Fans' unbridled optimism is dashed, finally

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The Independent Online

The memory of winning the European Cup seemed so fresh that losing was inconceivable for Liverpool fans. And so it came to pass that on the city's Anfield Road at 7.40pm last night, a Staffordshire pit bull terrier answering to the name of Mutt and wearing an Athens 2007 flag was in the company of an owner who only had thoughts for a victory parade around the city with the trophy. "Tomorrow's the day," said the man at the end of his lead, Steve. "They stopped the bus right here last time and they'll do it again with that jug."

The nearby Sandon Lounge pub, near Liverpool's ground, was ready this time, too. In 2005, when Liverpool pulled back a 3-0 half deficit to beat AC Milan, the pub was half full. Last night, the bar staff wore Athenian gold laurel crowns and there was free pint of Carlsberg for everyone after Liverpool's first goal. It only took a shot of Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benitez, fiddling with his spectacles to send his name ringing around the place. Then, 10 minutes in, Liverpool's Jermaine Pennant nearly scored and in a momentary lapse in singing television pundit Andy Gray was heard enunciating the words "Liverpool", "stronger" and " better" in no particular order. These were omens.

Even the Liverpool fans with most grounds for despair could think only of their team's success. Earlier in the day around 150 Liverpool fans heard their flight from Liverpool, John Lennon Airport had been cancelled. " What matters is us winning, not the flight," said one fan.

Liverpool fans waiting to enter the Olympic Stadium also had problems and ended up clashing with riot police as congestion prevented them from watching the game. After encountering several bottlenecks, about 2,000 fans dashed up staircases to try to get into the ground in any way possible as kick off approached. The riot police raced after them and fired tear gas as fans starting throwing missiles.

Police later detained 128 fans for trying to enter the Champions League final without a ticket or for holding forgeries.

The safest place seemed be the Sandon, where 23-year-old Hayley Nye had foregone an evening at the Greyhound pub in the Old Swan district for a night of songs and memorable insults for any Milanese player who dared to impede her heroes. "I know where you live," she told a linesman at one point, with an apologetic glance at her mother.

Milan's goal, on the stroke of half time, seemed only to be a momentary impediment and several Liverpool fans trooped off to the nearby memorial to the 96 who died at Hillsborough, 18 years ago, in hope of a little inspiration. "Every goal came from this place two years ago," said one in the huddle who clustered around the eternal flame there.

Optimism still abounded as the second half wore on. And then came a second goal. The blow­up European Cup in front of the telly suddenly looked a little deflated. Liverpool's consolation arrived and the Sandon was dreaming of 2005 all over again. It wasn't to be, of course. But Tracey, Mutt and another cast of thousands vowed they will be back next year.

"There's more money around the corner for our team and better luck," said Tracey. And with that, she marched off for a bus to the Greyhound, determined to maintain a little of the spirit which makes Liverpool the city it is.

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