Only the Liverpool Football Club could put you through the highest of highs, the lowest of lows and everything in between over the space of 120 minutes.
Waking up at 2am to watch the match from my home in Melbourne, Australia, last night’s League Cup Final was the most emotionally, mentally and at times physically draining thing I’ve done in a while.
For me, going back to Wembley for the first time in 16 years represented one giant leap forward for this Football Club. It’s highlighted the progress under Kenny Dalglish and showed the potential that our future holds.
When Mark Clattenburg blew the first whistle to begin the match, I couldn’t help but smile. My boys were back where they belong.
Little did I know that the referee’s first whistle would begin 120 minutes of 120 different emotions.
The frustration at failing to break down Cardiff’s resolute defence, the pain of going 0-1 down, the relief at equalising, the pure joy at going ahead, the heartbreak of being pegged back, the drama of penalties, the sweetness of victory.
When Joe Mason scored to put the Welsh side in front, I was understandably disappointed. We’d dominated proceedings, only to go a goal behind.
It left me ruing Glen Johnson’s effort which hit the bar in just the 2nd minute – however I still maintained hope. There was still a lot of time left on the clock. We could still do it.
Our travelling Kop never gave up either, singing our boys back into the match. My celebration when Martin Skrtel’s scrappy finish levelled the scores was more out of relief than anything. We’d finally broken Cardiff, we could finally push on to win the game.
The Welsh side held out to extra time. You could sense the tension, even 10,000 miles away in my living room.
As the time ticked past 5am, and the match ticked through the next 30 minutes, I was shaking. Genuinely shaking. Even seeing the Cardiff players go down with cramp made my aching legs feel heavier. I couldn’t bare watching this game get closer to a penalty shootout.
Enter Dirk Kuyt. A player who typifies what the foundations of the Liverpool Football Club were built on. A man who never gives up, puts his body on the line for the Club, does everything for the fans. If anyone deserved a second chance after having their first shot scuffed horribly into a defender, it was Dirk, and he took it gratefully, smashing it home. If my legs felt heavy a moment ago, they felt like they could run a marathon now. I jumped around the living room. This celebration wasn’t relief – it was joy. Pure unbridled joy. Surely this goal would win us the Cup?
But no. Another twist. A goal mouth scramble and Cardiff force home an equaliser. Almost 120 minutes in, yet with less than 120 seconds left it’s level again. Simply unbelievable. Cardiff’s second was pure agony. Heartbreaking. Not just because it was so late, but because it almost definitely meant this game was headed to penalties.
I said to my best mate just hours before kick off that the one thing I didn’t want was a penalty shootout. Understandably I wasn’t pleased when, at the sound of Mark Clattenburg’s final whistle, I received a text from him, “you asked for this”. With one final reply informing him I’d “see him on the other side”, I rose from my couch and knelt down on the ground, inches away from my television screen.
I watched in disbelief as Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam missed their spot kicks. Thoughts raced through my mind at a hundred miles an hour, “we’ve blown it”, I told myself.
Clutching the Liverpool badge on my shirt, still kneeling on the floor, I watched on as Dirk Kuyt, Stewart Downing and Glen Johnson hit amazing penalty kicks. We were back.
Then, as Anthony Gerrard walked up to take the decisive penalty, flashes of the past 6 years ran past me.
Setting my alarm to 2am every weekend, the agony of Athens in ’07, the countless goalless draws at home to bottom placed sides, the frustration of not being able to mount a title challenge, the highs, the lows, everything.
Gerrard shoots. Hemisses. We’re back where we belong. We’re the League Cup Champions for an 8th time.
I collapsed to the ground, unable to even summon the energy to run around my house. Arms and legs outstretched. We’d done it.
As Steven Gerrard walked the 107 steps to collect the League Cup trophy, nothing could wipe the smile from my face. With my scarf raised above my head, I belted out “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with the Liverpool fans inside the ground. Even though I was so far away, I’ve never felt closer to the fans and to the Club.
With one final heave, our inspirational skipper lifted the Cup above his head to confirm the team’s place in history.
After watching the team complete their lap of honour, I switched off the television and stumbled in to bed. With the time quickly approaching 7am, and the sun rising and peaking in through my curtains, I closed my tired eyes and slept, dreaming of the amazing few hours of football I’d just witnessed, privileged to be apart of this amazing family, honoured to a Liverpool fan.