We’re deep into the
night. Midnight has come and gone. A thin wind cools the faces of 70,000
hyper-tense football fans, every one of whom has made a personal odyssey to the
city at the gateway to Istanbul Asia. After three
decades of watching the men in red through thick and thin, the ultimate few
moments have come to pass in the bizarre soulless concrete of the barely
finished Ataturk Stadium.
Against all odds, men in red and men in white are taking penalties to decide who will be crowned European Champions. The men in white have taken three and missed two. The men in red have taken two and scored two. It is almost there. Close enough to touch. The most improbable, outlandish, ridiculous victory in the history of football. I mean, come on. 3-0 down at half time to the Italian Champions with a back four made up of Maldini, Stam, Nesta and Cafu. Italian defences don’t ship one goal let alone three. But this Italian defence has shipped three goals. And the supposedly greatest centre forward on planet earth has managed to miss from three yards in the last knockings of extra time.
And yet there is still time for everything to go pear shaped. There is still time for the greatest victory in the history of everything to be ripped away at the last moment. Because penalties are penalties. Each penalty is a stand alone moment of crisis. Each penalty represents a tipping point in the life of the poor sod who is expected to take it.
Usually I find penalties almost unwatchable. Even in the most humdrum of league games I have to force myself not to look away when the moment of truth arrives. It doesn’t seem to matter how many key spot kicks Stevie G clips into the side netting, I always expect him to miss the next one. It is the gnawing paranoia of the football supporter.
But when John Arne Risse stepped up for penalty number three I had no problem whatsoever watching. And when he missed I felt no sense of impending doom. I remember turning to my two lads, both of whom had their heads in despairing hands. Don’t worry. It’s fine. Steve Nichol missed his penalty in the
in 84. He was a left back as well. He had red hair as well. It’s all part of
the script. They looked at me like I was some sort of madman. And maybe I was. Rome
Kaka stepped up and slotted home.
Time for Vladimir Smicer. Vladimir Smicer who had seemed so promising when he arrived but who had never really cut it. A man of the
A man who was about to kick a ball in the red shirt of Czech Republic Liverpool
for the very last time.
Basically it was the most unwatchable penalty in the history of the universe. Miss, and everything would be back to square one. Score, and victory would be one kick of the ball away. And that ball would of course be kicked by a lad from Huyton called Stevie Gerrard who had dragged us to
Could I watch?
Course I could. It was easy. Because for months I had become convinced by all the superstitious portents that shouted that this was our year. It was written. It was inevitable.
And so Vladdy duly scored as if he was having a kick around down the park.
And so Vladdy duly scored as if he was having a kick around down the park.
And then of course the greatest centre forward on the planet stepped up like a man headed for the gallows and mishit his penalty which was saved by the son of a Silesian coal miner who at that very moment entered the LFC hall of legends.
The fact that the 05 season ended with the up to end all ups means that it is easy to forget lots of the downs. Me and the lads took a Ryannair to Nice in the autumn of 04 to witness one of the most tepid, dismal performances in the history of the club when we crashed 1-0 against
there was the Jimmy Traore inspired fiasco in the mud and rain of Turf Moor
when Monaco Burnley dumped us out of the FA Cup. And
of course things hardly looked all that bright at half time when Rivaldo had put
Olympiakos well and truly in the box seat to made the knockout stage.
None of us at that point would have given a second’s thought to winning the whole thing. I defy any Red to claim that they were brimful of confidence about the prospect of the lads scoring three unanswered second half goals with Neil Mellor and Sinema Pongolle providing the spearhead of our attack.
And then everything changed. It changed the very second that Luis Garcia smacked one in against Juventus. Bouffon was left sprawling and the Anfield roof almost came off. I seem to remember that being about the time that all the superstition stuff started to emerge. At first, it was whispered by people who were almost embarrassed. Look at 1981. Prince Charles got married and a Pope died and
Liverpool made it to the final
of the league Cup. Just like now. And slowly but surely, the superstition
started to take root. Slowly but surely, the Miracle on the Bosporus
started to be written in the stars.
In large letters.
For me, the Luis Garcia moment arrived last Sunday afternoon. All week I had dreaded the trip to Old Trafford. I hated the fact that so many pundits were making us favourites. I hated the fact that the great football genius that is David Moyes had such a record of dismal failure against us. I couldn’t get memories of the game when we stuffed United 2-0 at Anfield to present the title to
Leeds out of my head. Everything seemed to point to a hideous 1-0 win for the Mancs care of a dodgy penalty or a horrendous deflection.
The trip into Mordor seemed like the banana skin to end all banana skins.
But it wasn’t.
I never would have believed that watching United 0 –
Liverpool 3 could be boring. But in a way it was. They
were so completely and mind bogglingly crap. We were not even that good. This
was no 5-1 against Arsenal or 0-5 at White
Hart Lane. This was a performance as brutally
efficient as the German invasion of . We had all the Panzers and
88mm guns and Stukas. They had the completely out nof date and
defenceless cavalry regiments. Poland
And as the goals to reflect our utter superiority went in one by one, that familiar superstitious feeling was once again upon me.
It still is.
On May 9th Liverpool Football Club will be crowned champions for the nineteenth time. All of a sudden I have no doubt about this. Just like in 2005, it is written in the stars.
Justification for this outrageous optimism?
Here we go.
Back issues of this blog are filled with examples of me having a go at our American owners, but I guess it is time to eat a plateful of humble pie. Hindsight shows that in several key areas they have hit the ball out of the park - appointing Brendan, keeping Anfield and keeping Suarez being the big three. To have ducked and dived so adroitly around the billionaires ranged against us is nothing short of outstanding.
So, as well as Liverpool FC they also won the Boston Red Sox and last year the Red Sox won the World Series. If we win the league, it means they will be the first guys in history to hold the Premiership and the World Series at the same time. Now wouldn't that be something?
And then there is the Stevie G factor. He went public a while ago to say that he had all but given up hoping for the final medal to complete his collection. Well. He ain’t saying that now. Fate surely demands that now is the time for him to add that one final medal to his cabinet.
Then there is the 25 year thing.
25 years ago I was sitting in the
Kemlyn Road stand as Michael Thomas
hurdled a desperate Steve Nichol tackle to clip the ball by Bruce Grobbelaar
to win the league for Arsenal in stoppage time. Something tells me that the
tables are about to turn. Something tells me that things could once again come
down all the way to the last knockings and maybe, just maybe, it might be Liverpool and Arsenal who are the last men standing. Shoulder to
shoulder. Pushing for the finish line.
Last time they won the league and we won the cup.
This time it might just be the other way round.
Written in the stars.
But none of these represent the big one.
The big one is the fact that on 15 April, a quarter of a century will have passed since 96 of us never made it home from the
Leppings Lane end.
It seems now that justice might be a matter of months from finally being delivered. Even the Prime Minister has stood up in the House of Commons and pointed the finger where it should have been pointed all along. (Though the 70,000 Mancs don’t seem to have heard about this. Why else would they have sung ‘Murderers’ last Sunday afternoon with such enthusiasm. Or could it be that they are just a bunch of contemptible bastards?)
What goes around, comes around and every now and then the good guys come out on top.
Every now and then things just get written in the stars.