Offside, 2 June

Liverpool's 'triumph': the greatest act of charity of the twenty-first century.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

Liverpool’s European Cup victory has been described as the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’. And, to be fair, it was jaw-droppingly astonishing that a team as mediocre as Liverpool should be outplayed for most of the game and yet somehow come away with the trophy. No wonder a million Scousers danced for joy in the streets of Liverpool, bug-eyed delirium mingled with utter disbelief. Maybe not a miracle but certainly a case of floodlight robbery.

Of course, even in their moment of triumph, Scousers being Scousers couldn’t help having a moan. Not content with winning the biggest prize in club football the Scousers are now whinging that UEFA won’t allow them to defend their trophy. Jeez, talk about feeling put upon! Now I’m not UEFA’s biggest fan but I’m with the bureaucrats on this one. Liverpool had their chance to qualify for next seasons Champions League but they blew it by finishing fifth in the Premiership.

In fact they should count themselves lucky that a team that haven’t been English champions for 15 years were allowed to enter a tournament called the Champions League in the first place (not that I’m necessarily against the widened entry criteria, but if UEFA is going to let any old riff raff take part then it really ought to change the name of the tournament). In any case, it’s not as if Liverpool would have a snowball’s hope in hell of retaining the trophy. By my calculation Liverpool used up several years’ supply of luck to win the cup and if such a mediocre team were to fluke the Champions League two years’ running that really would be a miracle.

You might, by now, have detected a slightly ungracious note in this column. And you’d be right. I just can’t bring myself to join in the orgy of eulogising. A lot of nonsense has been written about Rafael Benitez’s tactical genius and his half-time team-talk in Istanbul will no doubt enter Scouse mythology. But whatever Rafa the Gaffer said at half time – and Steven Gerrard, by his own admission, was so distraught that he can’t recall a single word – the Liverpool coach cannot take credit for those ‘six minutes of madness’, to use Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti’s phrase, during which the Italians defended in the most un-Italian manner. Liverpool didn’t so much win the game: Milan quite simply threw it away. Forget Live 8 or the Asian tsunami appeal, this will go down as the greatest act of charity of the twenty-first century.

If the rewriting of Milan’s extraordinary carelessness as a tactical masterstroke on Benitez’s part wasn’t irritating enough, the attempt to turn Liverpool’s triumph into a shared national experience has been truly nauseating. Tony Blair immediately sent the Liverpool team a congratulatory message saying ‘Unbelievable. Incredible. Brilliant. The whole country is very proud of you’.

Blair wasn’t alone in his presumption that we were all rooting for the Reds. ‘The hypnotism was so complete last Wednesday that, without knowing it, the entire nation turned Scouse for one wild night’, wrote Kevin Mitchell in the Observer. ‘Blues and Reds on Merseyside put aside their rivalry. People with little or no interest in the game yelled at television screens as if they had swallowed some hallucinatory drug.’ (1) Perhaps some Everton fans did join in the celebrations but, if any were found to have taken part, I sincerely hope that the club takes appropriate action. The miscreants should be stripped of their season tickets and banned from Goodison Park for life. Treacherous behaviour of this sort requires strong punitive measures.

I wasn’t cheering on the Reds in Istanbul last week. In fact I laughed out loud when the first Milan goal went in. After half an hour I popped out to play a game of football – the Dulwich Hamlet Wednesday seven a-side league Division Four title race takes precedence over the European Cup – and consequently missed the ensuing goalfest.

Was I bothered about not sharing the nation’s excitement? Not in the slightest. I’m not one of those 90-minute patriots who feels duty bound to support all English teams in Europe. No, I’m a paid up member of the Schadenfreude Tendency who wishes only calamity and humiliation on rival English teams. I used to respect, grudgingly admire even, the great Liverpool sides of the late 1970s and early 80s. But, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso apart, I can’t see much to admire in the class of 2005. Hard working, yes but the best team in Europe? My arse.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Magic and Hypnotism of the rolling ball, Observer, 29 May 2005

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Topics Politics


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