Istanbul Reflections: Where's there's a will ...

Posted by Rushian on June 27, 2005, 11:47:30 AM

WHERE THERE’S A WILL…

As I glance across wearily to my left, first light confirms its initial crushing reality. It seems my epic lovemaking session with Jamie Lee Curtis has been merely another night long tussle with the missus for control of our 13.5 tog quilt. Dejectedly I pull the spoils of the night’s only real encounter over my head to escape reality and the morning chill. 

Such respite turns out to be less than fleeting, for the next bolt of cold hard realisation arrives but milliseconds later. Predictably, it is a thousand times worse than even Jamie Lee’s ungracious disappearing act.

Only those who despise their job with a vengeance can ever truly comprehend the horror of horrors that constitutes a Monday morning. Day one of the week’s looming drudgery. Five entire life sentences before the next parole date kicks in. Enough to turn even the sturdiest stomach to mush. Does life get any worse?

I contemplate this prospective hell with a sigh heavy enough to test the mettle of our brand new Slumberland posture spring mattress, rousing the bed’s other occupant as I do so. This prompts another quick if somewhat overly optimistic peek on my part to make doubly sure I wasn’t mistaken about Jamie Lee. After all, not even the most outlandish possibility should ever be ruled out entirely. Even utterly impossible ones…

…bizarrely at this point I find myself grinning. Inanely. The grin stretches from one ear to the other. And far beyond.  As a strange sense of bliss seeps through me, it appears the disintegration of one impossible dream has triggered another infinitely more tantalising one. This time, wondrously, it is far more than just a dream. Rather a shimmering red kaleidoscope that engulfs my entire being. At its heart is an exultant Steven Gerrard brandishing our fifth ginormous jug eared cup – ours to keep for all time. This is no longer a place for my Monday morning blues. Nor any Blues for that matter.

Like our team I have come back from the nearly dead. Within seconds Jamie Lee Curtis is but a trivial discarded memory. A week’s wretched toil is now scarcely worthy of a further passing thought. Why I’m even stirred to give the missus an equal share of the quilt. Needless to say, her recriminations commence in spite of my noble offer.

My smile reaffirms itself. Somehow, those sorts of things just don’t seem to matter any more.

*

Back in the land of the living most of us, it would seem, are still slowly coming to terms with that momentous vision of Steven Gerrard with the European Cup; still grappling with its resonances and exactly what it was we were all party to. All we can be reasonably sure of is the unfeasible drama and quite ridiculous outcome of that night have lit within each of us a glowing ember that will likely never be extinguished. It means the collective Liverpudlian psyche will surely never be the same again; and certainly not the lens through which we are viewed or view ourselves.

Four weeks on and the game itself continues to defy rationale. Analysis of what took place is virtually hopeless. Try categorizing it and you are almost inevitably doomed to failure as its sheer outrageousness invites more questions than answers. Did it really happen? If so, how? Assuming it did, where does it slot into the overall LFC pantheon? Or the entire football pantheon for that matter? Then, of course, there are the weightier issues to consider. For starters, the straight lines and crop circles on Djibril Cissy’s head. Message from the Gods? Or barber with attitude?

Of course, daft questions succeed only in further clouding our efforts to comprehend things. Likewise merely reiterating the unprecedented nature of what took place and the fact that few, if any, of us have ever witnessed an event like it can tend, if anything, to dilute the magnitude of what it was we did see.

Adding to the overall sense of bewilderment is the string of remarkable achievements leading up to Istanbul. If those preceding rounds were not quite as Herculean as the final itself then, for the most part, they still defied the odds and all reasonable belief. Throughout those earlier stages we were, after all, a team struggling with its bread and butter form, riddled with doubt, injury and ongoing rumours of our captain’s impending defection. It would, then, seem appropriate to reflect briefly on these stepping stones before we proceed in grappling with the ultimate implausibility of the 25th of May.

Against Olympiakos in the concluding group stage game we entered the final 45 minutes requiring three goals. A tall order for a gifted team let alone a seemingly ordinary one denuded of strikers and buoyancy as we were. In spite of this, somehow, the goals arrived in sensational steamrolling fashion. Particularly the last. Steven Gerrard’s winner, its cliff-hanger timing and the move leading up to it, seems more unfeasible yet more glorious each time it is viewed and relished; the elation greeting it as immense as I can recall.

The next hurdle was a two legged knockout against Bayer Leverkusen. On the face of the twin 3-1 scorelines a straightforward enough success. In actuality it was achieved against a backdrop of a mounting injury crisis and a general expert consensus that our first leg concession of a goal at Anfield would be enough for Bayer to comfortably eliminate us in Germany. As it transpired in the return leg we annihilated our German hosts in front of their own passionate fans with our finest pure footballing display of the entire competition.

The quarter and semi final games against Juventus and Chelsea were of a piece. Even now they have been rightly accorded legendary status amongst Reds everywhere. Each encounter saw us written off beforehand by the experts yet somehow managing to produce epic performances in all four encounters. To select one of these performances above the others would be churlish. Suffice to say whether the situation demanded helter skelter attacking or lionhearted defensive valour, the team more than met its requirements and deservedly overcame ostensibly superior opponents winning two and drawing two of the four games. Goliath slain by David scarcely begins to relay how each of these magnificent champions of their respective leagues were despatched by struggling Premiership also-rans, yet the analogy will do for the moment.

Clearly, what these games share with the final itself is that element of triumph over adversity and superior odds. Yet whether this actually expands our understanding and perspective of Istanbul and how it came about is not so clear. What many point to, with some justification, is the overriding sense of destiny evoked by the sheer outlandishness of the second half comeback against Olympiakos. Certainly, from that moment onwards the talk of destiny was backed by a rash of predictions and coincidences citing our name as being on the cup. It culminated in a crescendo of portents after the Chelsea victory. Personally, I tend to shy away from the destiny lobby. As I see it, each new tie presented its own fresh challenges and hurdles. Each had to be met and overcome by the team performing at the very limits of its capabilities and, dare I say, occasionally beyond them.

What cannot be denied, even by those of us who dismiss the superstition angle, is that a head of steam within both players and fans was building from around the time of the Olympiakos second leg. Fuelled by the seemingly unshakeable belief of the manager, who saw only ‘possibilities’ never ‘impossibilities’, it gave the impression of a team with a destiny. Certainly it was becoming a team on a mission and on several occasions its outstanding representative from Marsh Lane in Bootle, a certain Mister Carragher, was not averse to letting folk know that Liverpool Football Club whilst respecting everyone did not fear anyone. It was a belief and momentum that was never to falter. 

As each successive bridge was crossed, the self-realisation and awareness of the intrinsic magnitude of the club seemed to grow amongst all connected with it. Fans who in recent years had come to regard the club’s rightful place on the top table of greatness as somewhat more symbolic than authentic began once more unfurling their banners and slogans of peerless tradition with a swagger. It spelt out something more than mere symbolism and history. League form may well have been continuing on its wildly erratic journey but nothing was going to spoil the European adventure while it lasted. It was as if Europe’s sleeping football giant had suddenly unscrambled the code to some secret scrolls confirming exactly who it was. Exactly what it stood for. A vibrancy was gathering pace. Liverpool Football Club was reaffirming itself to itself. The next stage would see it reaffirming itself to everyone else. Most pertinently, the rest of Europe.

Of course, in the afterglow of the final such esteemed perception of Liverpool Football Club became as conspicuous as it could ever be. Recordings of radio phone-ins immediately following the game’s climax reveal unprecedented acclaim from non-Reds clamouring to be part of the Liverpool circus. There were even diehard Evertonians and United fans who found the drama they had witnessed unleashing within themselves some primeval emotion. It had swamped their usual anti-Liverpool partisanship, compelling them to cheer involuntarily for their fiercest rivals. Such displays of empathy stand as a testament to the uniqueness of what had taken place. Sometimes we simply cannot control our innermost emotions when something more powerful is at large. On the night of May 25th something of unprecedented power was most certainly at large.

And the impact was felt far beyond these shores. Two minor incidents from a distance will help us locate this aspect of the night in its broader context. First we hear of a Liverpudlian couple holidaying in Mauritius who find on the night after the final they are not allowed to pay for their meal once the excited restaurateur is told of their origins. Slightly closer to home in Crete as the game’s drama unfolds my daughter and her partner discover hitherto untapped popularity. Suddenly, as Steven Gerrard beams at the world from the television screen, they find their drinks are on the house.

Now it may be that such small acts of generosity happen all the time in Mauritius and Crete. On the other hand it is more likely that a sporting event of unparalleled theatre simply happened to strike a chord with ordinary folk in remote and unconnected corners of the world. Whatever the case, what was bestowed on those Liverpudlians nearest to hand was a rare benevolence. So rare indeed that the last recorded manifestation of such bonhomie probably coincided with the height of Beatlemania in the USA in the sixties when to be anything remotely Scouse was tantamount to a free ride in whichever vehicle you chose. Why it is said even John Peel’s Wirral twang managed to secure him a Cadillac to the stars.

Yet if those from farther afield were intoxicated enough to grant free rides then what of those of us closer to the pulse of the proceedings? Well, as many will no doubt testify, the rides on offer to Liverpudlians in Turkey were by no means free. Indeed, the sacrifices of many of the 45,000 making the pilgrimage are still being counted. Of course, the rewards involved modes of transport out of the reach of even the most well-heeled and seasoned travellers frequenting such exotic locations.

Quite simply, magic carpet rides and a genie granting a wish list encompassing three unfeasible second half goals and a miraculous double save by a soul mate of the recently deceased Pontiff are not the usual privy of mere mortals. Which I guess sort of begs the question – are Scousers mere mortal? Or is that just their sins? But as mentioned earlier daft questions will get us nowhere, so let us stick instead to more of those facts we can account for.

What we do know is that since Istanbul the very charting of enchantment has found itself being re-plotted. Liverpool’s fight-back achievement has already become an international sporting yardstick. “Doing a Liverpool” has now gatecrashed the commentator’s phrasebook from Wimbledon to Wellington. Traditional superlatives, yanked at dead of night from their cosy vaults, have had to be vigorously re-polished. The plaudits have been unstinting and universal. Even traditional Scouse bashers have found themselves intoxicated by it all. Why it is rumoured that the Daily Mail on the day after the final contained not a solitary derogatory comment about the city of the new European Champions!

Needless to say, Liverpudlians know their genuine enthusiasts from their opportunist shysters. As a breed they possess a rare insight into all this high octane palaver, having scaled football’s peaks more often than most. They have also been sent plummeting to deeper troughs than most. Not just in football’s arenas. The average Scouser’s eighties’ experience encompassed enough degrees of despair, shame, alienation and grief to have sunk the polar ice cap that launched the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. Liverpudlians did not withstand the unremitting assaults of that decimating decade without invoking the collective defiance and will for which they have always been renowned.

Applying this insight to our quest to understand our triumph, it may be that those natural Liverpudlian characteristics are in fact more pertinent than might otherwise be perceived. Could it be that a reconstituted brand of that self-same collective Scouse spirit actually holds the key to what took place in Istanbul and on the road to it? Certainly as the world looked on, a microcosm of it was evident as the second half of the final loomed.

In the days leading up to that particular juncture Istanbul had witnessed the fun side of that spirit. The flags, the banners, the singing, the bevvying, the jocularity constituting the overt part of the whole Liverpool identity concept we touched upon earlier. It is a heritage stemming back to the early days of the singalong Spion Kop and Shankly; to the Ben Hendreys, the Lloyd brothers, the Peter Dalys who started the whole ball rolling. It seams right through the club’s and the fans’ entire forty year European experience creating a pedigree that is widely held to be unique and likely is.

Now at the hour of real need the fun side was a million miles away and it was time for the real deal. With the team three goals down and facing humiliation, the driving culture behind all that diverse and inventive chanting and all those cryptic banner pronouncements was required to reveal its very raison d’etre.

It did not disappoint.

As the crestfallen Liverpool team sat in their half time dressing room with their dreams in tatters, a stirring of defiance and emotion from deep within the ranks of the team’s vast Praetorian bodyguard reminded their manager and those privileged players that capitulation was not on the agenda. You’ll Never Walk Alone simply does not recognise it as an option. The power of the Liverpool anthem had been evident in those earlier ties against Olympiakos, Juventus and Chelsea. Different circumstances, differing needs all three, but on each occasion a rallying call from the fans delivered at crucial times had been answered and reciprocated by the team. Now in Istanbul that same rallying call was sending out a signal for one final collective mustering of willpower to precipitate the miracle we all craved yet daren’t imagine.

As hindsight now informs us, such a miracle did indeed happen. Odds, apparently insurmountable, were tossed aside by an adrenalin-infused passion play borne on an irresistible tide of emotion, book-ended initially by those defiant upfield sorties of Jamie Carragher and ultimately the hokey-cokey on and off line antics of Jerzy Dudek in the penalty shoot-out. It was all to climax in an explosion of rarely witnessed joy bounding from every Liverpudlian soul that bore witness to it.

And once it was all over each of us was left to marvel and wonder at what it was that had transpired before our very eyes. As each endless hug and manic punch of the air interspersed with relentless hummed tributes to Johnny Cash and Mexican borne homages to our very own Rafa, the look on every face told its own story of the proceedings. Sheer delight riding tandem with utter disbelief.

Faith, hope and raw human will are abstract concepts. Not being tangible, their power, strictly speaking, is not measurable. Within the legendary hymn of Liverpool Football Club these concepts do appear, however, to have evolved a medium capable, when the circumstances demand it, of harnessing a rare collective power that passes from crowd to manager and player. It is the focal point where the entire history and tradition of the club come together to weld with the present. The communion so forged is occasionally wielded to astonishing effect, realising objectives apparently dead and buried. Olympiakos, Juventus and Chelsea had previously suffered at its hands. Now a magnificent AC Milan team in rampant first half form and seemingly home and dry felt the full impact of the Liverpudlian communion and in the end it proved too powerful even for them to handle. 

If we are never able to fully comprehend the events of that Istanbul night or for that matter the chain of results that led to it, we can at least be sure of the spark that ignited them. Faith may never actually move mountains but, given the right medium and the right protaganists to summon its power, it can certainly help lift European Cups. Whether it can ever engineer a liaison with Jamie Lee Curtis this side of cloud cuckoo land is, of course, another matter altogether. But if it doesn’t I won’t really mind. Even on the bluest of Monday mornings I shall simply recall the ultimate measure of this incredible football club and its indefatigable fans. And I shall smile. Inanely.

© Alan Edge 2005

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