Liverpool 3 Milan 3 – Pleasure to the point of pain

Posted by Farman on June 15, 2005, 12:05:50 AM

Since returning from Turkey, football supporting and non-football supporting friends alike have been asking me how it was, what it was like. What can you possibly say in response? My only reply was that the right words have not yet been invented to describe the emotion I and so many thousands of others went through in Istanbul. Yet now here I am trying to put the words to it.

Euphoria, incredulity, utter joy and happiness…all fair efforts, yet none quite catch it. There is only one word that I can think of which comes close, a word I learnt the meaning of as a GCSE student. My memory of most things from school is sepia-tinted at best, but I remember quite clearly one English lesson when we asked our teacher what his favourite word was. ‘Ecstasy’ he replied, without even thinking. Surprised, I asked him why he’d choose such a common word which was also, topically at the time, associated with a media-demonised drug. ‘Because most people don’t know the actual beauty of what the word means’, he replied. ‘What does it mean?’ came the natural response. ‘It means’ he said, looking directly at me, ‘pleasure to the point of pain’.

And so it was for me on the 26th May 2005 (no doubt it will be remembered as 25th in song and verse, but 26th it was). God bless Welsh Grand Slams, Corrie weddings and the like. The denouement of a crazy season in which, according the glorious anti-logic of football, we are simultaneously the best team in Europe and the second-best team on Merseyside. But the mechanics, mathematics, money and the rest are not for here. The excellent consequences of winning the European Cup, and in that manner, should not cloud what for me was the best fact about the whole thing. And that is this – that, as football fans, we always want to see and be part of the ultimate moment, the holy grail of football fandom. Quite simply, no football moment, no matter how long we live, could ever be as wonderful as Istanbul. Liverpool FC was there before us, and will be there after us (I remember the first time, as a child, that the stark reality of my own mortality struck me was when I realised that I was bound to die before a Liverpool match, and I would therefore never know the score). For all of us Reds able to take this in this was, in football terms, the match that defines us, our ultimate moment as fans and the one that we will recall with most fondness the instant before we take our place on the great Kop in the sky.

Planning

My tale of the trip begins in my local Thomson holiday shop, in the warm afterglow of Jose Mourinho’s ‘the best team lost’. I was as eager as anyone to sort out my passage to the Bosphorus, but I was unfortunately waiting on decisions by a couple of mates as to whether they would be able to come, due to work and money restrictions. My usual travelling partner for Euro aways in the last few years, my ex-girlfriend, was…well, my EX-girlfriend. I’d resigned myself to having to book a late day trip on my own if they couldn’t manage it, but in the meantime I thought I’d pick up a couple of brochures for package holidays, seeing as direct flights seemed to have sold out while I was still singing in block 204 on 3rd May. I have to say I’m fairly well travelled, for both footy and otherwise, but organising and coordinating this trip took me literally days, full time.

The initial plan, based on my fairly ropey geographical knowledge of South-Eastern Europe, was to book a holiday for a few days in the Halkidiki resort near Thessalonica in North-East Greece, then hire a car and drive to Istanbul. This fell through partly because we wouldn’t be allowed a car across the border and partly because Istanbul is not ‘just down the road’ from Thessalonica but in fact eight hours away (it really doesn’t look that far on a map of Europe, but then again I spend most of my map-reading time looking at the scale illustrated by the AA Road Map of the Midlands). Public transport looked a bit awkward too, so I switched to looking at a Turkish resort and flying up from there.

By this time it was apparent that the only real cost-effective option would be a full week in southern Turkey. Cue much gentle persuasion of the aforementioned mates – known affectionately as Saz and Burner – with liberal mentions of the words ‘five-star bargain’, ‘all-you-can-eat’, ‘free 24-hour booze’, ‘thirty degree heat’ and ‘Eastern European fitties’. For Saz, fellow Red but Euro away virgin, the words ‘Liverpool – European Cup final’ was always the key point, but for Burner, a bodybuilding, multi-dyed-mullet-wearing fitness-instructing Spurs fan, the word that swung it was, I kid you not, ‘suntan’ (though at the time that our holiday became touched by God he was singing with the best of them, bless him).

The resorts of Marmaris and Bodrum gave us no options for flights to Istanbul by the time we were ready to book, so we looked to Antalya, which is a big enough city in itself for there to be plenty of daily flights to Istanbul. Once internal flights were booked with Turkish Airlines for about £100 return each we were able to confirm our holiday – the five-star all-inclusive Barut Lara Beach Resort and Spa (I was fully sold on the words ‘and Spa’ – you’ll never find a bad hotel with those fabulously pretentious words after the title) for around £520 including flights, transfers etc. With a Gatwick parking bill split three ways plus a bit of cash for our driver, Burner, and his asthmatic-sounding Vauxhall Corsa, the whole shebang came to around £650.

So off we went, armed with a copy of Lonely Planet Turkey, lots of clothes you only ever wear on holiday and a couple of litres of grossly low-factor sun cream for (the now very pink) Burner.

Antalya

Transport, airport and flight were all relatively trouble-free, other than a couple of occasions where we ended up hitting the same old man whilst attempting keepie-uppie at check-in, and apart from the fact that Saz kept telling me he’d hidden a small stash of something to smoke in his Head and Shoulders (it’s the sort of thing he’d do and was making me worried. By the time he told me it was only a wind up, as we left the airport in Turkey, I’d rather been hoping it wasn’t). Unlike most people we actually had a bit of trouble at immigration, I imagine because most people going to the Champions League Final would not be landing in Antalya in the small hours on the day of the match. After a slight delay we got through without payment, caught the transfer to the hotel and were on our way to around 6 hours kip before getting a taxi back to the airport.

Or at least, that was the plan. It was just after checking in to our outstanding hotel that the full, gloriously-illustrated meaning of the phrase ‘free 24-hour booze’ struck us with the full force of inebriety.  Our barman, who seemed to work 24 hours and had the perma-grin that can only come from banging far more than his fair share of Russian lovelies, was only too happy to pour us drink after drink. And like wide-eyed teenagers on first introduction to Diamond White, we completely overdid it. This was to be a reoccurring theme of the trip, as most Euro aways tend to be. The problem, and difference, here was that, what with it being free, we tried lots of different combinations of those kind of cocktails that end up costing a day’s wage in nightclubs (though ordering a Screaming Orgasm and a Sex on the Beach and looking into a grin that said ‘I know more about those two than you ever will, sunshine’ took a bit of the sting out for us). Anyway, a formula learnt from the trip by us all was that Alcohol + Combination = Bad Idea.

Our precious night’s sleep ended up turning into a ten-minute pause in between going up and down the lift (one of those posh lifts that has the courtesy of saying ‘going down’ when it is doing so…after which, without fail, I would always mentally add the words ‘…with the blueshite’). A quick bite, or should I say pissed-up morning feast, at our all-inclusive breakfast buffet later, and a Fiat Multipla-taxi ride onwards, and we were checking in to our flight to ‘Bul.

There were loads of Reds about, and just the hint of an early-morning snowdrop of atmosphere that would lead inexorably on to the avalanche. I’m sure there were plenty of people there that I’d know from on here, but of course the problem with the Internet is that you don’t know what people look like (as true a general statement as ever there was). I’d like to know who the bloke was who was sat halfway down the aisle on the plane and was already pissed, kept on singing and kept telling everyone it was the greatest day of their lives. I’m not sure the bewildered locals sat next to him would have agreed. As far as I’m concerned though, he was right.

On to Istanbul

The two airports of Istanbul are on opposite sides of the city, and although Reds had been told to go to Sabiha Gokcen airport I was glad that our flights landed at Ataturk, from where most of the action was easier to access – a kind of Heathrow to Sabiha Gokcen’s Gatwick. We'd arrived a good 11 hours before kick-off, and seeing as we were basically still pissed, and still had plenty of 'hair of the dog' time left, we thought we'd get the free bus to the stadium, buy a few souvenirs and programmes, and then get the free bus into the city centre.
 
And so began our involuntary insight into the blundering organisation surrounding the 2005 Champions League Final. We boarded an empty bus marked 'Liverpool supporters - Ataturk airport to stadium' and proceeded to wait an hour and a half before it left, whilst our driver popped in from cigarette breaks every ten minutes to hold up a hand and say 'five minutes, five minutes' through crooked, yellowed teeth (what is it about dental hygiene and middle-aged Turkish men?).

It took about a half hour to get to the stadium, which really did look like it had been built in the middle of nowhere. It was, of course, fairly quiet that early, but we were able to buy a few souvenirs, though no programmes had arrived as yet, and I was able to dish out a few canings at the Playstation tent. We walked round to the side stand to see if any programmes were there, with no luck, although we did see a bus load of Turkey’s finest young ladies receiving final instructions on how best to serve people in the VIP tent. Apparently our tickets labelled ‘Finalist North’ did not allow us VIP treatment. Never have I wanted so much to be a prawn sandwich-eater.

By now it was time for a drink or ten, and with no alcohol being served within a million mile radius of the stadium it was time for the free bus to the city. Except for the fact there was no free bus. So we got together with a few Irish fellows (with accents so strong you really had to concentrate and think about each word…I’m sure the Irish sometimes throw in a word or two of Gaelic just for their own amusement) and commandeered a minibus with a driver who had nothing better to do for the next hour or two. A little tip goes a long way.

It took around an hour to Taksim Square, and that was with fairly light traffic. But what a sight to behold when we got there – there was red simply everywhere, with thousands of Reds merrily drinking in the baking afternoon sun. Our banner culture is so much more advanced than at any other club, and every spare bit of wall was taken up with messages witty, poignant and poetic. Local traders were doing a roaring trade selling tinnies and draught beer, the lovely ‘Efes’ being the brand of choice (I thought he played for Yeovil?). It was funny how the price kept going up after every pint – they just charged what they wanted, though I’d lay a heavy wager, following many Reds doing their best impression of Robin Hood, that they’ll have found at the end of the day that their profits were pretty much what they would have been on any given Wednesday.

The atmosphere really was excellent, with perfect weather making it exactly what the build-up to the European Cup Final should be like. We spent a good few hours there drinking, and eating lovely kebabs, before I decided I wanted to catch up with some sleep. Lying down on a rare bit of grass verge, the final thought that crossed my mind as I drifted out of consciousness was that I hadn’t told the others I was going for a kip, their mobies were out of battery and I had all the match tickets.

Efes is not solely useful for drinking. A pint of the stuff poured suddenly over the face of a man in deep sleep has the dual purpose of both comprehensively waking him up and of telling him he’s been a silly tit to go for an hour’s kip while his mates have been waiting for him to deliver his round. It was five o’clock, and time to head for the stadium, to beat the traffic and take in the pre-game festivities.

Except we couldn’t find the free bus. Worried about the time, we thought we’d just get a cab. We jumped into one with a South African who was heading for the game and set off on our last leg on the road to the final.

To the stadium

Now, most guides seem to have Iran down as having the most nightmarish traffic and driving etiquette in the world. I have been there numerous times, and I am totally used to it. But I can honestly say that the trip to the stadium was the most scared for my life that I have ever been. Our driver was, quite simply, absolutely mental. Getting there in one piece was a bigger miracle than what happened from half-time onwards. If that driver is still alive today then I need no further proof – canonise the man.

Sitting in the front seat, I tried about ten times to put the safety belt on. Every time he took his eyes of the road and hands off the wheel to unclip it. In the end I thought it best to leave it undone and pray. Anyone who’s played the computer game ‘Crazy Taxi’ will have an idea of what followed. This madman, singing Trabzonspor songs non-stop and whacking every car we overtook through the window with his free hand at 120 kph, took us on a ride that Universal Studios Hollywood could turn to Virtual Reality and have the world’s scariest theme park ride. His 100 kph diversion non-stop through a petrol garage to overtake a few cars was one thing; his unshakable certainty that all other road users would get out of his way on pain of death was another, together with his absolute conviction that there would be no oncoming traffic just round the forthcoming blind turn. No exaggeration, I could have played Russian Roulette and had more chance of surviving.

Anyway, survive we did, passing numerous buses packed with Reds like sardines in a tin. As I’m sure everyone is aware by now the access to the stadium was atrocious, so like many others when in sight we got out and walked across the barren wilderness towards the stadium. Looking back, it really was like a quasi-religious experience, thousands of Red disciples filing past to the stadium on the mount.

By the time we arrived outside the stadium some half-baked Robin Hood (one that steals from the rich but has no intention of redistributing to the poor) had done away with the match programmes. The weather was turning cold, leaving us feeling very silly in our flip flops and sandals, and queues for any food, drink or entertainment were so long as not to be worthwhile. There was, of course, a sea of Reds, but the atmosphere was not as good as you’d have expected, probably because of a lack of booze and sleep catching up with most, possibly combined with the sobering image of lives flashing before eyes on the journey to the stadium. We thought it best to get inside sooner, even though there were 3 hours to kick-off, and do without the rather uninspiring concert outside.

In we went (no name-checks for anyone; don’t be fooled be the spiel in the future) and into the worst two hours of the day. The lovely afternoon sunshine was turning into a genuinely cold night, with the wind blowing right across us in the open bowl. I was forced into wearing all the souvenirs I’d bought that day, and ended up looking like a UEFA manikin (with an added bonus: the fashion faux-pas of socks as well as sandals).

Yet more disorganisation was to be found on the concourse – it took one hour to get a cup of water and a burger each. This was two hours before kick-off. The staff really were clueless. Although it was nice of them to leave crisps on the counter ready for all and sundry to help themselves to.

Until the players came out to have a look around, life was all about trying to get ourselves warm and sobered up. Mr. Efe had put a bit of a dampener on our pre-match anticipation. Whereas a pint of his finest over my head had roused me from my slumbers a few hours earlier, it was the tannoy announcer’s declaration that Kewell would start and not Hamann that did the trick this time.

The incredibly noisy loudspeakers did their best to drown out any effort the fans made to get songs going, right up until just before kick-off.  To be fair, the layout of the stadium hardly helped either. The Ataturk is basically a large hole in the ground, with seats built in to the side of the hole, plus a single-tier stand on top on one side and a two-tier stand on the other side. We had loads of support, but it was thinly-spread and with awful acoustics. Normally chants start in a certain block of supporters and spread out, but such was the stadium that, apart from at certain obvious points such as the singing of YNWA, different parts of the ground would be singing different songs, and the resulting effect was quite underwhelming. Everyone was doing their best and singing well, but it wasn’t quite unified like it should be.

The pre-match entertainment was bizarre to say the least. I still have no idea what the purpose was of allowing a legion of red-clad men, numerous enough to invade a medium-sized third world nation, onto the pitch to run around in straight lines. The fact that they then proceeded to take up about 2,000 seats that people back home would have killed for grated even more.

The Milan fans, though outnumbered and out sung, were incredibly organised. I for one was extremely impressed with the Ultra-led co-ordination of colour in their ranks where they stood, the raising and lowering of giant banners and the waving of those white things, whatever they were. It was terrific, the influence of Ultra culture – a community of fans acting as one – at its best.

The match

Following a decent enough chorus of YNWA, we had kick off. Time to settle in to the much-promised war of attrition. Traore foul, no danger, their threat is more from open play. Up pops Maldini, free as the omnipresent stadium breeze, to lash the ball home.

I doubt there is a current player in the world that symbolises a club like the legendary Paolo Maldini does Milan.  The man has won and achieved so much across a 20-year period and is matched only by Franco Baresi in Milanese affections. You could make a strong case for this one-club man being the greatest defender ever to play football. Before the match, I thought we’d win. But following the opener, I thought ‘big ears’ was destined for Italy. People since the final have talked so much about fate. A Maldini goal winning the cup for Milan would have a greater resonance about it to the wider football world than anything Gerrard, Carragher or Cisse could supply.

Following the first few minutes we seemed to come into the game a bit more, though Traore was having a 24-carat ‘mare at the back. Kewell soon went of injured. Whilst the decision to play him was wrong in hindsight I am quite surprised at how much the man has been castigated since. Yes, he has been a disappointment overall since signing, but to suggest he would feign injury and bottle a European Cup Final is utter nonsense. The fact that he’s had an operation since seems to have passed most people by.

Soon there followed the moment I thought had decided the match. What looked like a handball in the area by the Milan defence was missed, or at least not given, by the referee, Milan broke away and scored. Crespo. Revenge for his paymasters at Chelsea and all that.

The third, another by Crespo, came minutes later. That really was it then. The half-time whistle blew, and we slumped back into our seats, staring into space, brutally aware of the desertion of the warmth in the air, Lady Luck on the pitch and Efes from our bodies.

I began to think of the efforts that it took to get there, by both the players on the pitch and the fans in the stands. I began to wish that at least if the opener had come a bit later we’d have enjoyed a bit more of the game. I even began to think that perhaps it would have been better if Gudjohnsen’s shot had actually gone in. To make the final is an achievement and a pleasure in itself, but to then get there and be utterly humiliated by a supreme opposition negates that pleasure entirely.

Somebody near me said ‘remember Olympiakos’, but how could you compare a home game against the Greeks with Milan in the European Cup Final? In any case, when you need three goals and you are playing well you might believe, but when you need three goals and you are being comprehensively outplayed it’s another matter.

Someone started the chant ‘we’re gonna win four-three’. I do not believe for one moment that anyone singing it really thought that would happen. I hated that song, it made me angry. That’s the sort of thing that little clubs sing in cup competitions at Anfield, a song that makes us smile and give them a patronising clap because, even though they don’t believe it’ll happen, it symbolises the eternal struggle and hope of the football fan that unites us all. But bollocks to that, I thought. We’re Liverpool Football Club. We’re above playing the chirpy-little-club role.

Then someone started a song that was altogether more appropriate, one I was only too happy to join in with. The great thing about YNWA is that it is so appropriate in wildly-varying circumstances. It can be a tragic lament, a cry to arms, a song of unity or a glorious victory call. For the fans that sang it that evening, it may have held any one or combination of those meanings. Whatever we sang it for, it was a great moment that will always be one of the highlights of Istanbul, and I knew it was something I could always carry with me no matter what the result.

As the players came out for the second half, I looked to my right. A giant of a man that had been spilling forth some of the vilest racist abuse I have ever heard at a football match had not returned to his seat. He had walked off telling everyone who didn’t care that he was leaving at half-time. He never did return. Poetic Justice had struck a blow, and not for the last time that night.

The comeback

The second half initially started as the first had ended. Dudek saved well from a fiercely-struck Shevchenko free kick. But Hamann, who was now on playing ahead of a re-jigged back three, added much-needed composure. I’ve always thought Hamann is underrated by our own fans, and his impact was to be tremendous, but Rafa earned his corn more than anybody that night by going to a flat back three, a formation that we hadn’t actually played in that way before. It was a move Saz actually suggested at half-time when he picked up on the lack of overlaps wide on the Milan attacks. Later that night his self-satisfied grin at his tactical astuteness was more than a match for anything our barman back in Antalya could produce.

Then Gerrard scored. I can only recall the cross and the header, but what a goal it was. Headers, no matter how good, rarely look as spectacular as 30-yard screamers, but anyone who has played football will appreciate the skill involved in getting the power and precision that Stevie G conjured. Loads of people around me went mental, but not me. I still didn’t believe that it could be any more than a lessening of the humiliation.

And then Smicer scored. From our angle it seemed a bit unreal that it went in. But 3-2, and this time I went mad with the rest of them. Game on, just one more now, over 30 minutes to get it and Milan are on the ropes.

Now the songs started, and belief was flowing back into Red hearts. Another attack and then…penalty! Is it? Yes he’s given it! Shit who takes it? Alonso! Go on son! Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit…NO!...YES! YEEEEES! Pande-fucking-monium.

It was just unreal, the sorts of thing that, cliché aside, really does only happen in dreams. The intensity of blood feeding my brain, my lack of sleep and the battering I’d given my own body with alcohol combined to give the kind of giddy feeling you get when you really aren’t quite sure if you’re awake or asleep.

Riise had another shot well saved, but alas the fourth didn’t come and the tide began to turn. Our players began to tire and Milan closed the game as the stronger side. They had recently lost good leads in Serie A to hand the title to Juventus, and no doubt that played a part mentally once Gerrard scored, but they showed their class by looking increasingly dangerous as the 120 minutes came to a close.

As we were hanging on for penalties up popped Shevchenko to score the winner. They are the words I should be writing now. Quite why I’m not is something I still don’t understand. I still haven’t seen any of the action on TV so the only thing I can say is that it was a cast-iron stare-at-your-neighbour-and-say-‘what-the-fuck?’ moment. The players have since said that’s when they knew it was ours. I’m sure the fact that ball stayed out gave belief to our penalty takers and shattered the Milan boys in equal measure. That was the save that won the European Cup.

I remember watching the Milan-Juve final a couple of years ago. Just before it went to penalties they showed some of the fan’s faces. I wondered how they could cope with such an intense moment. My own way of coping was to convince myself we’d loose, which somehow worked and made me a lot calmer than I should have been for the shootout.

If there was a straight shootout and no game, I’d have backed Milan to win. But the nature of what happened previously surely played a part. Dudek, whose confidence often seems fragile, was full of himself. Two nil up was a perfect start.

The fact that Milan put away the next two and Riise’s decent effort was well saved meant that Smicer’s effort was absolutely critical. Had he missed, the psychological aspect would have come full circle and it would have been us on the verge of throwing it away. In that parallel universe, level pegging with Shevchenko and Gerrard the remaining takers, I wouldn’t have fancied us.

But the last time Vladi struck a ball for Liverpool Football Club it hit the net. He’s not had the best of times at Anfield but his last match ensures he’ll be very fondly remembered. Good luck at Bordeaux lad; have a glass of red on me.

On with the penalties. Shevchenko, who Milan fans will tell you never misses, missed. There then followed that second or two that it always seems to take for your brain to register something monumental. Then my aforementioned brain exploded.

Post-match

I can’t remember much of what I did with myself those few minutes, though Saz told me he’d never seen me loose it like that in all the years he’s known me, thumping my own head like a berserk, screaming, trembling, crying. The intensity of the feeling itself was something astonishing. 35,000 others were feeling the same inside, but manifesting it in different ways, some just holding their heads shocked, some hugging strangers, some screaming and waving, some doing all three. Extreme emotion makes us do strange things.

By the time Stevie lifted the Cup to make Liverpool European Champions most people had come down to a level of just plain ordinary euphoria. That was when I could begin to take it in and observe what was going on. One hundred stewards holding hands and all jigging along to the left or right depending on where the European Cup was going was a funny sight. Mind you, I’d already seen enough strange things that night. My brain was telling me ‘fuck off pal, I just don’t need that much blood’, but I couldn’t help it. I was in heaven.

I saw a few familiar faces coming out of the stadium and we thought we’d follow the crowd to Taksim Square. We boarded a bus and did our best tin-of-sardines impression while the bus progressed about 200 metres in 2 hours. Familiar now with the methods of the taxi drivers of Istanbul, and with sleep telling us it was urgently required round about now, we decided to cross the carriageway, hail a taxi and tell it to drive up the wrong way on the hard shoulder. This was something he did without a fuss, but by the time we were back in the city we were all so knackered that we just wanted to find somewhere to sleep. Strange really, you’d think we’d want to carry on celebrating into the night, but rather like in Dortmund 2001 the overwhelming feeling after a match like that was just utter exhaustion.

We ended up in Sultanhamet, in the old city, and found a dorm with beds available. We had just a quick pint with Roger and the others and then went up to the room to sleep. For the first time, I was not dreaming dreams, but dreaming memories.

Around Istanbul

We had planned our trip so that we’d leave Istanbul late on Thursday, so we’d have a bit of time to look around the city. And what a city it is. All the marketing guff about East meets West, historic charm and modern city is true. Its not quite oriental enough to be bumping into robed, scimitar-carrying locals all the time, nor is there a bearded snake-charmer on the corner of every crooked alleyway, but there’s enough about the place to really enjoy yourself, even without the warm post-coital glow inside of Liverpool winning the European Cup. The mosques, churches, bazaars and waterways are wonderful, and the people, though always fully aware of the opportunity to make a dollar or two, are warm and friendly. I for one felt that although the stadium and organisation surrounding the event were very poor, the actual host city couldn’t be bettered. People parochially suggesting that Istanbul should never have got the final because it was too far away should maybe consider how South-Eastern Europeans might feel about a final in Liverpool or Manchester.

Funny incidents on the day were too numerous to mention, though worthy of note was Saz pretending to be a Turkish trader in the Grand Bazaar and successfully selling a bag he’d just bought for twice the price to an American tourist, and a shoeshine man who made out for all the world that the one minute shoeshine he’d just given us would be free and then proceeded to ask for the equivalent of forty quid. He looked unspeakably insulted when we gave him four. Also Burner’s assessment that ‘intelligence is all in the mind’ should give you all the information you need to cast judgement on the peculiar workings of his brain. I’m sure it’s just as big as anyone else’s, but there are surely certain efficiency issues there.

Back to Antalya

The trip back to Antalya was uneventful, and the holiday we had there was just brilliant, save for one particularly nasty pissed-up row at 4am where a hi-fi loudspeaker ended up being lobbed off the balcony, a bed was broken and the concierge called to see if everything was alright sir.

The hotel couldn’t be bettered. Multiple bars, theatres, discos, three freshwater pools, right on the beach, and a Spa with a Turkish Bath, a Thessalo, Jacuzzi and steam rooms and all the best food and drink you can consume. Plus I can move in posh circles now, because I know what a Thessalo is. Quite what the fellow guests – mostly the nouveau-riche children of the Russian mafia but with a decent sprinkling of well-heeled European blue-bloods - made of three lads from England farting and belching their way through a gorgeous five-star hotel is anyone’s guess. And the women…my God, the women! Let’s just say there are some stories you just can’t tell.

Just lying in the sun, in the lap of luxury, thinking about Istanbul was almost as great as the night itself. I remember buying Turkish newspapers the day after, not knowing what any of the words meant but revelling in the pictures. One had Gerrard lifting the cup on the entire front cover under the one-word headline ‘Champions’. Just seeing that made me feel ten feet tall.

Antalya itself is a lovely place. We only went once, since we had everything we needed at our hotel, but the water park was fun, and the shops and area around the old harbour was beautiful for an early evening stroll (apologies if that sounds like something out of the ‘Golden Years’ catalogue). Next time I’ll have to take one of the many boat rides being offered as day trips from the harbour.

So that’s my tale of Turkey, the best holiday I am ever likely to take. Now we know that despite the FA playing ‘chicken’ with UEFA whilst having Liverpool Football Club tied firmly to the front bumper, we will defend the trophy from the off. UEFA’s only blunder was on the clarity of the rules; they have at least been well-intentioned since. It is our own FA who should hang their heads in shame for jeopardising our right in the first place. But it’s done now, and on to next season.

I’m getting married in the summer. This was my last game before that momentous event in my life. For ten years now, not as long as many I know, but long enough in the context of my life, I have followed the Reds home and away whenever I could. Who knows if I’ll be able to do that in the future? When commitments come along and you are responsible for others, some things have to give.

I hope that doesn’t happen for a while, but for me personally, this is the perfect ending to the period of my life where football was unquestionably my be-all-and-end-all. I, and I’m sure many of you, feel incredibly lucky to have been able to experience the ecstasy of Liverpool Football Club becoming the Champions of Europe.

© Farman 2005

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