Speke Hall’s shot in the dark. Liverpool and the English civil war

Even now Speke Hall can still throw up mysteries that leads to the possibility of more stories to be discovered.  In January of 2022, national trust staff were repairing one of the blue bedroom windows when a bit of plaster broke away and a musket ball fell out. 

Once it was verified as being dated from the English civil war questions arose as to how it got there.  Was Speke Hall used as a barracks sometime in the English civil with Royalist troops using the property as a respite whilst moving on to other towns or cities?  Could a brief skirmish have broken out, maybe a wayward shot whilst training, a warning shot or someone years after the English civil war firing at the property. 

Although it is well known that the Norris family were strong Royalist supporters there are no records of any battles or skirmishes around Speke or Garston.  Nor have any other musket balls, weapons and armour have been discovered around Speke Hall. 

There was once the story that Charles I stayed at Speke Hall whilst travelling during the civil war.  The Oak bedroom was called the Royal bedroom until they reverted to the former name due to no records of Charles ever staying the night at Speke Hall.  Nevertheless, there still hangs a print of Charles I, his wife Henrietta Maria and their three children Charles, James, and Mary in the bedroom. 

Speke Hall’s Oak bedroom formerly the Royal bedroom

Maybe there was no evidence that could link Charles I or at the very least that there was an undiscovered story about Speke Hall’s history during the time of the civil war. 

Despite the effect that the English civil war had on Britain’s history that it led to a constitutional monarchy that we know of today, not much is said about this tumultuous period in Britain’s history.  For some it pitched families against each other with the belief that the world had been turned upside down.

There was also an air of uncertainty for the inhabitants of towns and cities who had to suffer the consequences of being under siege from either parliament or the royalists. 

Although Liverpool may not have played a major part like other cities and towns it still held strategic value for the Royalists and parliamentarians.

For the King, Liverpool possessed several advantages.  It worked in tandem with Chester to ensure that the Royalist ships dominated the Irish Sea.  The control of both ports ensured control of the Wirral peninsula which meant that they had access to agricultural produce as well as safe landing places for troops.

Above all Liverpool’s value was its links to Ireland.  The royalist organiser in the Northwest Orlando Bridgeman spoke of the unlimited amounts of men and resources from Ireland to support the royalist effort.

Parliament saw control of Liverpool as a chance to keep the royalist area in check.  It also meant providing strong communications with Warrington, Manchester, and Cheshire as well as participating in the siege of Lathom House, the seat of the earl of Derby. 

Again, naval control was the main value as it meant holding a force against the power of Chester, Bristol, and the Isle of Man.  It could also disrupt the flow of men and goods from Ireland which the Royalist forces relied upon. 

What is interesting in Malcolm Gratton’s book about Liverpool and the English civil war ’ is the lack of records that confirmed where troops were billeted.  It therefore isn’t implausible that when Royalist forces were on the march may have rested at Speke Hall. 

Liverpool and the northwest prepare for the English civil war.

Parliament were arranging their pieces in the northwest as they dismissed Lord Strange from the Lord-Lieutenancy of Lancashire and nominated Lord Wharton to the vacant post.  Several Deputy-Lieutenants were also appointed, among whom were John Moore of Bank Hall, Kirkdale, a staunch parliamentarian, and a future regicide. 

Wharton also appointed colonels of regiments among whom were John Moore, Ralph Assheton of Middleton, who led the forces that besieged Liverpool in 1643, and Thomas Birch later to be the Governor Liverpool.

For the Royalists they had the Earl of Derby, Lord Molyneux, Sir Thomas Tyldesley, and the Norris’s of Speke. 

Interestingly, most Liverpool citizens supported parliament but due to Lord Molyneux the Mayor John Walker and the majority of in the Council supporting Charles it became a Royalist stronghold.  Colonel Norris of Speke was appointed the Royalist governor of the castle as earthworks and defence works were created to support the city against any parliamentary attack. 

Autumn 1642

Liverpool was not involved in the first large scale fighting in Lancashire.  In the early days there was no action with the royalists fighting to keep hold of Warrington and Wigan, whilst the siege of Manchester was the focus for parliament and the royalists.

The circumstances of parliament’s takeover of Liverpool are unclear with no precise records of what happened.  It seems that Derby’s defeat at Whalley on 20 April 1643 meant that Liverpool also fell into parliamentary hands at the end of April. 

John Moore was appointed governor of Liverpool whilst Sir William Brereton, parliament’s Cheshire commander-in-chief quickly moved to utilise Liverpool’s port facilities against royalist reinforcements from Ireland. 

To bolster support in Cheshire and Lancashire, the royalists landed three thousand men in North Wales in late November.  In addition, there was another one thousand men led by Lord John Byron from Oxford was on the move.  The instructions to Byron were to clear Lancashire of enemy forces, coordinate moves with the earl of Newcastle in Yorkshire and thereby oppose any march southwards of Scots forces that attempted to cross the border to aid parliament. 

Paranoia grabbed the city, and it was decided from 21 December onwards that ‘divers Papists and other ill affected persons or Malignants’ were to be expelled.  This took place over seven months although there were still royalist supporters who kept themselves hidden. 

The Crow’s nest and the Siege of Liverpool. 

King Charles nephew Prince Rupert was instructed to take Liverpool back in the attempt to force back parliamentary forces.  The accounts state that Rupert was a dashing, fearless leader and certainly matched the stereotypes of a Cavalier. 

For the parliamentarians that were suspicious they believed that Rupert’s white poodle dog called Boy was a demon who caught bullets in his teeth, whilst his pet monkey was a shape shifter.  Boy was also able to find treasure and was invincible in battle. 

Boy the demon dog with Prince Rupert

The white poodle was adopted as a mascot by troops and was given the rank of Sergeant-Major-General.   

Part of claiming Boy as a demon dog was not just down to superstition but to suggest that the Royalists were devils, unlike the God abiding Parliamentarians.  Sadly, Boy turned out not to be invincible as he was killed at the battle of Marston Moor. 

Not content with a demon dog, Prince Rupert was rumoured to have a shape shifting monkey which could change into people and therefore spy on behalf of the royalists.

Prince Rupert’s shape shifting monkey

Upon the Royalist arrival in Liverpool who set up camp in the north of Liverpool, Prince Rupert stood on Everton Brow and as he looked down at the castle declared ‘It is a crow’s nest that any party of schoolboys could take!’ 

It wasn’t as easy as the Royalists thought despite having 10,000 men at their disposal.  What proportion that was used in June 1644 nobody knows.  What is known is that Prince Rupert moved his army from their headquarters at Everton Brow down to where Lime Street is now.  This allowed him to look down towards the river and the Roundheads at Liverpool Castle.

There were a couple of factors that helped Rupert take back Liverpool.  Firstly, the Royalist Molyneux family had been smuggling secret maps to him about the layout of the town as well as the suggestion of treachery from the Parliament side. 

William Rigby a naval captain was later charged with carrying out ‘perfidious correspondence,’ with the enemy in Lancashire. 

After many days of fighting, Rupert decided to use his cannons at night-time.  The artillery blasted the mud walls rather than attempting a direct assault.  Once the walls began to crumble, and the earth filled the ditches, a sustained defence was unlikely. 

Once the governor Colonel John Moore fled the town by sea in the early hours of 11 June and escaped with least four other ships, it was a matter of when not if, that Liverpool fell back into Royalist’s hands. 

Although a parliamentarian newssheet may have called Moore’s retreat ‘prudent,’ there was those that called for an enquiry into the circumstances of Liverpool falling to Rupert.  The accusation was on whether Moore’s defence was half hearted or whether he should have reached an agreement with the Royalist forces to avoid any further loss of life. 

There were those that defended Moore like Captain Ashton who stated that the Colonel had not slept for eleven days prior to 10 June and still attempted to rally defenders in the early hours of 11 June.  According to Ashton he blamed the defeat on some of the soldiers and sailors who had no stomach for a fight and fled leading to Moore make the decision that he had to evacuate. 

Once Prince Rupert’s royalists’ forces entered the town, they set about destroying and looting the city’s gold and treasure.  It is said that the treasure that Rupert stole is buried in the tunnels under the Everton district and has not been recovered since.  Also taken or destroyed was King John’s original Liverbird seal as this was not found.   It was said that there were three hundred to four hundred people killed in the Siege of Liverpool. 

The Royalists only held Liverpool for three months before it was re-captured by the Parliamentarians under Sir John Meldrum.  Once again, the records are vague in terms of the details but in terms strategy it was an important one for parliament in terms of controlling one of the ports in the northwest. 

Childwall battle at Bloody Acre Field

 For what was one of the most prominent moments of English history there are not many records that recorded any activity of the civil war in Liverpool.  As mentioned earlier, the Molyneux and Stanley families were the two influential families who both supported Charles I.  The Norris family who was also prominent (but not as wealthy as Molyneux and Stanley) also supported the crown. 

In the years since the English civil war there have been cannonballs and long swords that have been discovered in Childwall in a field called ‘Bloody Acre.’  There are no records to confirm that a battle took place but due to the number of artifacts that have been dated from that period it points in favour of at least a skirmish taking place. 

A theory is that a Royalist army was took up positions there in the east of the city in preparation for Parliament’s attack.  As the Roundheads would have advanced on Liverpool from Manchester and Wigan it would have been the ideal spot to see the advancing army.  Is it possible that the Norris’s had soldiers barracked at Speke Hall and advanced towards Childwall in preparation for the battle?  Perhaps there had been training which would account for a mis-shot hitting the house rather than a target.

The execution of Charles I and the aftermath

Following the siege of Oxford where Charles escaped disguised as a servant in April 1646, he put himself in the hands of the Scottish presbyterian army who was besieging Newark.  After nine months of negotiations the Scots reached an agreement with the English Parliament in exchange for £100,000.

There was the last throw of the dice by Charles with another royalist uprising in May 1648.  This though was put down by the New Model Army and with the defeat of the Scots fighting on behalf of Charles at the battle of Preston in August 1648, the royalists lost any chance of winning the war. 

Feeling that they could no longer trust Charles to broker an agreement the King was put on trial for treason and found guilty.  Charles was executed 30 January 1649 and England became a republic.  Later, Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector and was King in all but name. 

After the turmoil and the death of Charles it meant that royalists supporters such as the Norris family suffered as a result.  Timber from the Speke Hall estate (felling of the trees) was deemed to be compensation for their part in the civil war. 

In 1650 the estates were confiscated after Thomas Norris who had inherited the property had fallen under the displeasure of parliament.  The lands though were returned in 1662 after Charles II was reinstated on the throne in 1660. 

Speke Hall’s involvement in the English civil war

It is plausible that Speke Hall may have been used as barracks for royalists’ forces.  The Estate would be well protected with access to the Mersey for any potential troops arriving by boat.  Equally, if troops were being moved to say Ormskirk where a battle took place in 1640, it is a possibility that troops could have made their way at Speke prior to moving towards where they were needed.

One can also wonder whether there is a grain of truth about King Charles I staying the night at Speke Hall.  Rather than Charles maybe it was Rupert that passed through after capturing Liverpool.  After taking the city, Rupert moved on to Yorkshire, so may well have taken that route. 

Unfortunately, we shall never know unless there are any other English civil war artefacts found within the area then there is no evidence of any skirmishes near Speke Hall. 

No doubt it is a mystery that won’t be resolved.  Whether it was a hapless soldier accidentally firing at the house, target practice going awry or of someone getting into an argument and firing a gun, it is a mystery to still be resolved.  Indeed, it is possible that years or even a couple of hundred years later someone was messing about with a civil war gun and accidentally hit the house. 

Researching on Speke Hall’s involvement has shown the tactical reasons for why parliament and the royalists wanted Liverpool.  This of course was control of the port and controlling the Irish sea.

  It also showed the Norris’s involvement with Edward being involved in manning the defence against parliament.  Being on the losing side the Norris’s also suffered in having to produce timber from their woods and having their estates being seized.  This though would be returned upon Charles II taking the throne.

Above all though it has given stories about Rupert’s demon dog which could catch bullets and a shape shifting monkey.  Plus, there is buried English civil war treasure buried somewhere in Everton.  Who knows, it could be underneath Goodison Park!  


The bizarre joint manager of Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier

It was one of the most bizarre events in Liverpool’s history when Liverpool announced that Gerard Houllier would be the joint manager with Roy Evans in the summer of 1998. 

Although Liverpool may have done something left field when Kenny Dalglish became player manager in 1985 and won the double in his first season in charge, Dalglish was in sole charge.  True Dalglish had the support of the back-room staff of Ronnie Moran, Roy Evans, and the ear of Liverpool’s most successful manager Bob Paisley but it was still Kenny Dalglish that called the shots.

That’s why nobody thought it would work out.  Ultimately, there must be one person who makes the decisions and who the players know is in charge. 

So how did Liverpool find themselves into such a position?  It was a case of a weak board being unable to make a tough decision, the pressure on Roy Evans to bring Liverpool back to its former glories of the 70’s and 80’s as well Roy Evans putting the club ahead of himself. 

The Graeme Souness era was a tumultuous one as the former player tried to re-build Liverpool and get them back to being the leading force that they once were.  Unfortunately, Souness got rid of players like Beardsley too soon and brought in players that were not at the same level never mind better. 

A raft of injuries didn’t help but there was hostility to Souness trying to change the regime and diets of the players to the one that Souness benefited from during his time at Sampdoria.  Maybe Souness didn’t explain the benefits clearly as Jan Molby stated afterwards but it led to a poor run of results not seen at the club for a long time. 

Patience and the backing from supporters ended when Souness did a deal with the Sun newspaper by appearing on the front page on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster when 97 supporters lost their lives.  The Sun had printed vicious lies on the front page to smear Liverpool supporters to cover the ineptitude of the authorities who were to blame for the loss of 97 lives. 

Graeme Souness has since bitterly regretted the deal with the Sun, but it was the beginning of the end despite Liverpool lifting the FA cup by beating Sunderland 2-0 in 1992. 

Results didn’t improve and after a FA cup defeat against lowly Bristol City in January 1994, Souness admitted defeat and resigned as manager of Liverpool football club. 

The replacement was to go back to the boot room and appoint Roy Evans who had been on the books as a player and took up coaching at the club in his late twenties working his way up to being Souness’s senior coach. 

It was a logical choice for the board.  Someone who knew the club inside out, who the players and supporters respected. 

Hindsight is always a wonderful thing but realistically at the time there was no one else who was suitable for the role.  No other British manager stood out and looking to the continent was not contemplated until after the success of Arsene Wenger who won the league in his first full season at Arsenal in the 1997-98 season. 

John Toshack was perhaps a possible candidate being a former player and being successful with illustrious clubs such as Real Madrid.  Liverpool though wanted to smooth the waters and so Roy Evans who many felt was groomed for the role as manager eventually reached his destiny. 

Despite the poor signings of the Souness era there was a good crop of kids that had come through.  Notably Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, and Jamie Redknapp.  It was hoped that the team could be re-built using the promising trio. 

Evans went back to basics as he looked at the defence signing Phil Babb and John Scales.  He was also not afraid to try something new with Liverpool playing three at the back and using wing backs. 

The first full season under the Evans era saw Liverpool make progress by winning the Coca Cola League Cup by beating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in the 1995 final. 

Liverpool’s football was attractive, and a lot was expected when Evans signed Nottingham Forest’s forward Stan Collymore for a record fee.  They reached the FA cup final in 1996 but were beaten 1-0 by Manchester United who claimed the ‘double, double.’

For Roy Evans he was having to handle the expectancy of returning Liverpool back to their successful days and that meant winning the league.  It didn’t help that it wasn’t that long ago and that Liverpool supporters had become accustomed to success during the late 1970s to 1990. 

The 1996-97 season was the year when Liverpool came close to challenging for the title against their rivals Manchester United but were too inconsistent.  Cruelly Evertonian’s joked how Liverpool had finished fourth in a two-horse race. 

A lot has been said about the Roy Evans era.  Due to the infamous white Armani suits at the 1996 FA cup final it led to Liverpool players being dubbed ‘the Spice boys.’  There were rumours about poor discipline amongst the players who loved to party more than play football.

Neil Ruddock didn’t help matters by loudly telling people of the pass the pound game during the match.  Whoever ended up with the pound at the end of the match had to buy the first rounds in.  Naturally, there was uproar over this, especially as supporters were paying good money for the players to at least give everything.  

It was a strange decision for Roy Evans to keep Neil Ruddock on after Souness left.  He was hardly the consummate professional who looked after himself.  Ruddock would certainly have not been signed by Shankly, Paisley or Fagan and if he had been in the squad at the time would have been bombed out.  Despite this Evans continued to use Ruddock. 

Stan Collymore was a record signing in the 1995-96 and again a decision that Shankly, Paisley or Fagan would have made.  Every club that had signed Collymore had problems with him as teammates fell out with him. 

There were of course mental health issues with Collymore but it was neither the time that it was recognised and neither was Evans able to deal with Collymore’s personal issues.

Not surprisingly, Collymore fell out with his Liverpool teammates and had caused all sorts of trouble.  Although Collymore may have had the ability the disruption unbalanced the team.  Previously, Liverpool managers would have looked at personalities and it is that reason why it was a strange signing for Evans.

During Roy Evans tenure, Liverpool always finished in the top four and in the 1997-98 season it was third behind Arsenal and Manchester United.  Back then it was top two for Champions League football and despite the emergence of Michael Owen coming through the ranks the pressure was on Roy Evans to deliver that league title. 

By then there were stories of ill-discipline running rife amongst the Liverpool squad.  Tales of players nicking Roy Evans car park space for a laugh, phoning up and asking how much the fine was if they showed up late for training and then turning over in bed, happy to pay the fine. 

Collymore speaks of Robbie Fowler getting Evans in a headlock and of Neil Ruddock eating bacon on toast whilst the treadmill ran.  When the coach came back, Ruddock threw a bottle of water over himself as he got on the treadmill to give the impression that he had been working hard. 

It could be argued that Roy Evans was treating the players like grown ups like Liverpool had done in the past.  Expecting them to be professionals who would pull up teammates who were shirking.  This after all was what Liverpool had done in the past and led to the success. 

The lack of success, the stories of players running riot, and the fact that some of Evans signings were simply not up to it, led to pressure on Roy Evans to at least start showing progress. 

When you view the interviews of Roy Evans in that 1997-98 season you can tell the pressure and hurt that was etched on Evans face.  At times he looked ill. 

Talk in the summer of 1998 was that Liverpool might consider looking at another manager although it seemed from the club’s response that Evans was going to be given another year.

Ronnie Moran had retired in 1998 and when the Liverpool Echo had announced Gerard Houllier as joining Liverpool most people assumed that he would be Moran’s replacement.  Only Houllier wasn’t going to be Roy Evans number two, they were going to be joint managers. 

None of it made sense and many felt that it would not work out.  If anything, it showed that the Liverpool board was weak.  Rather than telling supporters they were backing Roy Evans or deciding a new approach was needed by dismissing Evans and replacing him with Houllier, they tried to fudge a difficult decision.

Typically, Roy Evans as he always did, put Liverpool first ahead of himself.  If he felt it would benefit Liverpool, then Roy Evans was happy to give it a go.  The sad thing was that Evans would lose either way.  If Liverpool did well then Gerard Houllier would get the plaudits, lose and it would be Evans out of the door. 

Back in 1998, French coaches was in the thing after Arsene Wenger had led Arsenal to the Premier League title playing attractive football and France winning the world cup.  It was a new world with foreign managers now starting to coach in the Premier League.  Added to which the Bosman ruling saw freedom of movement for EU players which led to an influx of foreign players as the big money rolled into the Premier League.

Gerard Houllier was touted as being responsible for the success of the French national academy which helped produce the players that won the world cup.  It seemed that Houllier was set on moving to Sheffield Wednesday until Liverpool enquired with Houllier accepting the joint manager role. 

Despite a good start to the season no one had any faith in the joint manager scheme.  In Robbie Fowler’s autobiography he spoke about the confusion of who to approach as the boss and who made the decisions. The latter being something that supporters also wondered.

Contradictions happened such as an away game with Evans giving instructions as to what time the players needed to be there for the coach and Houllier changing it by fifteen minutes. 

Tactics were another difference.  Houllier was more defensive minded and liked to counter-attack whereas Evans was about keeping possession and attacking. 

Predictably results started to suffer and it was only going to end one way and so after a league cup defeat at home to Spurs with Roy Evans resigning on 12th November.  Once again it was with Liverpool’s interest at heart rather than sitting out waiting for the board to decide or taking another job with Liverpool.  Evans reason was that he didn’t want to be another ghost on the wall. 

It was a sad end for Evans a man who loved and had given everything to Liverpool football club.  Perhaps the discipline was not as it should have been but ultimately the signings had not been up to scratch and so Liverpool decided to take a punt with Houllier. 

Roy Evans legacy was that he was part of a team that had won trophies galore for Liverpool.  Had been loyal and when manager ensured that the football was entertaining. 

Liverpool were now on their next chapter as Gerard Houllier looked to re-build the team. 

The unlikely football managers

There are some managers who are so symbolic to a particular club that you would never consider or think that they would go and manage a hated rival.  Football though can throw these stories where football directors will try to ignore the outrage and protests by being pragmatic and not showing any sentiment.  In other instances, there are managers that simply don’t have the values of the said club.  Here are a few choice managers.

Brian Clough – Leeds United – 1974

‘Throw your medals in the bin.’

‘The first thing that you can do for me,’ proclaimed Brian Clough in his first meeting with his Leeds United players ‘is throw your medals in the bin because you have never won anything fairly; you’ve done it all by bloody cheating!’ 

When Don Revie left Leeds United to manage the England national team nobody envisaged that Brian Clough would be appointed as manager of the league champions Leeds United.  Not because Clough’s credentials were in doubt, simply that he had done nothing but sniped at Leeds and their apparent lack of gamesmanship and cheating. 

Despite winning the league and being unbeaten for the first twenty-nine matches of the season it was an ageing Leeds United side.  It didn’t help that Don Revie had made it known to Johnny Giles that he had recommended him to be his replacement to the board.  Consequently, there was an air of tension between Giles and Clough. 

In an interview Johnny Giles talked about the players arranging a meeting with Cloughie after not talking to his new squad.  Apart from the throw your medals in the bin, Clough called Norman Hunter and Giles ‘dirty bastards,’ and told Eddie Gray that if he had been a horse that he would have had ‘him shot.’

Needless to say, Brian Clough only lasted forty-four days after a poor run of results seen the league champions at the wrong end of the table with players not wanting to play for him. 

David Peace wrote a book about Clough’s forty-four days called the Damned United which also led to a film about the unlikeliest of appointments. 

In a footballing sense Leeds sensed a new approach and re-building was necessary and no doubt thought Clough wouldn’t be phased by the magnitude of replacing Don Revie.  However, Clough’s negative opinion of Leeds Utd and burning bridges from the start with his squad meant it was only a matter of when not if for Clough to be sacked.

George Graham – Tottenham Hotspur (1998-2001)

If there is one person who is seen as Mr Arsenal it is George Graham who had helped bring success to the Gunners as a player and a manager.  Not only that but Graham’s negative tactics and offside trap which led Arsenal fans to sing ‘1-0 to the Arsenal,’ was antithesis to Tottenham’s perceived style of playing champagne football and adhering to the glory game principle.

Some wondered if it was a chance of revenge against Arsenal after George Graham was sacked as manager over allegedly taking a bung.  After all, there would be some satisfaction at turning Arsenal’s big rivals Tottenham around at their expense. 

The reason for moving to London from Leeds was cited as personal reasons but there might have been an element of potentially sticking two fingers up at his former club. 

Although George Graham may have helped Tottenham win their first trophy in eight years by winning the league cup in 1999, he was barely tolerated by Tottenham fans.  It also took some getting used to for Arsenal fans to see their former hero in the Spurs dugout but leading Spurs to tenth place as he was then sacked for alleged breach of contract. 

For Tottenham fans Graham is in the distant past who briefly managed their club, whilst to Arsenal fans of a certain age he is still a club legend.

Rafa Benitez – Everton 2021 -2022

You won’t get many Everton managers getting their name sung loudly by Liverpool fans but that was the case for Rafa Benitez or ‘agent,’ Benitez as he was nicknamed by Kopites. 

The Spaniard is still a Liverpool legend as Rafa helped win the reds fifth European cup in dramatic circumstances in Istanbul.  3-0 down at half-time to AC Milan the reds came back to score three goals and win the European cup on penalties. 

It was the belief and putting Liverpool back on the European stage that Rafa Benitez gave to the supporters and players.  Rafa was also instrumental in standing up against the two owners Hicks and Gillette whose promises were just empty. 

To Evertonian’s, Rafa was that ‘fat Spanish waiter,’ who had enraged their fanbase further by dismissing Everton as ‘a small club,’ in an interview after the derby. 

No one envisaged Rafa Benitez deciding to take over Carlo Ancelotti who had gone back to Real Madrid.  For Rafa if the board shared his vision and were prepared to give him the support needed then he would go.  Sentiment never played a part with Rafa Benitez in terms of work.

Evertonians were outraged (admittedly also some Liverpool fans as well) at the prospect of an ex-red legend sullying their club.  It led to death threats and although Benitez started off well it was the run of poor results that led to Liverpool fans referring to ‘Agent Benitez,’ and singing ‘Rafa, Rafa, Rafa Benitez throughout Anfield. 

It was inevitable that Benitez would be sacked, and he only last six months after he was dismissed in January 2022 following a defeat away to Norwich.  It meant that Liverpool never got the dream opportunity of seeing their former manager relegating their city rivals.  For Evertonians it was relief all around as they just about escaped the drop. 

Alex McLeish – Aston Villa 2011-2012

Panini stickers would no doubt describe the former Aberdeen player as no nonsense defender.  Becoming a football manager didn’t surprise anyone nor did his pragmatic approach to tactics. 

What was a big surprise was when Alex McLeish joined Aston Villa after leaving their arch-rivals Birmingham City five days previously. 

Prior to McLeish’s appointment there would be nothing that would unite Birmingham City and Aston Villa fans.  Birmingham fans were furious at McLeish’s betrayal especially after he had relegated the Blues despite winning the League cup.  The Villa fans did not want their city counterparts’ castoffs especially as McLeish’s football was dire and had taken Birmingham down to the Championship.

Anti-McLeish graffiti such as ‘Bluenose scum not welcome here,’ had to be removed from the Villa training ground and protests erupted outside Villa Park.  Then there was the aggro of Birmingham City insisting McLeish was still under contract and wanted renumeration from their city rivals. 

Although McLeish might have got a polite ripple of support, he needed to hit the ground running.  This didn’t happen as they only managed seven wins and 37 goals out of 38 games which just fanned the flames of hostility in the stands. 

The defeat against Bolton Wanderers was where it turned toxic and the defeat away to Norwich City only hammered the final nail in McLeish’s time at Villa Park.  Although McLeish avoided relegating Aston Villa it was agreed by mutual consent that McLeish would call time to his tenure at Aston Villa. 

Even now it seems incredible that Aston Villa would appoint Alex McLeish.  It wasn’t just because he came from Birmingham City but that his football was dire to watch and that he had relegated the Blues.  It therefore wasn’t a surprise that it ended in tears. 

Roy Hodgson – Liverpool 2010-2011

 You couldn’t blame Roy Hodgson for agreeing to take the Liverpool job in 2010 after Rafa Benitez left the club.  After all, Liverpool are one of the biggest names in world football.  However, Hodgson was walking into a club that was in the midst of a civil war between Hicks, Gillette and the supporters with the latter believing that they the two Americans were running the club into the ground. 

It didn’t help Hodgson’s cause that Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish admitted that he wouldn’t have minded a return to the red’s dugout. 

Ever since Bill Shankly walked into Anfield there has always been a connection between the manager and the supporters.  Roy Hodgson didn’t have this or the ability to sound like he was on the side of the supporters.  For them it was a sign that Hicks and Gillette were content with mediocrity and with the signings of Paul Konchesky, Danny Wilson and Christian Poulson did not help his cause. 

Liverpool did not start the season well and an early season defeat away to Manchester City saw Hodgson looking like a startled rabbit caught in the midst of a car headlights.  There was humiliation in the league cup as Liverpool lost in their first tie at home to Northampton Town on penalties.  On a wet and miserable night, it just rubbed salt into the wounds for those hardy souls that went the game. 

Sarcastic chants of ‘Hodgson for England,’ and a roar of ‘Dalglish,’ meant that Hodgson never had the supporters on his side.  A defeat in the derby against Everton led to much derision as Hodgson stated in the post-match interview that it was the best performance of the season.  The reality to everyone else was that Liverpool were outplayed and looked second best. 

Although the new club owners FSG professed their support for Roy Hodgson it was only going to be a matter of time before Hodgson would be shown the door.  It took until 8th January 2011 when Liverpool and Hodgson agreed that he would leave by mutual consent and led to the return of King Kenny. 

From the outside it wasn’t a surprise as Roy Hodgson despite his experience as a manager never really formed a close relationship with the supporters and with results being dire saw him sacked.  The Hodgson month’s is probably the bleakest period in the post Shankly era of Liverpool’s history, hence his addition to this list. 

Corrie’s Stephen ‘Maxwell Silver Hammer,’ plot and Emmerdale’s attempt to regenerate a dead horse.

Coronation Street continues to set the bar high in terms of jumping the shark.  Weatherfield is now officially the murder capital of the world with the amount of homicides being conducted on the cobbles. 

Gail’s son Stephen is going around ala the Beatles ‘Maxwell silver hammer,’ by bumping people off at will.  Not only has he murdered a couple of Roy’s sausage barms but Jenny’s boyfriend and his father.  In fact, anyone who gets a whiff that he’s keeping the undertaker George Shuttleworth in business and it’s ‘bang, bang Stephen’s silver hammer comes down on their head.’ 

The whole plot is not just ludicrous but it’s damn right boring.  Added to which the spiking of Carla’s tea so that Stephen can keep control of the factory is just plain stupid. 

Even if you discount that Carla or anyone else would wonder why Carla feels ill just after drinking Stephen’s tea, you would think the doctor would be running blood and urine tests.  The results would show that Carla has been spiked. 

Nevertheless, Corrie trundles on like a snail running a marathon as Stephen will no doubt creep up from behind Rufus (who is blackmailing as he knows Stephen is doping Carla) and then ‘bang, bang Stephen’s hammer will come down upon his head.’ 

We all know Stephen will get caught out and then another boring saga of going on the run.  Maybe a bit of drama on top of Kev’s garage before Craig the ‘super cop,’ gets up from behind Stephen and then bang, bang his truncheon came down on Stephen’s head. 

Everything is all paint by numbers as affairs, bit of stalking, kidnapping and getting pissed on a regular basis in the Rovers.  We’ve got the Sarah Platt and the cardboard cut out of a gangster Damon getting it together.  Not only upsetting Sarah’s husband Adam but her brother Nick who is having his thumbs squeezed by the plastic gangster that is Damon. 

The one time that they have a decent storyline such as Paul finding out he’s got motor neurone disease and it’s buried amongst all the rubbish that is currently going on. 

Sometimes it’s the small human stories that make a drama which Corrie is unable to do.  No one ventures outside of the cobble streets and has a job in Manchester or outside.  It’s just sensational storylines that is on play and repeat.

Let’s face it, the amount of time that Craig the ‘super cop,’ appears on the scene I now expect him to pop up in Emmerdale which sets us up for Emmerdale being a pile of cow dung. 

This was a soap that was good at sending itself up with humour and a sprinkle of sensationalism.  Intwined with that it knew the small human stories kept viewers hooked just as much as the affairs.  The classic Emmerdale re-runs showed this when Jarvis Skelton and Edna Birch enter a ballroom competition.  It reveals the unrequited love that Jarvis has for his former partner Freda and Edna’s strict upbringing when she reveals how her father punished her by making Edna eat her dinner when she had accidentally spilt salt on the meal. 

Even Eric Pollard despite his deviousness was shown a human side as he revealed the hurt and humiliation after his wife Dee left him to Paddy. 

Now it’s just a pale shadow of the show that it used to be.  Forget the fact that Bob made a living on being a barman for over twenty years before embarking on the B&B it’s now attempting to regenerate the Tate’s. 

Maybe the script writers and producers were watching classic Emmerdale and got hooked on the Frank and Kim Tate storylines.  Naturally they couldn’t brink Frank or Chris Tate back (although maybe they did have a think about Frank coming out of the shower and it was a dream by Kim Tate) as the characters are dead that they decided to bring in another Tate. 

Enter a implausible plot that stretches the universes boundary.  Not only is Caleb the younger half brother of Cain but somehow their mother was pregnant without anyone knowing.  Well, apart from the prison that Faith gave birth to Caleb to and gave away for adoption. 

Then to throw in another daft twist it turns out Caleb’s father is the one and only Frank Tate.  Well blow me down with a feather.  All of this is for another Tate v Kim slug out as the male nanny turns out to be Caleb’s son and not a reject from Hollyoaks such is his wooden acting.  The pair are (yawn) planning revenge against Kim for bumping off Frank.  Why Calab would give a toss for a father who didn’t know him is just a mere inconvenience for the script writers as they’ve managed against all odds to get another Tate. 

If the producers are that desperate for the Tate’s return, why don’t they have a zombie outbreak in Emmerdale?  You could have a zombie Seth, Betty, Amos and Mr Wilkes to name a few creating havoc and trying to eat brains in the village.  Let’s face it, it’s more plausible than the secret Tate/Dingle brother.

You have to give Emmerdale credit in recycling the classic hit and run story.  This isn’t a paint by numbers job but a Dulux paint your walls white job. 

Despite being a straight road with hardly any traffic this stretch of tarmac has claimed more victims than Jack the Ripper and Stephen ‘Corrie’s silver hammer,’ combined. 

Billy is on his way home after successfully becoming the adopted father of Lucas whose mother is his partner Dawn.  Of course Lucas father Alex is a scumbag who is up to no good and just so happens to be crossing the road (obviously not looking or listening despite the road being as straight as a die) to be hit by Billy. 

Of course Billy doesn’t phone for an ambulance he just gets back in the car and drives off.  Now we’ve got the painful scenes of the vicar Charles being accused by Police of knocking over Alex after discovering that he is a thief who is letting his daughter Naomi down. 

It’s as rigid and predictable as playing the offside tactic as Billy tells Charles who now (yawn) as a moral dilemma. 

One thing is certain and that is Coronation street and Emmerdale lack imagination and rely on sensationalism that is regurgitated that it no longer becomes a shock.  Maybe a zombie outbreak won’t be too far off. 

Manchester United v Liverpool. The Good Friday Fix

The biggest game in English football is Liverpool vs Manchester United. Forget about Man City, Chelsea, or Arsenal. This match has brewed a atmosphere akin to a tornado. Ron Atkinson the then Man Utd manager described going to Anfield as entering Vietnam. No doubt the feeling was reciprocated when Liverpool travelled to Old Trafford.

Due to the clubs being the most successful in England and Europe and being in close proximity maybe it isn’t a surprise that there is a fierce rivalry. So much so, that there has not been a direct transfer between the two clubs since 1964 when Phil Chisnell joined Liverpool from Man Utd.

Such is the dislike that even players like Michael Owen and Paul Ince who played for both clubs have their reputations badly tarnished. If that was a outrage can you imagine if both clubs came together to fix a football match? The players in question would need to go into witness protection.

Although the rivalry was nowhere at the levels it is now, this did happen in 1915 and became known as the Good Friday scandal.

The war which was meant to have been over by Christmas 1914 did not appear to be coming to an end. Indeed, it was becoming less of the adventure sold and more of a Goya painting of death and blood of the trenches across the Western front.

Criticism of football continuing was at its peak that it was a known secret that there would be no more competitive football once the 1914-15 season had ended.

This was one of the reasons cited as to why members of the Liverpool and Manchester United teams colluded to fix a match for financial gain to help tide the players over the war. Although Manchester United were fighting relegation (ironically, they stayed up by two points), Liverpool were safe in mid-table.

With the bookies laying on odds of 7/1 for a 2-0 Manchester United victory at Old Trafford the Liverpool Captain and former Manchester United player Jackie Sheldon met with three of his former teammates in the Dog and Partridge pub in Manchester. The other Liverpool players present were Thomas Fairfoul, Bob Pursell, and Tom Miller while the United players present were Sandy Turnbull, Enoch ‘Knocker,’ West, and Arthur Whalley.

It was agreed that they would ensure that the match scheduled for Good Friday would finish 2-0 to Manchester United with the players involved making a profit from the bets being placed on this outcome.

Two goals by Manchester United’s George Anderson was enough to secure the win and the bets that had been placed. However, there was suspicion that the game had been fixed. It had not helped by all accounts of Liverpool playing that badly and squandering chance after chance that the referee Jack Sharpe declared it to be ‘the most extraordinary match I have ever officiated in.’ 

A poor penalty by the United Captain Patrick O’Connell that went wide of the post fuelled the suspicion especially as the nominated penalty taker Anderson refused to take it. Nor did it help that Liverpool’s Fred Pagnam who was not in on the fix hit the crossbar late on in the second half that he was openly berated by his own teammates on the field. Whilst United’s famed star Billy Meredith later expressed his bemusement at his teammates not passing to him when he was quite clearly in a good position. 

Such was the lacklustre performance of both teams that the Manchester Daily Dispatch declared ‘Liverpool beaten – lifeless football second half.’ 

An investigation was immediately sought and in December 1915 the seven players were found guilty and issued life bans. These were rescinded after the war due to their sterling service with a posthumous lifting for Turnbill who was killed during the war. However, ‘Knocker,’ West had to wait until 1945 at the age of 59 before the FA would lift his ban.

If the Good Friday scandal had happened now Sky Sports would squeezing every ounce of sensationalism the media would be in a feeding frenzy to put great white sharks to shame, whilst Twitter would be in a meltdown.

All in all it is another infamous incident in the history of both giants of English and European football.

The legacy of Brazil 1982

Your first World Cup is always memorable and for me Espana ‘82 was when I fell in love with football. Maybe because it was a summer tournament but the colours looked brighter and the football shirts looked iconic.

The bright yellow shirts with light blue shorts fitted perfectly with the warm Spanish sun but above all, it was the football that made them stand out as though they were Gods.

To emphasis the fact that the Brazil squad of 82′ were not mere mortals, they had names that made them ethereal. There was Zico, Falcao, and of course Socrates. These were superstar names rather than the current Brazil team that has Fred and Bernie. Names that sound like two old men down on the allotment.

It was this team that took my imagination, especially the skill that they showed. Socrates or any of the Brazil team would just arrogantly knock the ball forward, pausing as they looked across the field of play. Such was the belief in their ability, that it was almost taunting the opposition to get the ball off them.

For me, I became transfixed with Socrates and wanted to play like him. Unfortunately, I got nowhere close but it was the languid strides, the way the skills came off so easy that got my attention. Also, the unkempt beard gave him a look of a rebel fighter which to me made Socrates even cooler.

I can remember bits from the World Cup tournament such as Bryan Robson scoring the fastest World Cup goal at the time as he put England 1-0 up against France in twenty-seven seconds. However, it was watching Brazil that the memories still stand out.

No doubt it was highlights that I saw when Socrates scored that brilliant equaliser. It’s a poor clearance by the Soviet defender as it goes to Socrates. His tries to rescue his teammate as he throws himself on, only for Socrates to turn as the Soviet defender slides by. Socrates is on the edge of the box and let’s fly a strike as the ball hits the right hand side of the goal.

Socrates equaliser v the Soviet Union

A late Eder goal gave Brazil the win that they always knew was going to happen. It was the skills and fast paced attack as well as the belief that even if the opposition would score they would still better it.

The Scotland game showed that they were no pushovers as Gordon Strachan in a interview at a Betsfair event spoke how he went to shoulder challenge Brazil’s Junior but ended up bouncing off him instead.

What shouldn’t be forgotten is that Scotland had a decent team in 1982. Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, and Alan Hansen were the spine of Liverpool’s greatest team. Even so, Brazil look affronted at the audacity when Scotland took the lead. Zico equalised as Brazil knocked it up a couple of gears like the best formula one car to win 4-1.

As a young kid, I was convinced that Brazil would win the World Cup. The exciting way that they played football and that aloofness of Champions made me certain that Brazil would beat Italy in the final match of the second group stage.

The maths were simple. Italy needed to win and Brazil could still go through with a win or a draw.

I remember bits about Italy’s Paolo Rossi and the fact that he had come back after serving a ban over a betting scandal. Above all though I remember him having the same surname as the cartoon character Mr Rossi. A theme tune that I didn’t really like at the time. Let’s face it, it was no Jamie and his magic torch.

The Brazil v Italy game is one of the classic matches that is still talked about fondly. Even at a young age I knew that I had watched something special.

It was the back and forth of the match that at times resembled a basketball match. Rossi had given the Italians the lead with Socrates equalising and restoring order.

Once again Rossi gave Italy the lead with Falcao equalising. There were moments when Brazil should have scored but the chances were squandered. It was Rossi though who completed his hat-trick and the two points that ensured Italy would play Poland in the semi-final.

It was a gutting moment to see Brazil being knocked out. As a kid you are always led to believe that the good guys win or the best team in this case. Football doesn’t work like that and as it was, Italy won the tournament after beating West Germany 3-1.

Brazil had whetted my appetite for football that I started playing and took more of a serious interest in supporting Liverpool. Not that there was a choice in supporting the reds as it was family thing rather than anything else. I was hoping Bob Paisley would sign Socrates for the reds but alas, it was never to be.

As for Brazil, they once again played scintillating football in Mexico 1986 and again they fell short in the quarter-finals against a brilliant France. The tie itself was back and forth as it finished 1-1. Extra-time still couldn’t separate the two teams.

Socrates missed the first penalty although the other three were converted as Platini missed France’s fourth penalty. Cesar missed Brazil’s fifth but Luis Fernandez won the tie as he converted France’s final penalty.

West Germany would beat France 2-0 in the semi-final before losing 3-2 to Argentina in the final. Maradona had played like a God himself and even now I believe him to be the best player that I have seen.

As to Brazil, the 1986 was the last truly samba side. They might have won hearts and minds in 1982 and 1986 but it was World Cups that the football federation and supporters wanted.

The 1990 side played more like a high functioning machine and although they got knocked out by Argentina in the last sixteen they still persisted in this type of football.

It did win Brazil a World Cup in 1994 and 2002. Admittedly, they have produced players who instantly draw you to your feet. Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho but somehow despite wearing the bright yellow shirts they do not have the same aura as that 1982 World Cup side of Socrates, Falcao and Zico.

The Hollywood Blacklist and High Noon

The end of the second world war saw the major powers of the USA and the Soviet Union being the two influential countries in the world. This was the new world order with both nations having different ideologies. Winston Churchill spoke of an ‘Iron curtain,’ which was true in the case of Eastern Europe under the Soviets and the West being under the USA’s sphere of influence.

As both countries had an arsenal of nuclear weapons paranoia engulfed both sides. In turn this led to the space race, and America’s involvement in the Vietnam war. The US feared a domino effect could lead to more countries turning red.

So much so, that there was a fear of ‘reds under the bed,’ with senior political figures such as J Edgar Hoover who believed that communism was trying to infiltrate the American way of life. Such was the dread that this might be happening that it led to the McCarthy purges which at times was not far off the hysteria of the witch hunts in the 17th century.

Due to Hollywood being seen as a haven for liberals it was not safe from McCarthyism hunt for communists who believed Tinsel Town was a haven of secret reds.

Many writers, actors, actresses, and indeed anyone suspected of being a communist sympathiser found themselves blacklisted and as a result were unable to find work.  To survive they had to write under a pseudonym or permitted another writer not on the blacklist, to take the credit for their work.

The roots of the blacklist can be traced back to the Great depression of the 1930’s with the American Communist party attracted a large amount of followers many of whom were young idealists involved in the fields of art and entertainment.   Membership during the second world war peaked at 50,000 which inevitable worried many Conservatives. 

Paranoia had always been under the surface with Walt Disney declared in a Variety advert in 1941 that ‘Communist agitation,’ was behind a cartoonist and animators strike.  The reality of the dispute was down to Disney’s overbearing paternalism, high handedness, and insensitivity. 

Consequently a signal of intent was announced by Mississippi Congressman John E. Rankin a member of the House Committee on un-American activities (HUAC) declared “one of the most dangerous plots ever instigated for the overthrow of this Government has its headquarters in Hollywood…the greatest hotbed of subversive activities in the United States.”  As he then added ‘we are on the trail of the tarantula now.’ 

This became apparent in October 1947 when a number of people working within the Hollywood industry were summoned to appear before the HUAC in its investigation of Hollywood producing subversive pro communist films. 

Anyone who was suspected or known to have been in the Communist party was called to give evidence.

Out of the forty-three put on the witness list nineteen confirmed that they would not give evidence such as the actor Adolphe Menjou who declared ‘I am a witch hunter if the witches are communist.’

Other Hollywood lights such as the director John Huston and actors such as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall organised a committee for the first amendment to protest against the Government targeting their industry. 

Eleven of the nineteen were summoned before the committee with only the playwright Bertolt Brecht choosing to answer the questions posed by the committee.  The other ten refused to answer any questions such ‘as are you or ever been in the communist party?’ citing their first amendments rights to free speech and assembly. 

As a result of refusing the questions posed by the HUAC the MPAA President Johnson on behalf of the film industry executives stated in what is now known as the Waldorf statement, that unless the ten swore that they were not communists then they would be fired and never be allowed to work in the industry again.

Things took a turn for the worst as in early 1948 the ten were found guilty of contempt and were given one year prison sentences which they began to serve in 1950. 

Only one of the ten cracked as the director Edward Dmytryk publicly announced that he was a communist and named names.  As a result, he was released early, and his career began to pick up.  The other nine in contrast served the full time and were unable to get work for many years. 

A number of other nongovernmental organisations such as the conservative American Legion sought to ‘expose more communists.’  As a result more people were added to the list with some of those known not to have any political views.

In 1951 the HUAC returned to launch a second investigation into Hollywood and communism.  Actor Larry Parks said before the panel ‘Don’t present me with the choice of either being in contempt of this committee and going to jail or forcing me to really crawl through the mud to be an informer. For what purpose? I don’t think it is a choice at all. I don’t think this is really sportsmanlike. I don’t think this is American. I don’t think this is American justice.’ 

Nevertheless, despite being classed as a ‘reluctant,’ but friendly witness Parks found himself on the blacklist as well.  If anything, matters got worse with all and sundry who were even thought to have been a bit red or had associates with communist found themselves on the blacklist.

The screen writers guild which had been founded two decades earlier by three of the Hollywood ten agreed to ‘omit,’ from screen the names of anyone who failed to clear themselves before the congress. 

High Noon

The fight back against the Hollywood blacklist was a lot more subtle at first.  For example the Western classic starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly was a dig at the HUAC and Hollywood’s reluctance to stand up against the undemocratic witch hunt being vigorously pursued by the right.

With the writer and producer Carl Foreman being called before the HUAC himself for being suspected of being a former member of the communist party and refusing to name names it was no surprise that Stanley Kramer who was involved in the picture tried to force Foreman out when accusations were made that High Noon was communist propaganda.

High Noon itself was suspected of being ‘red propaganda,’ with John Wayne describing it as the most ‘unAmerican  film that he had seen.’ 

For anyone that has seen the film, they will know that Cooper’s character Kane is set to leave the town as Hadleyville Marshall (note that Hadleyville can be seen as similar to Hollywood) after marrying Amy played by Grace Kelly where the pair hope to start a new life together.

However, an old adversary Frank Miller who Kane had previously put behind bars and was sentenced to hang, has been released on a technicality. Frank decides to pay a visit as he rides into town with his posse. 

As you can pretty much guess, Frank isn’t there to wish the married couple all the best but is intent on seeking revenge on the town.  Initially the town’s folk persuade Kane to leave with his new wife but still seeing it as his duty turns back to take on Frank.

But just like the McCarthy Witch hunts and the HUAC purge of Hollywood no one is prepared to put their heads above the parapet to stand up against the bullying Frank and his cronies.  Indeed, each of the town folk give a reason as to why they can’t stand alongside Kane. 

As the minutes tick by, Kane realises that he has been abandoned by the town folk as he gets ready to do battle with Frank expecting the worse.  One of the most poignant scenes sees Kane walk out in the deserted street, clearly afraid of the impending encounter, as he slowly approaches the bandits the wind blows tumbleweed across the barren landscape. 

The battle takes place with Kane somehow coming out as the victor.  However, as the town folk slowly flock around him, Kane drops his badge in disgust.  No one goes to pick up the badge with the film indicating that at times you have to step up to the mettle to stand up against something that is wrong and immoral like the Hollywood blacklist. 

The fight back against the blacklist

Opposition against the blacklist became more vigorous as the likes of comedy host John Henry Faulk aired their opposition.  Left wing in his beliefs and fully involved in the Trade Union, Faulk did everything to oppose the list.  Inevitable he was sacked, but unlike others, Faulk decided to sue and although the case would be dragged the courts for years (it took until 1962 for him to win), it was an important symbol of the fight back against the blacklist.

Slowly people that had been banned for being Communist sympathizers started to be hired again such as Norman Lloyd with Alfred Hitchcock employing him to work on the ‘Alfred Hitchcock presents show.’

In a more symbolic gesture, the film Spartacus that Dalton Trumbo one of the infamous Hollywood ten, openly credited on screen, Dalton Trumbo who was one of the infamous Hollywood ten who was on the blacklist.

The climactic scene of Spartacus when the recaptured slaves are asked to give him up in favour of leniency, instead stand up and proclaim, ‘I’m Spartacus,’ can be seen to show the solidarity of those standing up against McCarthy and the witch hunts that took place during that era.

Even today the message of films such as High Noon and Spartacus show that just like the fight against purging and paranoia of those perceived to be Communists that sometimes you have to stand firm for what is right and unlike Hollywood it is vitally important to be part of a collective as there is seldom a Kane who can take on the bullies.

Is Modern football rubbish?

Nostalgia can varnish the past, where the perception is different from the reality. So, it is with football. The game was better in the 1970s and 1980s as it was cheaper, great atmospheres, no players diving around as though they have been shot by a sniper in the stands, good strong challenges, players that were characters and of course no VAR.

Despite these perceptions football was in the doldrums during the 1980s. Attendances were falling, the stadiums were antiquated dumps, with the police herding supporters into the ground as though they were the scum of the earth.

Such was the authority’s contempt that the Sunday Times described football ‘as a slum sport played in slum stadiums increasingly watched by slum people, who deter decent folk turning up.’

It was this attitude towards football that led to the Hillsborough disaster in the 1989 FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest when ninety-seven Liverpool fans were killed. The disaster had been caused by police failures, an inadequate stadium where the safety licence had expired and a delayed response by the ambulance services.

The authorities first instinct was to cover up their inadequacies and so smeared and blamed Liverpool supporters that it took twenty-seven years for Liverpool fans to be exonerated. Even then, no one has been found guilty of the disaster which led to the deaths and caused mental trauma for those who survived the disaster.

The Lord Justice Taylor report, which was published in January 1990, was a seismic change in football as it led to better and safer stadiums.

Today, football grounds are state of the art and more comfortable than of yester year. The football pitches are like a billiard table, and the skilful players are better protected.

Attendances are high, with some clubs like Liverpool closing their waiting lists for season tickets. You can now watch football seven days a week with regular highlights of matches.

Football is regularly discussed and dissected with plenty of TV channels, papers, magazines, social media, and books.

Yet, there is still a yearning for football pre-premier league. What exactly is it that makes people look back rather than forward? Has football lost its soul or is it just people looking back to their own version of a past that didn’t exist?

We have to go back to the formation of the Premier league back in 1992 where the seeds was sown. The football league had been going since 1888 with it being altruistic in terms of the money being shared equally. For example, the away team took a share from the home gates.

The big clubs at the time which was Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham were not happy with this as they wanted more of the pot. As a result they led the breakaway Premier league.

A major factor was the television deal that was agreed with Sky who blew ITV out of the water for exclusive rights to Premier league games.

Football was in a bit of a renaissance after England got to the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup. Suddenly it was no longer a ‘slum sport.’

This was where football started to become a commodity with Sky doing its best to sell the Premier league at every opportunity. Richard Keys was frequently referring to it as the ‘best league in the world.’

Attendances started rising as did ticket prices to pay for the all seater stadiums. Prices soared way above Lord Taylor’s recommendation which saw some supporters fall away.

Culture and society changes which affects football. Previously, you could turn up and pay at the gate. Luckily for me, I was part of the last generation of kids who experienced going the game with friends. It was all part of growing up and led to actively supporting Liverpool. The thing with football is that it is with you during the good and the bad times of your life. Going to the game can be that escape for ninety minutes where it is about getting behind your team and enjoying the match

Most games were ticketing and as the prices rose it meant kids who could go the game for a couple of quid could not afford it or have adult taking them on a regular basis.

Nevertheless, the Premier league juggernaut rode on mercilessly with more swilling the coffers. Previously, local companies were the main sponsors, but the popularity of the game saw the massive companies buying into it.

The BBC’s Fast show was ahead of its time with its Roger Nouveau character in the mid-90s. Go to any Premier league ground and you will find these people who are spreading like a bad dose of black mold.

As the money rolled in from Sky so did the fees on footballers. Another big game changer was the Bosman ruling in 1995 after the Belgian footballer Jean Bosman won his Judicial review meaning players could move for free at the end of their contract. More importantly, the foreigner rule was illegal with EU nationals given the right to play without restrictions.

This meant that Premier league clubs could now buy the best players across Europe without having to worry about the three player restrictions.

Of course, this was good news for supporters who could now watch some of the best talents across the continent. There was Ruud Gullit, Gianfranco Zola, Ravanelli, Dennis Bergkamp and later on Thierry Henry, Fernando Torres, Cristiano Ronaldo, right up to Kevin De Bruyne.

For football fans, the last twenty years should be a golden period. After all there are fantastic safe stadiums, pristine pitches and top-class players. There are also two out of this world teams in Manchester City and Liverpool who are managed by the two best coaches in Europe, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.

Yet there are those who are becoming disillusioned with football. As mentioned before the introduction of the Premier league and Sky sports coverage sowed the way into which football has become today.

Premier league football is no longer a sport but a commodity. It no longer relies on UK subscriptions to watch its games as it has branched out right across the world. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that but its mantra that money is everything and that the identity and principles of a club no longer matters.

Kick-off times are scheduled for television who think nothing of asking Newcastle United fans to get to Southampton for a 12:30 kick-off on Boxing Day.

Fans are just there as a commodity and so long as there is enough to make a bit of noise, the rest of the seats are for those who are there to say they’ve been to Anfield or Old Trafford.

These supporters are more inclined to pay more for a package, more likely to spend a few hundred in the club shop rather than the ‘legacy,’ fans who will have a pint at nearby pub and may buy the odd programme. Legacy fans is a title that the Fenway group referred to the supporters who have been going as far as Bill Shankly. There is no money to be made from these supporters and more likely to be vocal against any changes that go against what the club stands for.

‘Enjoy the match day experience,’ and ‘this is more,’ (whatever that is as it doesn’t make sense) are slogans that Liverpool use to sell.

For me, football seems to be all about money where everything is a commodity. Everything has a price tag with no concern for the players and supporters. Take the changes to the Champions league that will take place in 2024-25 where a Swiss style system will be introduced.

This means more games to keep those clubs who wanted a European super league sweet. After all, UEFA can’t keep its power with the loss of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Man Utd to name but a few happy. No thoughts as to where they will be able to fit in these games. No thought as to where the supporters will find the extra money and time to travel to these games, nor as to whether this will impact the health of the players who will have to play in this saturation of football. Just keep the money rolling in.

Once upon a time UEFA wouldn’t even let a club play with a sponsor on their shirt in the European cup final. Now, UEFA’s tournaments are splattered with as many adverts as Arkwright quickly takes cash in the 1970s comedy Open all hours.

Football shirts are a massive commodity and are regularly changed each season. There are now three kits and due to contractual obligations, clubs will still wear a third strip even if there is no colour clash with the home side.

It’s not just the reek of money and commercialism but the new type of supporters who have sadly jumped on the bandwagon.

These are the types who will hit social media and eat up every bit of transfer gossip.

Everything is all extremes with these people as a good win means the league is on whilst a bad defeat and it’s the manager should go. No real thought into how hard it is to win game after game. They’ve won five league titles on FIFA or championship manager, so it makes them an expert.

In some ways they are like little kids who always want the latest toy or in their eyes the latest player. Never mind that the player might not be interested or the small fact of the wages, it’s the name that they want.

The sports pages, websites, radio talk ins, Sky sports news hype up transfer news, sensationalise every dispute, foul or whether the referee should or shouldn’t have given a penalty.

An ex-pro or sport host will say something controversial like it’s time to sack Klopp. On cue there will be an irate caller telling him he’s an idiot whilst Fred from Berkshire will tell him he’s spot on. Another caller will ring to tell Fred he’s an idiot whilst the Twitter feed does overtime. Equally the columns on websites get the clicks to generate the advertisement revenue. On and on this circus goes on.

There are also the fans with no filters who feel they can say or sing what they like without any come back. Whether it’s singing about football disasters, poverty, or abusing players nothing is off limits. Of course, if a player hits back then it’s hell to pay for, such is the hypocrisy of these people.

After the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 no one sang abusive songs, and the reason why was that they knew there was a line as to what was appropriate. They also knew that it could quite easily have been their team as nearly every supporter of the 80s could tell you of near escapes.

Then there are the gambling websites that are constantly rammed down your throats. It’s building a culture where you can’t watch a football match without having a bet on it. Never mind the fixed odds, it’s when will the first corner take place or whether the referee is wearing a wig. You name it, you can bet on it.

I’m not one of those who thinks football was paradise in the 1980s and early 90s. Some of the stadiums were not great and the treatment by authorities was disgraceful. Equally, the atmosphere wasn’t great at every game and indeed I’ve been at Liverpool games where the attendances were under 30,000.

The new stadiums are better and it’s great to watch players playing on pristine pitches and being better protected.

Yet I have grown more tired and cynical of football today. The rampant commercialism, the sports washing as seen by Manchester City and Newcastle United, and the fans who buy into Sky’s mantra of how football should be.

The game is a circus with the clubs losing its identity. We are probably not that far off when a Premier league will take place out of England and even a Champions league game taking place outside of Europe.

I’ve supported Liverpool through the Souness years and the brief tenure of Roy Hodgson. Okay, it’s not as grim as other club supporters, but it is only Jurgen Klopp and his passion that Liverpool still holds on to its identity and beliefs that keeps me going in watching Liverpool.

At some point though I might just get off the ride of the circus in which football has become and it is this, why some people have a nostalgia for yesterday even if it is rose tinted.

When Speke Hall became an artist’s retreat – Frederick Leyland, Rossetti, and James Whistler

The walls of Speke Hall can probably tell many a tale.  From hiding priests, family quarrels, scandals, and servant’s gossip.  What makes a house feel alive is the stories of people who resided there. 

Although Frederick Leyland was only a tenant at Speke Hall from 1867-1877 there are enough lively tales to tell during that period. 

Leyland’s background is a typical rag to riches story.  His mother managed to get Leyland a job as a clerk at the Bibby line. 

Frederick Leyland – by Gabriel Dante Rossetti

Being a bright boy, Leyland worked his way up and ended up taking over the Bibby line where he made his fortune and became a multi-millionaire. 

One of Leyland’s interests was art, and he became a patron for Dante Gabriel Rossetti and James Whistler.  Both of whom were well known and controversial characters in the world of art. 

Rossetti was part of the pre-Raphaelite movement that changed the art world. For them they sought a return to abundant details, intense colours, and realism in what was in front of the artist.  To Rossetti, Millais, and Hunt, art had become too mechanical and objected to the influence of Joshua Reynolds who they referred to as ‘Sir Sloshua.’ 

Speke Hall was seen as more of a country retreat for Leyland for when he was in Liverpool.  It was well away from the pollution and dirt of the city whilst also good for hunting. 

Nevertheless, Leyland took great interest in making changes to the Hall which you can still see from today.  The morning room where Leyland took breakfast (the great hall was too draughty), the library where William Morris wallpaper hangs (also another member of the pre-Raphaelite movement), and of course the billiard room where Leyland could relax and chat with friends. 

Being close friends with Rossetti and Whistler it was not unnatural for Leyland to ask them to stay over.  In 1868 Rossetti declared that Speke Hall ‘as a very glorious old house, full of interest in every way.’ 

During one of Rossetti’s visit he caused mayhem after no doubt being drunk or high on laudanum as he banged on bedroom doors looking for a wench.  The story goes that Frederick Leyland advised Rossetti that it might be best going home the following day. 

The pair still had a great relationship with Leyland still acting as his patron.  Overall, Leyland commissioned eighteen paintings from Rossetti, not counting unfulfilled commissions.  Possibly, one of the more famous paintings commissioned by Leyland is the Monna Rosa. 

Monna Rosa

This was the title of two paintings of Frances Leyland the wife of Frederick Leyland with one completed in 1862 (which is now missing) and the larger one in 1867.  Leyland displayed the larger painting in his drawing room with five other Rossetti paintings which Leyland called ‘stunners.’ 

Around the time that Rossetti was painting the second Monna Rosa, he introduced Leyland to James Whistler. 

Due to Leyland being a generous patron, Whistler was able to gain his patronage and was a frequent visitor to Speke Hall.  Here Whistler was commissioned to paint both Leyland and his wife Frances.  In response Whistler called Frederick Leyland ‘the Liverpool Medici.’ 

It seems that James Whistler became close to the Leyland family with his mother nursing Leyland’s children through bouts of scarlet fever. 

Reviewing the correspondence of James McNeill Whistler held in the University of Glasgow, Leyland appears to have been a generous patron. 

Dear Leyland –

I am going to ask you for more money! – This you see is the festive season at which a struggle with the ennemy [sic] becomes daily more difficult – I come to you for ammunition as mine is exhausted, and I am to do great decisive battle with strong forces on Thursday I fear! – Will you kindly send me the ballance [sic] left for your picture, which [p. 2] is steadily progressing – and depend upon me for it’s completion as soon as possible –

Believe me dear Leyland

Faithfully Yours.

J.A.M. Whistler

Leyland duly obliged and sent the ‘ammunition,’ as Whistler referred to so that he could keep the wolves at the door. 

There were frequent communications between Leyland and Whistler with the latter not adverse to getting his mother to write to Leyland asking for more money. 

Nevertheless, it all seemed amicable as this letter from Leyland to Whistler as he describes a full moon at Speke Hall. 

My dear Jemmy,

Your theory of a tub is all very well; but let me tell you that life in a tub is infinitely preferable to the society of the philistines. – No one likes society better than I do, but then it must be good. The last fortnight has been very pleasant (la respectable [p. 2] Smith[2] notwithstanding) and it is not much to one’s credit to be agreable [sic] under such circumstances; but how seldom it is one can have the chance.

On the whole I stick by my old opinion that the safest place for a man is to be content with his own company.

Mrs Caird[3] has gone back to Scotland today and little Fanny[4] has gone with her for a fortnight. Miss Caird[5] I think goes away next week and then [p. 3] we shall be as we were at Speke[6].

Talk of your moonlight[7] at Battersea bridge – You should have seen it at Speke for the last few nights. It was superb. –

We went down after dinner to the foot end of the avenue and spent an hour or more there looking at the moonlight on the river : – the tide was up, and the water quite phosphorescent; glittering and sparkling in the moonlight like a fairy scene; quite lovely and mysterious, mais pas bien pour les moeurs[8].

I don’t know when [p. 4] I shall go up to town – probably the end of next week or the week after – ; but I will call on you when I do if you are not at Speke earlier which I hope will be the case.

I had a letter today from Rossetti[9] – He says he has sold his 2000 gna picture[10] to a friend of Howells[11]!!!!!!!


Yours ever

Fred. R. Leyland

Interestingly, the person named Howells or otherwise known as Charles Augustus Howells also frequented Speke Hall and is alleged to have persuaded Rossetti to dig up the grave of his wife Elizabeth Siddal, to recover his poems that Rossetti had buried with his wife. 

Howells was a well-known art dealer and if the rumours were to believed a blackmailer that inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story ‘The adventures of Charles Augustus Milverton.’

Whistler in his own words was a ‘never ending guest,’ at Speke Hall and worked on several etchings of the house and the nearby area.  Some of which was Garston shore, shipyard, and the little forge.  All of which were sketched in 1875. 

Whistler, James Abbott McNeill; Whistler and the Leyland Family in the Billiard Room, Speke Hall; Walker Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/whistler-and-the-leyland-family-in-the-billiard-room-speke-hall-98966

Elizabeth Pennell who wrote a biography on Whistler wrote that Speke Hall ‘always put him better for work.’

Although Leyland had a mistress as well as affairs, he didn’t take kindly to the rumours that Whistler was becoming rather attracted to his wife Frances.  It didn’t help that Rossetti had informed Leyland that Whistler was planning to elope with Frances. 

There is a story, although not substantiated that Leyland caught Whistler and Frances in a compromising position in the Oak bedroom of Speke Hall.  Frances had denied having an affair with Whistler but did state that had she been a widow she might well have married Whistler.

Whether this is true or not, the correspondence from Whistler to Frances in which he states he was unable to give her ‘the faintest notion of my real happiness and enjoyment as your guest.  Upon finding this out, Leyland responded to Whistler stating ‘it is clear that I cannot expect from you the ordinary conduct of a gentleman.  If I find you in her society again, I will publicly horsewhip you.’

It is this suspicion of Whistler having an affair with Frances that was the true cause of the Peacock scandal that erupted between Leyland and Whistler. 

The Peacock Scandal

The Peacock Room

As well as residing in Speke Hall, Leyland also had a house in London, and it was this property that Leyland hired Thomas Jeckyll, a prominent architect, to design a display space for Leyland’s blue and white Qing dynasty porcelain collection.

Due to Leyland purchasing Whistler’s portrait of Christina Spartali or more commonly known as ‘the Princess from the land of porcelain,’ Jeckyll consulted Whistler about the room’s colour scheme.

Unfortunately, Jeckyll had health problems, and had to stop overseeing the work with Whistler volunteering to finish the work off whilst Leyland was in Liverpool. 

Although Leyland had agreed a minor alteration, Whistler in his own words painted on

‘I went on – without design or sketch – it grew as I painted.  And toward the end I reached the point of perfection – putting in every touch with such freedom – that when I came round to the corner where I started, why, I had to paint part of it over again, as the difference would have been too marked.  And the harmony in blue and gold developing, you know, I forgot everything in my joy.’

On and on Whistler went as he covered the ceiling with imitation gold leaf, over which he painted a lush pattern of peacock feathers.  On the walnut shelving and the wooden shutters, Whistler painted four magnificently plumed peacocks.

Such was the joy in his work, that Whistler wrote to Leyland ‘that the dining room was alive with beauty -brilliant and gorgeous while at the same time delicate and refined to the last degree.’  As Whistler got more carried away, he urged Leyland to delay his return to London so that he could see the room in all its perfect glory. 

Whistler was so proud of his work that he used Leyland’s private space as an exhibition to show off his work to the press.  Not surprisingly, Leyland was not happy that Whistler was using his room to enhance Whistler’s reputation. 

Worse for Whistler was that when Leyland did view the work he was appalled and with Whistler’s cost going up was not impressed at the two thousand guineas bill.  Leyland was quoted as saying that ‘his dining-room was ruined and Whistler’s time wasted.’

A dispute over the costs broke out between Leyland and Whistler with the latter responding to his patron in a letter ‘It is positively sickening to think that I should have labored to build up that exquisite Peacock Room for such a man to live in!’ 

In response to Leyland threatening to have him horsewhipped, Whistler responded with the final lines ‘Your last incarnation with a horsewhip I leave you to work out – Whom the Gods wish to make ridiculous, they furnish with a frill.’  A dig at the frilly shirts that Leyland wore. 

Whilst the feud raged, Whistler returned back to the property and installed a mural depicting a pair of peacocks in gold aggressively confronting each other amongst a blue background with silver shillings at the feet of the bird.  To ensure Leyland got the point, Whistler painted ruffled feathers on one of the peacocks throat in yet another dig at Leyland’s shirt. 

Eventually, they agreed to half of the bill but in a further insult, Leyland wrote the cheque but in pounds rather than guineas.  It was always a unwritten agreement that professional artists would be paid in guineas with Whistler furious at the slight.  Not that it stopped him cashing the cheque. 

Due to the loss of a generous patron and other patrons being wary of letting Whistler into their homes, Whistler found it difficult to get money.  It also didn’t help that Whistler sued the eminent art critic John Ruskin after he reviewed Whistler’s Nocturne with the following ‘I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.’

Although Whistler won the case, he was only awarded a farthing which meant that he was bankrupt.  In a last dig at his former patron Leyland, the creditors when arriving at his former studio house found a painting called the ‘Gold Scab.’  It depicted Leyland as a hideous peacock at a piano with bags of cash at his feet.  Naturally, Leyland was depicted wearing a frilly shirt. 

The Gold Scab with a frilly shirt

Despite professing his dislike of the Peacock room, Leyland never changed it and following his death in 1892, the interior peacock work was bought by American industrialist Charles Lang Freer in 1904 which was reassembled in Detroit. 

The Peacock room work is in Washington D.C. where it is now in the Freer Gallery of Art.  However, there is a link between Leyland and Speke Hall, as it seems that Peacock scandal masked the real dispute of Leyland suspecting that Whistler was attempting to romance his wife Frances at Speke Hall. 

‘Teflon,’ Boris & why even the men in grey suits won’t budge him.

Let’s face it, Boris Johnson has had enough scandals that would have been enough to sink previous Prime Ministers. From the bare faced lies, the scandal over the care homes during the pandemic, the contracts leading to PPE, breaking his own laws, the affair with Jennifer Arcuri and questions raised over the £126,000 loan, then there are the parties where it got that ridiculous that at one point Boris Johnson claimed he got ambushed by a birthday cake.

Now it looks like it has got a tad serious for Boris Johnson after Chris Pincher’s resignation. Allegedly Boris was meant to have known about his previous discretions and chortled ‘Pincher by name, Pincher by nature.’

There have been a wrath of resignations most notably Sajid Javid the health secretary and the most damaging yet, Rishi Sunak the Chancellor resigning a few minutes after Javid.

If there is one thing the Conservative party are concerned with and that is retaining power. Two bad by-election defeats has made them twitchy even if Boris has survived a vote of no confidence. The grey suits are being summoned and although it was enough to remove Theresa May, it won’t be enough to budge Teflon Boris.

Putting it quite simply, Boris Johnson not only has no shame but it is the make up of his background and ilk where they are led to believe they are born to rule. Whereas rules exist for the plebs they are a minor inconvenience for the likes of Boris Johnson.

Right from when they can barely walk they are sent to boarding school and later onto the elite public schools such as Eton and Rugby. There they are led to believe that they are born to lead and rule.

For the likes of Boris Johnson they have no inclination of normal lives nor does he probably care. This is the man who is reported to have spoke down to a journalist when he first met Boris when he was being interviewed by Oxford, simply because he was not of the same class of Johnson.

The antics of the Bullingdon club in which Boris Johnson was a member led to him thrashing pubs, throwing a vase through a window leading to him being chased by Police and allegedly burning a £50 note in front of a homeless man. Something that Boris Johnson has denied.

For Boris Johnson, it is about getting to the position and staying there. It’s debatable on whether Boris Johnson really is a Brexiteer but thought it was his chance of seizing the Premiership. The means achieve the aims.

It’s not just Boris Johnson who has this mindsight but Jacob Rees-Mogg who wants to physically take Britain back to the Victorian era. By that sending kids down the mines and chimneys whilst bringing back polio.

Rees Mogg in November 2019 dropped his guard after saying ‘it would be common sense for the Grenfell residents to flee the burning building,’ after being advised by the London fire brigade to stay put.

Here we have the likes of Rees Mogg believing that they are more clever than the rest of us mere mortals. That he, Boris Johnson, David Cameron etc have better breeding and the know how to run the country. In short knowing your place. Something that Tory MP Andrew Bridgen alluded to by defending Rees Mogg that it was because ‘he was cleverer and that’s the people that we want running the country, don’t we?’

Don’t think it just refers to the right of the Conservative party but the so claimed centre of Rory Stewart. Like Boris Johnson he too went to Eton and like Boris Johnson had plans to become Prime Minister as he stood for leader after Theresa May’s resignation.

Stewart’s style is a calculated gamble that after the rough and tumble of Boris Johnson the party will turn to him someone like him to provide a steady hand. Commentators state how he speaks common sense and would unite the country, yet his voting record when he was an MP contradicts this. For example he voted against laws to promote equality and human rights, generally voted against measures to prevent climate change to name but a few.

As I write this, Michael Gove has now called on his ex-chum Boris Johnson to stand down so it would seem that the men in grey suits will be going around to speak to ‘Teflon,’ Boris about leaving.

Don’t be surprised if Teflon Boris comes through this unstuck again. It’s the narcist mindsight that it his divine right to be leader that has led him to believe he can always wriggle out of the farmers hands like a well greased piglet.