What were you doing during May 2001 or May 2005?
Surely, you should remember? Can it really have been ten years since I was perched on the edge of a concrete wall outside of the Albert Dock watching a stately open top bus trying to fight a way through the cheering Anfield faithful? Ten years on, I am still offering a silent prayer of thanks to that lamp post which stopped me from somersaulting into the Albert Dock overflow lake.
Can it really be just six years since Wednesday 25th May 2005 when I was watching a Champions League Final that has never really been matched since? Truly great things have often occurred for Liverpool during the month of May.
It seems that 2001 was just yesterday. Back then, I was living in the highlands of North Wales which seemed to be full of exiled reds. If you were out and about on a Saturday morning, it was not that unusual to see a stream of Liverpool fans travelling to Merseyside, if there was a home match at Anfield. My landlord in Bangor was a proud Scouser who would wax lyrical about a Merseyside childhood that could have made a decent TV drama, but you never knew whether it was all entirely true.
It was during that 2000-2001 season that I visited Anfield for the first time. I was watching Liverpool versus Ipswich Town on Sunday 10th December 2000. That day will remain etched on my memory for the result, as well as the first glance of one of the most famous football cathedrals in the world. I drank in a very homely Bangor pub, with roaring log fire and a very sweet pub dog that was owned by a red-loving Welshman with a fixated love for Robbie Fowler. Lock-ins would involve long discussions about Anfield and all things Liverpool FC.
Despite all this Liverpool talk, my best mate at Uni was an Evertonian who was trying to suggest to me that there was another team on Merseyside. I can remember a particularly miserable Everton v Tottenham fixture on the 13th January 2001 when I provided a bit of company for my friend on a bitterly cold day. You could guess that this match would be 0-0 at 3pm and ten seconds. It was desperate stuff with a capital ‘D,’ although my friend still tried to convince me that it had been a good game. It was a very long Saturday.
Final exams were taken at Bangor University and during a particularly barmy May, we sat down to watch Liverpool in two cup finals. After virtually a decade of ‘transition,’ Liverpool were back at the forefront of the UK’s footballing consciousness but I also remember endless debates about whether Heskey deserved to be a Liverpool player in the pubs and on the (fledgling) internet forums and bizarre questioning about Michael Owen’s fitness. Despite the questions, we now know that Liverpool were successful in three cup finals in some of the most bizarre and exciting football (especially against Alaves in a truly weird UEFA Cup Final.)
It was that open top bus tour that will remain in my memory. My landlord seemed to have a love/ hate relationship with all things Liverpool FC. He seemed to like the team when they were winning, but was indifferent throughout the rest of the season. Anfield could freeze over, and I would not be certain that he would light a candle. For someone who lived within a free kick of Melwood, I was shocked at his lack of emotion for Liverpool FC. I thought that I needed to be in Liverpool so forced the Landlord to come to Merseyside on 20th May 2001.
Whilst driving around the city and visiting all of the sites around Liverpool from the religious cathedrals to the sporting arenas, standing on the grassy banks of Aigburth, looking around the streets of Toxteth, and ending up at Melwood where I stood by the imposing brick walls and wondered what had happened on the other side.
I brought a Liverpool FC flag from a vendor on Scotland Road for the dubiously reasonable price of £5. We climbed onto the wall beside the Albert Dock and waited for the moment when the bus would chug passed. Being pretty tall, I had the perfect vantage point to take shots of Fowler, Gerrard, Owen and the rest. An awesome wall of sound surrounded the bus with cheering fans, flags, bunting and celebration and you could not help but be caught up in the celebrations. During the following ten years, I have been to a number of open top bus parades. Nothing would compare to that experience on Sunday 20th May 2001.
It will be six years since that miracle in Istanbul and I would not be as arrogant to compare my experience of that evening on that Wednesday 25th May 2005. One of my good Liverpool-supporting mates went to Turkey. He is a fairly unemotional Scouser who mostly talks rather than cries. However, when the subject of that Champions League Final comes up in our minds, I sense a little tear comes into the side of his eye in a very British sort of way. The free-flowing conversation dies and you just get random statements about what happened on that crazy evening.
A lot has been said about that Champions League Final in 2005. I am interested to see a forthcoming movie on the match and would love to hear whether that film is anything like the real experience in real time within that statement. Understandably, that match is a key feature in all of the books that have been written about Liverpool FC during the last six years. I would tentatively suggest that the match will be one of those games that will be passed down from generation to generation. Nothing has really come close on the European stage since that night. I just wish that I had been there, but like to think that I live a bit of that magic through my friend.
With the ever advancing cycle of age, there are more memories to store in your brain. Those memories could be stored up for useful material for times when it all goes quiet in the pub snug. Those memories could be used to win big money in a tv quiz show. Those memories make your football life, and I will never forget what happened in May 2001 and 2005. The power of what I saw on Sunday 20th May 2001, and Wednesday 25th May 2005 will never be forgotten.