I'll be backing Liverpool over Manchester United in the much-touted 'battle of the Reds' this afternoon -- though as a young kid, like many others, I had my flirtation with post Busby-babes United... not least on account of my boyhood football hero, Denis Law. It's hardly an insight to note that the game has changed out of all recognition since then, and what was once a clash of sporting titans is now as much a confrontation between corporate giants, their brands and their ridiculously paid on-field representatives. Without wishing to be backward looking or overly sentimental, this is a great pity. Money has both regenerated and compromised the modern game beyond all calculation. But I confess that it is sheer romance that keeps me on the side of Liverpool: the spirit of Shankly, the Merseybeat, Hillsborough, 'You'll Never Walk Alone', and so on. Plus several good people I know have them as their EPL team, including friends at Dumbarton - who happily stole my heart from MUFC back in '69.
Today is in certain respects a trial of Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, too. If there are question marks against him, many of them reside in his questionable purchasing decisions under the £10 million mark (an observation that is bound to make us 'lower league' fans laugh out loud!) Rafa's a private, somewhat distant man, and is subject to the occasional fits of pique and arrogance that seem to go with the ego territory needed to sustain a club at the more stratospheric levels of football. But he also appears to have genuinely imbibed 'the Liverpool spirit' and he has rebuffed various financially loaded attempts to lure him to Spain. Loyalty of any kind is a rare commodity in the game these days. I hope it wins out, both ways. Meanwhile, here's Liverpool Kop offering some "critical realism" on developments on Merseyside.