Monday, 15 June 2015

One Red Night - Part 2

The doctor’s words came flooding back to me.

“You may experience shortness of breath, pain in your neck, arms, chest or even jaw. In general, it will be a feeling of discomfort and the best thing to do is alert anyone nearby
and desist from any activity which may exert you further.”

I was convinced the symptoms were spot on, so I reached to Barry (you will have to read Part 1 to understand), who was two seats away. As it turned out, it looked like everyone in my section, including my only hope, Barry, had similar symptoms. It was going to be a collective heart attack, how horribly romantic, I thought. With my last ounce of energy, I reached into my bag and squashed the Marlboro Lights packet.

My friends always told me cigarettes would kill me, but I never thought it would be so public. I glimpsed up at the scoreboard:

3-0?!

One minute to go in the first half and we, previous four-time winners of this competition, were three-nil down?

My Nokia 6310 kept humming as a flood of messages came in. Checking them was a redundant exercise, as I could almost mention the origin of every last one of them. My gloating and over-celebrating during the qualification stages had caught up with me. My work colleagues in Norwich - mostly non-Liverpool fans – had in the tradition with that part of the world, been measured in their reaction to my excesses. This was their opportunity to unleash and they did.

The rest of the derision predictably, came from my Manchester United (I have to wash my mouth out now), Arsenal and Chelsea (oh boy, did let me have it!) mates. The traffic was so much, the blue light on the Nokia came on so many times, the battery went flat. At least this was my excuse for not replying. I have never stopped asking myself what it would have been like, had Facebook being as popular as it is today.

Anyway, half-time went like a blur and the stadium rule of serving no alcohol ensured the pain could not be dulled. I looked across to Barry and ran my hand across my throat. He responded using another hand signal - the universal ‘calm down’ gesture. I sighed heavily and held my head in my hands, as the choruses of the Milan fans swept across the arena. I began to mentally tally the financial costs.

The closer the figure got to two thousand pounds, the more depressed I felt. A strange feeling descended on me, as my seat began to feel like a pod isolating me from everyone (I later found out from a spiritual guru in Norfolk that this was a state of transcending from reality into delirium) around me. I am almost certain if hadn’t been the unexpected roar from the wall of Liverpool fans behind me, my descent would have been final.

“Four-three, we’re gonna four-three, we’re gonna win four-three,” rang out breaking any Guinness Book of World records for decibels recorded in a sporting event. My pod shattered into insignificant little pieces, as I stood up and roared into life. Barry and the other people sitting in our ‘sandwich brigade’ section, sprang into action, stumping the stadium’s foundations into a rippling rumble that seemed to travel across to the Milan fans, quietening them in the process. It was clear they had never seen confidence like this.




The fully suited guys behind me definitely hadn’t and their uncontrolled exuberance, when Steven Gerard rose like a phoenix from the ashes, to bury Arne Riise’s brilliant cross in the 53rd minute, betrayed their initial corporate swag. If I had thought that was over the top, what occurred over the next five minutes was absolute mayhem!

In a space of three hundred seconds, the Liverpool section of the stadium had been transported from the depths of hell into first-class seats in heaven. There was now nothing corporate about the suited guys around us. Their jackets and ties were off, as they joined in the song and bounce, which had now consumed the match. A solitary ambulance drove around the stadium track, stopping in front of the Milan section. Apparently, like one usually sees in a boyband concert, some Milan fans had been overcome. It had been too much for some of them. 

Saying that, it now appeared the euphoria had spread to our section. The man-mountain decked in all red in front of me, was already in tears; “it doesn’t matter what happens now, I have seen the greatest football match of my lifetime and I have been watching Liverpool for over forty years,” he said blubbering uncontrollably.

Carried along by the rejuvenated fervency, an almost celestial version of “You’ll never walk alone” exploded into the air. Every note delivered perfectly and impeccably aided by those who clearly did not know the words, but felt they would be missing out by not joining in. By the time we had come down to earth, Djimi Traore had erased the memories of a disastrous personal performance from the first half, by clearing Andrei Shevshenko’s goal-bound shot. Minutes later, Dudek, the Liverpool goalkeeper denied the Milan striker again, when he produced what can only be described as an extra-terrestrial double-save, in what was a particularly horrific night for the Ukranian.

It was now apparent to all watching here in the stadium and the millions across the world; the Milan players and fans were shrinking right before our eyes. They started to sense they had snatched certain defeat from the jaws of what had seemed like certain victory.

With Shevshenko left to turn the tide in their favour, it was never going to happen. As Dudek raced towards his team mates, I couldn’t honestly account for the next thirty minutes. Suffice to say, I lost almost all the contents of my pockets in my rabid celebrations, but thankfully, not my passport and the banknotes secured within. In truth, it was a moment where loss was redundant. It was a moment that gave me more than I could have hoped for. It was a moment to start responding to those texts. What I could have done for a charger…..

An hour later, in the food halls of Istanbul Airport, we meandered through waves and waves of Milan fans. They were inconsolable and for most of the time, some of us managed to be magnanimous. If it had been us, we know how we would have felt. The Ultras were a different thing entirely though….in a bizarre close of an almighty loop, we have brushed past some of the same group we had encountered earlier.

Unlike the average Milan fan, their look of disappointment had a slightly different tilt to it. Their eyes seemed to be saying; somebody has to pay. It was impossible to avoid them and lethargy had begun to descend. As I contemplated our next move, I could see Barry folding his backpack to make a pillow.

“Baba, are you going to sleep with all these goons around us? We might never have the chance to wake up bro,” I said with genuine concern.

“Kanmi, I have a meeting in Switzerland in ten hours and I am tired. After all you have seen tonight, do you not believe in miracles? And even if anything happens, can anyone or anything take this day away from you,” he asked as he began to lay down.

I contemplated his sentiments for a few seconds and began nodding and smiling. It was time to  make my pillow.


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