Istanbul Reflections: From Midnight Express to Liverpool's Success part 1

Posted by Rushian on July 8, 2005, 03:07:21 PM

Istanbul 2005 - How The land Of Midnight Express Became The City Of Liverpoolís Success

Late.  We're going to be late.  My watch shows itís already gone past 6 pm.  Weíre going to miss the bus.  And weíre still stuck in the Sultanahamet area.  Rush hour (ha!) traffic is at snailís pace and we still havenít even crossed the Golden Horn. 

The taxi driver offers me a cigarette.  I refuse.  I donít smoke. 

His fingers drum incessantly into the dashboard.  He's starting to get on my nerves.  I take a couple of deep breaths.  Not much the driver can do as the traffic is gridlocked.  He turns and gestures.  He doesn't speak English.  I speak even less Turkish.  He seemed to be gesturing to get out.  How is that going to help?  Then I understand.  Heís telling us to walk down the road and get another taxi.  It would be quicker.  Thanks, weíll do that. 

We find another cab further on.  Taksim Square, mate.  He nods.  'Leeeverpoool' he cries.  Yes.  Just get us there in time, mate.  Heís stuck in the traffic as well.  And he has less patience.  We shoot up a side street and follow three other cars all doing the same thing.  Taking a roundabout route to move a few hundred yards.  But at least weíre moving.  6.15 pm now. 

Iím already regretting my earlier decision to go back to the hotel and change into my jeans.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  Last night had been quite cool so I thought knowing my luck it would be freezing tonight after the game.  Especially if we were stuck for ages trying to get back into town. 

There had been plenty of scare stories during the day about how difficult it is to get to the stadium.  And even worse to get back. 

Now I can see the water.  The Golden Horn.  There's the bridge.  I know where we are now. 

Traffic is moving more freely.  Should be there in 10 minutes or so. 

Itís 6.20 pm now. 

They said there would be buses all day.  Donít recall them saying what time they stopped.  We should be okay.  Worse comes to the worst, weíll jump into a taxi and go straight to the stadium.  That makes me think that maybe we should do that anyway.  Forget the buses.  But I tell myself to relax.  Thereíll be plenty of buses.  And theyíre free. I donít particularly want to spend some ridiculous amount just to get to the ground. 

Weíre motoring now.  Itís like Wacky Races.  Dick Dastardly up front and weíre weaving in and out of several lanes of traffic.  I swear Iíve just seen the Gruesome Twosome in the Creepy Coupe go past.  I give up trying to locate the seat belt and grip the door handle tightly.  But I can see the square at the top of the hill. 

Anywhere here, mate.  I bung him a few million lira.  He seems happy.  I just want out of the car and to find a bus quickly. 

Itís just after 6.30 pm.  Still two and quarter hours to kick off.  Does seem stupid to be worried about missing the start when itís hours away.  But weíre not there yet.  And there arenít many people left in the square.  Thousands here this afternoon.  Now just a few stragglers. 

And those without a ticket. 

I see some red shirts moving ahead.  They look as if they know where they're going.  Letís follow.  They stop to ask a policeman.  He points down the hill.  We overtake them.  I stop and ask another local.  Round the corner he points.  I look back.  There are about 20 people following us now.  I hope weíre going in the right direction. 

A large Scandinavian asks me where the Hyatt hotel is.  Iíve no idea.  He says there are buses there.  We cross the road and I notice we are passing the Hyatt.  Must be around here.  Then I see dozens of police.  Must be in the right area now.  Ah ha.  Buses.  And thereís a queue.  Of about 4 people.  We must be nearly the last ones to head to the game.  6.35 pm. 

A large green buses chugs up the hill towards us.  Lets hope itís being driven by Peter Perfect.  The doors open and we dive on board.  I grab a window seat.  Might as well see the sites of Istanbul as we go along.  A few more fans appear.  The bus starts to fill up quickly.  One lad is reassuring everyone that weíve plenty of time, as weíve now missed the rush hour traffic and itíll be plain sailing.  Hope heís right.  Sounds good in theory.

The bus starts off.  Itís 6.40 pm.  At least weíre moving in the right direction.  Hate having to sit and wait.  Traffic isnít too bad.  Weíre quickly out onto a highway and shifting along nicely. 

Loads of Turks at the roadside waving to us.  Theyíre mouthing ĎLiverpoolí.  Nice people.  All seem very friendly.  Could think of a lot of places where theyíd be chucking stuff at you. 

Someone mentions that Kewell is starting tonight.  And Baros.  Half thought he might play Cisse to try and surprise Milan (AC that is, not Baros).  But Rafa has surprised us all by giving Harry his chance.  Hope Harry is on one of his better nights.  We all know when heís in the mood he can be electric.  ButÖÖÖÖ.  Well, letís not go there.  And Hamann on the bench.  Thatís a bigger surprise.  I like Didi.  You know what you get from him.  Nothing complicated, nothing flash.  Wins the ball, keeps it.  The stereotypical German.  Wonder why heís not on. 

We approach the outskirts of the city.  At least it seems that way.  Twenty minutes later and we still seem to be approaching the outskirts.  How big is this f**king place?  Still loads of Turks waving to us, giving us the thumbs up sign.  Quite a few have Liverpool scarves. 

Weíre on a dual carriageway and all I can see are blocks of apartments and industrial estates everywhere.  I know they said the stadium was well outside the city, but this is getting ridiculous. 

Now I start to see some hills and greenery.  Or at least what would be greenery if it rained.  The landscape is very rocky.  But we appear to have left the apartment blocks behind. 

Every other van and truck that goes past sounds its horn in support.  Iím fairly sure Iíve just seen the Anthill Mob go past.  One lad stands up in his car and leans through the sunroof waving a red flag.  Does Milan have any support here at all?

We fly round a bend at about 50 mph and find the police standing in the middle of the road directing us down a slip road.  Hey, nice place to stand guys.  Hope your insurance is up to date. 

We must be near it now.  It's nearly 8 pm.  Thereís nothing at all round here. 

Ten minutes later Iím still peering over the hills trying to spot the stadium. Where the hell is it?  Itís just less than 2 hours to kick off.  Why didnít we leave at 4 pm like every else did? 

ĎThere it is,í someone shouts.  We all lean over to the right of the bus for a view.  Aye, thatís it all right.  At least now, we know where we are. 

And the traffic has stopped again.  Totally stopped.  A line of tail lights snakes down the narrow road in front of us drifting into the twilight towards the stadium. 

Itís a Turkish Glastonbury.  Without the rain.  Or the music. 

Letís go.  My Dad looks at me.  Letís go, I repeat.  Nothings moving.  It looks less than a mile and a half.  Itíll be quicker.  We jump off and started walking following the line of marooned tail-lights.  I just want to get on the move again.  None of the cars in front are going anywhere.  Some are being pulled over to the side of the road and more are being abandoned. 

The rest of the bus follows.  It's like the Pied Piper.  Everyone must have had the same thought.  We're all on the march now. 

But itís longer than we think.  Down a steep road, round a corner and up another hill before it drops down into another valley.  We see a path in front that looks like a short cut.  As the crow flies itís heading towards the ground.  But a few hundred metres later and weíre facing two cops.  Itís a dead end.  They point down an embankment.  At least weíve that option.  We slither and slide to the bottom.  Weíre back on the road.  And weíve managed to cut out a few 100 metres.  Result!

Round another bend and a long climb.  Reminds me of the Tour de France.  I expect to hear cowbells.  I'm crawling up the hill.  I look around.  My father is lagging behind.  I hadn't realised as I had been concentrating so much on looking ahead.  Don't think he had been expecting this hike.  Hell, I hadn't been expecting this hike.  I pretend to wait for him, but itís more of an excuse for me to take a breather. 

I wait for him and then start upwards again.  Scooters are weaving in and out of the cars and buses.  Weíre walking in single file.  Have to walk off the side of the road on the rough gravel or risk being run over by them.  One stops in front and accepts a beer from a Liverpool fan. 

And now I see it.  The stadium in the middle of nowhere.  And it really is in the middle of nowhere.  I've seen a few out of town stadiums before, but if this was any more out of town, it would be in Greece. 

Actually as modern stadiums go, it doesn't look bad from the outside.  Except there isn't any infrastructure around it.  Nothing at all, except one road choked full of traffic.  A guy with a North American accent nearby comments about UEFA organising piss-ups in breweries.  Heís not far off the mark there. 

I'm scanning the area for signs.  Nothing.  I know I'm in the East Stand and it's the 2 tier one.  I can see it clearly illuminated by the floodlights.  Pity the poor sods that have no idea where their seats are. 

Look around now for specific signs saying where to enter the ground.  Most stadiums have access tightly controlled these days.  Not like years ago when you could walk in one side and stand anywhere.  Then walk around to the far end at half-time. 

Still no bloody signs.  I make for the nearest entrance.  They seem to have a load of temporary fencing around the perimeter.  Not sure why.  The surface is all loose stones.  If anyone wants a confrontation, they'd have plenty of ammunition around here.  Why does UEFA choose these sorts of places?  Are they really that naÔve?  Or just plain stupid?  Or a combination of both?  Why am I asking these questions when I already know the answers. 

Head for the nearest entrance gate.  Get my ticket out and show it to the steward.  Thereís a bar code on the back for scanning at the turnstile.  But he takes if from me, tears the end off, hands it back and waves me through.  The turnstile gates are open.  So much for high technology.  Laugh to myself at the thought of the lads that were concerned that UEFA would be checking that people had the correct tickets. 

I arrange to meet my father after the game beside the flagpoles at the Playstation tent.  He's in the section behind the goal. 

At least the blocks are well marked.  703.  That's me.  Up the steps to the top, look down and surprised by how many people are already in the stadium.  Looks about 80% full already.  It's just gone 50 minutes to kick off. 

At least the seats and rows are well marked.  Excellent.  Third row from the front of the second tier.  The corner flag is down below.  Not a bad view at all.  I'd splashed out for a £78 ticket and itís a decent spec. 

I look around scanning the crowd for familiar faces.  None so far.  Then a bloke 2 rows in front reaches over and begins introducing himself to everyone.  His name's Matt. 

That rings a bell. 

It begins to dawn on me that Matt is a fellow moderator on the redandwhitekop site.  Oddly enough, we've never met before.  I introduce myself.  It's a small world. 

Then I notice Terri sitting 2 seats from him.  We've met many times before.  She waves and smiles back.  The noise of the crowd already makes it difficult to hear what she's saying. 

The lad next to me tells me his name is Bob.  We shake hands and wish each other good luck. 

It's starting to get tense.  But in a very relaxed way.  If that doesn't sound like a total contradiction in terms. 

Juve and Chelsea were nail-biters.  The last 30 minutes of that night in Turin were tensest I've ever experienced. 

But this is different. 

Tense because of the anticipation and the prospect that by the end of the game we could be crowned European champions.  But relaxed because no matter what happens, we've enjoyed an unbelievable run in this season's competition and to play Milan in this location, in the final, is like a huge bonus. 

Add in the injuries we've had this season and the introduction of several new players and I wonder how on earth we managed to get here.  I don't even want to think about our league form.  And why the hell should I?  This is special.  I want to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy it no matter what the outcome.  And yet I donít really believe that.  Because I know you have to give it 100% and try to win it if you are in this position.  Yes, it's nice just to be here, but f**king hell, don't just sit there and let it go past you.  You might never get a chance in life like this again.  And that's where the tension creeps up on you. 

I look around the stadium.  Milan are at the far end and all look to be wearing red, black or white bin bags. 

Whatever floats your boat. 

Everywhere else looks like a sea of red.  Where are the supposed neutral sections?  Buggered if I can see any.  In fact everywhere else looks like itís red.  Iím glad to see it.  Originally thought weíd struggle to get 20,000 here.  Itís a long way and not the cheapest to get to.  But the lads (and lasses) have done the club proud.  This is a huge turnout.  Maybe 30,000 to 40,000 here. 

And the banners are everywhere.  Over seats, on the running track, hanging from upper tiers and tied to anything thatíll support them.  None of your bland íLads on tourí here.  Every banner unique.  Everyone a work of art.  Some must have cost small fortunes.  But even the cheap ones, handwritten on someoneís bed sheet brim with humour and originality.  Seen many of them at euro aways this year, but thereís a heck of a lot of new ones.  No-one wants to miss their chance to get them on the telly.  Always cringe when some of our fans spout that weíre the best supporters in the country.  Thatís not for us to decide.  Far too narcissistic.  But with flags and banners we have no equal.  Itís as simple as that.  Itís not even a contest.  In fact I donít know any club in the world that has this originality and wit. 

The crowd goes a little quiet.  The pre-match display has begun. 

Why do UEFA feel itís necessary to have these things?  Would never encourage me to get to a game early.  Never worked out whom itís supposed to appeal to.  Kids?  Women?  The prawn sandwich munchers?  Itís not like you hear people after a game saying what a great pre-match display. 

But the volunteers seem to be putting the effort in.  Sort of a massed, choreographed Busby Berkeley type thing with some women hovering round.  A few lads knocking themselves out on drums.  Not sure what itís all about.  Trying to work out how those women are managing to move.  The dresses are covering up the workings.  Must be some sort of remote control things their standing on?  Weíre all waiting for one of them to go ass over tit. 

And then from each goalmouth, dozens of youngsters begin to run out unfurling the flags of the 2 teams.  The first big roar of the night as we catch site of the club badge.  And the Liverbird.  ĎLiiiiiii-verpool, Liiiii-verpool, Liiiiii-verpoolí rings out all around. 

Weíre up for this.  Hope the lads are.  There's a definite buzz in the ground. 

Everyoneís up on their feet clapping and singing.  Thereís a roar as the two teams come out side by side.  They line up and patiently wait for the ritual of the Champions League theme  The music blares out.  More American razzmatazz.  But it is the signal that this isnít just another game.  This is the Champions League.  This is the final. 

Okay, weíre not Champions and in all honesty I still believe you should only be here if youíve won your domestic league.  I really do.  But at this moment I donít give a toss.  We donít write the rules.  Weíve just done what is asked of us.  And kept beating every team that has been put before us.  Letís hope that continues tonight. 

Milan fans are all waving flags and have to admit the colour coordinated bin bags look quite impressive.  Typical Italians.  The bin bags are probably by Armani. 

Turn and look at our end. 

A mass of flags, hands, arms and fists in the air.  Singing and chanting.  Youíll never walk alone is bouncing round the stadium.  Everyone on their feet, even in the upper tiers.  Weíre all singing at the top of our voices.  Rarely do you hear this song sung with as much passion.  Hope it lifts the lads. 

Take a couple of long slow mouthfuls of air and blow out my cheeks.  I bite my lip.  This is it.  Come on lads.  Get f**king into them.  Letís go. 

And weíre off.  Game on. 

I glance up at the scoreboard above the Milan fans.  AC Milan 0-0 Liverpool FC.  I still feel I should be pinching myself.  Seems a bit surreal to be here. 

Milan work the ball out to Kaka.  No danger on the far wing. 

Stand up Jimi.  Stand up!  Fucking hell Jimi! 

What are you diving in for, son?  No need, no need.  Stupid thing to do.  Probably nerves.  Needs to settle down quickly.  Canít afford to do that against this team.  Too dangerous. 

We should be all right here.  Everyoneís back.  Carra and Sami know what to do.  Milan have only got four players in the penalty area.  Pirloís going to take it.  Watch Shevchenko.  Watch him lads.  Keep him away from it. 

Floated over.  Doesnít look dangerous.  Looks as if heís pulled it too far behind everyone.  Except Maldini.  Move lads.  Move.  Shit!!!!!!!

F**king soft goal lads.  F**king soft goal.  What the f**k was that?  Aaaaggghhhh!! 

I canít believe it.  First minute and weíre one down already.  Not like us to try and do things the easy way.  (Sigh heavily).  Try to rationalise this.  Itís not the end of the world.  Weíve loads of time to get back into this.   Itís not that bad.  Maybe this will do us a favour in the long run.  Might waken us up.  Now we have to attack.  Canít afford to just sit back.  Only Milan will probably love putting everyone behind the ball. 

Glance up at the large electronic scoreboard.  Milan 1-0 Liverpool.  Canít say it was unexpected.  They were bound to score some time.  Thought the same thing about Chelsea in the Carling Cup final.  Not sure if I believe myself.  Our defence had been the best thing about us in the last few European games.   Shit.  Donít want to be on the losing team again. 

Come on redmen.  Get stuck into them. 

We need to keep the ball more.  Need to support each other more.  Why isnít Didi playing?  Come on Harry; prove Rafa made the right decision and stop trying those fucking little flicks.  Why does he wear that stupid bloody Alice band?  That doesnít do him any favours. 

Corner.  Come on lads.  A chance to get back into this quickly.  Riise hovering on the edge of the box.  Ball floated towards him.  Oooohhh!!  What a strike.  Stam somehow blocks the effort.  Bet he felt that.  Balls back with Gerrard.  Good cross.  Go on Sami.  Good header.  Thatís more like it. 
.
Milan are starting to dictate the pace of the game.  Come on boys. Impose yourselves. Let them know youíre there. 

Jeez.  These guys are better than Iíd feared.  That Kakaís running the show.  Gattusoís tackling anything that moves.  Pirloís strolling around.  And weíre struggling to get a hold of the ball.  And Shevchenko looks like lightening.  Worse, there looks to a bloody great hole in our midfield.  Kaka is slipping in behind and picking the ball up too many times.  Donít like the look of this. 

If we get to half-time one down, weíll be okay.  The defence is looking a bit heavy legged.  Come on Stevie G.  Step up to the plate big man.  We need you now.  Show us youíre the man for the big game. 

Corner to Milan.  Flick header from Crespo at the near post.  Gerrard daydreaming.  Garcia clears on the goal-line.  F**kiní hell lads.  Be positive and be first to that ball.  Too slow reacting.  Too may times.  Are we overawed by Milan?  Looks like it.  Stuff them.  Forget reputations and get into them. 

I realise I feel very tired.  All the travelling over the last couple of days is catching up.  Lack of sleep, strange meal times and too much time on my feet.  I sit down.  Loads are standing round me.  Not like me.  Usually I prefer to stand.  But I feel shattered.  The lad in front is sitting as well which doesnít interrupt my view. 

The atmosphere is muted around us.  Even the travelling Kop on the bank to the right are subdued.  Stunned.  Who can blame them?

Harry is tackled by Nesta and immediately limps.  Shit.  Not again?  Maybe he can run it off?  He walks around very gingerly. 

The game continues, but I keep looking over at Harry to see what heís doing. 

He tries to run and pulls up suddenly. 

F**kin hell Harry, what have you done this time? 

He keeps trying to run it off.  But itís not happening for him.  I go back to watching the game. 

But I canít help drifting back to Harry.  It definitely doesnít look good.  Heís over at the far touchline chatting to Benitez.  This is the Carling Cup all over again. 

Tries to run it off again.  But itís no use.  He trudges to the sideline.  Chats to Benitez.  Is it his ankle?  At least we can get a sub on.  Tighten things up a bit and revert to a formation that has served us well this season.

But whatís going on?  Thatís Smicer.  Itís Vlad.  Bloody hell, Rafa.  Whatís going on? 

Itís Leverkusen all over again.  Houllier taking off Didi for Vlad when we needed someone who could put their boot in a tackle.  Vladi has many qualities.  In fact I like the guy.  Love his enthusiasm and the fact that heís one of those players that just wants to play attacking football.  Being defensive is not part of Vladiís make-up.  But this is no time to be bringing on lightweight players.  We need balls. We need strength and power.  Whereís Didi. 

But itís Vladi that runs on. 

Milan still dictate the game.  Itís obvious theyíre targeting Jimi.  Shevchenko keeps adopting positions down that flank.  Weíve got to close them down sooner.  Too much free room.  Kewell (and now Vladi) was in no-manís land and Garcia is too far forward.  Essentially weíve three men in midfield against their four.  And we canít cope.  And I canít blame them.  Come on Rafa.  Sort it out. 

Too many loose passes.  Keep a hold of if for Godís sake.  Stop lofting the ball forward.  Keep it down.  Baros is outnumbered.  Stop punting the high ball to him.  Aaaagh!!

I feel my blood pressure rising. 

Liiiiverpool, Liiiiiverpool echoes round the ground. 

Garcia loses the ball again.  Seedorf moves it quickly to Kaka.  Who runs.  And runs.  And runs.  Slides it in behind for Shevchenko. 

Flagís up! Flagís up. 

That was close. 

Jerzy picks the ball out of the net.  Shevchenko is still celebrating at the corner flag.  I donít feel like mocking.  That was far too tight.  Lucky there.  We were carved open. 

Interesting the way the Italians play the long ball.  Only when their man has a one-on-one or can turn the last defender.  Just hold it if thereís too many defenders.  Patient.  Very patient.  If nothing else we can learn from these games. 

Hyypia lumps the ball forward towards Riise.  Cafu tries to clear it over his head.  A little too over confident.  The ball falls just outside the penalty area.  Garcia.  A half chance. 

Go on Garcia, go on. 

But itís hurried and he smacks the half volley well over the bar. 

Difficult one.  But after some of the goals heís scored this season, you half expect him to hit the back of the net with it.  Just shows you how expectations can rise.  Sometimes too high.  Good effort though.  At least heís getting into the right positions. 

Another long ball from Gerrard to the far side.  Smicer just manages to head it back inside for Baros.  Who nods it down to Garcia. 

Who lets fly again. 

Scuffed. 

Shiiiiit!!!!!  The ball just wonít fall for us. 

Weíve got to make some of this possession pay.  Have to have an end product. 

Smicer knocks a lovely through ball to Garcia. 

Go Luis! Go on Luis! Shoot man!  Go on, shoot!

Cuts inside the defender.  Nesta slips.  Hits the deck.  Garcia nudges the ball past him.

Hits Nestaís arm. 

Penalty! Penalty!  Has to be!  Ref! Ref!  F f**kiní hell ref!!  Ref? Ref?  You f**king cheatiní bastard.  Thatís a penalty ref!

I donít believe it.  That was as clear as youíll see all season. 

I remember this is the ref that disallowed two goals for us against Olympiakos. 

You cheating bastard, youíve done it again. 

Milan break.  Weíre still arguing about the penalty decision.  Or rather the lack of it. 

Watch out lads.  Watch out.  Discipline, discipline.  Settle down, settle down. 

Crespo makes a diagonal run.  Weíve only three at the back.  Ballís switched over to Shevchenko. 

Samiís been pulled out of position.  Jimiís caught between going with the runner (Crespo) and holding his position.  Too late.  Split second indecision. 

This is bad. 

Very bad. 

Shevchenko looks up. Weíre scrambling to get back.  The ball is squared.  Carra tries to twist and turn to make contact with it.  Fails.  Crespo sweeps it home at the far post.  Jerzy has no chance. 

Noooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.  I donít want to accept what Iím seeing.  Shit!  Donít believe this.  I donít believe this!

Iím beginning to sound like Victor Meldrew.

Iíve my head in my hands.  Itís not the fact that weíre 2-0 down.  Weíve been 2-0 down before against teams and come back.  Itís the fact that weíre 2-0 down to bloody AC Milan.  Any other team and youíd probably still think we have a chance.  How the hell are we going to turn this around? 

Get Cisse on.  Get him on now.  Baros is trying his best.  But heís no chance against that back four.  And get Didi on.  Even get Igor on.  We need someone that can tackle in the middle of the park now.  Weíve got to win that ball and keep it.  Weíre too sloppy.  Got to keep the ball way from Milan. 

Iím raging.  I hate this type of situation.  Youíre impotent and powerless to alter the proceedings.  I can understand why coaches age dramatically in only a few years.  Why are they doing this to me?  Iím also a selfish bastard.  Itís not like everyone else is enjoying being two down. 

The game is becoming a runaway roller coaster.  We canít seem to get the ball back off Milan.  Itís not that they have much more possession than us, more that they seem to know what to do with it and how to hurt us more.  Especially in the last 30 yards of the pitch.  Their forward line looks shit hot.  Ours is running up against a brick wall.

What are we doing?  Come on lads, sort this out.  Come on Rafa, do something. 

Milan are roasting us.  Are weíre struggling to hang on to their coat tails.  The lack of real quality in depth in the squad is beginning to show.  The seams are coming apart.. 

Hold the ball lads.  Hold the ball. 

Itís so easy to know what to do here on the second tier. 

All round the Fields of Anfield Road.  At least weíre still in good voice. 

Gerrard stabs the ball forward from the halfway line.  Gattuso intercepts.  F**king hell, Stevie.  Stop giving the ball away. 

Played up to Kaka.  Gerrardís on top of him.  Kaka spins off him and dances away.  Two touches and releases possibly the best pass you will ever see in a game of football. 

Forty yards and it bisects the defence.  Carra stretches in vain.  Crespoís on his shoulder.  Finnan struggles to get back.  We learn later he has a thigh strain.  Slides it smoothly into the Argentinianís path and chips the most delicate shot over Jerzy.  The previous night my mate had said Crespo couldnít score in a brothel.  Tonight heís Dirk Diggler. 

3-0. 

Silence. 

Speechless. 

Milan fans are celebrating at their end of the stadium. 

Itís a laugh or cry situation.  I hold my hands up to my face.  I donít know whether to applaud the goal or accept our dream is over. 

Despair.

Sheer despair. 

Absolutely gutted. 

I look over at the North bank. 

Some of those lads have paid over 600 quid for a day trip to be here.  Feel even more gutted for them.  This is a shambles.  Itís embarrassing. 

I realise we still have the second half to come.  Shit.  If Milan keep on like this, it could be six or seven.  Jeez. 

The whistle goes for halftime.  Thank God.

Slump back into my seat.  Left elbow leans on my left knee with my hand under my chin.  I stare into space.  Everythingís a blur.  Usually Iíd go to the toilet during the interval, but Iíve been so dehydrated today I know there isnít much point.  And I feel deflated, never mind dehydrated.  Canít be bothered fighting my way through the crowds.  Just want to sit down. 

Whatís Rafa going to say to the boys?  What can he say?  Dig a trench? 

The mood is very sombre.  Everyoneís reading their programmes.  Having a smoke.  Looking for someone they know in the crowd.  This has knocked the stuffing out of us. 

But football is a funny game.  Who knows what can happen in the second half.  Weíve forty-five minutes to at least make the game look respectable and not embarrass ourselves any further.  I run out of clichťs. 

Terri looks up.  What do you think? she says.  I lean forward. Shrug my shoulders.  Who knows?  Could be another Basle?  Iím grasping at straws.  But I was in Basle that night and it was much the same.  Went into the game full of expectation and were torn apart in the first half.  Danny pulled one back after the break.  Smicer got a quick second and we were all over them.  Mikey slotted home a rebound from his own penalty.  Another ten minutes and we would have won that game.  Only one problem.  AC Milan arenít Basle. 

Donít know why, but I decide to stand for the second half.  If weíre going to give it a shot, I feel I have to stand and be as vocal as possible.  Weíve nothing else to lose. 

Weíre gonna to win 4-3.  Weíre gonna win 4-3. 

Itís gallows humour. 

But the volume is picking up.

More and more join in. 

Now itís loud and defiant. 

We are going to win 4-3. 

Walk on. Walk on. 

Everyone around me starts lifting their scarves in the air. 

With hope in your hearts. 

The players are on the pitch and waiting for the ref. 

And youíll neeeeeev-eeeeeer walkÖÖÖÖÖ aaaalone. 

This is more than defiance.  Itís a statement of intent.  Weíre not taking this lying down. 

Walk on. Walk on.

Come on Reds.  Forty Ėfive minutes of glory or bust.

And you neeeeevvvvvveeeeerrrrrrrrrrr walk, alone. 

Another song starts straight away. 

That third goal seems an age away.  Weíre starting from fresh again. 

But we need an early goal.  We need the early goal.  I keep repeating it like a mantra.  If we can get it, then it gives us a lifeline.  But the longer the game goes on, the less chance we have if upsetting this team.

At least Didi is now on.  And we look a bit better balanced.  Although Finnan has gone off.  Thatís a surprise.  Iíd have taken Jimi off if we wanted to keep three at the back.  At least Rafa is positive.  Heís made the change we all felt needed to be done.  Houllier was too stubborn to admit when he made a cock-up and cut his nose of to spite himself.  Rafa at least sees the problem (even if he created it) and tries to rectify it.  And gives us the time to do something about it.  But have we enough time to do something about this situation.  Iím not convinced we can do much here.  But at least we look more competitive.  Maybe Milan will relax a little.  Hope so.  Grasping at those straws again.  I look up at the screen above the Milan fans.  50 minutes gone.  We need a goal soon.  We need it now.  Come on, lads. 

Cafu mishits a cross to Dudekís near post.  No danger.  Except Dudek, for whatever reason misjudges the bounce, whacks him on the shins and bounces back into the penalty area.  We end up conceding a corner. 

Holy shit, Jerzy.  F**king hell.  Thatís why youíre on the way out this summer mate.  Donít know what he was thinking there.  At least we got away with it. 

Smicer picks the ball up in the middle of the pitch.  Holds it, plays a short pass.  Gets it back, moves it on again.  Thatís what we need.  A little bit of experience.  Calming things down.  Keeping possession. 

Gerrard chases an over-hit pass.  Itís a 60-40 in the defenderís favour but Stevieís goes through him.  Get in there.  Thatís what we need.  Few tackles like that and the crowd rears its head.  Take no prisoners. 

Weíre more in their half of the pitch.  Alonso fizzes a belter from 30 yards past the post.  Shit!  That was close.  That was close.  The big screen at the end replays the shot.  F**kiní Ďell it was even closer than I thought.  We need a goal.  We NEED a goal. 

This is good. 

Keep position, boys. 

Good, good. 

If they donít have the ball, they canít hurt us. 

Weíre definitely more positive this half.  Only one outfield player back in our half. 

Half-way line.  Passed square to Jimi.  Under no pressure.  Runs under his foot.  Jimi!!!!!!!!! 

Milan pounce.  Sami brings down Kaka on the edge of the box, although contact looked minimal.  Wonít even say what I would like to do to Jimi at this moment in time. 

Direct free kick.  Shevchenko lines it up.  This could be it all over right here and now.  4-0 and thereís no way back. 

Short pass sideways to Shevchenko who blasts it.

I grimace.

Jerzy.  Strong hands.  Turns it round the post. 

I relax.  Good save.  Good save.  Phew!!  Weíre still in it.  Not sure why I think that as weíre still 3-0 down. 

continues in part 2

© Steve M 2005

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