top of page

A Matter of Life and Death by Nigel Roth

Today, given I have Covid yet again and feel much like a chronically-ill Victorian consumption sufferer, plagued once more with the curse of my time, I’m going to sit comfortably at home and listen to a football match on the radio.

Forty-two years ago almost to the day, I did the very same thing.

My beloved Liverpool were on their way to another First Division league title, a second in a row, and despite the fact that they would lose that same year to Dinamo Tbilisi in the European cup first round, to Arsenal in the semi-final of the FA Cup, and to Nottingham Forest in the semi-final of the League Cup, they were still my heroes.

And, as none of those teams actually ended up winning any of the cups they knocked Liverpool out of, an early sense of schadenfreude kept me from tearing out all of my hair.

In 1980, it was Liverpool against Manchester City, and my JVC was tuned appropriately and at-the-ready, and I was hoping for a clear reception so as not to miss any of the action.

A few months earlier, after winning at home, Liverpool had suffered a 3-0 defeat against Tbilisi, as eighty-thousand Georgians cheered and sang in the packed Boris Paichadze National Stadium, while I listened intently to the faraway commentary, interspersed with crackle and feedback, as the commentators raised their voices to be heard above the thunderous hum of a game that sounded to me like it was being played on the moon rather than two-and-a-half thousand miles away.

At one point the commentator referred to Liverpool’s Paul Marking, a name I’d never heard before, and I wondered aloud to myself if a new player had been bought without my knowledge, and if David Fairclough was no longer our ‘super sub’. Paul Marking, though, seemed to be causing the team all sorts of problems, and I shouted at the radio for the coach Bob Paisley to substitute him quickly.

When the background noise died away for a moment, as a technician probably worked out how to muffle some of the crowd noise, I realized that Liverpool were suffering from poor marking, rather than Paul Marking, and I apologized to Paisley, and concluded we were not going to win this particular battle in the murky distant ground on the other side of the known world where Valdimir Gutsaev, Ramaz Shengelia, and Aleksandr Chicadze were the dragons.