For the controversies and the injustices, Liverpool owe Atletico Madrid a knockout blow

With Liverpool plotting to overturn a harsh 1-0 first-leg deficit as they host Atletico Madrid in the Champions League last 16, past injustices should spur them on.

When the Reds beat Arsenal 2-1 in the 2001 FA Cup final in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, I was working for the Liverpool ECHO.

My job was to do the live match reports to be read in the Football ECHO that night. That involved verbally relaying my report throughout the match over a landline phone to a copytaker back in Liverpool, who would type in what I was saying. Sometimes they spelt tings wrong.

I’m not saying deadlines were tight, but the Football ECHO (which was a Saturday evening newspaper, for any Millennials reading) printed before 5pm. It was in the shops in Liverpool by 5.30pm (if not before) and Kopites would buy a copy on their way home from Anfield, myself included.

While May 2001 doesn’t sound like that long ago, broadband had only been launched in the UK 13 months earlier on one street in Gillingham. What a time to be alive.

The ECHO’s two internet-compatible computers were still on dial-up, reporters didn’t have laptops and Liverpool FC had only launched their official website that season with their office based in Tina’s Guesthouse—a converted old B&B—on Anfield Road.

Liverpool's Michael Owen (left) celebrates his second goal during today's FA Cup Final against Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Picture by: Tom Hevezi / PA Archive/Press Association Images

As mad as this sounds, given I’m writing this piece on an Apple Mac and you’re probably reading it in a different country on a smartphone via a WiFi connection while listening to a podcast, I had to physically take a landline phone to every Liverpool game I covered, home and away.

The things I could tell you about landline disconnections at Highfield Road, Coventry!

So, when Michael Owen raced through late on and scored the winner, sparking absolute scenes amongst the travelling Kop, I was sat in the Millennium Stadium press box on a landline phone describing what had just happened.

Instead of getting lost in the moment, the moment gets lost on you when you’re reporting, but I can vividly remember thinking one thing when that decisive 88th-minute goal went in.

We owed Arsenal that. We owed them a devastating last-gasp winner for the way they won the league at Anfield in 1989. And it made it feel even better, even if I was trying to remember who had just played Owen through for the assist.

I’ve got the same feeling ahead of Atletico Madrid’s Champions League visit to Anfield. Liverpool owe them one. Maybe more than one. For lots of reasons.

MADRID, SPAIN - Wednesday, October 22, 2008: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard MBE and Club Atletico de Madrid's Antonio Lopez during the UEFA Champions League Group D match at the Vicente Calderon. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

October 2008. Liverpool are due to play Atleti in the Champions League group stage in our first-ever competitive match in Madrid, but a week before UEFA tell the 3,000 Reds who have already bought tickets not to travel.

After finding Atleti supporters (and their security staff) guilty of racist chanting and serious violence during a game against Marseille, UEFA closed the Vicente Calderon for two games.

Valencia was suggested as an alternative venue, but while travelling Kopites were making alternative travel plans, Atleti won an appeal and at the 11th hour UEFA suspended their punishment.

The game went ahead at the Vicente Calderon, but many Reds missed Robbie Keane’s 14th-minute goal due to the usual problems with the Spanish police outside the stadium. It finished 1-1, Simao equalising late on.

April 2010. Rafa Benitez’s Reds returned to the Vicente Calderon for the first leg of the Europa League semi-final, but it took them 23 hours and 30 minutes to get there on the train.

Flying was banned because a volcanic ash cloud covered much of Europe’s airspace following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull—and thank God I never had to say that down a phoneline—volcano in Iceland.

Benitez did his pre-match press conference in the buffet cart on the Eurostar—surely the long concrete strip next to the tracks would have been a better platform?—but an early Diego Forlan goal gave Atletico a 1-0 win. Except it shouldn’t have.

“Had it not been for some poor officiating—how many times does that phrase get used a season?—Liverpool would have restored parity,” reported the Liverpool ECHO, long after my time on it.

MADRID, SPAIN - Thursday, April 22, 2010: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard MBE argues with Club Atletico de Madrid's Raul Garcia during the UEFA Europa League Semi-Final 1st Leg match at the Vicente Calderon. (Mandatory Credit: David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“Yossi Benayoun seized upon a mis-hit shot from Dirk Kuyt, he calmly lifted an effort over Atletico keeper David de Gea but an assistant referee hoisted his flag to chalk off the goal; television replays would confirm it to be the wrong decision.”

It cost Liverpool a place in the final in Hamburg—against Roy Hodgson’s Fulham—which would have been one helluva victory party down the Reeperbahn.

Alberto Aquilani took the second leg to extra-time with a rare goal on a rare appearance and Benayoun put the Reds ahead, but a 103rd-minute goal from Forlan sent Atleti through on away goals.

Away goals. The worst way to decide two games of football that has ever been invented. Not since 1975 had Liverpool been eliminated from Europe on away goals. To miss out on a final for that reason—when we’d scored a perfectly good away goal ourselves—stung.

It also cost Rafa the chance to end his Anfield era in the way it started, with a piece of European silverware.

Despite Atleti being kind enough to sell us Fernando Torres, Maxi Rodriguez and accept the return of Javier Manquillo because we kept the receipt, I’ve always felt we still owe them a knockout blow.

I was even disappointed when we lost the Audi Cup final in Munich to them on penalties in the summer of 2017, although Jordan Henderson has since made up for missing his spot-kick by lifting the European Cup—a trophy Atleti have never won—in their new stadium.

MADRID, SPAIN - Tuesday, February 18, 2020: Liverpool's Sadio Mané walks away as Club Atlético de Madrid players call for him to be sent off during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg match between Club Atlético de Madrid and Liverpool FC at the Estadio Metropolitano. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

So, when Atleti’s players were trying to get Sadio Mane sent off three weeks ago; and when Diego Simone was behaving like a cheerleader in a suit; and when their players were continuously ‘falling over’ (as Andy Robertson put it)…

…and when Renan Lodi feigned being injured after Mo Salah stood on the ball; and when Saul scored the only goal from what should have been a Liverpool throw-in; and when all the kids watching got scared because Diego Costa came on; and when the full-time whistle went…

…I thought to myself: we owe Atletico Madrid one. We owe them a full-throttle Liverpool display at a raucous Anfield.

And I thoroughly hope they get what they’re owed on Wednesday night. Knocked out.

Chris McLoughlin writes for This Is Anfield each week; he’s also senior writer for the Official LFC Matchday Programme and LFC Magazine. You can order both here.