“Big European Nights”, a cliché borne from fact. From the late seventies I wasn’t born for and early eighties that I was too young to remember. I remember the 90s, and that first season in the Greedy League. The first home group game, on the fateful day of 11 September 2001. Boavista visited, “You’ll never walk alone” felt like a funeral dirge, the game played in near silence as people wondered whether or not football really mattered. UEFA cancelled the next night’s games, they should have cancelled both.
It was the start of a run to the quarter finals and Bayer Leverkusen. Along the way, Barcelona spanked us at home 3-1. They scored a goal that had some sort of record number of passes, it felt like a million, broken up only by one Sami Hyypia toe poke for a throw in.
In between, Gerard Houllier fell ill during the away game at Leeds. By the time he returned we needed to beat Roma by two clear goals to get out of the second group phase. We’d heard rumours on our way out to the ground that he’d had enough of watching at home, he was coming to spur on the troops.
The ovation before the game for our manager, the weight behind “You’ll never walk alone”, and the bouncing and sure belief of the night. All things that stick with me.
That and Emile Heskey having what is in my mind, the best game he ever had for us.
Ahead through a Jari Litmanen penalty in the first ten, the remainder of the first half was a blur of noise. Roma barely getting forward for long spells.
They nearly equalise early in the second period, Henchoz preventing a Totti shot from finding the net.
Then, gloriously, magnificently, Heskey rises to get his head onto a Danny Murphy free kick. We were about ten rows back in the kop, I doubt I’ve ever had a better view of a goal before or since. The moment of impact is frozen in my memory. I won’t lie and say that I remember the ball hitting the net, there is no need, I have what I have and it is all that I need.
The picture in my head skips forward two seconds, myself and the person with me are bouncing around two rows below where we’re meant to be. I don’t remember getting there either. I remember that neither of us could speak when we left, joy filled silence where there had for 2 hours been nothing but noise and cacophony.
I think that was the first of my own personal big European nights. The kind where the lights and noise of Anfield seem to produce magic on and off the pitch. It felt different, just as it will tonight. Don’t let any City fan believe otherwise, I just hope that their players are as blasé as their fans have been.
There have been more since, but you always remember your first.