International Break-Part 4
Continuing on a theme,today’s offering is from SALTIRESENSEVILLA,and again,while I only saw it on TV,yer man brings it all to life for me!!!
Liverpool v Celtic 0-2 (Agg: 1-3)
Uefa Cup Quarter Final 2nd Leg
Anfield Stadium 20.3.2003
As I had been working away from home for most of 2002, my opportunities to attend games had been few and far between. Restricted to TV only, I’ll was feeling a wee bit left out of all the excitement. Blackburn, Vigo and Stuttgart.. all came and went.
Luckily, I had made it home for the 1st leg of the Liverpool tie and watched as we came out of the blocks like demons. Big Bad John had dropped a shot onto the Liverpool bar in the opening spell and the place was thoroughly rocking. Liverpool were visibly shaking and when Henke, only recently returned from injury, diverted a low cross into their net in the first few minutes I thought ‘this is it’… they are going to cave in.
That is how dominant we were. I hadn’t reckoned on that equaliser from Big Heskey and to be fair he put it away with great technical aplomb.
We lost an away goal…. Ach!!!
As we trooped out of Paradise feeling despondent, memories of Liverpool’s last visit and how Stevie McManaman’s late, meandering, waltzing goal heralded our subsequent exit at Liverpool, was like a dirty great black cloud.
However, we did have them rocking…they did not look comfortable in defence and we seemed to overrun them in midfield at times.
Plus-Henke would be fitter and more of a thorn in their flesh in seven days time.
The week of the second leg in Liverpool, I didn’t have a ticket. Despite the A.P.B call going out, there was no chance and time was running out.
Meetings, of the Phantom variety, had been scheduled to ensure that I would be in Manchester the day before and after the game …well, you just never know…
Then, just as I had almost given up hope, on the afternoon of the game, I was attending a ‘meeting’ (parked just off the M62. Listening to MW909 or 1035. Feeling right sorry for myself.)
“Get yourself to the Bill Shankley statue 15 minutes before kick-off. You are in the Kop tonight…Hail, Hail!”
I dropped my phone and struggled to txt back as my thoughts raced. Who am I meeting, how will they know me, the place will be packed … jeezo!!
“He will know you..just relax”
As I pointed my car West on the M62 in the direction of the Mersey, I’m not ashamed to admit a wee tear formed in my eye. I started to tick off my ‘To Do’ list. Hotel and dump motor, arrange to meet buddies for a few beers and off to the game.
It was now 16:30 and I was 30 from Annfield. Never been before and totally misjudged traffic and other daft delays …
Ended up parking near Stanley Park ( no Hotel and my mates all boozed up at other side of the city.) Collar up, Head down and started alone towards my date with Bill Shankley. A few Celts around, but mainly Scousers all cackling away and veeerrry confident of victory … sooo laid back etc. I kept my mouth shut and bought one of those half/half scarves and wrapped it around my neck.
I never found out how my ‘shining knight’ knew who I was, but he was on hand with my ticket and a cheery scouser “enjoy the game & good luck” and a wee wink ” coz yer gonna need it righ?”, then he was off. No payment accepted, despite my protests ( in a crumby Bread accent…) a decent guy and I still owe him for that one.
Inside the mighty Kop for the first time and seat about 8 rows from the front, right behind the goals. Surprised at how small the stadium was, compared to Paradise it was almost pokey. Noted a few Celts dotted around ( just in case..). I was sitting beside a group of 5 or 6 older female fans, all dressed head to toe in red, with what looked like college jumpers and box pleat skirts – huge knitted scarves with around a million of those wee metal football badges glistening under the floodlights. Red berets, also covered in badges, completed the look…
At the opposite end it looked like Celtic fans had 40% of that stand – and around the ground I could make out small groups of Celtic fans dotted everywhere.
There was no sign of any bother.
Although, I will say this, the Liverpool fans around me were 100% Not! Celtic friendly. Not aggressive or intimidating, but it was clear to me that might change in certain circumstances.
They were not loud and mainly just waving huge banners, depicting their, admittedly awesome, European Honours.
From my vantage point, I could clearly hear the Celtic fans working through the back-catalogue of songs and they were in fine voice.
I decided to get a coffee and read the programme as I waited , trembling like a wee boy with excitement. Pinching myself, as around 3 hours earlier I was watching this game from some bar in fekin’ Rochdale or Bury… ( nae offence intended to any Lancastrian Towns..)
As I looked down the Liverpool squad the names popped out: Hyppia, Carragher, Riise, Sammer, Stevie Gee ( aye him..) Danny Murphy, Smicer, Baros, Heskey and Michael Owen.
The Liverpool player that concerned me most right in that moment was Riise… he was the type of player that I felt might slip under our radar.
Walk On … of course, was good but nothing like the sheer volume generated at Paradise in the 1st leg. Part of the reason for that was because the Scousers were not taking the game seriously. You get to know the signs and I swear to god they were just yabbiting away, hardly even mentioned us once and no battle cries ‘c’mon… get intae thum’ etc.
If I’m being honest, they were being complacent. It just occurred to me now, that is definitely what was going down.
When I saw the Celtic team,a surprise was the inclusion of Mo Sylla (eh?)
Within about 5 minutes he had absolutely plated Riise .. I smiled. Martin had identified that risk and made his plan. It worked and Riise seemed rather deflated for the remaining 80 minutes. Thank gawd!!
Henke free kick saved by Dudek and twice Big Bad John had him scrambling with headers. We were on top and I could feel a goal coming.
When Thommo placed his free-kick, just before half-time, low and hard into the net at the Kop end, I was right behind it and watched it go in through the nets. Fortunately, everyone around me was standing and my wee jump, and yelp, didn’t attract any attention. A few Bhoys to my right were jumping about and all around the stadium pockets were doing the same. At the formal Celtic End it looked like bedlam.
In the interests of keeping the Entente Cordiale … ahem…cordial…I’ll not repeat some of the comments from my fellow Koppites.
Let’s just say my eyes were opened! As my seat was adjacent to one of the exits, I had my escape tunnel already sorted.
The mood had now changed.
Suddenly, rate of speech had doubled and concert pitch achieved and maintained. Scousers DO whine … (sorry bu’ that’s what it sounded like) and they they had good reason to as Celts were matching them and had cancelled out their priceless away goal advantage.
They were right in a game,and they knew it..
If anyone can remember watching those Wednesday evening highlights of Euro games from Liverpool’ glory period in late 70’s to mid 80’s … let’s call it the King Kenny era.
Then you will recall the animated swaying crowds in the Kop and the absolute racket they make?!
It was now like I had imagined….
As the second half began I could literally feel the skin crawling around my bones as they let rip. What a bloody intense din they make. Absolutely deafening and designed to strike terror into opponents, and to urge their favourites on.
It was working on me and I feared it was beginning to have an impact on the red shirts too.
The tempo was up!
Liverpool prompted by Stevie G, began shifting the ball across the front of our midfield line . The ball zipping and curling across the lush green carpet that is Anfield. Whizzing from the Stevie Gee/Hamann fulcrum in the centre of the pitch out to Smicer, Murphy and Owen at pace, almost mesmerising. They had moved up about 15 yards in the second half.
Owen had one dangerous turn on Big Bobo in the first half on the left touchline, but other than that had been fairly quiet. He was now far more animated and looking to get a run at our defence.
Stevie G had let fly and stung Rab Douglas’ gloves in the first half and he looked the part, but I noticed both he and Hamann were restricted to side passing. Nothing they tried was getting into dangerous areas.
Lenny was absolutely outstanding. He allowed no space anywhere. Not a sniff.
Paul Lambert was doing that classic move where everyone thinks he’s going to header , but takes 3 rapid steps back and collects the ball at the top of his chest and brings it down under his control as he turns away from an opponent and slips the ball to Petrov or Thompson.
Mantra…keep possession on the deck! Leave one opponent wrong side. Absolute class!
Our midfield were Always in the right space closing them down, denying them space and angles.
Celtic were holding fast and still they came at us. The atmosphere was incredible ( think our Man U, Juve or Barca victories at Paradise)
I was Counting Out Time as the Koppite Carpet Crawlers became more and more agitated and frantic in their urgings for release.
Alas, for them, the only orgasm came at the other end. As Big Bad John pulled back his leg and shot his thunderbolt at full throttle into the netting at the Celtic End. What a fucking goal! I watched it sail past Dudek at eye level from the opposite end of the ground. Bang!
2-0 Nil Celtic on the night (3-1 on aggregate)
5 Little Red Riding Hoods … let out a collective shriek. ( Think Macbeth…)
“C’mon Liverrrpppooolll get into these bassass..”
As I checked my escape route… I spoke briefly for the first time in 2 almost hours…
“3 goals in under 10 minutes…Aye! Good Luck wi’ that”
No idea where my car was, no hotel booked … but I knew where my mates would be, at the New Albert Docks, and I needed a beer to celebrate!
My first proper European Semi-Final … We could hardly contain ourselves. 0ur last SemiFinal was in ’74 against Atletic Madrid, when most of us were not yet teenagers.
Now in our early 40’s we could finally dream of some real Glory!
Bring on the Chequered Harlequins of Boavista!