It’s once again time for Liverpool to play in a European Cup final. How good does that sound? It’s been eleven years now since we have had this pleasure, thirteen years since we last lifted ol’ big ears. We all have stories to tell regarding the European Cup, some have more than others thanks to the halcyon days of the 1970’s and 80’s. Now it’s time for these boys and the younger lads on The Kop to make their own memories and get their own stories to tell.
To get you ready for the final today, the lads from LFCHQ have decided to take a little trip down Memory Lane and tell you all about our memories of the Champions League finals from the past. Some of us were there, some of us weren’t, but it was special to all of us just the same.
As a millennial my first memory of the Champions League was seeing Manchester United during their treble season. I remember thinking that was the standard any team needed to be if they wanted to win the Champions League, even as I grew up. Over the next couple of years proceeding winners – Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in particular – only served to reinforce that view. I never thought I’d see Liverpool lift that trophy, not in my lifetime.
The week leading up to the Champions League final in 2005 though I was feeling a nervous excitement I had never felt in my fourteen years. My head fell off big time in that first half and I made a deal with myself. I didn’t care what score it finished, we were 3-0 down at half-time so that ship had sailed as far I was concerned – I just wanted those thousands of Kopites in that stadium to have a goal to cheer. When the first went in it was job done for me. Then the second went in and you knew Milan had flapped it. The third was inevitable. I knew I was a Liverpool fan obviously, but when Jerzy Dudek saved that penalty and time had resumed that was when I knew and understood how special this club was.
Two years later we there again, against Milan again, in Athens. I was sixteen by this time and was just leaving school. Me and a few mates went out that day and had a few bevies. I was fine but a couple of them nearly didn’t make it into the Olympia theatre in Tuebrook to watch the game on the big screen. Even though we were beaten it’s a night that me and my mates still laugh about now, eleven years later.
This club is special. No other club in the world could make you feel like this, could make you believe in the things we do, could be as creative as our fans are. European nights are synonymous with this club, so much so that they have become part of our identity. They have given me some of the best nights of my life and, for that, I will be forever grateful.
Being only 20 years old, I’m not blessed with a rich memory of seeing Liverpool in the Champions League Final. Obviously this occasion has only occurred twice in my lifetime, both times against AC Milan and both with contrasting results.
Funnily enough, 9 year old me was more confident heading into the 2007 final than I remember being for Istanbul. I distinctly remember strolling into school and telling anyone who would listen that our journey to Athens meant we were destined to win.
Barcelona, PSV, and Chelsea had all fallen before us, and I had no worries about what harm Kaka could potentially cause. I watched in disbelief as 4500 year old Inzaghi scored two trademark goals to put us to the sword. Dirk Kuyt’s header was enough to get me excited again but that night simply wasn’t to be.
Perhaps I didn’t cry because I didn’t expect it to take us 11 years to make it back to that stage again. I had become too spoiled to realise the magnitude of simply being able to play in a Champions League Final.
The time in between that disappointment to now has taught me two things: To simply appreciate the fact that my beloved club has made it this far. And to cry my eyes out if we don’t lift the trophy.
Let’s deal with 2007 first. I was 18 and I watched it in the local. Having beaten Milan two years earlier with a team I considered inferior to the one that represented LFC in Athens, I was convinced as hell we were going to win.
About half an hour into the game, though, doubt set in. It was turning into a frustrating night and when I saw Filippo Inzaghi’s free kick deflect off a team-mate’s hand and fly past Pepe Reina just before half-time, I began to question if it wasn’t going to be our night. Once Inzaghi made it 2-0 late in the second half, I just wanted to leave the pub, go home and never come out of my room again. There was a brief yell of defiance when Dirk Kuyt pulled a goal back near the end, but I never truly felt that we’d get a last-gasp equaliser. After the match, all I could do was argue with another punter that Milan should never have been in that season’s Champions League in the first place, having been initially disqualified for their part in Italy’s Calciopoli scandal in 2006.
Right, now that I’ve that night of misery out of the way, let’s go back to 25 May 2005. I was 16 and still finding it hard to believe that we were in a Champions League final. In a school year with precious few LFC fans, I was routinely slagged about preparing myself for defeat. I was having none of it.
As I had school exams the next day and was still underage, home was the best place to watch Istanbul unfold. The first half was a nightmare; 3-0 down and being outclassed by Milan. Dad asked me what I thought. I insisted that, having scored three in the second half against Olympiakos when we needed to, we went and did it. I said it to try and convince myself as much as anyone else.
Fifteen minutes later, I sat there in disbelief that my prophecy came true so quickly. Once normal time had ended, Dad told me “Let’s head to the pub; you need to be there for when they win it”. Off to the local we went, me by far the youngest customer there amid middle-aged Kopites who could remember the glory days.
When it went to penalties, I briefly debated whether I’d watch. I went with yes as I didn’t want to miss us winning the cup if that’s what was to transpire. When Jerzy got his right hand to Shevchenko’s penalty, there was just an eruption. I leapt on top of every person I could find in the place. I joined in a huddle of men screaming the club’s name repeatedly. I roared down the phone at my brother, who’s not a football fan but was engrossed by what had happened. I fell to my knees with joy when Stevie hoisted the European Cup. I went into school the next morning and was hoisted into the air by the same lads who were telling me we hadn’t a hope of winning! Magic moments. Please God there’ll be more stories to tell from this weekend. Allez Allez Allez!
There’s simply no other, and obviously no better place to start than with that famous night in Istanbul. I am unfortunately too young to have witnessed those magical years of seemingly endless European Cup victories, but fortunately old enough to have been able to witness history unfold as we miraculously came back from 3-0 down to topple the mighty AC Milan. The Italian side were a formidable outfit, and many heroes of mine were donning the black and red stripes that night, but none quite like the Steven Gerrards and the Jamie Carraghers, who gave their all that evening to bring the trophy home.
It’s been a well-documented barren couple of seasons since, and the lack of domestic trophies has generated even more hurt, yet no one can ever take away what that Liverpool team, coaching staff and the phenomenal fans achieved. It’s been a long wait for excitement quite like that, but if Mohamed Salah, Jurgen Klopp and Co. can deliver against all the might of Real Madrid, it may well have been worth the wait.