THIS night began with me nearly being run over outside the HJC shop.
My mates and I had been raising some money for a former Liverpool great and would often meet people who wanted to help out. It so happened that on the night of the Madrid game we met a man called Harry who had been fundraising. He had sped around a good deal of Spain on his moped/bike/whatever and suggested we shake hands outside the shop as Anfield was the last leg of his epic journey. As he arrived, he misjudged his deceleration speed and ended up on the pavement, inches away from my swiftly retreating toes. Not the most auspicious of starts to the night.
I’ve often wondered if I’d have gone into the ground had I ended that night with tyre prints on my Sambas. Nah. Not really an issue. True, severity of pain would undoubtedly have been a factor but there’s no way I’d have missed Real Madrid’s first ever appearance at Anfield. Not in 2008-9.
We were in the Main Stand that night, though The Kop was obviously the place to be. My mate Dev and I harrumphed as we noticed the inhabitants sitting down rather than baiting the away end or doing anything other than reading their programmes and talking among themselves, but we nodded at the golden rule of seat availability for big games. The rule states that, in the case of limited ticket availability and quality opposition, ‘in’s in, la. In’s in’.
We were definitely standing, though. None of that sitting and applauding politely shite. This was Madrid and this was Anfield. No way are we taking any shit from ‘the man’.
A steward approached us from the side.
“Sit down, lads.”
Ignored. Singing the Fernando Torres song.
“Lads! Lads! Sit down.”
I look across, my face creased in contempt at the very idea of arse touching wood.
“Sit down? It’s Madrid, mate! Real fucking Madrid! I’m trying to win the European Cup here!”
Emboldened by this revolutionary talk, a lad 10-feet to my right and a good two decades my junior nodded and decided that he too would stand.
“He’s fucking right. It’s Madrid and we’re standing!”
I half expected him to leap onto his seat and proclaim ‘O Captain, my Captain’.
The steward closed his eyes in frustrated concentration. He was only doing his job and the Main Stand is renowned for moaning and arguments. He turned away from us and addressed the kid.
They went at it for a full minute. Fingers in the face. Argument and counter-argument. The lad finished with the words.
“I’m standing up like these lads.”
He pointed to us in solidarity.
We’d sat down. It had been a long drive and we were a bit tired.
I can’t help but feel that I somehow destroyed that lad’s will. To be so close to getting the better of Ged Poynton’s charges on the biggest non-semi-final European night in years only to be let down so unfairly. He probably went home, slung his Rage Against The Machine CDs out of the window and downloaded Coldplay’s back catalogue in a ‘what’s the point of it all’ strop of teenage angst.
Despite all that, Anfield was alive. Vibrant, colourful and loud. Oh so loud. There were actually people singing in the Main Stand. Actually singing. Some even smiled.
This meant something. This was Liverpool back at the top and facing the most successful team in European history in our own yard for the first time ever. Too right this meant something.
Now, after this match the sniffier elements of the press looked at that Madrid team and tried to lessen our achievement by saying they weren’t much — not the Galacticos of a few years earlier. Let’s look at that for a minute.
Iker Casillas – arguably man of the match which is ridiculous when you consider the scoreline.
Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Fabio Cannavaro and Gabriel Heinze – some of Europe’s top bastards there. Some lovely snideness in the first two names alone. Won a few things too.
Lassana Diarra, Fernando Gago, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben – not much deadwood. Not Zinedine Zidane or Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo but that’s a midfield.
Raul and Gonzalo Higuain – might just edge out a combination of, say, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini in a league of striking partnerships.
They brought on Marcelo, Rafael van der Vaart and Guti.
This was not an ageing side either. Their average age was the same as ours – 26.
Being a goal up from the first leg was great but they were more than capable of an away goal. The Spanish rag, Marca, was more than happy with the score at the Bernabeu and wrote the stupidest and best headline specifically for the Reds:
‘ESTO ES ANFIELD… Y QUE?’
Oh, cheers lads. Thanks for donating tanks of hubris before a ball had been kicked.
‘THIS IS ANFIELD… SO WHAT?’
Picture a young Torres, Atleti born and bred. Picture him reading that and him being at the top of his game. Maybe there would be a crick in his neck as the words hit home, possibly a clenching of the muscles as he considered the possibility of defeating his bitterest rivals and cramming every smug word down their apparently entitled necks.
So what, indeed.
They found out in 16 minutes. A ball over the top which Pepe lets bounce. Big mistake. Dirk Kuyt and Fernando are on him. The ball goes wide, Dirk crosses and the very ball Torres has dreamt about since he was six years old duly arrives at his feet.
It’s probably his angriest celebration. He usually liked to run off with a smile and an arm in the air, but tonight he trots across to the Madrid fans, turns his back and points to the name on the back of his shirt. Unusual needle from the doe-eyed hero.
Madrid don’t take it well. Tackles are going in and Robben’s in the referee’s ear every 10 seconds like all good players. He goes off at half-time but both the game and tie are over by then. Just before the break, Alvaro Arbeloa has the ball wide and loops it over Heinze’s head. The Argentinian contorts his body to block it and it hits him. Penalty.
Heinze loses it massively. He’s gone apeshit and is chasing the referee around. He can’t be the one to give us the game, not given his Manchester United credentials, but the ref isn’t having it. He books him. That felt like two pens.
In the ground it was 100 per cent a penalty. Later, we see that it hit his shoulder. This makes it even sweeter. Steven Gerrard, 2-0.
Now, I have issues with Liverpool and this ‘showing class’ thing. ‘Class’ is a good thing to have, obviously. A kindness, politeness and honesty are important but there are times when it’s done for the wrong reasons and subsequently stops being ‘class’ if you only do it to point at your chest and say just how fucking classy you are, then it’s nothing but stupid. ‘This is me, doing this, to show just how good I am and how we are better at this stuff than you are.’ That’s not class. That’s crass. Crass class. You can have that.
But, at the start of the second half something wonderful happens. As is traditional, the ‘keeper is applauded as he runs out towards The Kop. Casillas knows his stuff and applauds back. At that stage he’s only one of three Madrid players on the pitch so it dies down but only briefly. The other lads come out and the ground applauds even louder. We clapped Real Madrid onto the pitch, ladies and gentlemen.
True, it’s 2-0 in the tie and they’re getting battered so it would have been different at 0-0, but it’s a lovely gesture. It’s not just us being nice for the sake of it. It’s a statement. We’re saying ‘the game aside, we know you mean something. We appreciate who you are.’ I’ve never seen that before or since and in a cynical age it brought back a childhood pride in Liverpool Football Club.
There’s a saccharin equivalent when we next play them at Anfield. We couldn’t wait to get their shirts or take photos of them and that was just terrible. I remember Andy Heaton of this parish saying that the crowd kowtowed to such an extent that we might as well have sprinkled rose petals at their feet as they took the piss. Christ, even Marcelo got a standing ovation then.
No, batter them first and then appreciate them. Then batter them again. That’s class.
Gerrard isn’t listening to anything so nice. He’s running them ragged from behind Torres. The nice applause has barely died down before he’s struck the third and is wheeling off down the length of the Kemlyn, shouting nothing at no one.
You may frown at this, given the alternative candidates, but this is just about my favourite Gerrard goal. It might be the setting and the opponents which makes it so, but more than that it’s the way he strikes the ball from Ryan Babel. It’s simply glorious. It’s like he’s stamped on it and used his momentum to create the force. He barely breaks stride. Casillas is in bits at the sight of it. I celebrated, of course, but I’ve also a recollection of just standing there (the steward let me) with my mouth hanging open at the sheer control and power of it. No touch, no repositioning, no worrying about facing (arguably) the best ‘keeper in Europe – just ‘I can do this’.
Madrid just want it to end. The humiliation must be over.
Liverpool bring on Andrea Dossena for Torres so the latter can get a nice reception. Plus we’ve got United at Old Trafford on the Saturday so…
Dossena was a dreadful player and the latest in a long list of left-backs who couldn’t defend. A woeful player. Hideous. We’re not expecting much.
Four-nil. Dossena, 83 minutes.
It’s his first ever goal for Liverpool. His second comes on Saturday. The world has gone mad.
Later in the pub I would remind people that, at that point, Dossena has scored more goals against Real Madrid than Real Madrid have EVER scored against Liverpool.
You can’t see it in the footage but, if you were in the Main Stand, you might remember Javier Mascherano’s celebration in front of it. He goes ballistic. It was his cross which led to the goal and his head goes completely. He’s roaring at everyone. Veins bulging, blood pumping and a kind of strangled scream coming from his cavernous gob.
We want five but the ref lets them off.
Liverpool 4 Real Madrid 0.
A win. A statement win. Ten days earlier we’d lost to Middlesbrough.
It ended up being a cruel season, but this was the game where we ruled once more, as much as we did in Istanbul. This night saw Liverpool throw down a gauntlet to the world. It saw old records re-written. It saw an angry genius.
This is Anfield, so what?