One of the many routines I have as a fan in the days before a big Liverpool game is to have long debates with a good friend about all the news surrounding the team in the lead up to the match. It’s obvious that this has little effect but I suppose that, for people who always look for some outside inspiration, the idea of guessing the possible starting eleven and what might happen in the match with those eleven starters makes us feel a bit better. It’s great to end the debate thoroughly convinced that we will win without any problems. Because of this it surprised me that, on a day when we were playing in a knock-out match of the Champions League 2005 (yes, that final when we won in that fashion on that May evening) and having a difficult encounter on German soil, the aforementioned mate called me with some last minute information. Specifically, it was that our coach had been to the pub with some fans.
‘Have you seen the photos of Benitez in the bar?’ my colleague asked me. Numbed by a quiet season in domestic competition, I had long since ceased to worry about any current news related to Anfield. Accordingly, my answer was none other than a resounding no. My mate was insistent though, and very enthusiastic that, seemingly, Benitez had become immortalized with several of our supporters and the pictures were on the internet to prove it. Having seen the evidence, it was obvious I had to become interested. And so I did. In fact, I immediately realised that whatever happened on the pitch later would be irrelevant. The coach of one of the most prestigious clubs in the world meeting with fans at the local on the night before a knock-out match would overshadow everything.
In the end the event was nothing more than a diversion (or at least that’s what remained in the public’s mind). Our staff just wanted to watch what was happening at Stamford Bridge (two of the supposed favourites, Chelsea and Barcelona, were meeting for a place in the quarter finals) and in the hotel there was no transmission of the match. To solve the problem and encouraged by Alex Miller (one of the assistant coaches at the time), they decided to go on this adventure and go for a walk in Cologne (the city chosen for the team hotel) to look for a bar which was showing the match between possible future opponents. And they came across an expat Liverpudlian who told them there were a few people sat in front of the telly in a bar nearby. That’s how it all happened. Even if they only stayed a short time. The place was heaving. And amidst hugs and backslaps, invitations to have a pint and mobile phone photos, Rafa became one of us for ever. And we won easily. And it’s better not to ask what the result was in London. Nobody saw it.