7 Days, 7 Guests - Istanbul

Today's article is by Gareth Roberts, if you use Twitter you will probably know @robbohuyton from his Well Red blogging to his fantastic Well Red magazine which you can purchase online here.


I'm sure a few of you have already read this post but Gareth was kind enough to allow me to post on here for my 7 Days feature. He was one of the lucky ones in 2005 who experienced every inch of Istanbul.

IT STARTED with a miss...

When the ball dropped to Eidur Gudjohnsen at the far post it was like someone had pressed the mute button. It was the loudest night on the Kop in my lifetime (I swear the actual stand was moving) yet in that split second you could hear a pin drop (or perhaps a fart or two squeak out of the thousands of twitching Red arses...).

Breath was held, hands went to faces – with Jerzy Dudek flailing on the floor it looked a cert the net would ripple as the Chelsea striker took aim...but it didn't.

In that moment, I knew it – we were going to a European Cup final. We, Liverpool, a team featuring  Djimi Traore, Igor Biscan and Milan Baros. A team that had finished 37 points behind title-winning Chelsea, in fifth place, behind Everton, and on the same points as Bolton with 14 league defeats to our name. We were going to Istanbul with number five in our sights.

Talk of getting to Turkey began in town, when we eventually got there. That was after what seemed like hours of embracing people I'd never met, and barking 'Get in' at everyone who crossed my path wearing Red.

No-one wanted to leave the Kop that night. And no wonder. Our last European Cup final had come 20 years earlier. This was the taste of the big time another generation had been waiting for – me included. I was eight in May 1985 and can just about remember watching Liverpool and Juventus go through the motions after the horror of what had happened before - a black day which I barely understood at such a tender age.

I watched that final, like many a Reds game, in the back room of my ma's on a crap Pye black and white portable telly. This time though, I'd be there - in the same country, the same city, the same ground as the Reds. And this time I'd win it with them.

It was the usual score on getting abroad – fans were shafted left, right and centre by travel operators, hotel owners and the rest.

After being fortunate enough to qualify for a ticket – a miracle in itself – it was decided to swerve the fleapit hotels that were charging Hilton prices. As much as I wanted to fly over and get on the ale, money was talking.

Without the time, or the inclination to be fair, of some other Reds who trekked all over Europe by road, sea and air to reach Istanbul, we opted for the flight there and back option. It was a bit of a bank-breaker (or should I say credit card), but so what? This was a once in a lifetime chance, the opportunity to be part of history – to experience a European Cup win first-hand and not just have to watch videos, read books and listen to old fellas grin their way through their tales of 77, 78, 81 and 84. Now I'd have my own story to tell.

John Lennon Airport was a buzz of anticipation, even the taxi driver had seemed bang up for it and he wasn't going. And Lennon himself (well the statue) was kitted out in a fez (right) for the occasion.

But from the moment we touched down in Turkey (after a delayed flight), things didn't go quite to plan. Omens looked bad. While the early embarkers were living it up in Taksim Square, we were told on arrival that our coach, under police advice, would be heading for the harbour. Sound.

And so we arrived. Deffo a harbour. We wandered aimlessly about for a bit before turning up a side street. There were a few Reds here and there but there were more AC Milan fans in this end of Istanbul.

The sun was shining, the ale was calling but this wasn't where the party was at. We had hours to kill before we had to return to the coach and this was about as exciting as Widnes on a wet Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the texts continued to drop into my phone's inbox. "It's boss here, you know. Loads of Reds. Get down here."

I could picture the songs, the banter, the laughs. And here I was stuck on a Saga holiday.

Time to go. So we did - how far could it be? A couple of other Reds had the same idea and a taxi was shared. But it seemed that in this part of the world driving schools are run by The Stig. Swerving in and out of traffic sporting a 'I don't give a f*** grin' isn't the best combination for a taxi driver. I could picture the compo claim already - if I lived to put on the neck brace.

While snarled up in traffic on route to Taksim, a couple of local kids shouted to us. "Liverpool," said one. "3-3" said the other, holding up the right amount of fingers (using two hands, obviously - it was Istanbul, not Wigan).

At the time, we thought nothing of it. Looking back, well it's a bit weird, isn't it?

After what seemed like a lifetime, we reached Taksim. After the ride we'd had, I didn't know whether to open the door or jump out of the window Dukes of Hazzard style.

Taksim Square (above) was just a sea of red. Banners, flags, Reds on a roof, Reds in a tree, Reds up a lampost, songs, ale, sunshine...now we're talking.

We met up with a couple of mates who'd blagged their way to Turkey on the pretence of working - one for the Daily Post, the other for the Echo (colour piece my arse).

After filling us in with tales from the night before, we headed for the bar and bumped into another couple of journalists, one who greeted me with the matter of fact: "Thought you'd be here." It was like I'd bumped into him in the Asda rather than in a foreign country thousands of miles from home.

Istanbul, what we saw of it in our short time there, was a cracking city and if I've got one regret from that trip it's that I didn't get to see more of it. The people, too, were spot on. They seemed genuinely amazed, or perhaps bemused, by just how many Reds had made the trip. Loads of locals turned up with cameras and video cameras to film the loony Englismen with faces as red as their shirts filling up on Efe.

Even the waiter at the restaurant didn't seem to mind too much at a poor attempt by Nick Peet to get a free scran. He was totally on to the attempt to clean the plate and pretend he hadn't helped himself buffet-style to a big plate of spag bol...

The fella on the market stall didn't bat an eyelid either, when the same Mr Peet ordered six cigars as we searched for a taxi: "It's for when we win, mate."

News had filtered through that the ground was in fact a good way out of the city - 20 minutes to half an hour was the grossly inaccurate estimate that was bandied about.

Straightforward enough then, or so you'd think. We split into two groups and jumped into a yellow cab each. But we were barely around the corner when our cab turned to reveal Tony Barrett's (above, right, with Jon Jones) cab parked up with a worrying plume of steam heading skywards from the bonnet. Another cab rolled over the cobbles....containing John Aldridge, who clearly found the sight hilarious.

Not sure Tony did though, and he was even more unhappy when the plan to decorate the cab in red backfired when a local kid whipped his scarf en route to the ground!

Back in our cab, things took a turn for the strange when the driver - on a motorway - began craning his neck out of the window to shout to some suited up Turks in a Mercedes.

A full-on conversation took place at about 80 miles an hour. Next thing, we're pulling over. "Eye, eye, mate, f*** these off, carry on, we've got to get to the ground here."

"They'll take you," said the cab driver. "They want to go near the ground - they need people with tickets with them to get past the police."

Now in any other circumstances alarm bells would be going off. They could have been anyone, it could have been a scam, we might have been getting kidknapped...

"Tell them we'll go if they pay for the cab," said Nick.

And they did. Next minute we're all getting into a Merc with a pair of complete strangers.

Despite the suggestions coming through on the text, their intentions were not sexual and we eventually arrived at the ground, a modern - if odd-looking - bowl-type stadium in the middle of nowhere. It looked like Mars. Mind you, there's probably more ale on Mars.

There wasn't a can to be had by the time we arrived, so we had to make do with the tail-end of a fans' festival which at this point consisted of Pete Wylie knocking out Liverpool songs on stage.

That stage was soon full of Reds and the Turks got jittery with one organiser hilariously trying to warn about health and safety as fans bounced around him singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

One fan grabbed the mic and shouted: "Jose Mourinho, I hope you're enjoying Emmerdale Farm, lad!".

In the ground it struck home just how many Reds had made the pilgramage, a good three-quarters of the Ataturk was Liverpool - some feat considering the location.

Before the match got going there was an opening ceremony. Pretty pointless, but when you're there you watch it, don't you? So as everyone stood on seats to get a look, I followed suit, only to feel a prod in the back. "Get down will you, I can't see."

"Neither can I, that's why I've stood up here like everyone else has."

"Just get down."

"You get up - then you'll be able to see."

"Get down."

And so it went on with the Victor Meldrew of Liverpool fans until his mate joined in as well.

"Get down."

"Oh f**k off, will yer." And on that note, I turned back to the pomp of ceremony only to feel an attempted shove from behind.

There's only so much a man can take, and at that point I was going to swing for the pair of them. My mate Jon had clearly spotted the red mist and pointed out that a Turkish jug wasn't the best place to try and watch a European Cup final. So I left it... still got back up on my seat though.

Handbags out the way, it was on to the game itself. At 3-0 down, all of a sudden we seemed a long way from home. The bravado, the adrenaline that had been surging through thousands of Reds all day, had gone.

We were outclassed in that first half. As we trudged into the bowels of the stand, no-one said a word, there were just a few shakes of the head, puffs of the cheeks and wipes of the brow. We were f***ed.

"We've just got to keep a clean sheet second half," someone eventually piped up. "Otherwise, this could be about 7-0t got to keep a clean sheet second half," someone eventually piped up. "Otherwise, this could be about 7-0. We could be on the end of the worst result in a European Cup final ever."

As some lads left for the hills, unable to take anymore, I thought of the Bluenoses, the Mancs, Andy Gray, all those Soccer AM beauts. They'll all be loving it.
And my dad. "All that money to watch a bunch of fellas kicking a ball? You must be mad..."

Now you know why I was watching the '85 final on the portable...

Everyone talks about the rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone just before the second half but I barely remember it to be honest. I have vague recollections of singing it, but it was more out of duty than hope. I didn't for a minute think we'd get back into it.

The rest, as they say, is history, you all know what happened next...

When Andriy Shevchenko missed we just went nuts, absolutely nuts - I've got some phone footage somewhere of me letting out this primal scream (see videos below) I remember falling over seats, rolling on people, bear-hugging strangers. I even fell on my old mate Victor Meldrew from earlier - we held each other in a special moment and then just laughed, there's no time for fighting when you've just won the European Cup!

As I struggled to take it in, I remember Carragher diving into the crowd, Riise running around aimlessly (no change there, then).

Then out came the cup. It was miles away from us yet it looked massive. It was massive. It is massive. And it's ours. For keeps.

After more bear-hugging, dancing and handshakes, me and Jon(below right) had to leave for our plane. Not that we knew where our coach was parked as we of course hadn't arrived at the Ataturk in it.

We wandered about for a bit amongst rows and rows of identical coaches before eventually spying a fella we recognised smoking outside the coach. "Alright lads," he said, nodding, with a dirty smirk on his face like he'd just done the deed. But it was that good...

On the coach, it was quiet. Nobody had anything left. Everyone was shattered. The players will tell you they put everything into the match. Well so did the fans.

"Who missed that last pen, lad?" piped up this fella.

"Shevchenko"

"Nah, I'm not having that."

It was funny because I'd said the same in the ground. As he was walking up, I'd tapped Jon and said: "There's no way he'll miss, he's quality."

But it was meant to be. At the airport it was chaos. People everywhere, no-one knew what was going on - but no-one cared. Even the bizarre token system to get a pint was ignored and laughed off. There was no spoiling this.

Arrving back at Liverpool, I had a spring in my step despite having no kip for God knows how long. I was there when we lifted No.5. I was there for the greatest comeback in football history. I was there when a lad who grew up a stone's throw from my mum's lifted Old Big Ears as captain of Liverpool Football Club.

That's put us on the map, that's made them sit up and take notice. I even got a text off a Bluenose - and a fairly bitter one at that.

"Were you there?" it asked. I couldn't type fast enough. "Fair enough lad, youse deserved it." I nearly fell off the train seat.

Train? Yep, train. I'd got my head down for a couple of hours and now I was on the train to town - totally done in, but walking on air with a permanent smile. It was time for the victory parade...

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