Belfast Telegraph

Carnlough's Liverpool fans hit by the Blues as local hero Brendan Rodgers' bid for title success unwound

By Ivan Little

The famous green Glens of Antrim should have had a decidedly red hue yesterday as the sun shone on Carnlough – but a black cloud descended as Jose Mourinho spoiled the party for the area's most famous son, Brendan Rodgers.

And in the busy bars of the picture postcard village there were tears instead of cheers from the Anfield manager's relatives as his title contenders stumbled to a 2-0 home defeat to Chelsea – throwing the race for the Premier League title wide open again.

Like everyone else in football outside west London, the tight-knit Rodgers clan were confident that their Midas man would get one hand on the elusive trophy, which Liverpool haven't won in 24 years.

But it was a case of 'Ba, humbug' as Blues' striker Demba Ba capitalised on a rare mistake by Liverpool stalwart Steven Gerrard to dent the Merseysiders' hopes of glory, before a late goal from substitute Willian added insult to the Anfield injury.

In The Bridge Inn, Brendan's cousin Tracey McCloy – wearing a T-shirt with the manager's picture emblazoned on the front –watched in agony as the tension mounted in the bar and hopes of a Liverpool victory faded.

"But it's not over until the fat lady sings," said Tracey. "I still think Brendan will do it." She was able to smile, however, as she explained the message on the back of her T-shirt wishing 'Fudgie' luck.

That, she said, had always been her cousin's nickname in Carnlough – although she had no idea why.

Her nine-year-old son Kevin, who had a Liverpool flag wrapped around his chair, wiped away tears as the final whistle approached and the reality of defeat dawned.

Tracey's mother and father were even closer to the action and the disappointment. They had travelled to Liverpool for the big game, and Brendan's brother Con was also at Anfield.

A group of other McCloy cousins – including Caroline, Patricia and Janice together with an aunt, Jean McMullan – were in The Bridge to witness the pain inflicted by the men from Stamford Bridge.

At full-time the girls still put on a brave face, though they were upset that Brendan looked so distraught at the setback to his dreams.

Brendan's sister-in-law also watched the game in The Bridge. But she kept her own counsel.

Outside The Glencloy Inn across the street, Mark McConnell looked downcast but insisted Liverpool weren't down and out. He knows Rodgers well and believes he has the temperament and the tactics to turn things around in the last two games of the league campaign.

"Yes, I think it's still a possibility," he said.

"I used to play football with Brendan as kids in the car park up the street. He's a lovely bloke and he was a good wee player. The last time I was talking to him he said he remembered I had a sweet left foot, too."

Father and son Michael and Sean Wright travelled all the way from Magherafelt to savour the atmosphere in Carnlough.

"We go across to as many of Liverpool's games in England as possible, but we thought we would come here today to bring Brendan luck," said Michael. Sean added: "Sadly that didn't work, and it was a real blow to lose the game, but I think we will still finish on top. Manchester City and Chelsea will drop points."

The proprietor of The Bridge Inn, Gerry Burns, is a fanatical Liverpool supporter."I'm gutted but it's not the end of the world. We still have a chance," he said.

Inside the bar, cheeky Chelsea fan Paul McConville from west Belfast wound up the Liverpool fans from the kick-off to the KO.

"Our reserve team are doing well today," he told them. "And sure Luis Suarez will do all right next season when he joins a big club."

Outside in Carnlough there were several reminders that the village has been going pink in advance of the Giro d'Italia cycle race – which will pass along Bay Road on the same weekend that the destination of the Premiership silverware may be decided.

Liverpool fans are hoping the pink paraphernalia will be swiftly replaced by the red flags and bunting which have all arrived in Carnlough.

However, they're still in cold storage, as not one of the 1,444 villagers – Carnlough is smaller than some shopping centres in Liverpool – is counting their chickens.

"But no matter what happens we'll still have done better than Manchester United," said one 'Pool fan.

Another supporter mocked the plight of Liverpool's fiercest rivals with a T-shirt declaring that 'David Moyes must stay' – a barb at the expense of Old Trafford's former manager who is another son of Co Antrim. Moyes' mother came from just up the road in Portrush.

Manchester United fan John McArthur, from Armoy, however, questioned the "sudden" emergence of so many Liverpool fans along the Causeway coast.

He'd stopped for lunch in Carnlough on his way home from a hurling match in Glenarm. "Most of the villagers aren't even Liverpool supporters at all. They all converted from Man United after Brendan Rodgers got the job," he noted.

But it's clear that Brendan Rodgers is hugely popular in Carnlough, which quite simply isn't the sort of place that normally breeds footballing giants.

It's the mean streets of towns and cities in Scotland which usually spawn the revered Anfield kingpins like Shankly, Paisley and Dalglish. Not a sleepy little coastal beauty spot where the exploits of the local hurling teams were the stuff of dreams before Rodgers, an old boy of the GAA codes, gave the inhabitants new inspirations and aspirations.

Whether or not he leads his re-born football club to the zenith of the English game, a hero's welcome awaits him in Carnlough.

"We definitely hope he will pay us a visit," said his cousin Tracey. "We just hope he brings the Premier League trophy with him."

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