Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Jonjo Zone

The audio commentary one hears during any Liverpool match through the team site's e-Season Ticket offers an amusing mix of joy and disbelief. Steve Hunter is, as you'd expect, an unabashed Red as he describes the action, and his analysis partner comes from one of a rotation of Liverpool legends – I've most often heard David Fairclough and Phil Neal, though I'm sure there are others. Hunter's call of every Liverpool attack (please hold your guffaws until after I leave the room) reaches a crescendo that is capped with either a dispirited exhale from Hunter and some words explaining how the move sputtered into nothing, or a howl of unintelligible delirium celebrating a Liverpool goal.

Yesterday, after listening to 100 minutes of that back-and-forth during a remarkably slow day at the office, Hunter announced Liverpool was sending out Jonjo Shelvey, the 18-year-old, £1.7 million signing from Charlton. He replaced Ryan Babel, and at this point in what eventually became an historic Liverpool defeat in a domestic cup, I decided Jonjo Shelvey was getting everything I could give as a fan. From a distance of roughly 3,800 miles, and aware of his actions only through a clearly biased audio commentary duo played into my earbuds, Jonjo Shelvey delivered more excitement than I felt at any point while watching the defeat to Manchester United – or any other match this year. He set off on 20 minutes of play (plus a well-taken penalty) that sent Steve Hunter into electrified spasms of exuberant commentary. Shelvey was everywhere in my mind's eye. Sending in crosses and dangerous free kicks, taking charge in the dying minutes of the match by running over to deliver the corner that led to the equalizer. An 18-year-old making his Liverpool debut and exhorting his teammates and the crowd with shouts and arm pumps after converting his penalty during the shootout.

Anyone looking to feel sad about a mix of Liverpool's reserves and youth team losing at home in the Carling Cup to a League Two side can find plenty of fuel for their misery today. The media accounts portray the defeat as just a shade less shocking than if Tom Hicks dropped trou and then squeezed Kenny Dalglish's butt underneath the Shankly Gates, so if despondency is your thing, have at it. Of course, as a supporter, I wanted to hear Steve Hunter call a Liverpool win. Don't be an idiot. There are just different thrills to be had these days, and defining one's fan experience through the expectations and mocking comments of others is the wrong approach.

For example, did you know that Liverpool's latest humiliation means the team has descended into, at last, an irrevocable crisis – a full 3 points out of fourth in the Premier League? It's true. Oh, sweet Mary of Czestochowa united in eternal prayer with Our Lady of Guadalupe is it true! Surely there's no turning back now.

Jonjo Shelvey's 20 minutes of fun racing through my imagination evoked a feeling I first heard a long time ago – something like 20 years, I think – from the comedian David Steinberg. The director of several episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and numerous other shows had a stand-up special on HBO at the time. In it, he bemoaned the fact no Jewish people had a defiant public attitude. He wanted a prominent Jewish person to get up, puff his chest out and say to the world – and I'll always remember the line – "I'm a Jew! F**k you!"

Everyone enjoying Liverpool's current meekness can just piss off. It's a disgust at the perceptions of others that one would hope the players share among themselves. Observers treat each Liverpool setback as though it came the week after winning the 1984 European Cup Final – as though the "this-proud-club" descriptor is a curse or detriment rather than a point of pride.

Jonjo Shelvey didn't stumble onto the pitch yesterday resigned to the fact that Steve Heighway crossing to John Toshack isn't coming back. He played, even considering the glowing accounts of Steve Hunter and Phil Neal, like a committed, effective and passionate contributor. Jonjo Shelvey sent this supporter off on a buzzing trip where the match became everything, and one player – the fans' representative on the pitch, after all – gave the impression he had matched the observer's emotional interest in the outcome.

Detractors can call it a sign of how far Liverpool has fallen, or a delusion that served to insulate me from the larger worries haunting the club. Look, every fan wants their team to win, but if winning doesn't happen, is there no value in the match? Nothing could convince me the amazing rush of fun I had listening to the descriptions of Jonjo Shelvey's play – while the outcome was still in doubt, mind you – is somehow invalidated because Northampton Town Football Club won the match. I mentioned it in this post back in August and it bears repeating: Liverpool's 2010-11 season is not about self-loathing. Get over it and get on with it. Any number of vaguely Norman Vincent Peale-related sayings also fit.

Besides, Jonjo Shelvey is far too young to struggle with the conflict between present predicaments and past glories. He has too much to prove and doesn't want to waste any time doing it. Here's hoping Roy Hodgson gives him another chance soon because I can't wait to see it, as well as hear it.


Kuba said...

Yes, great post. Shelvey and Pacheco are the future (and the truth) and I wish Roy will be giving them more run-outs. If a player like Babel continually throws away every chance he gets, why not give these young, very talented, hungry players a run out.

I'm not saying Liverpool need to be starting a bunch of kids, but it's about time to start giving some of these guys more playing time.

NickDunmore said...

*cough* Charlton *cough*

Sorry for the pedantry - minor point in a tremendous post. I saw him make his debut against Forest at the Valley and he was valiant in defeat.

Jim said...

Oh gosh, thanks for the correction. I left that mistake in there far too long.

Charlton it is. Should've edited more closely. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.