Dear Fowler, they were dark times. We'd been aware that all was not well behind the scenes during the Benitez reign, and the Spaniard's political tendencies were well suited to coping with the slippery nature of the club's duplicitous American owners, but in his final campaign the excrement really hit the rotating air cooler. The avaricious self interest of the reprehensible duo of Tom Hicks and George Gillett had seen the club mismanaged to a such a spectacular extent that the process of disengagement from them almost strangled the country's most illustrious football institution.
Several writers have eloquently laid out the details of the calamitous events that brought Liverpool Football Club so close to ruination -- Brian Reade's searing An Epic Swindle is recommended to anyone wanting to reacquaint themselves with the trauma of that odious period -- but when I recall it I have terribly mixed feelings. Clearly, there can be no room for ambivalence when one considers the relief of final extrication from that most lamentable of relationships but all this scribbler can picture, when he thinks of those potentially cataclysmic days in court, is the air punching, camera hogging antics of Christian Purslow, the Fernando Torres of finance, when the final, favourable verdict was reached. It's saddening in the extreme to ponder how the club ever ended up in such a woebegone state.
In the months that followed, any uneasy gratitude and admiration of Purslow was eroded by the oleaginous administrator himself as he assumed a kind of messianic self importance when speaking about the wranglings and his role in them. Make no mistake, however, irrespective of any personal perturbation some of us may feel regarding the personnel or the process, the fact remains that on the 15th of October 2010, when NESV, now FSG, assumed ownership of Liverpool Football Club, a new era began -- albeit one that would stagger through some hideous early travails. The club, as we had known it, came horrifically close to simply ceasing to be.
Liverpool's managing director, Ian Ayre is a figure that divides fan opinion in these newly exciting times but his role in that process of disentwinement was pivotal and the man himself endured the not inconsiderable horror of being personally sued by Hicks and Gillett as they thrashed around in the final death throes of their efforts to emerge from the divorce with the house. It is with an understandable shudder that the affable administrator remembers that period.
"It is no secret, it's like that TV programme - Seconds From Disaster," he opines. "We were sort of in that vein. It was horrific to see the football club in that state. I do not think there was a Liverpool fan in the city or anywhere who was not worried we would not get to this position we are in now, for many reasons. People sometimes forget how bad it was. I speak to people now and they have really short memories. When you think about that day when we tipped it over the edge and finally pulled it back, we have come such a long way."
Now, with the Redmen sitting atop the Premier League heading into the final three fixtures of the campaign and confirmation this week of the plans for redevelopment of Anfield in order to increase the capacity, it is easy to take for granted just how far we have come. As will ever be the case in football, progress is primarily measured on the field of play and in the trophy cabinet. Solid, incremental financial amelioration is always welcome but it feels soulless without the attendant on-pitch glory. Arsenal fans will speak to you on this topic ad nauseum. Luckily, Brendan Rodgers and his squad have over-achieved to such an extent that only his second campaign as Liverpool boss may potentially end with him bringing the title back to Anfield for the first time in 24 years.
Still, despite this frankly stunning turnaround in the club's fortunes, cyberspace is full of the grumblings of malcontents. Rational objections to the new plans for expansion are to be welcomed and indeed expected from a fan base who have every right to be wary but the baseless carping of some has been a tad difficult to stomach. Similarly, whilst no doubt primarily rooted in deep-seated anxiety about finally ending our title-less streak, the amount of petty point-scoring and vicious critiquing of our own players and manager betrays the inherent hurt and damage in so many fans of the Redmen.
A cantankerous sort like myself is the last person to call for any kind of hippy love-in amongst the various factions in Liverpool's support but such permanent rancour is unseemly. Difference of opinion and spiky debate is the sign of a healthily un-sheeplike attitude, and some of us love a good argument, but there is one thing that is not up for discussion. The level of performance by the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jon Flanagan, Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho is testament to the abilities not only of these young players themselves but also to the coaching élan of their gaffer.
Rodgers goes into this weekend's clash with Jose Mourinho's Chelsea knowing that a win will draw that magnificently ugly Premier League trophy ever closer to the outstretched and needy arms of the heaving masses of Liverpool fans. That ultimate glory is now so close and so possible that, should it not be attained, only the most phlegmatic souls will be able to content themselves with the knowledge that the season's unlikely ultimate goal has already been achieved. Of course, after a while the achievement of the season will fall into view but for most of us, so long in the top flight wilderness, the potential of Liverpool being champions again is dizzying. We are, frankly, addled.
In the dressing room at Anfield on Sunday, Rodgers will have little need to be overly hortative in his pre-match speech. His players have an easy confidence about them these days, instilled by the success of their talents and their coach's methodologies. Despite the increasingly histrionic protestations from the opposition manager, they will take to the pitch with the kind of quiet calm that has typified the season and the invigorating energy that has driven them to the summit of the league. Three more games, three more wins and they will be champions.