by Danny Norton
In the UK in the early May of 2005, there was a clash between two different ideologies, cultures and backgrounds as Liverpool played Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final second-leg at Anfield. A few days later there was a general election. Although it was a match low on technical excellence and even tactical nous, the drama of the night more than made up for it.
As well as the prize of a place in the European Cup final in Istanbul three weeks later, it was the contrast between the clubs, both on and off the field, which set the conditions required for the drama to reach the level it did. It was red against blue, north versus south, historic giants against English football’s newest force. Even the clubs new Iberian managers added to the difference, with Liverpool’s quiet and phlegmatic Rafael Benitez up against Chelsea’s brash and emotional Jose Mourinho.
Chelsea were a club on the up. Bought by Roman Abramovich in 2003, the Russian billionaire had spent over £200m on transfers in order to bring success to a club that hadn’t won the league in fifty years. It worked. Three days before travelling to Anfield, the Blues had wrapped up the league title for the first time since 1954 by beating Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok stadium to add to the League Cup they had already won earlier in the season. Their eyes were now firmly fixed on a first European Cup and, with Mourinho at the helm (the man who had led Porto to a surprise success in the competition twelve months earlier), it seemed like nothing could stop them. Certainly not a side over thirty points below them in the league anyway.
Liverpool were England’s most successful club, with eighteen Championships and four European Cups to their name. The last of those league titles, however, had come in 1990, whilst all their continental triumphs had occurred in a golden age between 1977 and 1984. They had had numerous cup wins, most notably winning a FA, UEFA and League Cup treble in 2001, but had struggled to keep up with arch-rivals Manchester United and, more significantly, their own history, which had seemed at times as much a poisoned chalice as a golden one, weighing the club down and burdening players who just weren’t good enough with the pressure of living up to the most glorious of pasts.
And now here was Chelsea, a club painted as the antithesis of the Reds. They were a club who, according to many fans on the Kop, had sold their soul to a Russian oligarch. Others claimed they didn’t have a soul. A rivalry had been brewing between the clubs for some time, as Liverpool had played a starring role in Abramovich’s Chelsea story. It was a victory over the Reds at Stamford Bridge on the last day of the 2002/03 season, clinching qualification for the 2003/04 Champions League at Liverpool’s expense, which led to Abramovich’s purchase of the West London club. The Russian’s first competitive game as owner was a 2-1 win at Anfield, and his first trophy, the aforementioned League Cup, was won by beating the Reds 3-2 in Cardiff. Now Liverpool were again part of a crucial match in the Abramovich era.
Going into the match, the tie was delicately poised after a cautious goalless draw in the first leg at Stamford Bridge. It had been a game of very few chances, the most notable attempts at breaking the deadlock being a Milan Baros header, which forced an excellent save from his compatriot Petr Cech, and Frank Lampard blasting a knock-down over the Liverpool bar from six yards out. Arguably the most significant incident in the match came towards the end when Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso, a booking away from missing the second leg, received a yellow card when Eider Gudjohnsen went to ground. The replays later showed there was no contact, but the damage had been done and the midfield maestro, Benitez’s star signing, would miss the return.
Both teams seemed happy with the result, and Mourinho in particular spent the next week playing mind-games, claiming that “99.9% of Liverpool fans think they’re through”, whilst reminding everyone that “last season, when I was at Porto, it was 0-0 in the semi-final at home to Deportivo and we beat them in La Coruna. It’s 0-0 here so I trust we can do it again.” Benitez was more cautious, responding simply “I will be in the 0.1 per cent. We need to play a good game and they are a good team.”
A lot of the discussion in the build-up to the game centred on the Anfield atmosphere and what impact, if any, it would have on the game. Benitez, Carragher and Gerrard all mentioned how the fans could make a difference, pointing to the Juventus semi-final when the Italian champions were visibly affected by it early on and went two goals down within 25 minutes. Yet it was a view dismissed by Mourinho and his striker Meteja Kezman, who said that “they talk a lot about atmosphere there. But last time I didn’t see so much.” That last time he was referring to was the league match between the sides on New Year’s Day that kicked off at 12:45, which Chelsea won thanks to a solitary Joe Cole goal, giving the Blues their first league double over the Reds since 1920.
However, Anfield would be a rather different experience for Kezman and co. on May 3rd. The Liverpool fans used their history and the current context of both clubs as both an inspiration to themselves and as a message to the nouveau riche visitors. Amongst the countless number of flags and banners on display, dozens played on the Mastercard slogan of ‘there are some things money can’t buy’, whilst others stated simply ‘Your Dreams are our Reality’ and ‘Respect for Your Elders Gives you Character’, both given resonance by pictures of four European Cups.
The atmosphere had been heating up for hours beforehand, with songs echoing around the outside of the ground as the fans made their way in. As the players emerged to warm up, they were greeted by a stadium a quarter full but already making, according to Andy Hunter of the Daily Post, more noise than Stamford Bridge managed a week earlier. By the time the players had finished their pre-match routine the ground was nearly full, and every Liverpool player had had his name sung.
The Kop was simmering, to the extent that Frank Lampard turned to the Chelsea contingent in the lower Anfield Road end, directly opposite the legendary terrace, and motioned for them to respond. It was an impossible request. An on-pitch huddle between the Liverpool players before heading back to the changing room served to crank the volume up higher still before, according to Oliver Holt of the Daily Mirror, “the most rousing rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’” for which “some of us just stood in awe.”
But yet it got louder still. After the end of the famous anthem, as the crowd awaited the arrival of the teams on the pitch, the atmosphere reached a crescendo. The noise became just that- noise. It was so loud no song was actually audible for a short while, before ‘When the Red’s Go Marching In’ finally broke out amid the din. It was accompanied by the fans congregated on the Kop jumping up and down waving flags or twirling the scarves they had just held aloft in an almost prayer-like manner through their hymn, like madmen above their heads. The rest of the stadium immediately joined in. Those who didn’t have scarves started twirling shirts or jumpers.
Those watching on ITV were briefly treated to pictures of this mayhem around the ground, followed by a shot of the Chelsea section. Although they had tried to react to their opposite number earlier, punctuating the brief lull between the lines of You’ll Never Walk Alone with chants of ‘Champions’, and would add their voice to the occasion again shortly, they for a few moments looked quite simply stunned. They stood there wide-eyed, silent, just staring at the scene going on around them
After the players finally emerged from the tunnel the captains joined the officials for the coin toss. John Terry won it and chose for Liverpool to play towards the Kop in the first half. It was a decision any opposing captain would make: Liverpool traditionally attack the terrace in the second half, the theory being the fans can suck the ball into the net when it really mattered towards the end of the match. It was the worst thing the Chelsea captain could have done.
Liverpool were always going to try and tear into Chelsea early on, playing on an atmosphere that Henry Winter of the Telegraph described as ‘just incredible…a wave of unbelievable noise rolled into Chelsea’s players, knocking them back, scrambling their senses and lifting Liverpool…the pillars and rafters of this famous stadium were shaking as the songs, screams and chants cascaded down from all sides. It was impossible, at first, for the Chelsea players to communicate with each other.
Just three minutes in, John Arne Riise forced a hashed clearance from a nervous-looking Chelsea right-back William Gallas. From the resulting throw-in, Riise played the ball in to Gerrard, who clipped the ball over the Chelsea back-line into the path of Milan Baros. The Czech forward just beat Petr Cech to the ball but was brought down by the goalkeeper. As the crowd screamed for a penalty and red card, Luis Garcia snuck in and flicked the ball goalwards. Gallas cleared the ball before it could hit the back of the net, but had it went over the line? Garcia immediately ran off celebrating and the Kop gave a momentary roar before staring at the referee for confirmation. Lubos Michel looked over to his linesman then, seeing his approval, pointed to the centre-circle. 1-0 Liverpool. Anfield exploded.
The Reds almost instantly pulled in the reins. They still harassed constantly without the ball, exemplified by Didi Hamman’s tackle on Frank Lampard just inside the Chelsea half that was so determined it actually turned into a shot. But with the ball they wouldn’t stream forward in the manner they had done for the goal. Chelsea, remembering their status as champions, attempted to collect themselves by keeping possession but struggled to make inroads, with every touch greeted by resolute Liverpool players and boos from the stands.
Kevin McCarra of the Guardian summed it up best: ‘Considering the pride that Anfield took in the great displays of synchronised passing a generation ago there was a certain irony to the booing when Chelsea composed themselves by holding the ball, but this was the moment for any Liverpool fan to be at his most partisan. The spectators were participants.’
With Damien Duff injured and fellow wide-man Arjen Robben only on the bench, Chelsea lacked pace and incision in the final third. Joe Cole and Frank Lampard manfully attempted to drag the Blues into the contest throughout the rest of the first half, with the former playing a cutting through-ball to Didier Drogba, but the Ivorian’s touch let him down.
Gudjohnsen broke into the area and seemed poised to shoot, but instead crossed and the ball was cut out by Liverpool’s towering centre-back Sami Hyppia. Didier Drogba picked up the ball on the right but was dispossessed by Carragher, then Gudjohnsen went on a run through the middle before being halted by a sliding tackle from Hamman. Chelsea just couldn’t get into their stride. However, Liverpool were getting sloppy in possession, with Gerrard gifting the ball to Geremi and, after dawdling on the edge of his own box, Garcia lost the ball to Lampard who fed Cole, but Reds goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek snuffed out the chance.
As well as giving Liverpool the added impetus at the start of the game, Terry’s switching of the ends now meant that Chelsea were going to have to go in search of the crucial away goal in the second half in front of the furnace that was the Kop. Typically issued with the charge to suck the ball into the net, the Kopites were now required to blow it out.
Drogba shot over from long-range and Hamman continued to thwart the Blues, blocking a Joe Cole effort and sliding to again dispossess Gudjohnsen, who five minutes later went down injured from a challenge by Liverpool left back Djimi Traore and was made to leave the field. The Icelandic forward wasn’t pointed in the direction of the sideline however, but the byline, yards from the Kop. The Anfield faithful hadn’t forgotten his role in the suspension of fan-favourite Alonso and barracked the forward with abuse. It clearly had an impact on him as soon afterwards he eagerly collected the ball and fired a couple of determined long-range efforts at goal, but the fact they both ended up high in a delighted Kop indicated the fans had got the better of him.
With half an hour to go, Chelsea were finally beginning to look threatening. Yet every time they got near the Liverpool penalty area, there was a player in red there to stop them. Carragher made a brilliant tackle to deny Thiago, Steve Finnan stole the ball off Gudjohnsen and Traore and Igor Biscan, subject of much derision due to their usually hapless performances, were playing the matches of their lives, making numerous tackles and blocks. Drogba sent a free-kick high over the bar from thirty yards out, and five minutes later a Frank Lampard free-kick from the same area brought a fine save from Dudek. Although there was little quality on show, it was breathless and absorbing as Liverpool struggled to hold on to the ball when they won it, consistently gifting it right back to Chelsea who in turn launched another wave of attacks. It was quite simply Attack v Defence
Robben and Kezman were brought on to replace Cole and Tiago, and with fifteen minutes to go Mourinho threw on the huge German centre-back Robert Huth, in place of Geremi, to play as a striker. His tactics were clear. With Robben on the wing and Drogba, Kezman and Huth up front the ball was launched time and again into the Liverpool box. With Chelsea bombing forward in search of the away goal that would surely see them through, Liverpool were finding openings on the break. Harry Kewell, on for Hamman, squandered a good counter-attack by overplaying a pass to Riise, whilst Djibril Cisse, on for Baros, had a headed attempt easily saved by Cech. At the other end Carragher was defending as though his life depended on it, throwing himself of a goal-bound Robben shot.
With eight minutes to go Robben fired a dangerous cross in but Kezman failed to get any contact on the ball with the goal at his mercy. Gudjohnsen then had a shot charged down by Gerrard and the Reds broke downfield, winning a corner, thus allowing the defence to finally take a breath. The fourth official indicated an incredible six minutes of added time. The first two were spent far from the Liverpool goal as Cisse, Nunez and Kewell combined to keep the ball in the far corner. A minute later Cisse charged down a long ball, but failed to put the Blues out of their misery or save the Liverpool fans of countless heart palpitations every time Chelsea attacked as his weak lob was easily caught by Cech.
Then came the coup de grace, the defining moment, the heap of all the winnings on one turn of pitch-and-toss. It all happened in a matter of seconds but felt like an eternity. In the dying moments the ball was played across the Liverpool area, Dudek went and desperately tried to fist it away, but missed, leaving it to fall perfectly for Gudjohnsen on the right hand side of the six-yard box. The goal was gaping, Istanbul was calling, and Liverpool’s dreams of beating the new kids on the block and returning to their famous perch were about to turn into nightmares in one flash of a boot. The strike came, hit diagonally towards goal, but the ball somehow flew past the far post.
The reaction of the Liverpool fans behind the goal says it all about the magnitude and drama of the moment. It was a chance that was harder to miss than score and one which at any other time, in any other game, would have resulted in a sarcastic cheer from the opposition supporters. But instead, in the brief instant the miss occurred, you could actually hear the crowd exhale as one. The miss was greeted by a mixture of fans flailing on the seats in front of them as they let out the huge breath they had just held, and even fans throwing their arms over their heads in a manner more akin to when their own team misses a gilt-edged chance.
Then came the conscious, collective realisation as to what that miss meant, and that time is up at any second. The crowd, who for every second of the match had sung and booed themselves hoarse, were again making so much noise it took a while for one single chant to break out above the din, as they again jumped up and down, twirling anything and everything above their head, this time in celebration instead of determination. Clive Tyldesley summed it up in the commentary box as the cameras showed the heaving mass of joy: Anfield was bouncing. Lubos Michel blew the final whistle and the players joined in the bedlam.
Chelsea would get over the loss by retaining the league the following year and, after losing another semi-final at Anfield in 2007, eventually got their revenge by beating the Reds in the 2008 semi-final at Stamford Bridge to reach the final in Moscow, where they were one slip away from winning the European Cup for the first time. But on that night, a night which began a period of European dominance for English clubs with seven finalists in seven years, a club which had struggled to live up to its glorious history without the riches available elsewhere, suddenly found itself again, using the spirit forged throughout its past.
A team that would eventually finish fifth in the league, thirty-seven points adrift of the top, had reached the final at the expense of the newly crowned champions who they had lost to three times already that season, including in a cup final. It had achieved it through the European nous of Rafael Benitez, the drive and determination of home-grown heroes like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher as well as adopted ones like Hamman and Hyypia, and the opportunism of Garcia.
But they had also done it with the help of 40,000 fans. Afterwards, Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho said he ‘felt the power of Anfield’, John Terry admitted that ‘all of us found it a bit of shock’ and Joe Cole said ‘it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up’, whilst Liverpool’s John Arne Riise simply stated that ‘we wouldn’t have been able to run as much as we did without the energy from the stands.’ The following day, every paper in Britain spoke of the impact the fans made, and it was a view echoed around Europe, from the Gazzetta Dello Sport in Italy to Marca in Spain. Typically, though, it was summed best by Simon Barnes of The Times, who wrote “The Liverpool crowd had done an astonishing thing. They made Chelsea play worse than they can, they made Liverpool play better than they can, they made the referee turn a crucial decision their way. That’s twenty-three people all behaving in the way the Liverpool crowd wished. It was, in the most literal sense, a triumph of hope over expectation.”