More than a game of two halves: The miracle of Istanbul

Click to follow
The Independent Football

When they clashed two years ago Liverpool and Milan produced an unforgettable European Cup final. Andy Hunter trawls the memories

Steven Gerrard, Liverpool captain

I remember the day leading up to the final and the nerves. It was so different to any other game, completely different. It was do or die, it meant everything. I was watching all the fans gathered in the main square on television, taking in the build-up in the papers, the manager's team-talks, everything was different.

I felt there was a weight of history on us. Being a player at this football club is all about winning trophies. You hear ex-players going on about winning all those European Cups, everyone goes on about the successful sides of the past and if you are a player here and not winning things it seems like you are failing. So all I could think about in the days before was that it is impossible to come away as a loser.

Rafael Benitez, Liverpool manager

I have really good memories of Istanbul, the penalties and especially the atmosphere, but half-time was the most difficult situation I have experienced as a manager. It was the most important game, the final, we were losing 3-0 to Milan, one of the best teams in the world, and I was thinking how I would explain things to the players because my English was not so good two years ago. It was really difficult, especially when they ask you something back in Scouse.

Normally I am very calm at half-time, and near the end of the first half I wrote: "2-0. What can I say in English?" Then we conceded a third goal, so I crossed that out and wrote: "3-0."

At half-time I walked past our supporters and in the dressing room I said to the players: "This is the final and we are losing 3-0. We cannot leave our people like this. We need to score an early goal and that will change things."

That was the first message I had to get across. I was last in the dressing room and didn't hear Milan celebrate but [coach] Alex Miller did. He told the players they were celebrating winning. That was a good thing for us.

We had Didi Hamann doing the warm-up because we wanted to bring him on to control the middle. Eight minutes into the break we were clear about changing one player and the position of some of the other players. We needed to protect the right side. Then Dave Galley [Liverpool's former physio] said to me: "Finnan will not be able to play the whole game. You will need to change him." We had already brought on Smicer for Kewell, so I said to Traoré, who was due to come off and was going to the shower: "Djimi, change again. We'll change Finnan instead."

Then I had to put Smicer on the right side, move Carra to the other side [of a three-man defence] and move Luis Garcia. In one minute we had to change the plan. By the 10th minute, everything was under control, and in English too!

At the end I shook hands with Ancelotti, said sorry and the best of luck for the future. That night we had a party in the hotel and the trophy was in the room with us. At three or four in the morning I left the party to be with some friends and I said to one of them, "Hey, do you want to see the cup? Come with me." But the security man at the door to the party wouldn't let me back in. My friend was saying to him: "Listen, he is the manager!" But the guard kept saying no and we couldn't go to see the cup. It was funny.

Jerzy Dudek, Liverpool goalkeeper

At the end of extra time, Jamie Carragher came over and told me to remember Bruce Grobbelaar's spaghetti legs against Roma in 1984. "Do the same as Grobbelaar, dance, do anything, put them off," he said. We had studied the Milan penalty takers on video and knew which way they kicked the ball but when it came to it, I dived the opposite way to the way I'd been instructed. When I saved the penalty from Shevchenko I didn't know it was all over, but when I saw all the guys running towards me it was a great feeling. We celebrated into the night and had a few drinks ... well maybe more than a few!

Gennaro Gattuso, Milan player

We were not celebrating at half-time at all. It is wrong to say that. That is a lie. The word for me is destiny. Milan were comfortably on top and played really well but in six minutes Liverpool scored three goals and changed everything. We had it won but Steven Gerrard played a great game and changed everything, and I have a lot of respect for him after that. Even after they equalised we had many chances but it was not to be. We were winning 3-0 and then suddenly it was 3-3. That was hard to believe. Shevchenko had a great double chance but could not score. If he had, it was over, but he missed and now it is very important Milan put the record straight in Athens.

Neil Lofthouse, Liverpool fan

We were overwhelmed in the first half. A minute before the half-time whistle I heard "You'll Never Walk Alone" starting. By the time the players left the pitch everyone was singing it as loud as they could. I can't help thinking that it inspired the players. It continued all the way through until the second half. I'll never forget that, amazing. The Gerrard header changed everything, you could see that the players believed they could do it.

We were at the airport the day after when I spotted Diego Maradona. He had four guards round him but I managed to get a photo of my son and I with him. It just topped the whole thing off. The whole experience was a one-off.

Rob Hawthorn, TV commentator

After Milan went 2-0 up, Andy Gray said: "That's it, all over," and I agreed with him. Liverpool looked shell-shocked before going in at half-time and the fans' rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" was not that strong. Some fans left at half-time and went to the airport. They heard what had happened but couldn't get back to the stadium in time. After the first goal, the Liverpool fans found their voice. They kept singing "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash.

Jamie Carragher, Liverpool

The best thing the manager did was bring on The Kaiser [Dietmar Hamann]. When he wasn't there in the first half, Kaka ran riot and when we got the first goal Milan just seemed to go. Then Jerzy made that save from Shevchenko, and I thought we would win it because Shevchenko is a top striker and he put in a top performance. When Jerzy made that save, I began to think these things happen for a reason.

At the end I just took off towards our fans. There were 40,000 Liverpool supporters in the stadium but I ran straight to where my family and friends were sitting. It was unbelievable because I honestly hadn't a clue where they were. I went so mad I must have had a bit of a blackout. I just crashed to the floor and I can't remember a single thing that went on around me for a few moments. What I do remember as I was lying on the floor was starting to cramp up again!

Vladimir Smicer, Liverpool player

I think about it every day, it was the greatest moment of my career, a dream. I celebrated with the biggest cigar you have ever seen and I went into the centre of Istanbul to dance in the streets with the fans. It was incredible to be with the fans. It was the greatest night of our lives. I did not go to bed at all. The cup ended up with Stevie G in his room. His girlfriend wasn't there, so he had the cup in his bed instead.

Carlo Ancelotti, Milan manager

We threw it away in six minutes of madness. It was inexplicable because the team played so well for every other minute but I think Milan played a marvellous final. We lost without deserving to lose and we lost in an honourable way.

Djimi Traore, Liverpool player

We were walking towards the dressing room at half-time and the Milan players were already celebrating. We could see them and hear them singing. They thought they were champions and that really got to us. Some of our players set a really good example in that dressing room, particularly Jamie Carragher. At the end we were hanging on and praying for penalties. Rafa asked all the players if they wanted to take one. I said: "No thank you."

Gregg Blundell, Liverpool supporter (and Darlington striker )

Me and my mates were sitting in different parts of the ground and were phoning each other just before half-time to see if we should leave. A few said they were going to give it 10 minutes of the second half but four of us decided to go.

We were on our way out of the ground when Gerrard scored and so we had to try and get back in. All I can say is that it was a good job they had a few bent stewards working the gates or we would never have got back in. Only two of our group made it back inside though, the others didn't know the game had gone to extra time until they finally got back to the hotel.

Harry Kewell, Liverpool player

The manager was brilliant to show confidence in me for a Champions League final and start me when everyone else was saying: "What are you doing?" As it was, the game went awfully for me and I was heavily criticised despite our win. The manager knew from the start of the season that I had an injury and that he was taking a chance with me every time I played because, at any given time, it could snap. That's what happened in the final, I stretched and felt it snap. I knew I couldn't go on and that I would have harmed the team had I limped around as 11th man, but everybody thought I'd thrown it in and I couldn't believe the reaction from some people. Even before the story was out they had diagnosed me and decided I'd quit. I know how Roy Keane felt [when he was suspended against Bayern Munich in 1999]. People told me I was still a part of it and I was incredibly proud for the team and supporters but, for me as an individual, it was strange.

Tony Barrett, Liverpool fan

What sticks in my mind was getting out of our taxis miles from the stadium. All you could see for miles was a procession of Liverpool fans in red shirts, it was a biblical scene. My other abiding memory isn't the fabled rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" at half-time, it was the look of sheer desolation on so many faces. Everyone was in complete shock.

Additional reporting: James Henderson, Oscar Rickett, Mark Shapland.

Comments