STARVED of my weekend fix of LFC action, I decided to forego my usual Monday night’s viewing of University Challenge – I’ll get one right one day – and Embarrassing Bodies to dip into LFCTV and catch up with our all-conquering U21 side, conveniently locking horns with the apprentice Red Devils from down the East Lancs.
I confess that I’d lost track of the format of reserve football in recent years, which has metamorphosed through various incarnations to emerge as the brand spanking new Barclays U21 Premier League.
Catching up on the format on their website made me yearn for the simplicity of the old Central League, a competition which at one stage gave rise to an investigation by the Monopolies Commission after we won it 14 times in 17 seasons between 1969 and 1985.
The Central League was not just where aspiring players cut their teeth, but supporters also. I well remember trips to Anfield in the early 60s before I was considered old (and tall) enough to attend first team games, and I continued to frequent reserve team games well into the 70s before I was sent into exile for swapping two Emlyn Hughes Panini stickers for a Colin Harvey.
Reserve football at that time was largely populated by mature players on the fringe of the first team, others for whom the second XI would represent the pinnacle of their careers, and a spattering of hopeful youngsters who it was hoped would be the stars of tomorrow.
And so these games offered the opportunity for a youngster not just to catch a glimpse of first team players down on their luck, but to play talent spotter and identify the next Roger Hunt.
One of my spectacular achievements in this capacity was the identification of Brian Hall as a young footballer of promise.
For three years I watched as ‘Little Bamber’ mixed his studies at Liverpool University with precocious performances in the reserves, before he made his breakthrough as Shanks commenced building his second great side in the early 70s.
By contrast Monday’s game carried little romance. Played on a St Helens pitch that clearly prefers the oval ball game, with more markings than a multi-sport gym, flowing football was in short supply as a mixture of young starlets who have recently fallen from first team grace and those hoping to be the next in line struggled to establish any fluency.
Reduced to ten men by Stephen Sama’s justified second booking, they fell to a last minute United goal – where have you heard that before?
I just hope there was a wide-eyed youngster on those terraces, convinced that he had seen the next Steven Gerrard.