It’s an obvious statement to make, but in football it is often a team’s home form that decides their season and depending on how well you do in front of your own fans, you could potentially win enough games to make up for any number of away day failings.
This is why teams and their supporters make such an effort to make their home as intimidating as possible. Some play ominous music from the Requiem For A Dream soundtrack as the players wait in the tunnel, some wave flags and some place away fans closer to their own ground than the pitch (yeah, I’m talking about you Newcastle!).
It’s all done to get that slightest of advantages that can make all the difference at the highest level; the small details that could put off any visiting player that isn’t quite on their game. But of all the Premier League intimidation tactics, there is one sign that has been synonymous with the word fortress in English football and it simply reads THIS IS ANFIELD.
Three words that would strike fear into opposition players as they trotted up the steps, out onto the pitch and into a cauldron of noise as the lyrics of You’ll Never Walk Alone rang around perhaps the most iconic stadium in the country.
Visiting Anfield was a daunting prospect, a trip in which the away team knew they’d be in for a tough game no matter what the form or quality of the side in red. In fact, Liverpool’s dominance in L4 used to be so strong that three points were almost a formality.
But that was then and this is now, and the days in which visiting teams feared a trip to Merseyside are long gone as the Reds lie in 8th with just 5 wins from 17 league games at home this season (a damning statistic that looks even worse when you consider that Liverpool look set to finish the campaign with more wins on the road than at home).
It seems that the team that fear playing at Anfield the most now are LFC.
But whilst it’s easy to put Liverpool’s home struggles down to the poor finishing that has haunted the team throughout 2011-12, could the team’s Anfield problems be more complex?
It’s often been said that it takes a certain mentality to play for a big club, especially one such as Liverpool FC in which expectations are so high and tolerance of mediocrity is low, and over the years although we haven’t always had the necessary quality to lift trophies, we’ve always had players with the bottle to play at Anfield and take it to the opposition.
Liverpool’s recent signings have been much maligned, in particular the British contingent of Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam. But in my opinion it is not match-winning quality they are missing but the mental strength to play in front of a demanding set of supporters.
Of the four Andy Carroll has shown by far the most character; recovering from excessive mockery to score two winning goals in a week and going a long way to establishing himself as a key attacking player for Liverpool. The fact he has been able to shrug off the £35m jibes and remained confident is a testament to him.
New recruit Charlie Adam is a player whose attitude has always undermined his ability and after a promising start he has seemed woefully out of his depth on several occasions this season. The first 10 minutes of a game appear to be crucial for Adam and if he makes a few mistakes in that period then it’s inconceivable that he’ll recover and go on to have a good game.
One thing you can say for Adam is that no matter how many times he gives the ball away, he’ll always make himself available and demand he’s passed to (even it leads to yet another mistake). This is a far cry from fellow midfield new-boy Jordan Henderson, who seems to have a completely different type of mental problem to Adam.
A young player with all the talent in the world, all Henderson seems to lack is confidence and having spent much of the season on the right flank he is only inches away from the moaners occupying the Main Stand and the Lower Centenary. And at just 20 it’s not crazy to assume that he’s been affected by being within an earshot of some of his critics and decided to play it safe to avoid more flak.
Lack of atmosphere is another problem that has emerged over the last few seasons as frustrations have boiled over, and many fans now sit on their hands expecting rather than standing up and cheering on their side. The now infamous ‘where’s your famous atmosphere?’ chant has become a regular fixture of our home games as the Kop are out-sang by the likes of Norwich and West Brom.
Although it can be argued that a noisy crowd doesn’t necessarily lead to better home performances, hearing your own fans supporting you has got to be better than prolonged periods of silence broken only by groans when a pass is misplaced. This is especially crucial when it comes to the likes of Henderson, who need the support of the fans if they are to become the confident players we so desperately need.
While tactics could have been different and shots could have been more accurate, we’d give our team a much better chance if we as fans could bring ourselves to get up for games other than United and Everton (we’re all guilty of it at times), re-introduce the wall of noise that has been known to ‘suck the ball into the net’ in the past and get over the fact we might not hear the Champions League anthem for a few seasons.
Despite everything we’ve got a lot to sing about (Europa League football secured, League Cup success and an FA Cup Final to come) and while the league season may now be a write-off, the whole point off You’ll Never Walk Alone is that we cheer the team on through thick and thin.
It’s going to be a long road on our quest to become a top four side again but making Anfield a fortress would give us a much better chance of doing that. It may be too late this season, but come August we need to start making the sort of noise that sends chills down visiting players’ spines because our ground is still Anfield and we are still Liverpool.