Chapter 42, from the bestselling book: Champions Again: The Story of Liverpool’s 30-Year Wait for the Title by Ian Carroll. And this chapter is all about Liverpool’s epic Champions League campaign across the 2018-2019 season.
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A tough Champions League group saw us drawn against Napoli, Red Star Belgrade, and the might of Paris St-Germain, featuring Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappe.
We scraped through in second place to face Bayern Munich in the first knockout stage.
We drew 0-0 in the first leg at Anfield before facing the Germans on home soil for the return match at the magnificent Allianz Arena.
Sadio Mane scored an early wonder goal to set us up for a 3-1 victory. To see him twist a goalkeeper of Manuel Neuer’s calibre inside and out was simply remarkable.
At this point, I knew that anything was possible.
In the quarter-finals, we beat Porto both home and away. They must just sigh every time they get drawn against us. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride.
In the semi-finals, we were to face the Barcelona team of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
We were nobody’s favourites to win.
I was on holiday in Malta for the first leg, away at the Nou Camp.
I watched the match in the hotel bar. It didn’t make for pretty viewing as we lost 3-0.
For the return leg at Anfield, I had a ticket for the match, but very little hope.
Just goes to show what I know.
We attacked early. Mane intercepted a back pass, squared it to Jordan Henderson, whose shot produced a save from ter Stegen in the Barca goal.
The keeper could only parry the ball into Origi’s path, and the Belgian forward coolly slotted home.
We were 1-0 up after seven minutes.
We were without two of our first-choice front three for the match, with both Firmino and Mo Salah missing through injury, so no-one expected too much. Still, this was Anfield. This was Europe. We could dream.
In the second-half, Wijnaldum replaced Andy Robertson.
After 54 minutes, Trent Alexander-Arnold lost the ball.
Instead of tracking back, as you would expect a defender to do, he went hunting, closing down a Barcelona player and winning the ball back before carrying it upfield and crossing for Wijnaldum to sweep a shot into the back of the net.
We were two-nil to the good.
Just ten minutes later, Xherdan Shaqiri swung a cross in from the left-wing and Gini leapt head and shoulders above everyone to power the ball into the back of the net.
It was pandemonium. I was in the top tier of the main stand. I could scarcely believe it.
Then, Trent improvised what must go down as one of the best bits of football in the history of the game.
We won a corner. Trent placed the ball down.
He was walking away, to gain ground for a run-up, when he suddenly decided to spook the ball into the box towards Origi, the only player we had forward, while the Barca team appeared to be napping.
Origi said he saw the Barcelona keeper and a defender at the near post, so he decided to hook the ball aft.
It floated into the Barca net, and we held out for an insanely memorable 4-0 win.
We were off to a Champions League final for the second year running.
This time, our opponents would be Tottenham Hotspur who had defeated Ajax of Amsterdam in a pulsating semi-final of their own.
The match would be played at Athletico Madrid’s stadium in Spain. My dad and my sister went. I didn’t have a ticket, and I couldn’t justify the expense of travelling there without one.
I watched it at home with Lesley. My mum came round, I did a barbecue, and we invited a few friends along.
An early penalty, won by Mane and converted by Salah, helped soothe a few nerves.
Later on, as Spurs threw everything at us, Alisson Becker produced save after save to keep Tottenham at bay.
With less than ten minutes to go, Sadio Mane picked up a ball on the left-wing.
He travelled the width of the pitch with it, shielding it magnificently, putting his foot on it, then sprinting past Christian Eriksen in the Spurs midfield with the nonchalance of a man running rings around his five-year-old kid in his back garden.
It was a magnificent piece of play, oozing confidence, and it almost produced a goal. James Milner only just shot wide at the end of this blistering attack.
Then, with just three minutes to go, Divock Origi fired into the bottom corner of the Tottenham net.
We won 2-0.
I could have wept with joy.
The following day, the team came home with the cup.
They would tour the city, starting at Allerton Maze, just 100 yards from my home.
My family and I went down to the end of the road to watch the arrival of the Liverpool team bus, and the small matter of them displaying the cup of my dreams.
It was joyous, simply joyous to see them drive up the avenue, bedecked in red and glory, sharing the moment with the fans.
We raised our flags and scarves and hailed our heroes. Tears were shed. Songs were sung.
We’d lost three cup finals in a row. We’d missed out on the league title by a point. I hate to think how despondent we might have been had we lost in Madrid.
Instead, I believe it inspired the players. I think it showed them how much the team meant to us, and how much their efforts, their skill, their talents, and teamwork meant to us.
I’m convinced they all thought ‘I like this. I want more of this.’
Tom Werner, our Chairman, was aboard the bus. He turned to one of the directors and said ‘I can’t believe this. I’ve never seen anything like this.’
The response he received was, ‘Oh, this is nothing. Just wait and see what it’s like if we win the Premier League.’
Werner was dumbfounded, but the statement was true.
We had waited too long to win the trophy that we wanted most of all.
How much longer would we have to wait?
Well, the answer would come soon enough.
The 2019/2020 season was upon us.
It would prove to be the icing on the cake.
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About the author.
Ian Carroll is a published writer of fiction and non-fiction, and was the Script Editor for the play ‘Waiting for Hillsborough’, which won the Liverpool Echo Best Writing award. He was born in 1966, and named after Ian St John, who scored the winning goal in the 1965 FA Cup final – the first time in the club’s history that they had won the cup – and has been a Liverpool football fan since the day he was born.