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Soup of This Day #19: When the Change Was Made Uptown

June 19, 2011

Clarence Clemons
The Big Man – Photo: Manuel Martinez Perez, 2009. Manuel Martinez Perez is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

One night, playing football in Carnarvon, I pulled off the chase of my life. I was a 30+ central defender and the target was a 17 year old kid. It started, maybe 10 m from my own goal. We’d attacked and I’d pushed up in search of an elusive goal when we lost the ball, a tenth avenue freeze-out with almost all of the good guys stuck behind the play. The kid started running. Long and rangy he set off direct for the goals, 100 metres away and by some quirk of the game there was no one from our team between him and our keeper. He had a 5 m headstart on me and I was never the fastest runner. I had been training by going down to the river, logging a lot of time on the soft sand but at best I had a relentless endurance.  Born to run maybe but more tortoise than hare.

That night, something gave me wings and I caught him.

I lunged in with my right as he drew back his leg to shoot, around 10m from the net. I knocked the ball away and somehow he got tangled and went down. There was no foul, no whistle and he didn’t complain. He just seemed surprised to see me there. He looked up at me and asked, ‘Man, when did you get that fast?’ I thought for a moment, searching for a line. I had teammates gathering around me, patting me on the back. The keeper said that if Liverpool had been scouting the match they would have signed me on the spot. With no one to cover me I had iced this kid, more than 13 years my junior, had dealt the lesson and all it needed now was some words.

‘I’ve been running a lot.’

Yep. That was it. ‘I’ve been running a lot.’ Which is technically correct though in the sporting world the rule goes that if you bring talk you better bring game. I brought game and forgot how to talk.

For Liverpool, Bill Shankly brought game and talk and was supremely brilliant at both. He arrived as Liverpool’s Manager at one of the lowest points in their history, with the club languishing near the bottom of the 2nd Division in 1959, waitin’ on a sunny day. No matter because, to paraphrase his words, the club was made for him and he was made for the club – The Scotsman was up for the rising. The truth of this shone through as he chased the clouds away over the next 15 years. During that time he rebuilt the club, pulling it up to the summit of English football. By the time he handed the reins over to Bob Paisley in 1974 Liverpool had won 3 Division 1 titles, 1 Division 2 title, a UEFA Cup, A European Cup Winner’s Cup and 2 FA Cups, including the club’s first in 1965. And it didn’t stop with his retirement. Both Paisley and Joe Fagan after him had been part of Shankly’s Boot Room, a core of personnel devoted to their club and it’s fans. Under their tutelage Liverpool would go on to win a further 7 Division 1 titles, 4 European Cups, 1 UEFA Cup, 4 League Cups and 3 UEFA Cups. Trophies and honours were as sure as the tickin’ of the clock on the wall.

His words too were legendary. His oft (mis)quoted maxim is about the importance of football in the lives of fans:

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

In 1973, celebrating the 1st Division title in front of the Kop a scarf was held towards him by a fan. An escorting policeman grabbed it and through it to the ground. ‘Don’t do that’, chided Shankly, ‘That’s someones life.’ Shankly believed in people, believed in community and equality and the payoff was that you shared the glory days around. Best described as a socialist, Shankly saw that term in a simple, noble light:

‘The socialism I believe in is not really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it’s the way I see football and the way I see life.’

He left a legacy of not just talk, but of leading Liverpool FC, it’s staff, it’s players and it’s fans through a storm, with heads held high. When he passed on in 1981 a gloom fell over Anfield, a pause in which echoed a sighin’ so deep. The skein of Shankly’s spirit is still felt at Anfield today as surely as when the Kop sang his name to the tune of Amazing Grace. Among the ties that bind his legacy to the club are the Shankly Gates at Anfield, the wrought iron cast into the title of Liverpool FC’s anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone.

It’s hard to think that Shankly would have been impressed by the money in sport nowadays and he probably would think most modern sports stars soft. Nonetheless I’d like to think he would have seen something to like in the Boston Red Sox.  The working class history of a harbour town and it’s baseball fans might have suited him. There’s another link – In 1964 Shankly sent Liverpool out in all red for the first time, changing the white shorts and symbolically, the white socks. The socks had been red until 1934, they have been all red now since a 1964 European tie against Anderlecht, Shanks wanting his players to appear dangerous and intimidating. He liked his teams to fight hard and to win, once saying, “First is everywhere. Second is nowhere.”, so the current crop of Red Sox would have fit the bill.

They’ve certainly got a winning habit going at present. On the back of a 8 and 1 away trip the Sox rolled back to Fenway down Thunder Road for Friday’s Game 1 of an Interleague home-stand against the Brewers. John Lackey had the start and he was shaky early, giving up 2 in the 1st and another 2 in the 3rd. Thereafter he was good though, retiring 15 straight as he pitched 8 innings. On offence the Sox kept it tight early, Ellsbury’s lead off solo shot coupled with Big Papi’s RBI single kept things level in the 1st.  Youk scored 2 off an RBI single in the 2nd and after 2 for Milwaukee in the 3rd it stayed even through to the bottom of the 5th. Gonzalez then with a solo shot onto the top ledge of the Monster gae the Sox the lead. Varitek added an RBI double, along with Pedroia’s RBI single, both in the 6th and the Sox had breathing room. In the spirit of the night they added 3 more in the 7th, Sutton scored off an error and a Drew single brought home 2. That’s the way it finished, 10-4 to Boston and with a good lead no need for a closer in the 9th. Which is good because the night was the first of Papalbon’s 3 game suspension. Carl Crawford (hamstring) and Youk (stomach bug) left the game early.

Saturday’s matchup with the Brewers was not so good. Boston behind early as Jon Lester gave up 2 in the 1st. They pulled back a couple in the 2nd, after Cameron and Salty had RBIs. One of the scoring runners was Youk, back from his stomach upset. Crawford not so lucky as he’s now on the 15 day DL. Meanwhile back at the ballgame Milwaukee got another 2 in the 3rd and that was that, the Red Sox not managing a rally. Lester tagged with the loss went through 8 before Tommy Hottovy, Michael Bowden and Dan Wheeler closed it.

So a blip, ending a 3 game streak but nothing too catastrophic, everyone gets blinded by the light at the top now and then. Boston 42 and 28, 1.5 games clear of the Yankees.

On the subject of catastrophic, the Dockers today with the kind of performance that would have had Bill Shankly seething. He might have identified with the working class harbour town jungleland that is the port of Freo, probably wouldn’t have identified with the white and purple socks and most definitely would not have liked the effort and attitude. Fremantle went in to today’s game against the Melbourne Demons with a real chance to shore up a place in the 8. Yeah, they were still without Biggest Aaron Sandilands and a host of smaller names but Melbourne were languishing down around 12th so the Dockers a real possibility of laying down a marker.

Which they kind of did. Only the marker had ‘We’re not playing very well’ written on it in crayon.

They got jumped in the 1st 6.5 (41) to 1.4 (10), managed a fightback in the 2nd but still went in trailing 10.7 (67) to 6.6 (42). In the 3rd they got jumped again and thus went in to the last trailing 96 to 52. Which is where all semblance of resistance ended. The Dees with 8 final quarter goals to 1 and a 22.17 (149) to 8.12 (60) win. Michael Barlow did manage 25 possessions in his first game back from a horror broken leg sustained last season, however that was the only real highlight for the Dockers who got demolished 397 to 326 in the disposal count. To make matters worse Freo lost 2 more stars to injury, Ryan Crowley and Antoni Grover. On the plus side Biggest A is due back soon and David Mundy has been cleared of a broken fib, instead suffering an ankle strain, requiring 6 to 8 weeks out.

The Dockers remain in 7th but there is a pack forming below them and their percentage is weak. There is a real danger that they will fall into the badlands outside the 8 so the next couple of weeks are crucial. Next week they have Brisbane at Subiaco and then Gold Coast, also at Subi, the week following. The opposition in both cases is weak, propping up the foot of the table, and Freo will be on home turf. If the Dockers are to challenge for finals this year they must win these 2 matches. It’s ok to point to the ridiculous injury list as an excuse but hard times baby, well they come to us all. Sometimes you’ve got to rise above that.

This post started out as a story about memorable quotes in sport and somehow wound it’s way through Bil Shankly, the Red Sox and Fremantle to here. Along the way I’ve weaved in the titles of 14 E-Street songs and the lyrics of one song, about the hope you find in grief, in particular (you’ll have to work out which of the 14 it is for yourself). Partly because they’re songs I love (If this blog had a soundtrack a couple of these would be on it, maybe all of them) but mostly as a tribute to Clarence Clemons, who died overnight.

When the change was made uptown
And the Big Man joined the band

Rest in peace Big Man.

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