Ghana's No. 1

'The best moment of my life' - Liverpool's Miracle in Istanbul

Published on: 24 May 2020

Has it really been 15 years?!

A decade-and-a-half on, the memories of May 25, 2005 still feel fresh. The despair and the heartache, the defiance, the disbelief and the delirium.

Perhaps the greatest Champions League final of them all.

They’ve seen some things, Liverpudlians, but nothing quite like this. Nobody who was at Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium will ever forget what happened that night.

It was the night the mighty AC Milan were toppled, the night Rafa Benitez and his side wrote their names into Anfield folklore, clinching Liverpool’s fifth European Cup in the most remarkable of circumstances.

“Fifteen years, wow!” says Jerzy Dudek, the central figure

Dudek is one of a number of people Goal has spoken to in preparing this feature. From players to fans to commentators to pundits, everyone has their stories.

And so here they are; The Miracle of Istanbul, as told by those who were there to witness it…

It took Andriy Shevchenko two years to pluck up the courage and ask me.

We were in Cardiff, working together as part of the joint bid of Poland and Ukraine to host Euro 2012. We had got to know each other quite well during the campaign, and that day Sheva finally popped the question.

‘F*cking hell Jerzy, you can tell me now – how DID you make that save in extra time?’

I smiled at him. ‘Don’t worry, mate,’ I told him. ‘You had your five minutes against Juventus in 2003, and I had my five minutes in Istanbul!’

The truth is, I can’t explain how I saved it. It is one of those split-second things, where you rely on instinct, reflexes and, of course, a little bit of luck as well.

Do you know, for a long time after the final I thought that the initial header was from Jon Dahl Tomasson? I knew there had been two Milan players free in the box, but after that it was just a blur.

When I watched it back, I saw that Sheva had headed the first ball and then the rebound, and I think that was what gave me the chance to save it. He wanted to put all the power into it, and I was able just to get my hands in the way. I never saw a ball fly so high in the air, and when it landed on the roof of the net, I said to myself, ‘F*ck me, we needed that!’

It’s funny, because a few years after the final I went over to Holland for the 100th birthday of my old club Feyenoord. My old goalkeeping coach, Pim Doesberg, was there, and he wouldn’t have it that it was a lucky save. ‘No,’ he told me, ‘we worked on this in training all the time, I would smash balls at you from five yards. I saw this save hundreds of times before!’

It was at Feyenoord that I met Hans van Breukelen, the legendary Dutch goalkeeper. He used to have a book with information on every penalty taker he faced in it. I said, ‘I need that book!’ so I began to record my own. Which way a player would strike the ball, whether they would go high or low, if they went for power or placement.

When I met Rafa at Liverpool, he asked me, ‘Why do you write so much?’ He said I should divide the goal into six ‘zones’, so we knew exactly where a player would strike the ball.

He loved statistics, Rafa. We’d practice penalties before each game, and he would keep a note of which players scored and which players missed – in training!

Before the Istanbul final, I had watched a DVD of maybe 100 penalties from Milan players – including the shootout against Juventus in 2003. I was well prepared!

But things can change, and in the heat of the moment you can lose yourself. So I told Jose Ochotorena, our goalkeeping coach, to raise his hand from the centre circle, left or right, so I know which way to go.

Then I have Carra, in my face, telling me I need to ‘do a Grobbelaar’ and put pressure on the kickers, to put them off. Thanks for that, Carra!

My confidence was so high. I was so relaxed, and so focused. When Serginho took his penalty, I did this unusual movement on the line, and he put it over the bar. I thought ‘it’s working!’

I knew I was off my line for Pirlo’s penalty. I made sure I didn’t look at the referee, just in case he whistled for a re-take!

When I made the final save from Shevchenko, there is that split second where you don’t realise it’s over. Then you see everyone running towards you, and you know. You’ve done it. This is your moment of glory.

I was a perfectionist in my career. I was never fully happy with my performance, even when I played well and we won. Let me tell you, I was happy that night! Maybe for the first time, I said to myself, ‘You did a good job today Jerzy!’

Mind you, Rafa made sure I didn’t get too excited. When he saw me after the game, do you know what the first thing he said to me was? ‘Why did you dive to the left for Tomasson’s penalty?’ Typical Rafa!

The party afterwards was crazy. I was the last one left, maybe 5.30am. I was with two Polish friends, including my international team-mate Jacek Kryznowek, who played for Bayer Leverkusen.

They didn’t have a hotel room, so I said they could stay with me. One of my friends spread out on the spare bed, and Jacek got in with me! That was how my greatest night finished, in bed with my Polish team-mate.

After the parade in Liverpool, which was just unbelievable, I had to go away on international duty. I flew from Manchester to Warsaw, and on the plane the captain announced over the speaker that ‘We have a Champions League hero on board’. I didn’t know where to look!

I met up with the national team and of course everyone wanted to speak, all the media wanted to talk to me.

After a couple of days the coach, Pawel Janas, took me to one side and said ‘Jerzy, we get it, you won the Champions League, but please, we have an even bigger game this weekend….’

Azerbaijan away, it was. Talk about coming back down to earth with a bump!

We won 3-0, by the way. It wasn’t a bad week, that one!

I knew I was in trouble as soon as Rafa spoke.

‘Traore!’ he shouted. That meant he was not happy with me. If he was happy, he’d have called me Djimi!

‘Shower’ he told me. Straight. I was coming off, 45 minutes into the biggest game of my career. We were 3-0 down, and I’d given away the free-kick which led to the first goal.

Of course, I’m disappointed, but looking back, I understand his thinking. I was a defensive full-back, and we needed to change the system. We needed to score goals, get control of the game.

I went straight to the shower, but I didn’t get under the water. No soap, no shampoo. I just stopped and had a moment to myself.

Before I knew it, a tap on the shoulder. It was Pako Ayesteran, Rafa’s assistant. ‘You’re in!’ he told me. Steve Finnan was injured, he said, and they needed me to stay on.

Think about it – it’s crazy, no? I am stood there, so disappointed, my game is over. But now I need to come back, re-focus, think about the game again.

A new shape, left-sided centre-back now. Finnan is not happy, either. He is furious with the physio. For me, I take pride in how I dealt with that situation. It reflects well on my character, I would say. Mentally, I was very strong.

I remember Rafa’s last words before the second half. ‘You need to make your families proud,’ he said. ‘Win the second half, and you never know…’

When the first goal goes in, you start thinking. Steven Gerrard, of course. The guy who always delivers, the guy who drives the team. A pure leader. He doesn’t need to talk so much, but his actions on the field make him one of the greats.

It changed our mentality as a team. Milan Baros grabbed the ball out of the net, no celebration. We were in the game, let’s go again. And six minutes later, we are 3-3!

It was strange, because when we got our third goal, we were looking at each other like, ‘What do we do now?’ Do we go for the fourth or do we try to defend?

We knew that Milan would come again. We had expended so much energy, both physically and mentally. It was a rollercoaster, and we had to hang on. It was tough.

But if you want to see our mentality, look at Gerrard. He sacrificed himself for the team. He knew that Smicer couldn’t defend, so he went to the right and defended against Serginho. He didn’t think twice. That’s Steven Gerrard; for the team, for the fans, for the club. And when you see him, you need to follow him.

When Jerzy makes that save from Shevchenko, from the rebound, I’m thinking ‘we can’t lose.’ It’s a crazy save. It must have given Jerzy so much confidence into the shootout. He must have thought ‘it’s my day!’ – and it was!

The feeling when he saves that last penalty, it took a few seconds to process it. 'Is it all over? Have we really won it?'

After that it was an explosion. All the sacrifices I’d made through my career, coming to Liverpool as an unknown player at 19, fighting to be on that team, all the ups and downs I’d had, well this made it all worth it.

It was when we got back to Liverpool, and when we got on the bus to go through the city, that I realised we had achieved something amazing.

For me, that is the best moment of my life.

I’ve got a confession to make here. You know when Steven Gerrard scored Liverpool’s first goal and I said, ‘Hello, hello, here we go…’?

Well, I didn’t really mean it! I said it might have ‘sown a seed of doubt in Milan minds’ but did I honestly think Liverpool were about to come back? No, I didn’t.

It was a commentary device. I was trying to build a bit of drama into a game that, up to that point, had had very little.

You get games as a commentator where you start to sense things changing, a shift in momentum, a turning point. I’ll give you an example; 1999 with Manchester United against Bayern Munich. In the four or five minutes before Teddy Sheringham equalised, you felt a goal was coming. For the first time all night, they looked like scoring, you could sense it.

The four or five minutes before Gerrard scored in 2005? I never had an inkling that Liverpool might be about to launch a fightback. If anything, Milan looked like they were going to make it 4-0.

And then, in six minutes, everything changed.

I’ve been very fortunate in my career, but when I look back on the Champions League finals I commentated on, those two always stand out; 1999 and 2005. I’d throw Chelsea in 2012 in there as well, actually.

There are similarities between all three, too. With all three, there was almost this sense of fate or destiny, like it was meant to happen. You can’t explain it.

At half-time, myself and [co-commentator] Andy Townsend were thumbing through the record books looking at the heaviest defeats in major finals. It was going to get messy, wasn’t it?

Milan were so superior. Kaka was on another level, that third goal scored by Crespo was a thing of real beauty, and Liverpool looked like a team that had gotten a lot further than most people would have expected.

But they came back. Somehow. Milan dominated for 54 minutes, lost their way for six and then went back to dominating thereafter. How they lost, they will never know.

I think back to extra time. Carragher with cramp, stretching to make clearance after clearance, of Traore clearing off the line, Dudek’s save which he knew nothing about, and of Gerrard playing in three different positions. For half an hour, he was the best right-back in the world! It was an extraordinary performance.

And then penalties. For a commentator, this is a bit of a relief, because the rhythm is a bit more reliable. You can prepare. Some commentators have someone in their ear giving them running updates – ‘if he misses this one it’s all over’, that kind of thing – but I like to do my own working out. I still have my sheet with all the ticks and crosses from that shootout.

It was a strange shootout. Serginho’s ball is still travelling, I think, and Pirlo was almost comedic. Dudek basically saved at his feet, he was so far off his line! Then when Shevchenko walked up, he looked terrified. He looked as if he was going to miss.

And he did. I remember saying ‘and this time its for keeps!’ when Dudek saved. It wasn’t a prepared line, though obviously I knew it was the fifth European Cup win and so they’d be keeping the trophy.

It’s one of those nights that you just never forget. I don’t know how they won it, I’m just glad I was there to see it, and that I was able to play a small part in it.

I was still on a high, still taking in the enormity of what Liverpool had achieved, when Richard Keys dropped a bombshell.

‘One man told you all to believe at half-time,’ he told Sky Sports viewers, nodding towards me. ‘Well, now let’s have a look at how Phil Thompson reacted to Liverpool’s incredible comeback…’

My jaw hit the floor. There had been a hidden camera at the back of the Sky Sports studio, filming us watching the game unfold. I couldn’t believe it. They could only use the video footage, not the audio. That was down to me.

I’m a Liverpool fan, first and foremost. I love the club, and that passion will never leave me. Of course, sometimes it boils over.

I remember effing and blinding after Milan had scored their second goal. We should have had a penalty at the other end, but instead we go 2-0 down. ‘Mind your language Thommo,’ Keys told me. I think I told him to f*ck off!

The other studio guests were Ray Wilkins, god rest his soul, and Gianluca Vialli. At half-time they were in their element, waxing lyrical about how good Milan were. Kaka was sensational, Crespo was too good, you were never going to score three goals against this defence. It was, as Andy Gray said on commentary, game over.

I remember sitting there at the interval thinking, ‘What the f*ck am I going to say when Richard Keys comes to me?’ So I just talked about belief. I always believe in Liverpool, every year, every game. It’s probably been my downfall.

Three of my sons were at the game – my youngest, Josh, was just too young at the time – and I had told them to ring me once they were inside the stadium, just so I knew they were safe.

The Sky box was right next to where the players came out, and I can remember looking down about half an hour before kick off and would you believe it? There are my sons. Their seats were literally a row in front of our box. They could have been anywhere!

So when you see those clips of me banging on the glass after Liverpool have scored, that’s who I’m doing it to. By a complete twist of fate, I was able to share that night with my boys.

The second half was a whirlwind. One goal goes in. Good, we’ve given them something to think about. Then a second straightaway. Now we’ve got the belief. The penalty. I nearly crashed through the glass! Again, Keys is telling me to mind my language. Again, he gets told where to go!

When Jerzy makes that double save at the end of extra time– even he doesn’t know how he made it – I turned to Vialli and Wilkins. ‘Put our name on that f*ckng cup!’ I told them. I knew we’d do it then. It was meant to be.

A lot of people have asked me if it was bittersweet, given I’d left the club as assistant manager the previous summer. It wasn’t. Like I say, I’m a Liverpool fan first and foremost.

Of course I wondered what it would have been like to have been there in the dugout, but there was no bitterness. I wanted the club to do well. I’d worked with pretty much all of those players too, remember. I knew them, their strengths and their weaknesses.

I remember ringing Rick Parry, who was the chief executive, the day after the game. I told him congratulations, and he put David Moores, the chairman, on. We had a nice chat and then David says ‘oh Stevie’s here too…’

Stevie comes on the line, and I’ll never forget his words as long as I live.

‘It feels f*cking great doesn’t it?’

I couldn’t have put it better myself!

I’ve been to nine European Cup finals following Liverpool, but 2005 will always have extra meaning for me and my family.

We lost my dad, John, the day before the Olympiakos game in December of that season. I was on the Kop with my son, Joe, the following night and when Gerrard scored that screamer we were both crying. I remember one lad near us saying ‘that’s passion!’ but it wasn’t, we were grieving.

The final was special. Istanbul, understandably, didn’t have the best reputation for travelling supporters, but we found the people brilliant, so welcoming. We’d been before, in 2001, and had no trouble whatsoever. I think that cemented a good relationship between the city and Liverpool supporters.

On the day of the final, I remember our group becoming aware of the fella who seemed to be following us round the city centre. Everywhere we went, he was there. Eventually, we turned and said ‘what do you want, mate?’ He said he had a big van, and he could give us a lift to the stadium for the game if we wanted.

We took him up on his offer. About 20 of us piled into this random fella’s van, and he took us up to the Ataturk! I remember the walk across those hills and fields to the stadium, the sea of red. It felt biblical.

I’m an eternal optimist when it comes to Liverpool, but at half-time my faith was being stretched, I can tell you. My next-door neighbour left the stadium at 3-0. Honestly! Every May 25, I wind him up and remind him he missed the greatest final in history. There’s a lesson there.

You never give up!

I’ve sung ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ more times than I can remember, but I’ll never forget that one at half-time in Istanbul. We were in shock, nobody had spoken for about five minutes.

And then the song starts up. The hairs still stand up on the back of my neck thinking about it.

It was defiance. It was ‘hey, we’re Liverpool’. Who knows if the players heard it or if it had an effect, but I’d like to think it did. It certainly lifted the crowd.

Gerrard lit the fuse for the comeback, but it was when Smicer scored the second that we started to believe. The noise among our fans was something else.

Still, how Milan didn’t score again, I’ll never know. Our name must have been on that cup that night. It was written.

It was emotional at the end. It all poured out of me. People were crying round me because we’d won the European Cup. I was thinking of my dad. I had my lad with me, and I said to him, ‘This is what it’s all about son, this is why we follow Liverpool’.

It drains you, but it’s worth it. It’s a lovely drain, if you get me!

The bus back into the city centre after the game was quiet. People were taking it all in, reflecting. But when we got back to Taksim Square, we had a bar boxed off, and it was one of those amazing nights. The emotion had gone, and it was party time!

We were supposed to get picked up at 10am the next day, but as it happened, our flight was delayed until late afternoon, so we were able to get back on the ale.

Champions of Europe. No better feeling, is there?

Source: m.allfootballapp.com

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