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Liverpool Kelly Cates

[I planned to write about something unusual, a quirky, purely personal memory. But this is the strongest one. This is the one I'll remember as one of the best moments of my life. It's sentimental and borderline hysterical, which is, I think, reflective of my state of mind at the time]

Places I remember...
25th May 2005

 

Well, this was unexpected. The 18-time league champions, who hadn't won that trophy in 15 years, the 4-time European Champions who hadn't had their hands on Big Ears for 21 years were in the Champions League final.

I'd been too young to go to previous European Cup finals but this was the one for our generation. Whatever happened, we would have OUR stories to tell. I was working at Sky Sports News the day before the final. I reported on the Liverpool fans leaving John Lennon airport, crossing a continent in a minibus, taking over Thaksin Square, already draped with Liverpool flags, banners and rocking to the sound of Ring of Fire, fuelled by Efes beer and a need to seize the moment. I saw AC Milan train at the Ataturk stadium, the players talking about the weight of history. By the end of my four hour stint I was shaking.

That night I stayed with my brother. I lay awake all night, willing my alarm clock to ring, desperate to get to the airport. I don't remember a party atmosphere on the plane. Maybe that's because, for me, the nerves had really started to kick in. As we landed in Istanbul, ground staff waved Liverpool flags and gave us the thumbs up. Worryingly, I think he was in charge of semaphore. We had intended to travel into the town centre (it was about lunchtime, but to this day I have no idea of the time difference between Liverpool and Turkey) but ended up on a charabanc that wound its way through what I remember as country roads. They were lined with locals, waving bits of cardboard with AC Milan on one side and Liverpool on the other, wearing the colours of whichever set of fans happened to be passing, selling alcohol free beer. They got a few of us with the beer.

About a mile from the stadium, the buses weren't going anywhere. There were acres of wasteland between us and the stadium and the rudimentary roads were crammed with rusting coaches and taxi drivers travelling up the wrong side of the road. So we trekked, carrying our useless alcohol free beer, our eyes on the curving sides of the Ataturk, to the "fan park". Someone was climbing a pole, there was a stage that I believe at some stage a band had performed on, they'd run out of programmes and there was still no beer. It was still brilliant.

And then it was time. We made our way to the seats and half-watched the women on gyroscopes and conceptual dance routines- all that crap that UEFA think creates more atmosphere than tens of thousands of fans.

The game started quite badly, all things considered. Maldini scored in the first minute then Crespo got a couple. We were losing 3-0 at half time in a Champions League final. It wasn't ideal. But then, we were in a European Cup final. It wasn't all bad, just don't let it be embarrassing. And so the mood started to turn.

On our left, from a cloud of red smoke and slowly waving flags, the Liverpool fans started singing You'll Never Walk Alone. It felt like a prayer. It was a reminder that, as a club we'd had moments of great triumph and great sorrow, but what was important at those times was solidarity. We were being beaten, but we were in it together. Afterwards some of the players said they could hear us. I don't know it that's true, but the atmosphere in the ground changed.

So much so that when Steven Gerrard headed our first goal, it felt like genuine hope. Vladimir Smicer shaped up to shoot from outside the area and I screwed my face up in frustration. "Don't waste it. Don't shoot, don't shoot, don't shoot." And then it went in. Gattuso fouled Gerrard and we had a penalty. Alonso's shot was saved by Dida and I felt sick, but the rebound went in and in the space of 6 minutes we were level. Level! God, we couldn't actually win this could we?

Extra time was purgatory and I remember only snapshots: Gerrard defending desperately in the right back position, Carra collapsing with cramp, Dudek's miraculous save from Shevchenko.

Milan missed their first two penalties, we scored ours, Tomasson scored, Riise missed, Kaka scored for Milan, Smicer put us 3-2 up on pens and if Shevchenko, one of the game's greatest ever strikers, scorer of the winning pen in 2003 missed…if he missed…and then as Dudek dived to his left, his right arm came up and swept Sheva's shot out of the goal.

It took me about 5 seconds.

JESUS CHRIST WE'VE WON THE EUROPEAN CUP. I felt like I was tumbling over rows and rows of seats, hugging strangers, grabbing my brother, singing, laughing, disbelieving.

This was our European Cup final. It was number five and we got to keep it. It was ours, ours, ours and it was the best one of all.

Kelly Cates

Kelly is a sports reporter and TV presenter for ESPN

Follow Kelly on Twitter @KellyCates

6 Comments

Excellent Kelly, well written! That night will forever stick in my mind until the day I die.

– David McDonald, April 22 2013 at 12:36

Kelly still brings tears to my eyes... After reading your blog tears running down my cheaks...

– Neil Hulme, April 22 2013 at 13:21

What Kelly failed to mention is that she and Paul were instantly recognised once they arrived at the "Fan Park" and were besieged by fans asking for autographs and photos. They stood patiently, smiling for an age and delighted those of us watching the chaos. If they'd had beer with them they never would have made the kick off.

– Robert Pursall, April 22 2013 at 13:47

I was there too, and I agree. It. Was. Amazing. My friends and I drove from the Czech Republic to Istanbul after getting tickets from Smicer. 7 people sharing a double hotel room in Istanbul which we were being charged a thousand pounds for, the awful beer, the 2 day drive EACH WAY. At half time we were wondering why on earth we did that to ourselves, but by the end of the night were reminding each other that Liverpool just don't like to win things the easy way. Best road trip of my life, and I've been on a LOT of road trips over the years!

– Damien Smethurst, April 22 2013 at 15:34

I was there that night , you will never match it . The Kirkby Fusiliers

– Tommy fletcher, April 22 2013 at 23:57

Hi Kelly,I remember it like ystday,there and back in a day,great time in the square,and an unbelievable journey on some random bus to the ground,the result was fantastic,and the journey back to airport was a blur,but the 7hr wait for the plane was agony.And to top it all I met you at the airport.a great occasion for all reds.

– Gary, April 25 2013 at 18:52

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