Perfect afternoon. Perfect Evening.
It would have been nice to kill this tie stone dead but it’s hard to imagine Liverpool not making the last four.
For years, way before we started lacing Champions League teams by threes, fives and sevens, two-nil was the first leg scoreline you either dreamt of or dreaded. Ever since we lost 2-0 to Nottingham Forest way back in 1978 I’ve always felt – and the stats back me up – that margin means affairs are done and dusted.
Never take these nights for granted, I continually tell myself. Only Porto? Not a bit of it. I’m out of the house by 3.30pm, in town for four, up at the TIA Hotel on Anfield Road by five. There are people to see and pints to be drunk.
I’m meeting my German friend, Christian Happel, a chap who lent me money in Kiev when I’d been robbed. Thanks again mate for bailing me out and inadvertently extending my Ukraine sojourn by three days.
For a couple of hours we swap stories and bevvies while I marvel at his English and he pities my German. The sun is shining, Jamie Webster is playing and its akin to a European away, with an eclectic mix of Norwegians speaking like Scousers; and actual Scousers, many of whom look like they might have bunked off school and haven’t had their ketwigs trimmed since last season.
The scene and sounds are the definition of community, not the trite “greatest football family” but a certainly a fervent religious gathering.
I momentarily lament Brexit (again) in my head before I’m resuscitated by a strong whiff of sulphur. Pyro all over the shop. Fan culture has evolved from my favourite ‘80s days but there’s more songs than ever and though we no longer all dress similarly and come from the same place, there’s something still resolutely Liverpudlian about our support.
🇳🇱 ‘He’s our centre haaaaaaalf………’ pic.twitter.com/gnwaVSL18K
— RedsBet (@Reds_Bet) April 9, 2019
As usual, inside the ground, it’s the familiar Euro night cacophony.
Anthems and ballads interspersed with constant chit-chat. You can tell the Kop has been on the ale en masse and in the opening minutes Porto are staggering round like drunks outside the Blob Shop so intoxicated are they by the fumes from the stands.
Naby Keita – reborn, a suddenly diminutive bionic man – slots home joyously at the Road End. Miles away from us at the back of the Kop but I remember my son’s right behind that goal tonight as I endure the usual pummelling by legs and elbows of my Row 59 and 60 brethren.
Even from our distant vantage point, Jordan Henderson’s pass which feeds Trent Alexander-Arnold is clearly exquisite. It wipes out a million Portuguese men of war. Firmino does the right thing by Henderson who doesn’t even get the assist. Cruel game football, but Henderson’s collar is metaphorically up and poor Trent and Fabinho cop for some barking, rallying abuse from their newly bolshy skipper.
Suddenly – with about half an hour gone – I notice Lovren’s playing. I love the big Croatian onk. Just the sight of him makes me smile; the only Liverpool player in history to be twice stretchered off on gas and air and playing again the next week. Then he goes missing in action with a finger cut which keeps him out for months. Looking forward to seeing him in Madrid bare chested, on crutches, wearing both his medals.
Don’t know where you stand on VAR but I hate it.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) April 9, 2019
There’s a melee in the Kop goalmouth and suddenly old George Sephton’s on the PA mic dulcetly announcing something is being reviewed in a cubby hole somewhere. “What’s that for?” everyone asks each other in high pitched panic, Kopite heads twitching like Meerkats on acid. Thankfully, whatever is being looked at (handball I think) is waved away. Good for George though to get a bit more airtime over the tannoy. I still miss his regular announcement that the away coaches are now in Pinehurst Avenue.
The second half is a bit of a non-event, apart me finally realising Iker Casillas is in goal for them.
What takes me back is that a quiet, routine second period has Kop conversations breaking out like bugs in spring time, broken only by occasional chances at either end. It might be nerves, it might be that we’re all gas bags, or maybe it’s some form of displacement.
The key though is that the gabbing is facilitated by a Liverpool team in control.
What were we talking about? Can’t quite recall, though I’m sure talk of Barcelona and Madrid trips was a hot topic. Allez, Allez, Allez, the Reds; we’ll all be like bronzed Gods by summer.
Perfect. Just perfect.
Give him the ball, he’ll score everytimeeeeeee 🎵 🇧🇷 pic.twitter.com/0xGXKQM8uP
— RedsBet (@Reds_Bet) 9 April 2019
*Odds are subject to change*