10 Meaningful Moments...

Posted by afc turkish on May 27, 2005, 06:05:54 PM

Unpredictable, inconsistent, capricious, even; all of these adjectives and more could be used to describe Liverpool’s 2004-05 season.  That it ended with the unlikeliest of epic crescendos in Istanbul seems somehow appropriate, given the wild variety of performance ranging from gritty grinding of necessary results to glorious, pulse-pounding excitement, and, it must be noted, a more than frequent occurrence of ignominious farce and uninspired mediocrity.

If all that matters is the results...

But it’s fair to state that the very nature of Liverpool’s topsy-turvy season defines much of what football support is truly about.  So much of what made this past season meaningful deals with things other than victories or defeats.  In no particular order, here are 10 moments from the season past that defined what supporting Liverpool meant for one fan this year...

1) Rafa giving a casual thumbs-up after Alonso’s goal against Arsenal at Anfield.  By this time, Rafa was no longer an unknown figure, we had begun to get bits of what the “Rafalution” was to be about, but the image of our new manager so calmly celebrating a wonder goal against what at the time could still easily have been described as the top team in the Premier League was a striking illustration of our new manager’s approach.  Cool, calm, and collected, and I liked that very much...

2) From the same encounter, the same man getting bear-hugged by a home steward after Neil Mellor scored the gorgeous winning goal in front of a rampant Kop.   With the supporters going berserk in the background, our Rafa was embraced by one of the stewards who clearly had lost some or all of his marbles, such was his ecstasy at the unexpected and brilliant goal from Mellor.  The embrace for Rafa was metaphorical in every way; that steward was the home support, showing appreciation for what could be termed the first hint of great things to come.  This was the first big win under Rafa, under the most dramatic of circumstances, and it was to have a profound carry-over against Olimpiacos ten days later.  But the unrestrained joy during the steward’s wonderful moment of madness meant more than the result itself; although we did defeat the defending champions, ultimately, a victory over Arsenal at Anfield “won” us nothing at all.  But for those who were in the stadium when Mellor’s goal flew past Lehmann, that communal eruption of passion will live longer than the three points from the match, which in fact have already gone...

3) Losing to Burnley in the FA Cup.  Losing can define supporting a side?  One thing that came out of a horrible defeat was a view at how our manager responded to heavy criticism.  Of course Liverpool had lost matches before this one, but Rafa’s squad selection came under heavy fire after Traore’s attempt to imitate Zidane in his own penalty area, an image most if not all of us would like to send to our brain’s recycle bin.  The media jumped on the bandwagon with plenty of pompous posturing about disrespect for “the world’s oldest cup competition,” and Rafa’s managerial ability and decision-making came under its first real sustained questioning from supporters and the media alike.  His response was classic, another view at the man we had running the show.  There was no laying the blame for the defeat at the feet of Traore, no string of epithet directed at SkySports interviewers desperate to provoke controversy, no accusations of biased officiating; Rafa’s response was a simple one.  He defended his squad selection based on the success of a similar squad in the Carling Cup, with a few first-teamers thrown in, remember, expressed his disappointment, and got back to work.  I became a complete believer at this point in the season.  I hate the cliche about learning more about a person when they lose rather than win, but it was an accurate one in this case.  What we learned about Rafa was that he was not going to settle for defeats, nor was he going to deflect criticism through manipulation of the media.  What he was going to do was get back to work at Melwood.

4) Signing Fernando Morientes in the January transfer window.  Interestingly enough, it would be fair to state that Morientes was not as big a signing as we expected him to be, and his performance was very uneven and inconsistent.  But the image of one of those horrible photos of Rafa with his hands on Morientes’s shoulders, and I must interject that I absolutely loathe that pose which seems to be used with every new signing, marked another step in what we were finding out about our new manager.  That Morientes ultimately proved to be something of a disappointment is not the real point; a half-season in a different league with a run of niggling injuries is too small an amount of time upon which to judge the success or failure of the decision to purchase Morientes.  What was so striking about the move was that this was a “big” signing, and one that had been rumoured not to be coming off many times before it finally happened.  The signing of Xabi Alonso was clearly much more important for Liverpool last season that signing Morientes.  But what we learned about Rafa was that he could go after “big” players, from nominally “big” clubs like Real Madrid, and get his man.  Managing the transfer market is easily as important as managing a squad if a manager is to be successful.  The securing of the signature of Mori meant that we had a shrewd wheeler-dealer in addition to a clever tactician in the person of Rafa.

5) The picture of the Rafa-tollah.  A classic, inspired, and clever show by the Liverpool support, the hilarity surrounding the parading of the picture of Rafa through the streets of Cardiff before the Carling Cup Final was another key image from the past season.  Beyond the obvious statement of support for the manager, it was a special, Liverpool supporter sort of moment, the elements of wit, rapture and irreverence combined into a defining Liverpudlian perspective on the new manager and how the supporters looked at their season to date.   All football fans would be happy with and willing to show their support for a new manager who took the team to a cup final in his initial season.  But what was so striking about the Rafa-tollah was the method, not the sentiment.  Unique.

6) The loss to Chelsea in the Carling Cup Final the following day.  Choosing two losses to define a season seems like an exercise in self-flagellation, but what was so important about the loss to Chelsea was that the players and supporters alike believed that we had outplayed Chelsea and had deserved to win.  In what would prove to be a continuing pattern of subsequent important cup matches, except the Champions League Final of course, Liverpool grabbed an early lead and made it stand up, and without the unlucky Steven Gerrard own-goal, would have won and deserved their first trophy under the new manager.  The trip to Cardiff was the setting for much boisterous activity by the supporters, and even though the desired result was not achieved, the belief that we had held off and bettered the best team in the country even though we lost the match would have significant effects come the Champions League semifinal.  There was no own-goal to save Chelsea on May 3rd...

7) Luis Garcia staying on injured against Everton at home.  Watching Garcia gamely hobble about the pitch after scoring a goal in the first half, and being subject to the filthiest of Hibbert tackles, was a sight to warm the heart of the most cynical of supporters.  With Liverpool players dropping like flies, and Baros sent off for a moment of madness, Garcia showed true-grit and soldiered on as Liverpool ground out a derby victory.  Garcia had come under tremendous attack from many Liverpool supporters, with the well-worn, cliched attacks of “too-soft,” and “too-pretty” being tossed his way.  But it is difficult to find a more clutch player for Liverpool this season than Luis Garcia.  The goal at home to Juve, pure class on yet another brilliant Euro-evening, the goal in the semifinal against Chelsea, when Luis was quickest to the ball after Cech’s foul on Baros, even in the Champions League Final, where despite a poor performance where few of the flicks and tricks came off, Garcia headed off the line from a dangerous Milan corner in the first half.  Luis Garcia tries lots of moves that don’t come off, and when he’s off-form he can be immensely frustrating to watch.  But his effort on and off the ball is immense, and he has shown the ability to rise to the occasion when the spotlight shines brightest.  Add to that mix a bit of willingness to play while injured against our bitterest rivals and what you have is a player who figured in many an inspiring moment for Liverpool this season past...

8 The moment of silence after the tsunami disaster, home to Southampton.  This was a personal favourite image, and one which I am well aware will not be shared by many Liverpool supporters.  There was a lengthy thread on Red and White Kop about the appropriateness of moments of silence, and many people believed that the intended show of respect had become cheapened by overuse.  Be that as I may, and given that I was not in the stadium but only watching it on television, I was deeply moved by this moment of silence all the same.  I stood in my living room, hands clasped behind my back, watching the cameras pan the crowd in the Kop, faces set in stone, no whispering behind hands or brazen defiance, what was seen was a simple, respectful, compassionate show of respect for people who had undergone a horrible natural disaster.  Watching the home support during this moment of silence made me extremely proud to consider myself a supporter of a football club with fans like these...

And two final moments that defined the past season, saved for last because they are very much moments of an RAWK nature...

9) The photos posted on the site of Rafa in the pub.   Of course this had to be there, and what was so wonderful about it was that it felt like real time to those of us forced to experience it on the website rather than in person.  I can only imagine how it must have felt to those who were actually in the pub with Rafa before the Leverkusen match, and we’re all still waiting for Spartacus to pen a documentary account of the entire episode, commemorated in her custom title, but the joy of seeing our manager mixing with those who had taken the time and spent the money to travel to Germany to support the club was yet another uniquely Liverpool moment of support in a season full of them.  While it had absolutely no basis in anything other than superstitious nonsense, it was after this incident and the subsequent dismantling of Leverkusen that I actually began to consider that we might be able to win the Champions League.  A thrilling away win, a ghost of a horrible past defeat laid to rest, and most importantly, a manager who showed himself a man of the people.  Classic.

10) A bit of a mishap with hair dye.  Surely one of ten moments that defined a season can be a gentle dig at a supporter?  From the photos sent back to RAWK by those who had travelled to Istanbul, we got the a view at the hilarious shot of Armin, RAWK mod and fashion, um, maven, who had failed miserably in attempting to dye his hair red before the Final, instead managing to produce a sort of Bozo the Clown orange/pink hue which might work well as a visual hangover cure.  Of course, superstition had nothing to do with the eventual result in the Final itself, but for those who do take such things into account, and it’s fair to assume that there will be a large contingent among the traveling support who do so, I think it’s safe to assume that Armin will be hogtied and subject to repeat Bozo-fication on numerous occasions before any big, and probably a few not-so-big, matches next season.  Although I hear that chicks dig orange hair...

Of course, I have, deliberately in fact, left out what many would choose to be the defining moment of the past season, the glorious image of our captain, arms aloft, clutching the massive Champions League trophy over his head amidst a stream of red confetti in the Ataturk Stadium.  Surely there could be no more glorious and satisfying end to such a tumultuous season, but just as surely, supporting a team is about many other things in addition to winning trophies.  We measure our season by victories and defeats, exulting in the former and raging against the latter, but many of us don’t remember the seasons that way at all.  Great victories like the Champions League Final triumph over Milan and getting the fifth star are a starting point, a focus for the story rather than the story itself.  When I see Gerrard with the trophy clutched over his head, or he and Rafa parading the trophy in front of the adoring supporters, I don’t stop there.  The Champions League win calls to mind the above ten incidents, and many more, the tapestry of emotion, frustration, hope, passion and ultimately involvement with other people backing the same group of men in red running all over the grass, or sometimes mud.  The 2004-05 season would have been just as memorable had we not won in the most incredible comeback ever in the Champions League.  That we did win is a nice touch of spice atop a heady stew of incident, speculation, frustration, passion and enjoyment...

© Bill Urban 2005

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