Istanbul Reflections: From Midnight Express to Liverpool's Success part 2

Posted by Rushian on July 8, 2005, 03:14:07 PM

continued from part 1

Milan waste the corner and lose possession.  Riise picks it up and runs fifty yards deep into Milan territory.  Gattuso snapping at his ankles the whole time.  Turns.  Waits for support.  Plays it inside.  Back to him.  Cafu comes to close him down, but stands off.  Tries to sling in the cross, but Cafu manages to block it.  Ball rebounds to Johnny.  Have another go son.  Get it in.  Switches it back onto his left foot.  Cafu doesnít get as close.  Cross flies over.  Right into the centre of the box. 

Good cross. 

Whoís there?  Whoís there? 

Stevie G.. 

Good contact. 

F**kin good contact. 

From the angle I'm sitting, I can clearly see the ball sailing towards the top right corner.  And in that instant my mind flashes back to Barosí header from Stevieís cross away to Chelsea in the semi that looked destined for the far corner until Cech made a last gasp save.  I half expect Dida to do the same.  I don't raise my arms.  Or my hopes.  I'm waiting for Dida to ruin it for us.

But he remains rooted to the spot. 

The ball lands in the net. 

Yesssssssssssssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yesssssssssssssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Explosion of noise.  More relief than anything.  This is a bit more respectable. 

Ha, ha. Ha, ha.  Ha, ha.  Ha, ha.  Ha, ha.  Ha, ha. 

I sound demented. 

Weíre back in it.  Push on, lads.  Push on. 

Gerrard is exhorting the fans along the side of the pitch.  The Erik Meijer book of psychology.  I wonder if Mad Erik here?  He'd be going mental right now. 

Gerrard is till waving his arms about and shaking his fists. 

Heís up for it. 

Players that seemed to have wilted in the first half have grown another two feet.  Confidence is returning.  Didi's inclusion has added a bit more security.  The ball is moving around much quicker.  There's much more purpose to the play. 

Milan have wilted and retreated into their shell.  Amazing what one goal can do.  We're dictating play.  Yes, dictating it.  We've only one outfield player in our own half.  Milan have decided to retreat in numbers. 

Come on, lads.  This is our chance. 

The travelling Kop are in full throttle.  Fields of Anfield Road is booming out.  Everyone in red is on their feet and shouting and singing themselves hoarse. 

The pendulum has swung again. 

Amazing game football. 

Pass, pass, pass.  Possession is now crucial.  Didi is controlling the middle.  Carra calls him the Kaiser.  You can see why.  The rest of the lads now have confidence that we can match them in the middle of the pitch. 

Alonso and Didi exchanging passes half way into the Milan end. 

End product.  End product, I keep muttering to myself.  We need to be positive and get shots in now. 

Alonso to Didi again.  Thirty yards from goal.  Smicer to his right.  Square pass.  Looks up.  Go on Vlad, have a crack son.

GET IN THERE YOU F**KIN' BEAUTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

F**kin' Vlad.  HA, HA,.  F**kin' Vlad.  Great strike, son.  What a f**kin' goal!!

We can do this, WE CAN DO THIS.  COME ON!!!!!

It's not so much about hope now, but knowing this is now within our grasp.  Milan are bottling it.  There's no doubt.  Milan are shitting themselves.  This isn't part of their script.  It's all going pear-shaped. 

Thank God. 

One way traffic.  No longer is it relief at making things respectable.  Now we know we can turn this around.  This is about winning.  We can win this.  We can.  Come on, lads. 

The ground is bouncing. 

Itís all Liverpool.  One way traffic.  Every pass seems to be to a red shirt.  Milan are chasing shadows. 

Weíre going to win this. 

We ARE going to win it. 

I can feel it. 

Carraís pointing forward to Sami.  No sitting back now.  Get that ball up the pitch.  Carra moves it forward to Baros.  Lays it into Gerrard's path.

Go on!  Go on!

PENALTY!!! PENALTY!!! Has to be!!  Yessssssssssssssss!!!!!!

I feel myself clenching my fists.  I grimace.  But I feel quite calm.

Whoís going to take it?  Gerrard?  Nah, donít want him taking it.  Cisse?  Canít.  Heís not on the pitch.  I think of Mikey Owen.  Strange thought.  Iím sort of glad heís not out there to take it.  Donít think my nerves could stand that.  Shit.  Whoís going to take it? 

I see Alonso with the ball.  I relax again.  Xavi knows what to do.  Now I feel confident.  Xavi will score.  Iím convinced. 

Milan are doing their best to distract the ref. 

Why isnít Gattuso sent off?  The bloke next to me also asks why Gattuso is still on the pitch?  I honestly donít know.  Iím more concerned that Milan seem to be lining up to defend a free kick.  What the hell is going on now?  But the ref points again to the spot.  Itís defo a penalty. 

Iím remarkably calm.  Fists clenched in at my side.  Itís like a silent mantra.  We will score.  We will score.  We will score.  If subliminal thought could score goals, Milan should go home now. 

Xavi places it.

Milan are still dicking around.  Time wasting.  Putting pressure on the taker. 

Ref signals to take the kick. 

I have my hands still clenched.  Somewhere under my chin now. 

ShootsÖÖÖYES!!!ÖÖÖ.NO!!!ÖÖSHITÖÖÖÖYESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!! YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!! YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!. YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!

The stadium is in uproar.  If you could bottle this feeling of euphoria, youíd be an overnight millionnaire.  Everyone jumping on each other.  Hugging.  And kissing.  And thatís just the blokes. 

Part of me is saying ĎYes, I knew we could do this and the other part of me is still stunned that we have actually done what I really didnít believe we could do in reality.  Itís the twilight zone.  Maybe Rod Serlingís the ref.  This is bizarre.  Just bizarre.  I canít help laughing to myself when I think what some Bluenoses and Mancs must have said when Alonso scored.  Who cares, I think again.  This is about us.  Not them  Stuff them.  We are Liverpool.  Come on Reds!  Another one!  Wipe the floor with them! 

I look up at the scoreboard.  It says Milan 3-3 Liverpool.  I canít help thinking how ridiculous football is at times.  And it also read 60 minutes.  60 minutes!  Weíve still got 30 minutes to play. 

Milan win a corner.  Got to win every challenge now, boys.  Scrambled clear.  Seedorf whacks it wide.  Sigh of relief.  Donít throw it away now.  Just keep them away from the goal. 

Balls going from end to end.  But the tempo has slowed a little.

Riise blast a shot at Dida from outside the box.  A real belter.  But Dida deals with it comfortably, palming it into the air. 

Thatís what we need.  Keep them on the back foot.  Keep going forward.  Keep looking to exploit them. 

Milan are trying to play the ball over the top now.  Funny how no-one criticises teams like Milan for trying route one.  Shevchenko miscontrols the ball.  Heís human after all. 

Youíll never walk alone rings round the stadium again. 

Milan seem to have recovered from the onslaught and are beginning to string passes together again. 

Maldini to Seedorf.  Flat pass down the line to Kaka.  Whips the ball in, but itís an easy take for Jerzy.  No danger there. 

JERZY!!!!!!!!!!!!

The ball bounces out of his grasp to Shevchenko.

Shit!!!!!

Traore!  Bloody Traore!  Canít believe Jimi has made a great goal line clearance.  Never thought I would see the day that Iím glad Jimi was in that position.  In the European cup final.  I still find it hard to believe a player like Traore is playing at all in a European cup final against AC Milan.  Never mind.  Just glad he was there. 

Carra gives Jerzy a bollocking.  No wonder. 

Things now seem to have evened up a bit.  Players are starting to tire a little and naturally dropping a little deeper to get a breather.  But itís allowing Milan to creep more into our half again.  The momentum has slightly dropped.  For the first time in the game I feel itís an even contest. 

Thereís a little gap between our forwards and the rest of the team.  Players arenít getting about just as quick. 

Milan starting to knock the passes about again. 

Shevchenko tries to take the whole defence on his own.  Slips it to Crespo.  Shit.  Have a bad feeling about this.  Grinding my teeth.  Crespo cuts it back for Kaka to slot home.  Carra!  What a tackle!  Great challenge.  Ball ricochets off Kaka for a goal kick.  Fantastic son.  Brilliant challenge.  Player of the season for me.  I wonder does Carra really know how much the fans value him? 

Five minutes to go. 

Substitutions now happening.  Milan make three changes, Liverpool just the one.  At last, Cisse.  This is a goal threat.  Donít know why, but Cisse strikes me as someone more likely to score than Baros.  And yet Baros is the player who appears to be better at playing on his own up front. 

No-one wanting to take chances now.  Just keep the ball.  Play it around.  Wind the clock down. 

Donít like the way Milan keep pushing men forward.  Hasnít anyone told them that Italian teams are supposed to be defensive. 

Balls!  Theyíve won a corner. 

Come on boys.  Keep this out.  Be first to that ball.  No fucking about. 

Floated in.  Stam with the flick.  KAKA!!!!! 

Shiiiiiiiiiiiittttt!!!  Holy shit that was close!  Canít believe Kaka missed that.  A free header inside the six yard box. 

I blow out my cheeks and slowly expel the air.  Iíve just become aware how tense itís become again.  My blood pressure must be going off the scale.  I donít need this. 

Two minutes of injury time to play.  Thatís ok.  Feel comfortable that we have another half an hour to sort this out. 

Just keep possession now and wait for the whistle.  Notice Gerrard is now at right back. 

Final whistle. 

I need to sit down.  Itís an eerie feeling.  I sit with my fingers pressed to my lips.  I donít feel like talking.  Just want to get on with this. 

Second half starts. 

Is it my imagination or does time now seem to be going quicker? 

Iím hoping maybe that it goes to penalties.  A strange thought.  But our players looked shattered.  Cramp is setting in and Milan, for all the speculation that they are an old team are pushing men forward at every opportunity. 

Serginho knocks a high ball into the penalty area.  Jimi is caught ball watching and fortunately Tomassen miskicks from six yards out.  Please donít do that Jimi.  Please donít f**k up now. 

Gerrard has his hands full with coping with Serginho.

Weíre looking very tired. 

Just donít concede a goal now.  Take it to penalties.  Am I the only one whoís thinking this?

The Milan fans have gone quiet. 

The ref blows for half-time and the teams turn around.  Usually most teams drag out the interval to try and have a break, talk tactics and whatever else the coach thinks needs to be discussed.  Both teams here turn around fairly sharpish.  Neither wants to hang around.  Letís get on with it. 

Liverpool win a couple of early corners.  Nothing comes from them. 

Milan push on and Shevchenko keeps dropping back to pick the ball up and runs at our defence.  I donít like that.  Shades of Graham Taylor. 

Serginho whips another ball across the six yard box and Carra stretches and toe pokes it away.  He immediately winces with pain.  More cramp.  Jesus.   Has every player on our team got cramp?  We seem to be going down like flies. 

Rui Costa comes on for Gattuso.  Hope this isnít an omen.  Last time I was at a game he came on was last summer.  England v Portugal.  And he scored late on. 

Another ball whipped into our penalty area.  Carra stretching again and puts it out for a corner.  Iím fearful that heíll tear a muscle at this stage. 

Maybe Iím over analysing, but it seems every time Milan get the ball they somehow work it to Serginho who knocks the cross in.  I really donít like this.  I will take penalties right now if itís offered. 

Five minutes to go. 

Five minutes to the end of the European cup final. 

Iím really irritated.  And excited.  And seething.  This is doing my head in.  Hold the fucking ball, for f**k sake! 

My use of the English language has gone out the window. 

We keep trying to hit long passes which give away possession.  I canít believe we keep doing that.  Rafa must be going nuts. 

Keep the bloody ball.  Just run the clock down.

Two minutes to go. 

Serginho again has the ball. 

Whips another cross in. 

Oh f**k.  Shevchenko rising to head it. 

Thereís a feeling of inevitability about this. 

Bloody hell!  Great save Jerzy!. 

The words trail away as everyone can see the ball is falling back into the path of Shevchenko. 

Five yards out. 

Bangs it into the goal. 

Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!! 

I yell in anguish and put my head in my hands as the ball flies past Jerzy. 

I look through my fingers to see the net bulge. 

ÖÖÖÖÖÖÖbut it isnít bulgingÖÖÖÖÖ...

For a split second my mind is confused.  WhatÖÖ..? 

I see the ball ballooning upwards over the crossbar. 

My mouth is open and eyes wide. 

He saved it?  He saved it?  Iím babbling like an idiot.  I still canít really speak.  Jerzy saved it? 

The Milan players are all standing with their hands on their heads. 

He saved it!  Jerzy saved it! 

I turn to the guys next to me.  No-one says anything.  We shake our heads in disbelief.

And I laugh hysterically.  I think this game might be driving me mad. 

We clear the corner. 

Seconds to go.  Didi charges off like a lunatic down the middle of the pitch trying to take the whole Milan team on before losing the ball. 

We somehow win a free kick in the last seconds of the game.  Must be at least 30 yards out.  To be honest, I donít think weíll score from this.  I want someone to run up and smack it, but we do the usual stunt which has failed all season.  Pass it to the side for Riise to run onto.  And Milan charge it down. 

Penalties. 

I feel quite relaxed now. 

Weíll win for sure.  Donít know why I think this.  Itís not that Iím just thinking this, I really do believe it.  Canít explain it, but itís like walking into an exam with all the answers up your sleeve.  I just know we are going to win this. 

Everyone around me is pumped up.  Iím calmness personified.  I feel no tension now.  Iím quite relaxed.  Remember Cardiff in 2001 against Birmingham.  Felt the same that day when it went to penalties.  Everyone around me going nuts and I just felt it was a forgone conclusion.  Canít explain it all, at but Iím convinced we will win. 

YNWA is sung lustily round the ground again. 

Serginho first to step up.  A long walk.  Dudek walks out to look at the ball and the ref sends him back. 

Serginho places the ball.  Slowly. 

Turns around and walks back.  Slowly. 

Stands looking at the goal.  Taking too long. 

I rub my nose with my right hand.  And my left.  I fold my arms.  I can feel my middle finger on my right hand touching my side. 

Heís going to miss.  Heís going to miss.  I feel it in my gut.  Totally convinced of it.  Taking far to long over it.  Standing with his hands on his hips. 

Jerzy doing a great impression of a space invader on the goal line.

Runs up.  And puts it high over the ball. 

Knew it. 

I donít react.  Or move.  Or cheer.  Iím Mr Calm. 

Now we need to score. 

Didi walks up.  Little surprised itís him.  Remember him missing in Cardiff.  But he must be confident or he wouldnít have volunteered. 

I have my hands by my side.

Expect him to lash it down the middle. 

And he slots into the top left corner. 

Nice one.  I clench my fists slightly.  And nod in satisfaction.  Advantage us.  I say nothing. 

Pirlo up next.  Expect him to score.  Set piece taker should now what to do.  And I remember those other deadball specialists who somehow contrived to miss in penalty shoot outs.  Zico.  Maradona.  Platini.  Maybe.  Maybe. 

I rub my nose with my right hand.  And my left.  And fold my arms. 

Jerzy is dancing all over the place.  Reminds me of Grobbelaar. 

Pirlo stutters in his run up and places it to the left.

And Jerzy guesses correctly.  Save number two. 

I clench my fists again.  I say nothing.  And keep looking down the pitch. 

They guy next to me says that if they miss one more then we are bound to win it. 

I donít react, but wish he would shut his gob.  Itís like karma.  Donít say things like that.  Just let it happen of its own course. 

Cisse strides up.  Places the ball.  Walks back.  Then turns, goes back and replaces the ball.  And walks back to begin his run up. 

My hands are by my sides again. 

He smacks it onto the right of the goal. 

Well done lad.  Well done.  I slightly clench my fists again.  I donít say anything. 

Weíre 2-0 up and only need to score one of the last three penalties to win.  This would be a major f**k up it we lose from this position.  Shut up, I tell myself.  Donít think about it.  Just watch the action.  They know what they are doing. 

Tomassen up next for Milan. 

Dudek walks out of his goal to hand the ball to Tomassen the same way he has done for the other kicks.  Good psychology.  Very good.  Stand right in front of them with the ball.  Make them see how big you are. 

Tomassen places it on the spot. 

I rub my nose with my right hand.  And my left .  And fold my arms.  I can feel my hand touch my side. 

Takes a short run up.  Drills it low into the back of the net.  Jerzy went the other way this time.  2-1. 

Still feel calm. 

Riise up next.  We all know what heíll do. 

Hands by my side. 

Big run up. 

And Dida makes a great stop down by his right hand post. 

Shit.  Of all people that you expect to smack a penalty home.  Felt sorry for Johnny.  Wasnít a bad penalty, just a good save. 

Dudek out again with the ball and hands it to Kaka.

Very young player.  Surprised a little that the older pros havenít stepped up. 

Jerzy again jumping around on his line. 

I rub my nose again with both hand s.  And fold my arms. 

Kaka rifles it into the roof of the net.

Great penalty. 

Still feel calm.  We will win this.  I know itís 2-2, but theyíve missed one more. 

Up steps Vlad.  I feel confident about this.  Again, canít explain it, but I just feel secure that itís Vlad taking it. 

Same as Cisse.  Slots it into the right side of the goal.  Clench my fist by my side.  Still say nothing.  3-2. 

Vlad walks out of the penalty area and kisses the badge on the shirt.  Never really like seeing players do that.  Most of them are mercenary at best and it means nothing to them.  But this is his last game.  And probably last kick of the ball for Liverpool.  Seems a nice gesture. 

Shevchenko comes up for Milanís fifth penalty.  Heíll score.  I wonder who is next for us.  Thatíll be the decisive one. 

Dudek out again and hands over the ball.  Heís done well has Jerzy.  Got to give the lad credit in this.

I rub my nose with my right hand.  And my left.  Fold my arms.  Feel my fingers behind my elbow touch my side.  Iím not superstitious by nature.  But Iím not changing this ritual now.

Shevchenko smacks the ball towards the centre of the goal.  It appears that Jerzy has dived too soon.  The ball is going over and behind him.

And yet he manages to get a hand on it.

And it stays out.

Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Weíve done it.  Weíve won it!  Weíve won the European cup.  I turn to Terri and grab her round the waist and lift her into the air.  And jump up and down.

Mr Calm is replaced by Mr Tourettes.

You f**king beauty!  F**king yes! Haaa, haaaa, haaaa, haaaa!!!!!!!!!

I shriek and holler and grab anybody near.  Itís not difficult as everyone is grabbing and hugging anyone with reaching distance.

Weíve done it!  Weíve done it!  Yesssssss, yessssssssss!!  Ha, ha!!!

I donít know how long Iíve been standing yelling and shouting.  Seems like about 20 minutes but itís probably about 30 seconds really.

The emotion starts to wash over me.  I have to sit down.

Iím shattered.

What has just happened?  I donít comprehend.  Something isnít right.  We were 3-0 down to AC Milan.  And yet weíve won.  I canít grasp this.

I sit with my head in my hands.  I feel myself welling up.  I blink through the tears at the pitch.  Iím choked.  I donít want to speak.  Donít think I can even if I wanted.  I bit my lip.

The moment seems to be passing.

For some reason I remembered standing in the rain in an awful stadium in Bucharest.  And I realised why moments like this are so sweet.  I stand up and look up to the sky.  Iím not a religious person, but I mouth ĎThanksí.  Not sure why, but it seems the right thing to do at that moment.  Lucky bastard I thought to myself.  We all are.

The songs were starting to pour out now.

We are Champions again.  The night is Liverpoolís.

The rest of it is pretty much a blur.  Not that I was drunk.  I didnít have the chance to be, even if I wanted.  Tiredness swept over me.  The adrenaline began to slow down and the realisation that we had just witnessed one of the greatest finals ever was slowly sinking in.  The rest of the evening seemed to be about singing heartily and waiting for the players to go up to receive the cup.  But eventually we left the stadium and headed back on another bus to begin the two hour trek back to civilisation to swap tales of an unforgettable evening.

© Steve M 2005

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