My mother-in-law prevented me from missing the best sporting night of my life.
A shattered husk of humanity, utterly broken by the humiliation of the first forty five minutes in the Ataturk Stadium, I'd left the television at half time, unable to bear the insipid analysis, and been so disconsolate that I remained alone in my kitchen as the second half started. The twenty-or-so minutes in that room were analagous to an endless dark night of the soul as my wife and daughter left me to my morose reflections.
Then began a sequence of events that ripped me from morbidity and induced a state of delirious alterity that lasted for weeks . My wife burst in, phone cradled to her ear, shouting that Steven Gerrard had just scored. Her mother had it on in the background as they'd been chatting about how I would be intolerable to be around for the foreseeable future. The stairs were surmounted in three cautiously excited bounds.
The portable in the bedroom would be best, I reasoned, should it all go to hell again. No need to draw attention to this modest fightback by returning to the big screen. Or should I stick with the habit of the whole campaign and go back to watching from behind the sofa? Sometimes being superstitious is more crippling than a drug habit and I had second-guessed myself at least thrice more by the time I got the old television on just as Xabi Alonso squared it to Didi Hamann, who rolled it into the path of Vladimir Smicer. I would be staying in the bedroom!
In the aftermath of that Smicer strike the cameras picked up an older fan that would feature on almost every highlight reel afterwards. He stood with his hand on his head, a mixture of pain, confusion and ecstasy. He was all of us. This was madness, beautiful madness. Vladimir Smicer? Was this really happening?
I barely had time to process the signals my brain was sending me before the equaliser arrived. Jamie Carragher heroically forced the play, just as he had in the lead-up to Gerrard's vital Olympiakos strike, and when Milan Baros layed it off to Gerrard and the skipper was bundled over by Gennaro Gattuso, it was time to consume the remainder of one's fingernails. The twenty three year old Xabi Alonso had the chance to tie the match from the spot. He did, after a fashion. I nearly crashed through the floor and down onto my family below because of my delirious pogoing. Pride surged in me, in all Reds.
In the chaos and coronary-inducing hour that followed, that pride only grew. Jamie Carragher was the epitome of defiant dignity. Steven Gerrard, as he has been so often, was the catalyst which sparked the hope, but we often forget that there were other heroes on the night. Djimi Traore prevented a certain goal with a vital block. Jerzy Dudek's famous penalty stops and double-save from Anrdriy Shevchenko were only part of his excellent contribution. Didi Hamann was imperious in the midfield, Milan Baros ran himself ragged and even the oft-maligned Djibril Cisse held his nerve to score the most pressurised of penalties.
I barely remember anything of the post-match celebration. The DVD is my evidence that it happened --our Scousers singing Ring Of Fire, Gerrard's endearing "Honest to God's" and Rafa's serene acceptance of the insanity -- but I had shifted onto an alternate plane from the moment that Big Ears was hoisted aloft by the captain. Tragically, this also means that one of my last actual memories includes Josemi, who'd wormed his way front and centre with a Spanish flag around him in the manner of a sarong. And John Arne Riise's stupid hat.
I bundled myself into my car and drove to my brother's to watch the entire match again with a proper Redman, so that we could share the best night of our Liverpool-supporting lives with each other. We sat, we drank, I may have cried. I may have cried a lot. When my best mate's beloved Manchester City won the title in 2012 he described how he'd done a Homer Simpson lying-down-run-in-a-circle to celebrate. My childhood home witnessed glorious drunken celebrations of a far more deranged nature as that night became morning.
It was the third time I'd watched Liverpool win the greatest trophy of all but it was easily the most magical. Bob Paisley's teams of '81 and '84 were all-conquering greats, who featured many players that would be automatic selections on any all-time XI. Rafa Benitez had won the Champions League with a team that had featured Djimi Traore, Igor Biscan, Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Neil Mellor at various critical points of the campaign. It was a stunning achievement that meant one of The Kop's best banners now features his face alongside those of Paisley, Bill Shankly and Kenny Dalglish.
Over thirty five years of being unhealthily obsessed with Liverpool Football Club, I've experienced crushing lows and ecstatic highs but on that May night in 2005 all of the most extreme emotions imaginable were packaged up into into one exhausting, exhilarating and ultimately triumphant occasion. It was magical. In Istanbul, we won it five times.
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