitter, the series of events are that Jota tries to flick it over the goalkeeper and moves to follow the ball, realises it hasn’t gone where he intended and moves to follow it but gets cleaned out. He does not ‘initiate the contact’, but even if he did, others get pens for that all the time.

Is There Something More Insidious At Play?

Every time a big decision goes in Liverpool’s favour, the companies that thrive on controversy roll out former footballers, managers and referees to discuss why it’s a disgrace. I always thought that that sort of thing was because the Reds gain engagement like no other football club and perhaps it is, yet recently I’ve started wondering if there’s something more insidious at play. Anyone from Merseyside has grown up knowing the stereotypes that Scousers have had to face: thieves, robbers, ‘bin dippers’. The idea that a decision has gone in our favour when others think it shouldn’t have plays straight into those stereotypes, so the likes of TalkSport get to stoke the fires of resentment from opposition supporters time and time again. Whilst I think it’s a penalty on Jota, I can understand why some don’t. Even so, at worst I would say it was debatable, as opposed to the ‘outrageous’ decision that Darren Ambrose has called it.

Neil Warnock was on TalkSport saying that we ‘got away with murder’, which very much plays into those old stereotypes. The same sort of language isn’t used when Harry Kane or Jamie Vardy win a penalty. It only seems to be Liverpool that cause such an uproar when a mildly debatable decision goes our way, yet to point that out will merely result in calls of ‘always the victim’. I’m willing to bet that I get several tweets saying exactly that to me when I publish this piece later today. Manchester City have announced major sponsorship deals with companies owned by the people that own the Cityzens, yet that has barely warranted a mention from most quarters. The Sheikh Mansour-owned club is turning the Premier League into a ‘farmers’ league’ like many criticise the French and German top-flights of being, yet it is Liverpool winning a penalty that has people up in arms. It’s difficult not to feel as though there’s something rather insidious at play here.

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