Last night I was fortunate to visit Liverpool and Anfield for the first time. Anticipating that Liverpool would struggle after three consecutive defeats, I was however, optimistic that they would summon the resources to make for a classic Anfield European night.
En route to the match I enjoyed a bit of local banter with a taxi driver, recalling my team, Brighton and Hove Albion’s great encounters and wins (yes they beat Liverpool on their way to the FA Cup Final in 1983). I got to see the largely boarded up area of Toxteth – soon to see a new hospital I was informed.
On arrival at the ground I sought out the Hillsborough memorial, stood and observed the Shankly gates with “You’ll never walk alone”, wandered through the club shop and generally soaked up the atmosphere.
On entering the ground I was star-struck when walking in and seeing Kenny Dalglish – complete with brown overcoat.. took me right back to my youth.. Wow – there he was! He was my first football hero and remains so. His ability to read the game, create space for himself and team-mates, score delicate goals, has been an inspiration that has transcended football into other areas of my life.
I was chuffed to bits to enjoy corporate hospitality – not exactly standing on the Kop, but hey – when friends and colleagues make such opportunities available every moment was to be savoured.
David Johnson – former Liverpool and England striker warmed us up and was a good host. I loved the whole occasion. When we took our seats, the sheer sound of the crowd was awesome.. Most of it was coming from the travelling supporters of Olympique Lyonnais (enormous team coach I noted – so must have driven all the way rather than fly) who were in really high spirits.. So much so that I could barely hear the Kop who to be fair were pretty muted throughout.
Liverpool – shorn of a modern hero of mine, Stevie Gerrard, were struggling from early on. Their midfield combination of Lucas and Mascherano, were creating little and the salvation was the increasing confidence of young Martin Kelly at right-back who did himself proud on a difficult night. His crosses constituted a large part of Liverpool’s attacking threat.
Lyon managed to get the ball out wide often and Sidney Govou was seriously impressive on the right. Lyon were solid, organised and really deserved to be ahead whilst Liverpool, gaining more possession as the first-half unfolded, took the lead just before half-time.
At the break 42,000 fans and I were relieved that Liverpool were ahead. Without Gerrard, penetration was lacking and Kuyt and Ngog barely established an understanding up front. Aurelio, Gerrard’s replacement, was more effective in the first part of the second half and but for an outstanding save by Lyon’s keeper, Lloris, would have scored a great header. That would have made the game safer, but alas the attacking threat was sporadic but belonging to Lyon.
Govou and the attacking midfielders always looked dangerous on the break and their movement to the flanks was to bring an equaliser and eventually their late winner.
The loudest noise from Liverpool fans came on Benitez’s inexplicable substitution of Yossi Benayoun, by far Liverpool’s most creative threat. His replacement, Voronin did little but knock the ball out of play when in possession crucially, with 5 minutes to go. This disrupted the flow and within minutes, Liverpool suffered the classic sucker punch.
Liverpool fans dispersed and those that remained applauded the Lyon supporters who were delirious with their deserved victory. It was an impressive performance and they’ll be confident of handing Liverpool similar difficulties in a couple of weeks time, a game the Reds must win to keep their competitive European hopes alive.
After the match, David Johnson recalled a great story from the Bob Paisley era. I got to see a bit of Liverpool from a taxi again and hope to return sometime. I recently read about Fernando Torres (shame I didn’t get to see him play) and was struck by his love of the city because he was actually freer than in Madrid to live amongst the working people that he identifies closely with. Easy to see why he and his goals have made him a modern hero.
A great night and having thought a bit about heroes of late – seeing Kenny Dalglish was magical. The picture with this post – reminded me how much he, Stevie Gerrard are natural European winners – I just hope that another hero, Fernando Torres gets to pick up that elegant trophy wearing the red shirt before his career is out.