Losing My Favourite Game: ‘Full Force Gayle’ with Sian Waller

 

 

SIan WAller Header

Crystal Palace 3-3 Liverpool
Premier League
5th May 2014

 

THAT slip. If you Google the term “football slip” the most prominent image on the page is of Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard splayed out on the pitch with Demba Ba bounding past him for a 2-0 Chelsea victory. The heartbeat of this side for (as of then) 16 years. For many football fans, this is the defining moment that Liverpool lost the 13/14 Premier League trophy. At the hands of “The Special One”, Liverpool had choked again.

However friends, this isn’t the game that broke my football fanatic heart. I had hope after the Chelsea game, but to quote a famed cliché, it really is the hope that kills you. The game in question came the week after. Our opponents were Crystal Palace. Chelsea may have hurt, but Palace? That was football agony on an exponential level. Although this segment is about losing and we technically didn’t lose this game, we drew. I felt losing the Premier League title would be a big enough loss to count, right? Stay with me…

This had been a season no Liverpool fan could have dreamed of, or in hindsight with such a leaky defence, really deserved. We were hoping to be worst defence to win the title since Derby County in 1975, conceding 49 goals. When it was good though… The majestic 4-0 win over Everton to turn Liverpool officially Red. The last gasp penalty from Stevie to down Fulham made us believe that this was our year. I had a personal obsession this season, as the last time Liverpool has won the title was the year before I was born. I had never witnessed my team as champions, I was hell-bent on that changing.

It wasn’t just the games that burn bright in the mind of fans, it was the deeply poignant year of 2014 itself that felt carved into history already. To win the league on the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster felt fairytale-esque. It started to dangerously feel like fate. The pressure was building, the fans becoming expectant as the season progressed. If the wheels had started to loosen against Chelsea, they flew off with wild abandon in 9 painful minutes against Palace.

Staying at my grandparents’ house in tiny Surrey village, I sat ready for the match. A beer on the go, TV turned up as loud as possible to soak up the atmosphere. Then, it happened. A flicker and dead silence. A powercut had hit the entire village. We had no car to travel in and absolutely zero power. I raced upstairs to find an old wireless radio my nan wouldn’t rid of and used the dial to tune into the scratchy sounds of Radio 5 Live. I sat transfixed at my nans kitchen table trying to get a better signal, feeling confident through an early Rickie Lambert goal and two more from the electric SAS combination of Sturridge and Suarez. 3-0 at half time.

I feared that Palace would smell blood after the Chelsea match but I never imagined it would end quite like it did. Their second goal had a certain amount of inevitability about it. Palace scored 3 goals in 9 minutes, as opposed to us scoring 3 goals in 5 minutes in the forgettable Istanbul Champions League Final in 2005. “Crystanbul” is possibly one of the most inspired football headlines of a generation. It’s also a phrase that still strikes pain into my heart.

The full time whistle was the most sickening sound. I sat tearfully in front of my sad little radio, by this point, by candlelight because it was after 10pm. It felt horribly symbolic that the light had faded on this previously hopeful and balmy evening. I heard Palace fans (anti-Liverpool fans if I’m feeling particularly macabre) cheering over the road. Ouch. Our title hopes were distinguished. Manchester City wouldn’t make any errors now, the trophy was theirs for the taking. We had been the orchestrators of our own downfall.

Of course, the TV came on about 15 minutes later, after hours of darkness. Wonderful. Just in time for me to see boys in their white away kits, looking distraught. There was one moment after the match that will always stay with me, one of those footballing sights that will live long in my mind. Luis Suarez inconsolable, as he sobs on the turf, Stevie pulling him into a hug and pushing the camera away. I was crying, he was crying. It was truly bloody awful. Suarez divided opinion regarding when leaving the club and shameful Patrice Evra debacle but what he felt was evident and raw sorrow.
It was in those moments that I learnt a harsh lesson that shaped me as a football fan.

Romanticism is a key part of football and why we all remain so devoted to “the beautiful game”. This match taught me that romanticism isn’t always enough, it gave me a dose of realism which has stayed with me in light of Liverpool’s improved form recent seasons. Emotion in football should always encouraged, it creates electric atmosphere, and the team will always need their 11th man in the form of the Kop. Every season, Liverpool fans expect but during the 13/14 run-in that reached fever pitch. As the victories kept coming, all thoughts turned to one man. The desire for Stevie G to lift that trophy aloft overtook everything else. A born and bred scouser to captain Liverpool to victory 25 years after Hillsborough. It seemed truly fated but football, much like life, isn’t a fairytale.

However, maybe we needed this harsh reality check against Crystal Palace to create the team that we have today. Scintillating attacking players alone a title winning team doth make. Judgement lapses at critical times, even just nine minutes, don’t create champions.  This was possibly the most damaging loss for Liverpool since 1990 but it was only a draw.

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