Supporting Liverpool from afar is both a cruel punishment and a twisted pleasure. Across the world, die-hard Reds rise or stay awake until insane o' clock in order to watch the Redmen. Those of us in less hostile time zones are perpetually plagued by a different discomfort -- the haunting reality that only a lack of money or freedom is preventing us from actually being there and adding our full-throated support to the ever-clamorous Anfield faithful. Whichever way you cut it, the lucky ones are those who can be in the ground regularly. The rest of us cultivate our own rituals and match environments, invariably centred around a television or computer screen.
Inevitably, this leads to one of the more enjoyably humorous aspects of remote viewing -- the vicious online haranguing of the assembled mouthpieces employed by the various networks to elucidate the finer points of the game. Every channel has their own particular gems but Sky Sports seem to have a larger collection than anyone else.
Ex-Liverpool captain Jamie Redknapp, has shown a set of teeth of late whereas he had previously been a paragon of tight trousered vacuity. Dwight Yorke's asinine observations are usually in direct mathematical proportion to the ridiculousness of his attire and Niall Quinn's amiable brogue disguises an adherence to the wretched say what you see school of match analysis. There are, of course, some exceptions and one of those is a man who last season was wearing the red of the current league leaders.
Since he joined Sky as a pundit, Jamie Carragher has treated viewers to the same blunt unfussiness, obdurate determination and scathing wit that characterised his playing career. Alongside a distressingly likable Gary Neville, the recently retired Anfield hero has looked on and provided insightful opinion as the squad he had just retired from hit the top of the league and stayed there.
One can only imagine the inner regrets the Bootle native has felt about the timing of his decision to bow out, as he's watched Liverpool put themselves in a late-season position he never managed to enjoy, despite 17 years establishing himself as a Reds legend. However, if the former England man is plagued by such doleful thoughts he does an excellent job of disguising it as he spars with Neville and retains that chippiness and a pleasingly partisan affection for his former club.
Famously a boyhood bluenose, Carragher is forever lost to the Goodison faithful but he is hopeful that Everton will do Liverpool a favour this weekend when they play at home to Manuel Pellegrini's title favourites. Dubitable as it will will no doubt seem to many who read this, there was a time -- this scribbler's early teens, to be exact -- when Liverpool shared the domestic and European honours with their neighbours across Stanley Park. Under Howard Kendall, Everton won the top flight in 1985 and 1987, beating Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool into second place on both occasions. It was an incredible era characterised by two remarkable FA Cup finals both won by the goals of the toffees tormenter-in-chief, Ian Rush. This weekend Everton could cement cross-Merseyside relations for generations if they manage to get a result and Carragher believes they may do just that.
"Liverpool have been on a great run and can’t be too down-hearted about one defeat in 12 games," insisted the European Cup winner. "It (defeat to Chelsea) is a bad blow but they need to get everyone lifted and go again against Crystal Palace. On paper, Liverpool have the easier game this weekend and if Manchester City drop points and Liverpool win their two games then they have a great chance of winning the title. This title is still on. Forget about what’s happened and go again."
Carragher, though, is nothing if not a practical man and he knows that the task that lies ahead of his beloved Reds is a difficult one but he is full of admiration for the current coach and the squad of players he has inspired to such heights.
"The last team to go from seventh to title winners was Everton in the mid-80s," he recalls. "That was a side I watched as a kid and it will be a massive achievement if Liverpool achieve that this season. Going back to those days, it probably did happen more often in the 70s and 80s but to see it done now means it will go down as one of the greatest achievements in Premier League history or even English football history given the finances that the other teams have and people not believing in Liverpool so much over the last 20 years.
"To be the man who takes Liverpool from seventh to champions would mean Rodgers will always be remembered. I worked for him for 12 months and he was great with me and this success couldn’t happen to a nicer fella. He’s a great coach and man-manager and the way he flips and changes his side. If you get beat doing that then people will say you are messing about with the team but when you win, they say you’re a great tactician. He gets it right most of the time. He keeps the opposition guessing and at this moment he is one of the best around."
It's been oddly reassuring to have Carragher's voice still a part of this most propitious of seasons and to hear him contextualize the enormity of the achievement within Liverpool's grasp is both thrilling and anxiety inducing. It's so possible that Liverpool Football Club could end the season as champions and what would you not give to see Carra and his assorted chums, especially a certain Mancunian, pick the bones out of that?