I distinctly remember this night 13 years ago, on the 25th May 2005.
This was probably my most vivid, earliest memory of a football game. I often remember small incidents from sitting in the lower North Stand at Celtic Park, sitting on my Auntie Eleanor's knee. But nothing as evocative as that night in Istanbul.
I can't recall why on earth I was the only one watching the game, but I blatantly remember sitting in the living room, on my own, watching the UEFA Champions League Final between Liverpool and AC Milan.
I had no favoritism, no bias, no expected outcome...I simply wanted to watch the 'big game'. Knowing me, I likely poured myself an orange juice, made myself a sandwich and sat down to enjoy the spectacle. (Yes, even at 10 years old I was a little extra)
I'll be honest and say I didn't know much about the teams, aside from the star players and, of course, my favourite - Steve G.
I loved the bones off Steven Gerrard; his fire, his technique, the physicality, the fact that he was a born and bred scouser, his handsome face, the fearless nature with which he played. I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to be with him, or be him to be honest with you.
(NOTE: I say I LOVED Steve G, because well sadly it has come to pass that he is now the enemy, I'm sure he would understand....That being said if I ever see him kicking about Glasgow then I'm definitely asking for a picture/autograph/kick about/marry me.)
Everyone knew the Milan team. They were simply sublime, with tremendous talent. This was a stellar final with the likes of Crespo, Maldini, Pirlo, Kaka, Shevchenko, Nesta, Stam, Seedorf and Cafu in the Milan ranks. Please note that I have mentioned 9 of the starting XI because Dida and Gattuso can fuck off! This is a football team that many could only dream of. These were the names that I knew were top of the range, best of gear, quality footballers.
Liverpool did have some quality, but I think it's safe to say that, on paper, they never quite matched up to the prowess of Milan. Sure, they had Gerrard, Alonso, Luis Garcia, Riise, but although every other member of the starting XI is adored by the Liverpool faithful, they were not as fearsome as Milan. Sami Hyypia, although adored by all who wear red, was above average. Djimi Traoré was the same, as was Harry Kewell, even Steve Finnan for Christ sake!
But what that team of relatively average joes, in comparison to the world class AC Milan, did will forever be etched in my memory.
So there I was, perched in my front room, watching AC Milan tear Liverpool apart. I rushed to my Dad at the half-time break, who for some reason would rather wash dishes than watch the final and I said, "Dad that's the game done. Milan are 3 nil up." He wasn't easily shocked my father, but I could see by his reaction that he was very surprised at the score-line. Like myself, he didn't expect it to be over so quick. But by the time the ref blew the whistle for half-time it was a foregone conclusion that the trophy engraver would etch the name "AC Milan" on auld big ears.
The volley from Maldini 50 seconds into the game, Shevchenko's goal that was flagged offside (and likely would have really been the final nail in the coffin, if it stood), the passing between the trio of Kaka, Shevchenko and Crespo who stabbed the ball past Jerzy Dudek to make it two and, finally, the best of the lot...that cheeky lob from Hernan Crespo from that inch-perfect pass from the greatest of Brazilian playmakers Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, more commonly known the world over as Ricardo Kaka. Milan were unplayable in that first 45. The game was over, or so the world thought.
"Milan now playing football out of this world, nobody can live with this." said Clive Tyldesley, the commentator on the night.
I remember returning to my seat, with another orange juice, as the game was ready to re-start. It's an odd memory to have, and recall so fondly in the realms of football. But I'll never forget that sound. As a Celtic fan, I felt truly emotional hearing thousands upon thousands of Liverpool supporters chanting, gloriously and proudly, to the sound of You'll Never Walk Alone. I couldn't help but join in. And from that moment forward, and for the sake of entertainment, I wanted Liverpool to win. Or at least give it their best shot. And by God did they do just that.
Captain extraordinaire, Steven Gerrard, rose above everyone else in the box to get on the end of a John Arne Riise cross in the 54th minute and I leapt out of my seat! He waved his arms in the air, commanding the supporters, the players, the manager, the backroom staff, everyone and their granny to give it their all. Before Liverpool's first goal, Xabi Alonso had narrowly fired a 35 yard shot past the post and Jerzy Dudek saved an absolute stinger of a shot from Andriy Shevchenko.
"Hello...Hello...Here we go...Steven Gerrard puts a grain of doubt in the back of Milan minds and gives hope to all the many thousands of Liverpool fans inside the stadium." - Clive Tyldesley
Vladimír Šmicer scored the second, with a long-range effort fired low into the left hand corner where Dida could not reach it. Liverpool had scored 2 goals in 2 minutes.
Now the third, was rather controversial and was never a penalty. In fact, it was a definite dive from Gerrard. But frankly I couldn't care less because the foul was given against Gennaro Gattuso, so happy days. Xabi Alonso, the sexiest of Spaniards, stepped up, the shot was saved but the follow up ended in the back of the net and it was 3-3.
I was on my feet. I was cheering. I was in utter disbelief and amazement. Pure joy was filling every part of my being. I had never seen resilience like it. From that moment on, I had succumbed to the magical and mythical legend of Liverpool Football Club.
Milan Baros brought Alonso to the ground in celebration, as every man in red piled on top of La Barba Roja (red beard).
Both sides were kept busy following the come-back to end all come-backs. Dida saved Risse's effort, Traore cleared a shot dead on the line, Jamie Carragher produced a fine, lunging tackle to put off Kaka in the box while Stam and Kaka, once again with a chance at goal, didn't quite get their heading technique right.
The first half of extra time didn't offer much, aside from a chance for Jon Dahl Tomasson who could not stretch far enough to get on the end of a Serginho cross.
The second half conjured up an incredible piece of goalkeeping from the Polish Dudek. His double save will, undoubtedly, go down as one of the greatest saves in football history. First, he saved Shevchenko's header from roughly 10 yards out, then from the rebound Shevchenko fired a shot again from 6 yards, only for Jerzy to push it over the bar. It was world class goalkeeping.
By this point I was entranced; captivated by a game of sheer triumph and tribulation, for both sides.
Penalties would decide the winner of this once in a lifetime European final.
Milan: Serginho shot over the cross bar
Liverpool: Hamann scores, despite having a broken toe
Milan: Dudek saves Andrea Pirlo's penalty
Liverpool: Cisse scores, sending Dida the wrong way
Milan: Tomasson scores, sending Dudek the wrong way by firing a powerful shot into the left side
Liverpool: Dida saves Riise's penalty
Milan: Kaka scores, to tie up the shoot-out at 2-2
Liverpool: Smicer scores, leaving it up to Shevchenko to score for Milan or they lose
"There will be no second chances, if Shevchenko misses" Clive Tyldesley
The Ukranian stepped up, attempted a rather poor Paneka-esque penalty, aiming straight down the middle of the goal. Dudek began to dive to his right, but managed to block the shot with a powerful left hand.
I sprinted around my living room; emulating the Liverpool players on my television screen. It was like an awakening for me. That victory taught me genuine life lessons about persistence, resolve, tribalism, team spirit, one-ness, self belief and leadership, among many other things.
This game, and that victory, holds such an important place in my heart and in my life that a picture of the victorious Liverpool team celebrating with the cup hangs neatly on my office wall. Throughout my life, if I've ever been in doubt about the things that I can achieve then I think on this night. How Liverpool played in that second half? How Steven Gerrard commanded every red man and woman in the stadium? How the fans came together? How Liverpool came back from the impossible to seal one of the greatest victories in a European Final? The moment I ever think I can't do something, I think of that night in Istanbul, and how a group of individuals made the impossible possible.
Tomorrow night, Liverpool will compete in their first European Final since the 2007 UEFA Champions League Final against AC Milan. They will face a Real Madrid team who have won the last two Champions League finals. Once again, on paper, Liverpool look the more inferior side. But's that's never stopped them before.
NEVER SAY DIE, REDMEN. NEVER SAY DIE.
Supporter of Glasgow Celtic, member of United Glasgow FC and a keen writer.
"The day that I decided, you're the best team I ever seen"