As John Arne Riise and Dietmar Hamann discussed how they were going to deal with their free kick opportunity against Man United, I was sitting in the back of the Main Stand, exactly collinear with the end line at the Anfield Road End. I nervously chewed on a fingernail, refusing to touch the Wrigley’s Airways that had been so thoughtfully provided by a woman from, um, Wrigley’s before the game. After all, it wouldn’t do to joyously leap from my seat (not that I did much sitting) to celebrate a goal and swallow my gum in the process. By the time someone noticed my predicament, I’d be bluer than an Evertonian living in an igloo.
While ruining all my manicurist’s good work, I was also pondering on two things. First, I realised for the umpteenth time that I hadn’t ever seen Liverpool score from a free kick. I have long felt cheated out of the exquisite pleasure of watching the ball arrow past a despairing keeper. Second – and I honestly was thinking this – I sadly observed that the John Arne Riise song (“John Arne Riise, ohh-ahh, I wanna knooo-ooow how you scored that goal”) was getting a bit stale. The Grimsby fans who had the cheek to invade the Albert before THAT game were under the illusion that we were referring to his effort against Newcastle. I was so busy thinking about such nonsensica that I almost missed Didi rolling the ball to Riise.
Funnily enough, all those anally retentive musings on the lifespan of a song based around one goal went clean out of my head when Riise’s shot thundered off the woodwork and hammered into the ground behind the goal line. Seated as I was on the same plane as the line, I considered it my solemn duty to inform my colleagues in less fortuitous parts of the ground that yes, that was indeed over the line and yes, we had indeed gone 2-0 up against Manchester United.
That’s code for I lost my flippin’ head. A detonation swept around Anfield as I clutched my fellow Albertini’s – that’s quite a good name for denizens of the Albert; remember where you read it first (unless someone else got there before me, thieving get) – to my bosom, and generally clasped in a bear hug anyone who would let me, which in this case was everyone.
Perhaps it was the perfect view, perhaps it was the utter villainy of the opponents, perhaps it was even the crisp early morning dew, but this was the most awesome goal I had ever witnessed. Have you ever seen photos of the exact moment when a golf driver connects with the ball? The ball is squashed slightly on one side at the point of impact. I have an image of the ball crumpling under the irresistible force of Riise’s left boot before being catapulted off into the distance. Had he struck that shot from the halfway line it would probably have cleared the crossbar, the Anfield Road End and perhaps even Stanley Park. If it had been raining at the time, the ground probably would have been covered in a dense mist by the steam generated by the heat of the shot. Rumours that the ground staff nervously checked the woodwork afterwards for hairline fractures are being ruthlessly spread by me. A small part of me wishes it had hit the crossbar more cleanly, in which case shrapnel would have rained upon the Mancs sitting in disbelief behind the goal.
Either way, it caused a tsunami of noise the like of which Anfield hasn’t seen since…well, since the Barca game last year. Without wanting to constantly refer to the Cup final in Cardiff (don’t worry Niall, we’ll never get bored of that game – Eds), it was similar in the sense that only ten minutes before the second goal we were all glued miserably to our seats. You could cut the tension with a knife as every misplaced pass was met with groans of dismay and the Mancs drove us all bananas with their repetitive chants. One should give them credit for making a lot of noise. But I hate them with such vindictiveness that even the events of September 11 can’t bring me to my senses. So instead I’ll dwell on the sheer monotony of “Veron” over and over again. They should have saved us all the trouble by writing it one hundred times on a sheet of A4 and mailing it to us.
But the fog of tension lifted when Babigol pounced to put us ahead. It really was quite generous of Wes Brown. Knowing that many thousands missed Owen’s effort against Boavista – not that I’m pointing the finger at anyone – he gave Michael an encore, which Billy Whizz duly capitalised on in typically emphatic style. Having being released by Heskey’s delicate flick, there were frantic efforts all around the ground to contact bookmaker’s to put the house on him scoring. Of course, had anyone succeeded in the 0.8 seconds available to them, they probably would have only won enough from their stake to buy a packet of crisps, so certain would the bookie’s have been that he was going to give us the lead. Add Owen Special to Riise Dessert to create a very tasty half time banquet.
Regular reader(s) of this column will know that I’m the world’s biggest worrier. I wouldn’t bet 10p on the outcome of a match for fear that some vindictive deity will punish my presumptuousness with an almighty kicking for the Reds. I was pretty cool at half time, the glow from a tremendously satisfactory first half permeating every fibre of my being. A small part of me was even tempting fate, casting my mind back to 1990 when Peter Beardsley rattled a hat trick past the usurpers to our throne. And Zeus/Odin/Jupiter/Osiris must have being paying attention, because Goaldenballs (© Clive Tyldesley) popped up to capitalise on Riise’s limp effort at a clearance. Don’t worry John, we forgive you. It gave the Reds a chance to demonstrate whether they were Men or Munchkins.
Veering sharply away from the Yellow Brick Road (clear your desk, you’re fired – Eds), we all got what we craved. Having seen two absolutely outstanding goals, we were then treated to an almighty clanger from Fabien Barthez. And we owe it all to the referee of the recent Man Ure – Deportivo La Coruna game. It may seem like a slightly obtuse link, but I’ll explain. When Bart went walkabout against Blackburn earlier on in the season, he was caught out and Blackburn scored. But the ref blew for a foul, based on the subliminal idea that The Best Goalie In The World When It’s Not Oliver Kahn could not make such a blunder. But that ref against Depor did not carry that baggage from Fleet Street blowhards. And with that, the spell was broken. Barthez could now be hit over the head in the penalty area with an axe – possibly wielded by Paolo Di Canio – and the ref would have to think about it. The man is a top keeper, but he’s damaged goods, rather like David James before him. How can you take seriously the player who, if you watch the second Owen goal again, can be spotted joining Wes Brown in a comical conga as they attempt to get back to safety. All together now: dodgy keeper, dodgy keeper…
And what about the boy Owen? Once again we got a glimpse of the supreme innovator and perfectionist he is. He may be blessed with an abundance of skill, but he always continues to work hard on his game. You can imagine him practising that drop-the-shoulder routine over and over again on the training pitch. And the vision which saw him jump early to the ball and left him with the most deliciously simple of goals? If he gets any better than this, I may need to bring a box of tissues to every game from now on.
Like Mount Splashmore, so many great memories, literally too many to list. But it would be remiss of me not to mention the GH mural. Entirely the work of the fans, it combined a wonderful creative vision with the hard hours of slog put in by an army of volunteers. I would have been up there myself if it were not for the fact that Leicester City – Sunderland was on the box. I blame Ade Akinbiyi. We should all be grateful to have so many great fans who will put in so much time for the manager that we should all be so grateful to have, both as a manager and as a man.
Dearie me, it’s all gotten rather weepy. Let’s go out on a high by reliving the memories at the very end. As the Mancs sullenly sat in the Anny Road End, unable to depart early since the rozzers wouldn’t let them out to pillage our shops and ravage our women – or men, whateversyourpoison – deep philosophical questions were rhetorically posed by the Kop. Are they really City in disguise? Is there only one Jaap Stam, or might there be more? Should one always look on the bright side of life? And just who was top of the league (if only for an hour)? The ultimate question is how you respond to that question. I still don’t know, because their collective silence was hardly adequate, even if it was predictable. Let’s hope it’s a question we don’t have to face again for at least another sixty years.
Finally (finally!), we really should note that there is only one Phil Thompson. Returning up tunnel at the end to give a clenched fist of triumph to his adoring public, he once again showed how much he is one of us. We may not go the whole way this season, but we can get great satisfaction. As Tommo’s reaction showed, these wins are not just a means to an end, but partly an end in themselves. We can enjoy these games as triumphs standing alone. And on Sunday, we partied like it was 1988 all over again.