With optimism at a renewed high ahead of the new campaign, it is hard to believe it is now more than 6 years since Liverpool last lifted a trophy, the Carling Cup, a record 8th, on 26th February 2012 delivered a final trophy for the career of Jamie Carragher and another trophy to the king Kenny Dalglish.
Witnessing your first cup final and seeing your team lift a trophy for the first time are always going to be games that you immediately think of when starting to narrow down your top games. Let’s not forget I’ve witnessed Liverpool hammer Everton on many occasions and none of those would get into my top 3, I’ve been away to the South Coast on a midweek jaunt to see us win 6-1 in a league cup quarter final that also would fail to make the list but my first cup final in the flesh instantly seals it’s place in the top 3.. it is just about positioning.
As the whistle blew on an energetic match at Anfield in January 2012, Craig Bellamy’s 2nd spell as a player here meant that his current club would meet a club from his homeland Wales in the Carling Cup Final of 2012. The debates had been had already as to what the criteria would be for a final ticket if we made it there, ever since the club broke with tradition and introduced a new criteria for determining the sales allocation for the first home game in this route to the final by using cross-competition loyalty stating that you must have attended 3 Premier League matches to qualify for a ticket to the semi final.
Liverpool had been drawn away in every round prior to the semi final with that first route to Wembley starting in Exeter and bypassing Brighton, Stoke and Chelsea before the 2 legged semi final which as fate would have it would again see Liverpool away in the first leg which was settled by a Steven Gerrard penalty. The stage at Anfield though seemed set for Craig Bellamy from the moment Cardiff City reached the final themselves by beating Crystal Palace. It was Craig Bellamy who left Manchester City for Liverpool after a loan spell with Cardiff (the club he would subsequently finish his career with) so his connection to all 3 clubs was as recent as the previous season but also being the Welshman and a Welsh club awaiting at Wembley.
The criteria for the final was announced some 6 days after Liverpool’s passage was confirmed and with just 1 home fixture, it came as no surprise that anybody with 2 credits was guaranteed to be one of the almost 32,000 Liverpool supporters inside the new Wembley for Liverpool’s first appearance. Any Season ticket holder with 1 credit were also guaranteed however supporters like myself who had only attended the semi final 2nd leg OR one of the away games on route were to be put into a ballot to determine whether they would indeed qualify for a ticket. An anxious wait followed and in the days before I had a mobile phone that would ping every time I got an email, I casually logged into my emails to send CVs out in the hope of securing a new job at the time and was greeted by an email letting me know I had been successful with my ballot application and I was eligible to buy a cup final ticket.
As soon as my ticket was secured, the excitement continued to grow as Liverpool’s progression towards the FA Cup Final also proceeded with significant momentum. I began to scour train times and routes looking for the best deal and soon had everything planned and it wasn’t long until the day of the final finally arrived. The Sunday was blessed with glorious sunshine, akin to that you’d usually witness at an FA Cup Final in the mid to late stages of May. Shirt and Scarf sorted, I headed to catch my train and unlike in the latter trips to Wembley for FA Cup semi finals and a Capital One Cup Final, there was nobody accompanying me on the way down but it didn’t take too long to come across both Liverpool and Cardiff supporters on the train as it sped through layers of the countryside and descended on London where 10 miles from Wembley, the North London derby was in full swing. My very first tube journey took me to Wembley Park and immediately the enormous stadium captured my eye with it’s arch glistening pearly white in the blinding sunshine.
After visiting a couple of the designated Liverpool pubs and sampling Wembley way, I headed in to the stadium slightly earlier than I would on a normal match day, both due to the occasion but also to soak up my first experience of the national stadium. My mouth almost dropped to the floor at the prices charged inside the ground. It felt like ages until the build up began and it wasn’t too long before the whistle was blown and encouragement was being bellowed to the 11 on the field representing Liverpool. On paper, there was no outcome except a Liverpool victory. It was unthinkable that championship side Cardiff could upset the apple cart and lift the trophy over the record holders. It seemed even more unlikely as Liverpool warmed up for the match by sticking 6 past Brighton in an FA cup match the previous week.
Cardiff though defended resolutely throughout the game and it was my unfortunate vantage point to be in direct line of a goal within 20 minutes from the side in blue as Joe Mason gave the Bluebirds the lead after a good pass by Kenny Miller slotting through the legs of Pepe Reina and immediately ran towards the cameraman, just a few yards in front of myself and it would remain with Cardiff in control of the scoreline until the hour mark when Stewart Downing sent a corner into the box which was headed on to Luis Suarez who’s header somehow rebounded off the post instead of going over the line allowing Martin Skrtel to tuck the ball home and equalise for Liverpool, his celebration being famous for aggressively shoving Charlie Adam out of the way. Despite numerous efforts, Liverpool failed to seal a victory in normal time, being foiled by Tom Heaton and numerous Cardiff defenders.
Liverpool continued to attack in extra time and just after he guided a header from a Stewart Downing corner wide, Andy Carroll was replaced with Dirk Kuyt the man taking his place and although he didn’t trouble the scoreline before the interval, it was the dutchman who would give Liverpool the lead within 3 minutes of the 2nd period of extra time starting as Glen Johnson fed the ball to Kuyt just inside the Cardiff half and with his freshness, he ran at Cardiff’s players and then launched a ball across towards Luis Suarez but the defender cut it out so Kuyt instinctively took a shot at goal with his first touch and sent the red half of Wembley into raptures having caught Tom Heaton cold. Unknown to me at the time, the Sky Cameras caught me celebrating in the background of Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt celebrating.
Having followed Liverpool for a number of years, I probably shouldn’t have allowed myself to believe that was the moment we had won the cup and that the next 12 minutes or so would be seen out and I would be witnessing Steven Gerrard lifting the trophy. Cardiff refused to see it as that and after Dirk Kuyt cleared the ball off the line to give Cardiff a corner in the 27th minute, the Dutchman was right in the midst of it again as he fell to the ground and the ball almost at his feet was turned in from a matter of yards beyond Pepe Reina by Ben Turner and set the game up to go to a penalty shootout. The last side from below the Premier League to make the league cup final had also played Liverpool in the final and they had also taken them to a penalty shootout before succumbing to defeat 11 years earlier.
The penalty shootout is always a lottery and soon i was overwhelmed with nerves and they didn’t get any better as Steven Gerrard missed the first penalty with a good save by Tom Heaton. Kenny Miller smashed it against the post to ensure the miss by the Liverpool skipper wasn’t punished but then Charlie Adam sent his penalty into orbit, as if kicking in rugby rather than football. Cardiff did however punish this miss so after 2 penalties it was 1-0 to Cardiff. Dirk Kuyt who had been so close to winning the game in extra time and so unlucky for his involvement in the Cardiff equalise restored parity before Rudy Gestede ensured it was back in the balance by hitting the post. Stewart Downing calmly ensured he took the man of the match trophy by calmly putting Liverpool ahead for the first time in the shooutout. Peter Whittingham scored to leave the score as 2-2 after 4 penalties so it all came down to the final 2. Glen Johnson scooped the ball into the roof of the net although I thought he was going to dink it over the bar. Up stepped Anthony Gerrard with the opportunity to take Liverpool to sudden death but he dragged his penalty wide so the first penalty was missed by a Gerrard and so was the last.
Celebrations and bedlam followed as Cardiff were roundly applauded for their efforts whilst collecting their runners up medals. Liverpool were up next and the roof was almost blown off Wembley as Steven Gerrard lifted his final trophy as Liverpool captain and songs including Black Eyed Peas “I gotta feeling” blared out as supporters danced and sang and celebrated the trophy win which Liverpool’s players and staff carried on a lap of honour. By time the honour had been completed, the majority of the large stadium was completely empty and as the music faded it was time to turn around and head back up the steps and head down back to the tube for a journey home. A final look around the stadium followed before I made the approach to the tube station and intermittently stopped as stewards controlled the flow of supporters from the pavement to the tube station so I took the opportunity to grab one final look at the famous arch and began to wonder when I might next get to witness Liverpool lifting a trophy.
It is unthinkable looking back that it is now 6 years since that win, 6 years where Liverpool have failed to add another trophy and have finished runners up in every single competition possible since that. The FA Cup defeat to Chelsea just a couple of months later despite an attempt by Andy Carroll judged as not crossing the line, the Premier League campaign of 2013/14 that Liverpool found themselves just short and then under Jurgen Klopp, a 2016 League Cup final defeat on penalties to Man City and then a 3-1 Europa League defeat to Sevilla before this year’s defeat in Kiev to Real Madrid in the Champions League final. You could pick out so many talking points from all of these campaigns with the wonderful view of hindsight for ways Liverpool could have ended up with a trophy in their hands.
With the additions of Alisson Becker, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri, supporters are hoping the cabinet will have another trophy or more in it come the conclusion of the 2018/19 season. I am hoping that when it comes to review the season, we are talking about all the glory. The next 10 months of football, starting with West Ham on 12th August, could be some ride, you never know with Liverpool, strap yourselves in and enjoy the heavy metal football under Jurgen Klopp.