“IS this your first time?” she asked me as she held my hand and looked me in the eye.
“Yeah,” I excitedly replied, not quite sure if there were any words I could use to describe what had just happened. She looked at me again, her of at least 60 years of age, experienced, been here before, but that glint of excitement still in her eye.
She tells me now, “You’ll never forget your first one” and I just smile, not quite sure what to say.
I was 18 and dumbstruck, couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. I’d heard all the stories, the tales of what it’s like and other people’s experiences, but I wanted my own story and my own experience.
I’d waited for this night. I then snapped out of it and stood, arms around my two mates’ shoulders, and savoured the moment.
Liverpool Football Club, Kings of Europe. AGAIN.
Only this time, it was my first time. As an 18-year-old lad, I had just witnessed, stood side by side with my mates and fellow supporters, the best night of my life.
As the players completed their lap/bounce/free for all around the pitch and disappeared off down the tunnel to marvel at Igor Biscan in his towel (there was a video of the inside of the dressing room after the game), we began to drift away, to the mayhem of jumping on coaches, planes and anything that moved that could get us home.
I won’t give you the blow-by-blow account of how we got home. Needless to say, as described by many, for most it was eventful.
My abiding memory of the airport chaos is bumping into a school teacher (I was in sixth form at the time) who was so noticeable he was probably the world’s worst hide-and-seek player.
“You haven’t seen me,” he said. Then he disappeared and was not to be seen until a few days later when I saw him sat in the corner of a pub having a bevy with work colleagues.
I looked, smiled and received a knowing smile and nod back in my direction. A smile that said a thousand words about everything we had both seen days before.
The story, like for many of us, had started weeks before.
In the hours after Garcia didn’t score a goal to win us the game, many were talking about, drawing up, finalising and booking ways to get there. I was too busy celebrating in town, the next day, written off by a hangover, spent sat in the common room.
The days after were spent looking at ways to get there.
I had a decision to make. I had my A-Levels coming up. I had a very limited amount of leave left in work. I was saving for my first holiday with my mates in Ibiza.
I decided it couldn’t all happen.
I wasn’t going to Istanbul. I couldn’t afford it and being stubborn, turned down the money off my mum and dad, even the offer of borrowing it.
That was until Mr Hughes, my Business Studies teacher made me realise I was being a divvie and I had to be there. Nice one, sir!
Money borrowed, day trip booked. Scare stories about our airline, a dodgy plane that didn’t allay our fears and telling people: “I’m not bothered about dying, but I want to see the European Cup final first.”
Then we were there. In Taksim Squre, enjoying the site of excited Redmen savouring our moment back in the spotlight.
The epic trip to the ground and trek that followed was horrendous at the time but with hindsight has become our march to our destiny. We all know what happened in the game. If you don’t, why are you reading this?
It was, it’s fair to say, surreal. Not just the football but everything that happened around it. I rang my dad at half time. My mum answered, with all the usual mum questions. I gave her no answer and told her to put my dad on.
“Dad, was it handball by Nesta in the build up to their second goal?”
“Yes son, even Andy Gray said it was.”
“I knew it was. I can’t believe it Dad. I’m gutted. I’m not bothered about money, or how long it took us to get here, I just didn’t expect us to be getting battered in the European Cup final.”
“Don’t worry son, we’ll do this”
“I’ll ring you later Dad.”
Yeah ok, Dad. Mad you!
I spoke to my mate as he got off the phone to his dad. “Me Dad reckons we’ll do this. If we score in the first five minutes we might have a chance.”
A ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and a ‘We’re Gonna Win 4-3 ‘rendition later, I still didn’t expect us to do it.
The rest was madness.
The ball definitely went in slow motion as Shevchenko headed it, then volleyed it and it somehow never went in.
It went to pens. We won, they lost.
As we celebrated after lifting the cup, an old woman in front of me grabbed my hand…
I can’t wait for that day again, when I can ask someone else if it is their first, when I can see the joy in their eyes, when I can smile and know deep down how they feel.
Until then though, I’m waiting for my first league title. I won’t wait long.
Come on Kenny, bring it home!