HUGH MACDON­ALD

This was the won­der­ful drama in red, the aw­ful calamity in black and yel­low

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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

Pic­ture: Getty

YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE: The Anfield masses sa­lute their beloved heroes on a night to re­mem­ber.

Sports fea­ture writer of the year

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