Turkish Delight

“Loyfe is a Rollercoaster – ya’ jus’ godda royde it”

So sang Dublin warbler and permanent embarrassment to the island of Ireland, Mr. Ronan Keating and for once I agree with the smug prick.

Just where does one start?

Last night’s match was unbelievable, incredible, amazing – all of those things but for feck sake lads – is there any chance you could do it in a less dramatic fashion next time? I, for one, am not sure if my heart can take it any more.

For those of you that don’t know – the game panned out like this:

First half and AC Milan were sublime. First to the ball, accurate in the pass and clinical with their finishing giving them a deserved 3-0 lead.

A shell-shocked Liverpool walked off the pitch at half time looking like a team that was dead and buried.

I had to agree with them.

I spent the half time questioning the sanity of it all – devoting so much of my life to the mighty Liverpool FC. My mum always says “never love something that can’t love you back” My reply has always been “What? – even if the sex is great?”

But you see it’s different where Liverpool are concerned. I know they love me back. Every interview these multi-millionaire athletes give, they’re always on about “It’s for the fans” so they must love me, right?

Although even the most loyal, loving Liverpool fan must have been staring into the abyss during those 15 minutes of half time.

Apparently not.

I phoned my brother back in Ireland.

“Game Over. I’m totally gutted. There’s no way back from this!” I said despondently.

My brother was obviously replaced by some delusional madman:

“ARE YOU SERIOUS??! Where’s your loyalty to the cause? We’ve scored three goals in one half before, we can do it again! Get behind the team – they need your support. Bring on the second half!! We can win this!”

Perhaps my brother and I watched “Escape to Victory” too many times when we were kids.

I shook my head with the knowledge of someone older and wiser. “Oh the innocent folly of youth”, I thought to myself as I retook my seat in the pub’s terrace amongst the hordes watching the game on the TV that had been placed outside specifically for the game.
I went back to the loving embrace of my Corona and my packet of much-abused cigarettes.
“At least the weather is great” I consoled myself.

The second half kicked off.

And what a second half it was.

Within 15 minutes of the restart, 15 minutes that forever will be etched in my (and millions of others) memory, as Liverpool, unbelievably and incredibly scored three goals to bring them back on level terms.

I could not believe my eyes.

I was delirious. I was in ecstasy. I was in a seventh heaven where all around me was a sea of red.

But there were still 30 minutes to go.

Time enough for us to score another 6 at the rate we had started the second half but even my ridiculously optimistic brother wouldn’t have made such a bold prediction. Shortly after the third goal I received a text message from him. It simply read: “I FUCKIN’ TOLD YA!!!”

He had a point.

AC Milan came back at Liverpool, with Liverpool trying to contain the undoubtedly classier Italians. It made for some nervous watching, as I kicked every ball, headed every clearance, lunged into every tackle hundreds of miles away as I watched helpless on the terrace of an Irish pub in Antwerp.

We hung on until the end of normal time, meaning another 30 minutes of agonising torture. Again Liverpool defended like demons, with Milan having more of the ball – although it has to be said that like a couple of heavy weight boxers in the last round of a fight, both teams were dead on their feet from their exertions.

It’s at time like these when men step up and be counted.

Liverpool, stood up last night in that Coliseum in Istanbul and were counted, gladiators to a man.

None more so than their Polish goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek. Much-maligned during most of the season; when, with 5 minutes left to go in the match, he pulled off THE most remarkable double save from European player of the year, Andriy Schevchenko.

It was breathtaking stuff.

Nails were bitten to the quick. Cigarettes smoked to the filter. Coronas necked at an alarming rate.

And then, with two minutes of injury time played, the referee called an end to one of the most amazing games of football I have ever watched. But the drama was only just beginning.

The game was to be decided by the lottery of a penalty shoot out.

Except it’s not a lottery.

There is a technique to taking a penalty and there is a technique to saving a penalty. Liverpool demonstrated both in abundance last night as they rose to the occasion and blasted the Italians away, with more heartache for Schevchenko as it was his penalty miss – or rather Dudek’s brilliant save that lost the game - and the final for Milan.

Cue pure, undiluted joy for millions of Liverpool - and neutral - supporters around the planet.

Don’t underestimate the enormity of this achievement.

This tournament is competed by the best teams in Europe.

All the world’s best players play in Europe, making this the best football tournament in the world. I would even go as far as to argue that it is better than the world cup final, because teams are not restricted by nationality when assembling their squads.

But do you know what the sweetest thing of all was last night?

Watching that famous trophy being lifted up into the Turkish night air by our captain Steven Gerrard. A young man, who as a child grew up ten minutes from Anfield, Liverpool’s famous stadium and he watched his heroes from the stands, dreaming of the moment that he would bring Liverpool back to the glory of being crowned……“CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE”.

Just reading those three words starts to bring it all home to me. And – having won it for a fifth time – we get to keep that famous trophy. Only two other clubs in the history of the competition have achieved that – Real Madrid and, ironically enough, AC Milan.

We are now among the elitist of the elite and we certainly are no gate crashers.

Steven lad – you and the boys did the business. You have now written yourselves into our club’s long, proud history. Shankly would have been impressed and I’ve no doubt he and Crazy Horse, along with the victims of Hillsborough were all watching from above.