Crimson Tide: the heroes' homecoming

Wednesday's extraordinary events in Istanbul sent Liverpool into a frenzy of celebration. Ian Herbert joined the 250,000-strong crowd and found himself swept away on a red wave of emotion
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The Independent Football

The 21 years that have elapsed since Liverpool last got their hands on the European Champions' Cup have been filled with more false hopes, defeat and grief than the city cares to remember. But the rediscovered pleasures of success were all the sweeter for the wait as the jug-eared trophy was lifted out into the sunshine of John Lennon Airport yesterday evening.

Barely a lamppost or a flat roof (going to photographers for £20 a pitch) went unclaimed for a parade of a trophy that brought 250,000 to the streets and culminated on the Edwardian St George's Plateau in the city centre.

Judging by the vast crowds that gathered outside Anfield from 11am, only souvenir sellers were contributing much to the city's GDP. The club shop was closed, its staff apparently stuck on a delayed charter flight from Istanbul, so 150 fans found something else to queue for: "winners' T-shirts", promoted on a handwritten poster taped to the wall of the Christ Church.

Midday came with no sign of the shirts that, one of their prospective sellers confided, would "probably fetch £8" if they ever arrived. When they did show up in all their garish glory, there was a stampede. "Calm down! Can we stop now, 'cos we'll get carried away," pleaded one trader as a multitude of hands reached into his bags.

Across the road, red sombreros had replaced the "Istanbul 2005" fez (popular in the pubs on Wednesday night) as essential headgear. Red flags doubled as an a elegant sari for Louise Summers, from Nottingham, and a summer coat for Macey, a Staffordshire terrier who had been "celebrating in the street" on Wednesday night, according to his owner, Terry Seddon.

When Marks & Spencer is getting in on the act, you know it must something big. The "Istanbul 2005" white ladies' fitted T-shirt (£8.99, although you'll never be able to lay hands on one) has been declared the month's best-selling line in the Liverpool store's Per Una range.

Even the local second-hand car dealership, Georgesons, was getting in the act with its "cup specials" - red vehicles bearing the names of Liverpool's goalscorers. Vladimir Smicer might consider himself worthy of more than a P-reg Hyundai Coupe with 70,000 miles on the clock, but you sell what you can on days like this.

Local businesses, represented by the "Downtown Liverpool" group, predicted that European success may bring millions of pounds to the city, especially if Liverpool are granted a place in next year's tournament despite finishing outside the Premiership's qualification places this season. The derelict state of some of Anfield's back streets suggest that the 2008 European "Capital of Culture" badly needs the cash. The district's economic fortunes have been as painful as its football team's in the past two decades.

But for now there is only the feverish afterglow that drew Jim Wicklow, 50, from his home in Belfast to Anfield's Hillsborough memorial.

"The events of the last 21 years - the Heysel disaster as well as Hillsborough - create a more emotional tie than most clubs know," he said. A bouquet before him remembered "Andrew - a son, brother, uncle", who was barely into manhood when he died at Hillsborough. He would have been 40 this week.

And then there was Graham Whittall of Guildford. Mr Whittall went to work yesterday and begged for the day off so he could witness the homecoming. His boss, a Manchester United fan, told him: "Get yourself to Liverpool. You need to be there." Mr Whittall sent his wife to get their son Andrew, aged seven, from school. Fortunately, his teachers were equally understanding.