The last couple of weeks have come close to finishing me off in some way. As a football supporter, one of the things that you ache for is for your team to reach a cup final. You desperately want it, you tell yourself you need it, but most of the time the experience isn’t the most fun in the world.
No sooner had Liverpool scored that remarkable fourth goal at Anfield in that remarkable comeback against Barcelona, the anticipation kicked in. And with Kingstonian’s season over, there was very little to stem the nervous tide. It’s actually quite ridiculous if you think about it rationally – you can’t change the outcome, but the nervousness and tetchiness gets ever more palpable, and care is taken not to say (or even think) the wrong thing. To feel confident, even if it’s a slight or quiet confidence, is to feel over-confident, even arrogant, this is simply not done. Arrogance means that the team will not play well and if it goes wrong, it’s your fault, despite the fact that you’re sitting at home in a second floor flat in Wallington, nowhere near the stadium in Madrid. You try to think deeply about the tactics, even though you know sod all about football tactics. Any plans made for after June 1st are completely forgotten. June 1st is the date the Scouse Mayans set for the apocalypse, there is nothing forecast for after that date so it must be doomsday.
T-minus seven days, and the stress is hitting fever pitch. Tranmere Rovers, a team for whom I have always had a very deep affection, has reached a Wembley play-off final once again. The game against Newport County is tense, more tense than an incredibly tense thing. The first relief arrives after just one minute – in the National League play-off final last season, Tranmere went down to ten men after less than one minute, quite how they went on to beat Boreham Wood is one for the book of Wirral Legends. Goalless at half time against County, goalless at full time, goalless at half time in extra time, the 120th minute ticks into view and still goalless. I am shredding rapidly. Suddenly, a cross from the right, a header from Connor Jennings, the whole of the Roundshaw Estate is woken up by the roars of one man in a second floor flat… Two promotions in a row for such a wonderful football club.
And now I’m waiting for 8pm on Saturday to come around. What sadistic bastard insisted that the Champions League Final is 8pm on a Saturday? They must know of my inability to sleep well on the morning of a cup final. In my ever fading sanity, the mantra of “if we play to the best of our ability, then we stand a good chance” is rolling around my incoherent mind. The wait is torturous, but I survive to kick-off. No-one has settled into the game when the referee awards Liverpool a penalty. VAR has a look, agrees with the referee, Mo Salah puts it away. I’m happy we’ve scored, but I turn to Rosey and moan that we’ve got to defend for 88 minutes now.
My negativity knows no bounds these days when it comes to Liverpool – I never did believe properly that we could win the league, but when we didn’t, I felt so proud that we won so many games in a row to finish the campaign off. It’s just that so did Manchester City. Apart from beating City in the league, Liverpool could not have done much more, how were we to know that one defeat in January would be the sole difference maker? We’d gone from being miles off the pace in 2018 to not winning the title in 2019 by one point, going toe-to-toe with one of the best teams English football has ever seen. That’s positive progress in my eyes.
But in cup finals, we’ve not played well in one for years, even ones that we have won have not been smooth sailing. Alaves in 2001, Milan in 2005, West Ham in 2006, we conceded a total of ten goals in those three finals yet still won them somehow. Our last trophy win saw us scrape past an-on-the-day-superior Cardiff City team on penalties. And then we’ve frozen in cup finals against Chelsea, Manchester City, Sevilla and last season against Real Madrid. In this game against Tottenham Hotspur, I’m waiting for the big mistake to come. The one enormous cock-up that spoils everything.
And it doesn’t come. Tottenham recovered well from the early setback – was it a penalty? Don’t ask me, I’m biased. But the men in white (unreal to think that in nine European Cup/Champions League Finals for Liverpool, the oppo has worn all white in eight of them…) had most of the possession in the first half. We had our moments, but we were generally losing the battle in midfield. I grew ever more agitated, and you wouldn’t have thought from my mood that Liverpool were leading at half time. The second half increased the stress. The cock-up is coming, surely? Tottenham have some fine weapons in their team – a lot of eyes on Kane in his first game back from a lengthy injury, but Tottenham are more than just Harry Kane, it’s not how it used to be for Liverpool when all you had to do was neutralise Steven Gerrard and then they were there for the taking. This Tottenham team has the outstanding Son Heung-min, Christian Eriksen is very dangerous, Dele Alli the same, no they’re far more than just Harry Kane.
Liverpool continue to struggle going forward. Tottenham keep the pressure on, but strangely they don’t create too many chances. I can’t allow myself to calm down, I can’t be overconfident, the big mistake is still on the way. Allison Becker makes two or three very important saves, the addition of the Brazilian to the Liverpool squad has been so important, his presence has allowed the defenders to defend with a calm mind all season. Finally, the big mistake comes, and I can’t believe it, because Tottenham make it. A poor clearance, a possible handball (the ref can’t give two to us, can he?), the ball rolls to Divock Origi, who slams the ball into the net. The Roundshaw Estate and the rest of Wallington and a large part of Waddon and Croydon are deafened by the roar of the man from the second floor flat.
I am not comforted though when the fourth, or maybe fifth or even ninth official informs everyone of five minutes of added time. Given the drama that Tottenham have produced in this Champions League campaign with late goals, this gig was not over. After 94 minutes and 30 seconds, I genuinely and finally begin to fully believe that Liverpool might win, though I wouldn’t have put it past Tottenham to score an equaliser halfway through the presentation ceremony.
The final whistle blows and a ten ton weight floats away from my shoulders. The dignity shown by Tottenham Hotspur allows me to respect and admire them even more than before, they need to make sure that this is only the end of the beginning for them. I hear the “experts” in the BT studio talk about how poor the game was – I have to admit that I have no clue when watching a Liverpool game as to whether it’s entertaining or not, the result is the be-all and end-all, especially in a cup final, especially when Liverpool recently keep losing them. I hear Glenn Hoddle frankly embarrass himself with rants about the penalty (he’s one in a sadly very long list of diabolical “pundits” on all channels), even if it was or wasn’t a penalty, Tottenham still had 88 minutes to rectify the situation but couldn’t do it thanks to the Liverpool defence. I watch all the Liverpool celebrations with a broad grin, I don’t quite know how to behave so I just sit there and smile inanely, trying at the same time not to burst with pride. The ceiling
Eventually, we get to 1am and my mind has possibly calmed down enough for me to get some sleep. At 2am, I realise that I’m suddenly living in somebody else’s time zone and I’m wide awake. Cup Finals do ridiculous things to ridiculous people at the best of times, suddenly the child in me has gotten out (I thought I’d eaten him ages ago…, mistaken him for a kebab), I’m still over excited and I can’t sleep. But I don’t mind. I’m still smiling, there’s live college softball on ESPN (check out how fast the pitchers pitch, it’s underarm and scary!). I’m still not sleepy, so I watch the Indycar that I taped from last night that clashed with the football…then the motorcycling begins after that. The rest of Sunday is “I’m awake! No I’m not…zzz…I’m awake!” ad infinitum (thankfully I’m fully awake for fantastic Moto3 and MotoGP races). Until of course, it’s time for bed again and I’m fully awake…
Monday comes and there is the unexpected news that the FIFA Club World Cup has been reinstated for this year. Liverpool have never won it, I’ve always taken it seriously (I still think we wuz robbed in 1984 and 2005, by the way) and I’m desperate to see Liverpool finally claim it. I thought the chance had gone thanks to FIFA wanting to change everything all the time. Until they announced that it would be held in Qatar, I thought about wanting to go in person, but Qatar is not a place I want to visit (and the wife won’t go either), even in December when it won’t be as hot as is normal. Hopefully a British tv company will show it, they tend not to bother when English teams are not involved.
I think I’m still in this other strange time zone even now. Cup Finals, eh? They’re swines, all of them…
Now…anything going on at Kingstonian?