Agony, tension... and then joy sweeps Anfield

Liverpool come from 3-0 down to win on penalties
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The Independent Football

So profound was the gloom that had engulfed Anfield's Sandon pub that the fag man resumed his nightly round, hawking a large bag of contraband smokes. That was at 9pm, moments before Steven Gerrard's header began one of European football's most remarkable comebacks.

The fag man was almost up-ended when Liverpool's second was fired home two minutes later by Vladimir Smicer - and had vanished entirely by the time of Xabi Alonso's third, to be replaced as the main spectacle by a man in a kilt and a fez doing an Irish jig outside on Oakfield Road, in the shadow of Liverpool's Anfield football ground.

Amid all the mayhem, Tony Hope leaned forward and tapped this correspondent on the shoulder. "Know where I've been at half-time....? Down the memorial," he said - a reference to the eternal flame that has burned outside Anfield since 1989, when 96 of the club's fans died in the Hillsborough disaster.

"I told them: 'We're here for you every day of the week and now we need you to be here for us.' So now we've got 96 of them, running on the pitch for us."

A survivor of the disaster, he pulled up a black T-shirt to reveal his left breast, adorned with a tattoo bearing the words "96: You'll never walk alone."

Alan McNabb, 60, a mechanical fitter, was in Rome to see the late Bob Paisley lift their first European Cup in 1977. "We were the best team in Europe back then," he said, as his team completed their victory. "Now we're not the best in Europe, or even the best in England. We've done this on incredible grit and determination."

Outside on the cold pavement, men stripped to the waist and rolled around, perilously close to the cars which klaxoned and swayed their way down to the city. This was the fulfilment of an expectation which had been growing since Chelsea were overcome in the semi-final, at Anfield two weeks ago.

By yesterday, any self-respecting Liverpudlian could recite the omens: every time Liverpool had won the European Cup they defeated teams in white - just like AC Milan; the Star Wars saga began in 1977 (Paisley's year) and has just concluded; the Aussie cricket team tours England this year,as they did in 1977.

After the hype and gloom and the ecstasy came the agony. Kilt-man, Stephen Murphy, a Hearts fan from Pennycuick, outside Edinburgh, came down to earth as extra time dragged on. "It's unbearable," was all he could say, although his friend, Darren Brock, who as an Everton fan is more accustomed to footballing agony, told him it was "not all over till the fat lady sings."

He was right. A desperate double save from the Liverpool keeper sent the chant of "Jayzee Dooodek" (Liverpudlian for Jerzy Dudek) ringing.

And through it all, the appropriately named Tony Hope remained motionless until the end. "See what I say," he murmured as Dudek saved his second spot kick and Liverpool erupted in jubilation. "96 bloody goalkeepers we had out there tonight. Didn't stand a chance did they?" And with that he was off, back to the memorial to pay some thanks.