I can’t take much more of this. We’ve gone through more crests and troughs in the last few weeks than a piece of cork floating through the Cape of Good Hope. I haven’t felt any inclination to write in the last three weeks. Last season I wrote a great hymn of praise to the Reds and their imminent qualification for the Champions League. Something stopped me from sending it in; I think I wanted to keep a reasonable length of time from a previous article. I really dodged a bullet with that one since I didn’t have to answer to anyone when our CL hopes went south. Not that anyone would have read it in the first place, but that’s another story…
In a similar vein, things have happened so fast in the last couple of weeks that it was almost impossible to collect your thoughts. That curate’s egg of a performance against Barcelona, the strange kind of glory in beating Wycombe, a good result against Ipswich which could have been so much better, the disaster against Leeds – made more disastrous by having to work during the match, the intoxication of the wins over Everton and Barcelona, followed by the thin but nourishing gruel against Spurs.
I’m sitting here at my computer the day after the Spurs game, I haven’t been to any of the above games and yet I’m absolutely knackered. I’ve kicked every ball of every game and then repeated the dose for days after the match. Look at the Everton game. We had the Bitters gloating over our demise against Leeds as if they had won that game and revelling in yet another Man Ure championship triumph, basking in the reflected glory of the triumph of Liverpool’s mortal enemies. Ah, they’ll point out that we’re pathetic for worrying about putting one over a team as bad as they are. And they’re right. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to worry about such an obviously useless load of Blueslime. But we can’t help ourselves. When you are used to drinking champagne but have been deprived for a long time, the odd swig of flat brown ale tastes like heaven.
So when Gary McAllister (36) stood over that free kick, he held all our fates in his hands. Not only was the Champions League receding, but we were going to fail at Goodison again, Druncan the Despicable had scored, Robbie had missed a penalty, we had been ahead twice and they had equalised with only five minutes to go. Add that to the demoralising nature of the defeat to Leeds and complete meltdown was looming.
Not many people have dwelled on the sheer brazen nature of what McAllister accomplished. Had he screwed it up, he would have been lambasted for throwing our last chance away on such a long shot. The Spanish have a phrase for people who show such daring – cojones, they call it, literally meaning ‘balls’ – and Gary Mac certainly showed cojones in that situation.
When the teletext blandly informed me that the Bald Wonder had saved the day, I immediately phoned my brother back home. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the two of us were cackling like demented witches down the phone. The nervous tension of the last few weeks and the relief that all sorts of nasty records had been put to bed manifested itself in a sort of maniacal gibbering. This was like Paradise Regained, the Armageddon of a 2-2 draw was replaced in a matter of seconds by the euphoria of a 3-2 win. Rarely in football can defeat be turned into victory by one single moment, but this certainly felt like victory had been snatched from the jaws of ‘defeat’, and boy, was it sweet.
But the problem is that we had no time to savour the moment before our collective noses were back up against the grindstone, and that’s been the intolerable part of the last few weeks. No sooner do we qualify for the FA Cup final than we’re thrown into the Portman Road bearpit – never thought I’d hear myself say that – for another big game. Eight games in twenty-three days, all of them huge games. And none more so than the one against Barcelona.
I’ve been a Liverpool fan for about eighteen years, and I remember the 1984 European Cup win. But we expected those wins. Make no mistake, we took them for granted which, while not laudable, was understandable. Fanaticism only set in the early 1990’s and since then the great European nights have been far outweighed by the crushing Strasbourg-esque disappointments.
Perhaps that should read great European night, singular. Never mind.
So Thursday night against Barcelona was quite possibly the biggest night in my Liverpool career, so to speak. And I was crapping myself. We’ve made life incredibly difficult for ourselves in our European run, and yet here we were on the cusp of our first European final since Heysel. You could see as you looked at Anfield just how much this meant! I don’t think I’ve ever seen more joyous celebrations than when Gary Mac notched that penalty. The Anfield Road end looked exactly like a terrace as delirious Reds threw themselves around, hugging and kissing each other. Football fans are renowned for their homophobia, but if anyone in that crowd had been accused by some bitter Blue of being a faggot, the Toffee would have received a great big wet one on the lips for their trouble.
Then it was all over, and we all completely fell apart, weeping and dancing and generally making total arses of ourselves. Tales of grown men breaking down in the Albert have proliferated throughout cyberspace, most of them spread by the people themselves. Personally speaking, I threw open the door of my living room, where my housemate was sitting. She turned towards me, arched a quizzical eyebrow and said “they won then.” The fact that I had nearly come through the ceiling at the final whistle had proven to be a dead giveaway.
And then…we had the Spurs game! Once again, no time to really enjoy it. No time to gloat at our spectacular good fortune or how WE, the fans, deserved that win over Barca. We beat Spurs and now have time to take stock, for a week anyway. But it’s not going to be over until it’s over, until all seven games left have been played. And even then we won’t be able to enjoy it unless we’ve actually achieved most of our goals. It’s a complete pain that we can’t properly enjoy the success that we’re having.
Would I change anything for an easier life? Not for one second. As Neil Young said, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.