You always hear stories of the great European nights of the past and the odd couple in recent times and when you experience one, it is always going to come into your thinking when you start to sit down and think about those games you attended and the best of the experiences. Whispers before the game suggested that this could be one of those really special nights, and boy it didn’t disappoint.
A Europa League campaign that had begun under the stewardship of Brendan Rodgers, then gave Jurgen Klopp his first taste of the Anfield atmosphere, slowly ticked into it’s latter stages as the clocks went forward and as fate would have it paired Liverpool with Klopp’s former team Dortmund at the quarter final stage of the competition.
The first leg in Germany ended all square with Mats Hummels cancelling out Divock Origi’s possibly crucial away goal by exploiting Liverpool’s achilles heel of set pieces. It might have been extremely frustrating at the time seeing a flat footed Simon Mignolet, but we probably wouldn’t have even got anywhere near the level of drama we were about to see the following week if those old vulnerabilities hadn’t been fractured once more.
As the game grew nearer, my excitement grew. It wasn’t my first time seeing us play a European game and although this wasn’t another Champions League night, just like during that run in 2001 where teams like Olympiakos and Fabio Capello’s Roma were swept aside, I was starting to allow myself to dream that we might lift that European vase for the 1st time in 15 years and a 4th time overall. Sadly it wasn’t to be by the end of the campaign with a sad end in Basel where a half time lead against Sevilla went begging as we conceded 3 second half goals (deja vu when you think back to the game last season).
Thursday eventually came around and as I did my usual pre-match walk around the famous ground witnessing the mix of colours as a vast number of German supporters shirts shined with a distinct glow thanks to the spring sunshine. As time creeped ever nearer to the arrival of the bus, I took my spot on Anfield road climbing on to a wall outside a hotel and waited until thick red smoke and famous chants filled the early evening air and the team bus drove by much to the jubilation of the waiting supporters.
Shortly afterwards, as the crowd began to disperse to resume their usual pre-match activities, I headed into the ground which was only odd by the fact I was sat in the Main Stand behind the dugout and not in the Kop where on occasion I would wave or hold flags there as part of the OTK Flags group (@OTKFlags on twitter). I’d picked a great spec as my auto cup seat for the season and this had been the seat I sat in to witness the final home game of Brendan Rodgers reign days before I headed across Stanley Park to see his final game in charge against our blue neighbours.
I took in the surroundings and saw the ground start to fill up. As You’ll Never Walk Alone played both sets of supporters at opposite ends of the ground held up cards that combined to form a mosaic of 96 as a tribute to those who lost their lives in 1989, with the following day marking the 27th anniversary of the disaster at the FA Cup Semi final. So many companies were filming right by the famous Anfield turf, the interest was huge globally and among all of the pundits, Karl-Heinz Riedle who won the World Cup with Germany in 1990 and played for both teams, lifting the European Cup with Dortmund in 1997 shortly before his switch to Anfield was there representing German TV.
The whistle blew and expectation was soon dampened and I was left wondering if despite all the optimism and faith that I had before the game, could I be about to watch us get an absolute hiding.. we’d managed to win 4-1 against Stoke on the weekend before the game but within 10 minutes, we’d already conceded double that tally as first Mkhitaryan (once linked with Liverpool, then down the East Lancs at Man United before going to Arsenal) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (often linked with Liverpool then joining Arsenal) scored at the Kop end to pour water on all that had gone before and it wasn’t even 8:15pm. Inside, I was fearing the worst, the ruthlessness shown by Thomas Tuchel’s side in the early exchanges left me fearing a cricket score.. that 2nd goal had meant Liverpool were in need of 3 goals.. there was still 80 minutes to go but all the game plans of Jurgen Klopp had to go out of the window.. sadly the atmosphere started to head the same way, leading to our manager attempting to gee up the crowd to instill that belief back in the supporters that could then lift the players.
Half time arrived with Liverpool preventing further damage but failing to eradicate the 0 that lingered on the recently changed scoreboard. Whatever Klopp said in that dressing room, it had an immediate impact as Divock Origi got a goal back within a couple of minutes of the restart and suddenly belief leapt back into supporters who had seen similar comebacks, similar nights in years gone by. Whilst many were looking for the equaliser as soon as possible, I was captivated by the antics of our German manager flailing his arms about with a passion that some would misconstrue as an anger problem. Marco Reus however stuck another thorn back in Liverpool’s side as he managed to slot home for a 3-1 lead on the night (4-2 on aggregate) and leave Liverpool once again 3 goals short of a place in the semi final.
Having missed an effort in the first half, it was the Brazilian Philippe Coutinho who continued to increase his growing reputation and slowly slipping into the role as the best player at the club, received a pass and drilled a first time shot, from outside of the box like so many of his goals for the club into the corner, beyond the reach of the Dortmund keeper Weidenfeller. That galvanised Liverpool and despite not wanting to leave for fear of missing something, I had an urge to wee, so rose from my seat and began to walk down the stairs unaware ITV had just captured me on my route to the toilet. Just after getting into the block, a massive roar came from outside and the toilet block felt like it could collapse at any moment from the sheer force of the celebrations above me as the equaliser from Mamadou Sakho went over the line and made it 3-3 and gave Liverpool around 15 minutes to get a winner on the night and a goal that would take them instead of their German opponents into the last 4.
I returned to my seat, raising my hands repeatedly on the route back to get the volume even louder in the stand in a motion that Klopp himself would raise a smile too. The stand that would soon look so much different and house even more supporters was rocking, the stadium was rocking but time was starting to fade.. inside my stomach turned over and over as the clock ebbed towards 90 and possession and opportunities were exchanged and then came the knockout moment that ensured this game was the best I’ve ever attended as the board went up from the 4th official to indicate that Liverpool had 4 minutes left to get number 4 and a late challenge by Schmelzer gave Liverpool a free kick which was played short to Daniel Sturridge who held the ball up before returning it to Milner with a nicely weighted pass and he dug out a cross which felt like it was going in slow motion like a TV show before the rising Dejan Lovren headed the ball into the net and sent Anfield into raptures. My thoughts were everywhere, I raced down the steps and as the pitch came to within touching distance, my attention was diverted and as I looked at the celebrating players, Adam Lallana clocked me and bounded over pulling me in for a celebratory hug that felt so surreal, with half of me loving being part of the celebrations and another fearing i would crack my head in the technical area or on one of the players seats.
I returned to my seat thinking what a privilege it had been to be in this seat, at this game but then a challenge by Lucas sent my stomach churning again as a free kick was awarded just outside the area. As the strike was took, I closed my eyes out of fear more than anything else and was delighted to hear Liverpool cheers as the strike went narrowly wide. The whistle eventually sounded and Liverpool were taking their place in the semi final. By time I had got home, I was so dazed and overawed by what I’d witnessed, I couldnt even remember leaving the ground, let alone getting a photo with Riedle and some other ecstatic reds or even getting into my car and up to last season this was the greatest Liverpool match I had personally attended but it does now face competition from the home games on the run to Kiev.