This was the one I wanted more than anything else this season. Okay, I wanted the league title, but that was about as realistic a prospect as expecting to win the lottery (not that it stops people.) If someone had said to me at the start of the season that you can (a) reach the Champions League, (b) win the Uefa Cup, (c) win the FA Cup or (d) win the League Cup, I wouldn’t have hesitated before saying (b).
Because, my fellow Reds, this is where we belong. For many years now, I have fantasised about doing well in Europe, just getting a few big results or even putting a half-decent run together. I simply wanted the people of Europe to notice us. I wanted tobacco farmers in Greece, reindeer herders in Finland, software engineers in Portugal and government trained assassins in Belarus to look at their televisions and say “there goes Liverpool; they were a great club once, and they will be a great club again.”
And with one utterly sensational game, the name of Liverpool FC blazed across Europe once more. The name of our great club couldn’t have been more noticed had a continent-wide version of the aurora borealis spelled the words out across the night sky. Kings and queens, dukes and duchesses and even important people, have been talking about Liverpool. Some of them would be wondering who we were, others of an older vintage would be wondering where we had been all these years. But they would all be talking about us, and none of them will ever forget that amazing night in Dortmund.
Which is all very well for them, being neutrals and all, but from my point of view I could have done without that nerve-jangling, synapse-frying, heart attack-inducing rollercoaster ride of a night. I know that victory is sweeter when it is snatched amidst adversity – and the thought of teasing the Bitters and the Mancs with our defeat before gleefully snatching victory from under their noses is always satisfying – but, just for once, I’d like the Reds to waltz through a match. I’d love to be able to sit through a match enjoying a virtuoso performance by the Liverpool orchestra, not constantly fretting over trying to keep a choir of chimps with kazoos in tune.
It looked so easy after twenty minutes. My housemate’s boyfriend, Richie, often watches the games in our gaff – the lassies in his place don’t let him interrupt their soaps with football – but when I saw him arrive on our doorstep after about fifteen minutes I couldn’t help groaning. Richie is a football fan, you see. He likes to see good football, while I just want to see Liverpool win. At this stage I imagined that either the footballing fates were going to give him what he wanted i.e. a good football match or I would have to listen to him moan for ninety minutes about how boring we were.
But no sooner had he walked in the door than Steven Gerrard fired home the second goal. I was in dreamland, while even Richie had to admit it was a splendid effort, accompanied as it was by the odd pooh-poohing of Alaves’ defence. This didn’t prevent me threatening him with hellfire and brimstone should Alaves turn it around. It would all be his fault obviously, an assessment with which he heartily agreed.
Then Alaves pulled one back, and the fun and games (sic) began. As I’ve said time and time again, including once already in this article, I don’t care about football. I only care about Liverpool. Of all the football matches that it has been possible for me to watch on the idiot box, about 75% of them have involved Liverpool. If you ask me what the best goal I’ve ever seen is, it will almost certainly be a Liverpool goal, because I don’t know any better. For all of that, I don’t think I’ll find many dissenters if I say that it was the best major football final ever. When you bear in mind that most finals are cures for insomnia, this game dropkicked every other final into the gutter.
The game eventually raced to its stunning denouement and Liverpool had won the Uefa Cup. When the end arrived it felt as if the game had gone on for two weeks, not two hours. It was hard to credit that so much had happened in such a short space of time. Even the Chelsea fan – did I mention that Richie is a Chelsea fan? Don’t hold it against him though, I don’t – admitted that he found his breathing difficult towards the end, so enthralling had the game been. Not that I cared. I was too busy cavorting around the living room, roaring at the top of my voice and apologising to the innocent radiator that I had so thoughtlessly kicked when Jordi ‘it’s a coincidence that I wear number 14’ Cryuff had scored Alaves fourth goal.
Alaves, Alaves, Alaves. It was obviously heartbreaking for them, and normally I would feel some frission of sympathy with the vanquished foe, small club fairy tale stuff plucky underdogs David versus Goliath and all that. But I don’t feel sorry for them. Not only did they say things before the game that were, as Gary Mac might put it, a wee bit disrespectful, but several times in the game they behaved like they were on a bonus for breaking an opponents leg. When Karmona chopped Owen down late in the second half with a tackle that should have had him expelled from the human race, any sympathy I might have felt for them had they, for example, conceded a golden own goal three minutes from the end of extra time, any sympathy for them along those lines joined those other major finals in the gutter.
As Gerard Houllier stepped off the plane at Speke with the Uefa Cup, you could see what this success was all about. Too many Reds have grown up seeing European success as a foreign land, something other clubs do. For goodness sake, Chelsea have won a European trophy in that awful interregnum since the shame of Heysel. But now we’ve won one, and seen it can be won. Ged has been claiming that qualification for the Champions League is our priority for this season. Stuff that. Wednesday night was the pinnacle of our season, and when I come to write the history of my support for Liverpool Football Club, you can be sure these Four Days in May will deserve a chapter all of their own.
*with apologies to Charles Stewart Parnell