Since the beginning of 2010, it's been increasingly easy to pick out Liverpool fans in a crowd. All one had to do was find those poor souls engaged in frenzied, expletive-laden dialogue with themselves or locate the beleaguered sorts with the twitchy eye and pounding forehead vein. You see, we devotees of Liverpool Football Club have been an angry bunch for a long time and many of us are finding it hard to adjust to the emergent stability and positivity of recent months.
Everything has been the worst for so long that it's become our default setting to moan and rail against the latest misfortune, controversy or catastrophe. From Tom Hicks and George Gillett, to Roy Hodgson and Paul Konchesky and from Stewart Downing and Damien Comolli to Luis Suarez and Ian Ayre, the club has had it's fill of internally generated bogeymen, villains and village idiots. In short, Liverpool is only now in danger of seeing some consistent peace and harmony breaking out following an era of bleak unending grimness.
As the misrule and sabotage of the previous owners laid waste the comparatively golden era of Rafael Benitez, the new regime under the stewardship of Ferguson-chum and Poulsen-fancier Roy Hodgson, presided over the nadir of many fans' time as Reds. The man whose much-vaunted CV had seen him rule such powerhouses as Halmstads and Neuchatel Xamax, bestrode Anfield like a pygmy and drained the joy from every soul with his joyless, fearful dance of mediocrity.
Who can forget that 2-0 September defeat by Everton which the current England manager declared to be the best performance he had seen from his side to that point? To have scraped a result against such behemoths, suggested the fifties throwback, would have been Utopia. Inwardly, most of us died a little, when the full implication of those words hit home. For this Redman, patience was in short supply after that and as Hodgson began to hone his post-match ritual of throwing players under the bus, anxiety morphed into loathing.
Even the return of LFC deity Kenny Dalglish brought only brief respite, as a magnificent beginning was marred by a season of spectacularly awful purchases and monumentally embarrassing controversies. Whether it was the harrowing awfulness of Downing's deliveries or the buttock-clenching discomfiture of T-shirtgate, That season, with it's unending wincing and over-reliance on the corpulent midfield delights of Charlie Adam, was torturous and simply made fans even more entrenched in their beliefs that supporting Liverpool was a journey through the Seventh Circle of Hell. Alas, Dalglish did not survive that particular inferno and FSG introduced us to the concept of Year Zero under Brendan Rodgers.
Despite a promising start with the media, Rodgers could only watch in horror as grenade after grenade blew up in his face. The transfer window debacle, the specter of the three bloody envelopes, the injuries, the defeats and then, as a corner seemed to have been turned, the return of arm gourmand Luis Suarez to the self-destructive cycle of pointless controversy in which he specialises. Yet despite this, the period from January to May was oddly upbeat. There was a lovely fluidity to the football, with good players free to be good players and a work-rate and pressing not seen since the days of Benitez's title challengers.
As the summer elapsed, and a body of supporters still reluctant to risk the misery of hope ranted and whined about the absence of 'marquee' signings, something strange happened. The new boys made an instant impact, with Kolo Toure, as predicted by your humble scribe, emerging as the favourite for the coveted title of Best Man Ever. Phil Coutinho was still awe-inspiring and new Belgian goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, emerged as an opening day saviour. Four conscutive wins were racked up and nobody had mentioned, let alone seen, any sign of Luis Suarez. What was this warm, contented feeling? Was this...could it be...hope?
Only a fool would get over-excited about Liverpool's progress thus far but there are definite signs of improvement in the club's prospects. Where then, will fans redirect the generous amounts of bile they had previously aimed at club employees? Is it time to renew old hostilities, antipathies long-since forgotten as we wallowed in a mire of our own making? Who do we even dislike any more?
In the absence of the Dark Overlord of Govan, Manchester United have turned to fellow Scot David Moyes. His previous incarnation as the man who proved that you don't need trophies to be a winner, but he is a winner, is not yet sufficiently irritating or successful to make a useful nemesis for Redmen. Mr. Giant Eyes, at least until his new charges begin to reassert their status as champions, remains a faintly comical choice and doesn't carry half the threat and needle-factor that Jose Mourinho would have, had his eye-gouging histrionics not made the United board wary.
Ah yes, Mourinho. He is the perfect pantomime villain for the times. Freshly returned from his most outlandishly egotistical spell to date, as manager of Real Madrid, the Portuguese has become almost a parody of himself. The stomach-churning fawning of the Sky-led media upon his return to Chelsea reminded some of us of how much we love to hate the crowd-shushing egotist. Of course, it is handy to have rampant narcissists like Mourinho around, for they will always ensure that they are at the centre of the whirring cameras. As a result, there's always a new and even more annoying quote or action to lament, should we feel like venting a little spleen.
I once went out with a girl from Stoke. She was very nice indeed, as were her friends and family and her pet Daschund. Even the little part of Stoke that she was from had a certain charm. All eminently, well, nice. I. therefore, have no axe to grind with the area or its fine denizens. The football club, however, is not as charming and for many of us they are the totemic example that encapsulates all the worst aspects of English football. Under Tony 'The Cap' Pulis, the agrarian style and bully-boy harshness were at least worn as a badge of honour, but with Mark 'I'm a bit continental, me' Hughes now in charge, there is a refusal to even own that. Stoke are now trying to deceive the rest of the league that by rolling out Chuckles Adam as a playmaker amongst the lumbering giants, they have entered a new enlightened era of champagne football. Sparky, please.
It appears then that even a cursory glance around at our neighbours is enough to get those deep wells of amused disdain and irritation flowing once more. This is a healthy thing. We need bad guys to rail against. It's cathartic. We channel so much outside tensions and annoyances through our match-day ranting. The whole act of truly supporting a football club is a leap of faith and has all the attendant dramas and crises that any act of belief will bring. It is far preferable that the frustrations of Liverpool supporters to be directed at the latest piece of delusional arrogance from Sam Allardyce, rather than for the anger to be inward-looking. For too long we have been involved in self-loathing and hand-wringing. It's time to start liking ourselves again. So, who will you love to hate?