IT’S Feb and it’s fab.
The Reds are back in the knockout stage of the European Cup for the first time since 2009.
Those were heady days. I was nine years younger for start. My youngest, Rafael, wasn’t even alive. Well, he was about to be alive. I remember the draw revealing we’d got Real Madrid. Real Ma-fucking-drid. It didn’t get any more European Cup-y than that.
I recall the pitch to my eight month’s pregnant wife, like it was only yesterday. Actually it wasn’t so much of a pitch as an undignified whining begging plea.
Please let me go to Madrid.
Please let me go to Madrid.
Please let me go to Madrid.
Now, I didn’t actually say these words out loud. I didn’t and don’t need my wife’s permission for anything, nor would she want herself cast in the role of the permission giver. This isn’t how we roll. But…
That fucking baby was definitely due. Soon. In fact, it (later he) had become so due that we had a specific date for the birth which was immutable. The baby was getting born on that Thursday, whatever happened. To my mind then, there could be no harm done in squeezing in a cheeky thousand odd-mile round trip to the Spanish capital to watch The Reds play the mighty Real Madrid.
Once in a lifetime thing. I heard myself saying out loud in the kitchen within earshot of the rest of the family. Once. In. A lifetime. Thing.
Talking to myself, here.
Meanwhile, the boys, the lads, the chaps, all somehow living in apparently responsibility and guilt-free bubbles, were making plans. Like a raggle-taggle Armada they would be in Spain for the main event. Their mere ruminations and musings on modes of transport, hotel choices, gnawing away at my sense of self and purpose.
Father. Husband. Son. Friend. Partner.
All these roles. What about “super mad Reds fan for life”? Did that not count for anything? I’d put more hours into being that than anything else ever.
“JUST FUCKING GO TO MADRID!”
“DON’T MAKE ME SAY IT AGAIN!”
“OK, of course, sure… No, of course I can’t go, you’re about to have the baby, our baby, it would be crazy… But, oh I don’t know, if you’re really…
“AHH I’M GOING TO REAL MA-FUCKING-DRID!”
And it came to pass that I did go to Real Madrid, and The Reds did win there in that fucking big mad famous Bernabeu. With a headed goal by Yossi Benayoun. And I got home safely, and in good time to be by Michaela’s side for the impeccably scheduled birth of our fourth child. And we did call him Rafael. After Rafa Benitez. Because, why wouldn’t you? And, in the end, it felt like a bigger victory than the gods could ever contrive or imagine.
It was a victory for being me and my idiosyncratic series of life choices. I neither expected, nor received, any thanks for these. But I rested safe in the knowledge that I’d played a selfish man’s blinder.
And here I am again. In 2018. Nine years later. Liverpool back in the knockout phase. The last 16. And the pricks have put it on Valentine’s day. Fair enough in a way. There’s a kind of symmetry to it.
Jürgen Klopp doesn’t have a choice. It’s his job to jib Valentine’s this year to take The Reds to Portugal for the first leg of this eagerly awaited tie. Klopp is much liked and respected by the majority of Liverpool fans, the manager in turn has became very fond of the supporters and the club. If Liverpool were to defy the odds this season and reach the Champions League final then mutual admiration would blossom into unequivocal romantic love.
Klopp was not tempted to rest any of his players in the run up to this season-defining clash, and will feel that a recent lower intensity of games and the adrenaline induced by the occasion will suffice for a lively and determined Liverpool to show up.
Porto are a big noise in their homeland but it will be our job to shatter their illusion. Obviously a draw would be a good first leg result, but a win is achievable and would probs be decisive in the context of the whole tie.
Selection wise, the manager will want to know from his medics if Joe Gomez and Jordan Henderson are fit enough to start, and if Adam Lallana can play an entire game without risking yet another injury.
My Valentine’s will be happening on Tuesday, February 13 this year. We are all very much at peace with this in our house. Not least eight-year-old Rafa. He came into this world to a father prepared to put his duty to The Reds first, so he’ll be buggered if he’s letting his dad do Valentine’s on the night of a major European Cup tie without him. This boy is blessed. He has come to know the greatest love of all.
Predicted 11: Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Henderson, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Kick off: Wednesday, 7.45pm
Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italy)
Odds: Porto 9-4, Draw 13-5, Liverpool 11-8
For more buildup to the FC Porto game, and extensive reaction in the immediate aftermath, subscribe to TAW Player:
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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Can is suspended
That last paragraph… abso-bloody-lutely!
Me and the the missus had many a discussion where I would suggest if ‘it’ were a boy, there would at least be a ‘Rafael’ thrown in as a middle name (her initial compromise was ‘if we get a dog, you can name it after him…)
In the end, we had two girls. That’ll do. Although, you know, we lift number six in a few months time, maybe me and the missus will have to ‘celebrate in style’ and get the baby stuff back out the cupboards and hope I get the other team this time…
…yeah, so what, I’m a hopeless romantic! ;)
Have a great time, Rafael! (You too, Dad!)
Oh Steve Duvall, you big romantic you! Just got carried away there with the beauty of it all, didn’t you?
Thanks for the review Rob and a very belated congratulations on your fourth.
I think this match up is up for grabs as both teams are just counting themselves lucky to be facing each other, than City, Barca, etc.
However like in 2009, I hope we don’t underestimate Porto. They are a strong side at home and this is the knockout phase. It should mean everything to Jurgen and the Reds too.
Selection-wise I hope Karius is picked to build on previous game experience and confidence. Not sure about the rest, but the strongest and the ones (who are available and) most likely to gel well with each other on the night would be my call.
Anyways I wish you and Rafael have a safe and fun trip.
Come on you Reds!
Brilliant, Rob. Had me in stitches.
OMG that’s my life. Had exactly the same conversation with my 6 months pregnant wife when we drew Inter Milan…” But it’s the San Siro and I know money’s tight…but it’s the San Siro…and Shanks…and Tommy Smith kicking ref…”. ” I have no idea what you’re talking about but just go”.
My 9 year old son is now Liverpool through and through and his response when I told him the story-and we won and we chanted Shankly’s name- was, “That’s really cool, can we both go some day”. My work here is almost done!
Brilliant.. lump in the throat stuff..
and the last time we played Real I took my eldest son to Anfield and, under that fake Rodgers, we got a lesson.. we even stood up and applauded Ronaldo off for fucks sake!!.. and Rodgers didn’t play our talisman in the Berna’bloody’bau… but bollocks to that… we have a leader now, a team to be proud of and who knows, who just knows where this could all end up…..it really is starting to get very exciting indeed..
My Wife told me she wanted to leave me 2 nights b4 Paris final against Real. I had bought a ticket off a tout in London where we lived next morning and was in Paris for the game. Strangely she was more upset with me that I went the final instead is staying in London b4 she went home to Liverpool…..than I was with her leaving me – great week all round. Michaela sounds a good girl …….!!