The story of the European encounters between Liverpool and Chelsea can be told in many different ways, although most ardent fans would surely mention the famous Luis Garcia ‘goal’, still said by some people to be the goal that wasn’t (but also could have been a penalty and a red card for Cech immediately before the shot). That’s obvious. It’s the most famous and most memorable image. However, if you think of football as something more than the result and the scoreline, it is possible to tell the story through something other than the sporting action, but through a generous gesture, a romantic act by one of the main characters towards the fans. It is then that the narrative of this rivalry can take a different course. I will explain.
It happened in the semi-final of the 2006-7 Champions League. In the first leg, in London, the men from Stamford Bridge had put one foot in the final by winning 1-0, only a narrow advantage but seemingly unassailable. Because against a team created with a cheque-book, it is obvious you will have no chance and you will always lose. Maybe because of that, when Agger equalized we were not thinking about extra time and much less about sudden death from 12 yards. It’s amazing that we had only just equalized and yet we felt confident of doing anything. Including getting the second goal which would take us through to Athens. We were wrong, because at the end there was no change to the scoreline. Of course there was extra time and of course it went to penalties. And, sure, we suffered more than was necessary. But there was someone who would help us in the midst of our anguish.
Everything was set according to the football protocol at the time. Players linking arms in the centre circle in a line, the first penalty taker avoiding eye contact with the goalie (in the goal at the opposite end to the Kop) and the referee ready to give the go-ahead. And then, in the technical area by the bench, something special happened, something kind, which could only be done by great people. Something which was unexpected because we had never seen it before, but something, on the other hand, that is logical if you think about it. What happened was our coach, Rafa Benitez, sat down on the pitch as if he were a statue of Buddah. Spectators around the technical area watched the scene with a mixture of amusement and amazement, wondering why the coach had adopted such a pose at such a tricky time. Of course, when their doubts had been swept away, they could see clearly how our team had gone through, and while they were celebrating, they realised what had actually happened. Exactly this – no detail had been missed because Rafa, with his pose, had allowed them to enjoy an unrestricted view of proceedings. He had decided to sit down simply to give them a clear view of the pitch. How can it be that, on the point of an historic win, this bloke seemed almost more concerned about the enjoyment and welfare of the fans than the final score? On this occasion I have the answer immediately. Because he was and always will be one of us.