Nine years ago I got up early one morning to watch the Champions League final: Liverpool vs AC Milan, live from Istanbul. It was dark and quiet on Richmond Terrace. My brother and I somewhat drowsy and sleepy, but, with some kind of enthusiasm for watching Liverpool in the final. We had both adopted Liverpool as our team as children, and in the 2000s my brother, Thomas had followed them more closely. I was taken up with The Tiges. And so at half-time, the game was or should have been done. A goal from Maldini in the first minute, a couple soon later from Hernan Crespo. ‘AC Milan now playing football out of this world’, the commentator said. Teams don’t come back from 3:0; not normally and especially not in a Champions League final. It had been good while it lasted. At least the outcome was clear and we’d be spared the agonising tension of a nerve testing second half, say, if it were two all or some such score. The Reds fans had left Merseyside to be Bosphorous-side and their trip seemed in vain.
Early in the second half, we should have been back getting some sleep, but Gerrard scores and the commentator says, ‘hello! Hello!’ Gerrard runs back to the centre. He knows. Gerrard the legend: before he slipped up to play a hand in Liverpoool’s letting go of last year’s EPL trophy or handing a goal to Luis Suarez in the World Cup. Three wild swings of his arms gesturing towards the Reds fans who now roar like the renowned Carsi fans of Besiktas. ‘Steven Gerrard has sown a seed of doubt into Milan hearts’. Sometimes a pause in the game gives just enough time for a poetic flutter. Oh beauty. Two more swings of his arms – perhaps this time to his defenders. Conviction shown by a leader. Others will follow. Come with me. A goal from Vladimir Smicer: two in two minutes. He turns and wheels around: Chappy-esque – arms out-wide. Mouth agape. A roar. A tigerish roar. He knows, too. He’s proven the presence of hope. Penalty to Gerrard, against Gattuso. Alonso, pre-Real Madrid, has his penalty saved, but is quick enough to smash in the rebound in a scramble. Go you Tigers. Milan have chances to win; The Reds have chances to cough up what they had fought hard to save.
For months afterwards, my brother, in search of an instant hit of euphoria, in between writing his doctorate, would switch on 10 or so minutes of a recording of the game. I’d come out of my room at the front of the house and he’d have a smile plastered from one ear to the other; watching in a daze. Yes, it was possible. Oh you doubters, you can have so much fun with your nay-saying. The soundtrack of the commentary became the soundscape of the living room of our little place on Richmond Terrace. And then, he’d resume his study, working quietly, perhaps just a little buzzed up by Gerrard’s antics, Smicer’s long-range goal and his doubtless penalty. Oh the hit of a comeback win. In that glorious city of Istanbul: with its music and food and etiquette, but also with its political troubles, its anger and its tensions. Mythical Istanbul was mythical Liverpool’s for a night. The Reds fans left, leaving just a piece of themselves in that great city whose legend had just increased a slight fraction.
Oh you Tiges. You went to Sydney and won. 3 points, no Buddy – I don’t care. A win is a win. No caveats. I can’t remember a moment of the game. I can only remember the sound of the panicked Sydney crowd: urging their team to be as good as the Tiges. I remember the sound of the commentators – no Bruce saying, ‘the Tiges really need to get one here or it could get ugly’ blah blah blah.
Dugald’s article in Friday’s paper was met with the usual cynicism from those who make comments and aren’t open about their identity. Dugald spoke of our footy dreams. Damien Barrett, chief cynic, wrote that the Tiges had no chance. He doesn’t believe in hope; he doesn’t believe in the play and theatre of sport. Him, the poorer. Footy is nothing but a job for him. The Tiger’s comeback from 3:10 is Istanbulish, Liverpoolish.
Which win was the most beautiful of this 9 on the trot? Each bloody one of them.
I’m taking the week off to dream.