This was the wonderful drama in red, the awful calamity in black and yellow
Take it as Red: Comeback at Anfield was special
THE retreat from Anfield was made all the more forlorn by being buffeted by a howling, roaring Red wind, carrying tunes of glory down the thoroughfares to Liverpool city centre.
Ally and I were talking quietly, as if consumed by something approaching sporting bereavement. Our scarves were half Liverpool, half Borussia Dortmund. We were half grieving, half uplifted by what had occurred over more than three hours at Anfield.
Ally, No.1 son, supports Borussia, because he believes the club and its supporters represent everything that is pure about football, particularly in the way the club is run and the style of football the team promotes. I support Borussia because he does. It is a reverse of the natural order, father following son. We travel to Germany to watch them. This is convenient because they play in Germany a lot. But last week it was down to Liverpool, having purchased tickets for a sum that would have bought a decent centre-forward in the transfer window.
We sat in relative silence throughout the match. We were among Liverpool season-ticket holders – good, welcoming people, who must have suspected our allegiance was not welded to the home side. It would have been rude to have shouted or roared in their home. We sat quietly, only murmuring approval when Borussia scored, and correctly predicting disaster as Liverpool gained all the momentum of a runaway juggernaut and BvB inevitably became roadkill.
This was the wonderful drama in red, the awful calamity in black and yellow. But it was only part of the night. The Borussia fans were vibrant in their anticipation of the match – standing facing the Kop at 6.30 – and supporting their players throughout, particularly when they slumped en masse to the turf, felled by the dulling blow of defeat. The MacDonald clan, surrounded by Red coats, watched all this with a sense of wonder. The match featured seven goals, one so deep into time added on that it almost counted as the first goal of a third leg. It sparkled with brilliance, mostly from such as Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Divock Origi, a young, powerful striker.
However, football is not just about what happens on the pitch. Indeed, scarred by my duties as a Scottish fitba’ supporter, I can shakily testify that what happens on the pitch is sometimes the least interesting part of the day. That, of course, was not true last Thursday night. The match was absurdly exciting, as gripping as a vice daubed with superglue. But there was much to admire off the field.
Anfield is an old Love Street on steroids. The interior is brick in red and white. The catering facilities in the main stand owe nothing to the prawnsandwich brigade. The toilets are a living tribute to the horrors of the black hole of Calcutta. It is a tight wee ground, too, in contrast to the super stadia of the modern era. We were sitting in the last row of the main stand. In a modern stadium, this would have required binoculars and pills for altitude sickness. But at Anfield, the view was all encompassing: the Borussia fans bouncing behind the goal, the Kop heaving in all its splendour and the stands creeping so close to the play that one thought they would slide into a tackle.
The ground, too, is marked with remembrance. The 96 lives were taken at Hillsborough but they are held dear inside Anfield. The silence for the Hillsborough victims was profound, made all the more stark by the tumult that preceded it and then followed it for the best part of two hours.
The Liverpool support was extraordinarily patient. Each setback was greeted by a defiant roar, then a song. They were like the doting parents of the fat kid at the sports day. It was if they were glad their boy had put the proper kit on, was running in the right direction and was only falling over occasionally. Their reward for such loyalty was bountiful. There is a lot of nonsense talked about the power of fans, how they can influence a result. And not all of it is written by myself. But the Anfield effort owed much to the fans.
The Liverpool players were inspired, hurling themselves forward. The Borussia players wilted. The late winner was almost inevitable, certainly to Ally and I who looked at each other with almost resignation as Liverpool equalised. “This is only going one way,” he said without relish. He had left the bottle of sauce on the catering counter.
The match ended. But the storm continued. It swept down the roads to Liverpool, carrying Ally and I like wreckage from the good ship hope. We washed up in a Wetherspoons in the city centre. It was almost deserted. Two German fans looked into their glasses, perhaps gauging that the depth of the alcohol therein was not enough to submerge their anguish.
We paused for breath after an exhilarating, draining night. Ally sipped at his pint, looked up and said: “Football. It will break your heart.” He then paused and said: “But I was so glad I was there for that. It’s football. You take the joy, you tremble with the nerves and it smacks you in the face.”
He then smiled. It was that kind of game. It was that kind of night. It is that kind of life. ON MONDAY Matthew Lindsay
YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE: The Anfield masses salute their beloved heroes on a night to remember.
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