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Only a game

I am definitely not a real football fan. If the team I want to win is winning, well jolly ho. If it is losing, then it is only a game and nothing to get fussed about it.

So when I came home from a walk along the river in the evening sunshine, to find that Liverpool were already 3-0 down in the European Cup Final against AC Milan, it was no great source of sadness to me. Only a game. I switched to CSI Miami.

But every so often I flipped back to see how Liverpool were doing, and quite by chance, I caught the first Liverpool goal, scored by captain Steven Gerrard. Hullo, said the commentator. Expectantly. And prophetically.

When I next flipped back from the gruesomenesses of CSI, Liverpool were already celebrating goal number two, scored by substitute Smicer (pronounced Smeetzer), and on my next visit I saw Liverpool get awarded a penalty.

At this point, I did not want to watch it, not because it did not matter, but because it did. It had gone from Only A Game to: God On A Bike!!! in the space of about five minutes. If I allowed myself to get all excited, Liverpool would then lose, and I would suffer idiotic agonies. So, back to CSI, where the news was that more people were being murdered gruesomely, by really nasty people. Lucky thing the forensic scientists all look like actors. Back to find that Liverpool have converted the penalty. (I spare myself the agony of actually witnessing what they show me later: the Milan goalie saving it and then the Liverpool guy knocking it in at the second try. This is rare.)

From then on it was a visit back every five minutes or so. 3-3. 3-3. 3-3. 3-3. Extra time looms. 3-3. 3-3. Extra time. 3-3. 3-3. 3-3. Penalty shoot out looms. 3-3. 3-3. Penalty shoot out.

Can not bear that. If I watched that I would get even more wound up, and additionally wound up by the sense of shame at getting so additionally wound up. It is only a game!!! (God on a bike!!!!)

Ten more minutes of something, else. Ooh, I wonder how the shoot out is going. Milan have missed their first two! Amazing. Liverpool are actually likely winners. So I watch their next one, and of course the Milan goalie saves it. Liverpool are still one ahead, and still probably winners, but again, over to Celebrity Home Makeover Love Island on Ice Meets Eastenders Uncovered Confidential. (Actually I think that by then it was Blackadder.) And when I go back again, Liverpool are celebrating. Bloke in specs: “Jamie, tell me honestly, did you think at half time that you had any chance?” Jamie: “No.” Bloke in specs: “Rafael, that was fantastic, fantastic.” Rafael: “Yes, bloke in specs, that was fantastic fantastic”, etc.

As Alex Ferguson said after his Manchester United won the 1999 final of the same tournament against Bayern Munich in equally improbable style, with two extra time goals from Sheringham and Solskjaer: “Football. Bloody hell.”

At half past one a.m. tomorrow morning they will be showing it again. And that I will video, and then watch it properly later, and then again in the months and years to come. That is how to enjoy sport, if you are a not-proper sports fan like me. Watch and rewatch the games your guys win in style, and forget the rest. Do not waste your one life obsessing over games that got away, or which were won by your team but unmemorably, without any amazing magic moments to savour. Take all that spiritual energy, and apply it to doing real life better, I say. My method wastes far less time on all this nonsense.

But when games go right, enjoy.

29 comments to Only a game

  • How's that Iraqi thing working ?

    [off topic crap deleted]

  • You, sir, are a sports Philistine!

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I told myself that I was supposed to be marking test papers while watching the match, but after the 1st Liverpool goal I said to hell with it and resorted to biting my fingernails for the next hour.

    Great match, and an instant ‘classico’ for sure. Strange that European finals involving the english teams often have to be tumultously exciting and dramatic. I remember well Man U’s last gasp sucker punch victory over Bayern, and Liverpool’s shootout in the UEFA Cup in 2002(IIRC).

    The way Liverpool fought back was strangely reminiscent of the Red Sox beating the Yankees. Is this the Year of the Comeback?

    Here’s to more great football and stories in sports in the future!


  • I watched the entire first half and then decided that it was not worth the agony and switched off the TV. When I realized later that Liverpool had made it 3-3, I was in agony that I missed the great comeback. Thankfully, I managed to watch the penalty shootout.

  • Johnathan

    Amazing result. I did not watch the game but well done Liverpool. It certainly will go down as one of the most exciting finals and I intend to watch it on video.

    Under the rules of the competition, Liverpool will not, apparently, be able to take part in it next year as they did not make the top five of the Premiership. Seems unfair. At least this means that Liverpool may be able to attract some new players and perhaps return to their old imperious status.

    ManU must be really, really depressed.

  • Julian Taylor

    There was a rather amusing little bit in the Standard about Cherie (she of the letterbox mouth fame) bounding over to a crowd of reporters on arrival at Istanbul airport and, thinking that the media was out in force to meet her, crowed about how “Liverpool are going to kick ass tonight”. Imagine the poor woman’s surprise to be told that, “Sorry Mrs Blair but we’re here to cover the Pan Orthodox Synod, not the Liverpool match and certainly not your visit”.

  • Chris Harper

    Sorry. Was there a football match recently?


  • HJHJ

    First a correction – Manchester United did not win in 1999 with extra time goals. There was no extra time in that match – they won with two goals late in normal time (the last possibly in time added on for stoppages – I’m not sure).

    Back to last night. What a match, what a comeback! I’m not very knowledgeable about football, but I thought before the match that if Gerrard fires like he can, Liverpool might just be an irresistible force even against a team which, on paper, is far superior.
    He didn’t do it for the disastrous first half, but then, in the second Hamann came on and freed Gerrard to do what he does best. The AC Milan defence never quite knew what hit them.

    As for the comparison above with an AFL match between the Red Sox and the Yankees – I think we are talking of a different scale here. The world’s top club competition with a worldwide audience of 500m is somewhat different than a domestic American Football match.
    It’s the context that makes all the difference.

  • HJHJ

    Yes, sorry about that extra time thing. I meant injury time.

  • HJHJ

    Not to worry, I made a mistake too. Of course, it’s NFL not AFL.

  • Johnathan

    Chris Harper, we don’t want to write about politics all the time, you know. Yawn to you!

  • Ted Schuerzinger


    You made a bigger mistake than that. The Red Sox and Yankees play baseball, not American football.

    I don’t care much about baseball (and most fans I know don’t care about the Red Sox versus the Yankess because those are the two biggest-spending teams), but you’d be surprised by the popularity of baseball in Mexico and Central America, as well as Japan and Korea.

    It’s just that the Brits are provincial and can’t accept the popularity of sports at which they aren’t any good (see basketball as an example). :-p

  • HJHJ


    When it comes to sports, no-one is more provincial than Americans. Your idea that we in the UK are provincial when we tend to compete in the most international and competitive sports in the world is just plain uninformed.

    Where are the international championships in American Football, Baseball, etc.?

    The reason why I’m a sceptic when it comes to American sports is that the top leagues are run as franchises in a quasi-socialist style, with salary caps and top players shared around – not truly competitive. Because sports like football (soccer) are truly international, they are truly competitive since no country could enforce such an American-type system outside their borders.

    I am no great expert on football, but I could tell you all the top clubs in Italy, Spain, Germany, france, England and much of South America and the names of many of their top players. Provincial? I think not.

    As for baseball being so popular in countries like Japan, there is some truth in this. But I’d prepared to bet that more people in Japan know about David Beckham (around 95%, I’m told) than about any baseball team.

    Incidentally, the reason we don’t get excited about basketball is because it’s like watching paint dry. Football fans can discuss the 10 best classic goals or saves ever made. Nobody could have such a conversation about basketball scores because they’re all much the same and they happen every 30 seconds.

    In fact, I like some aspects of American football, but ultimately I find all the stopping and starting frustrating and the over-reliance on sheer size of players.

  • CSI Miami? Yuck. And not because of the gruesome murders.

  • Verity

    Is there any area of the entire universe Tony Bliar is not convinced would be enhanced with a comment from him? Does he ever STFU? Who the hell cares about his (deeply predictable) thoughts on a football triumph? Does he think the team who did all the work gives a stuff? He really to god pictures himself as the patron of every damn’ thing on planet earth.

  • steve

    That is now two big games in as many weeks where the poorest team won. Milan played Liverpool off the park in the first half, had what semed like a good goal disallowed.

    Liverpools 2nd goal should have been flagged offside 30 seconds before and the penalty was a dive.

    It is possible to see football as a game being ruined i Arsnel and Livepool set the negative tactics fo the future.

    And no I am mosty definately not a RED fan

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Shev was a foot offside. Marginal decision, perhaps, but Liverpool had a handball claim in the box for a penalty which was ignored by the ref too.

    As for Liverpool’s goals, the 2nd was not offside by any stretch, while the 3rd showed a clear contact by Gattuso on Gerrard’s foot. If anything is to be complained, it would only be Dudek’s antics during the penalty shootout when he went retro style. 😀

    Negative tactics? I fail to see how any team with the guts, skill, and sheer determination to storm back with 3 goals in 6 minutes could ever be considered to be playing negatively. Perhaps after the 80 minute mark and beyond, when Milan were winning every 50-50 ball, but at that point, even superbly conditioned football players must be feeling the strain.

    As for the Arse, they’ve long abandoned their tradition of dreary ‘1-0 to the Arsenil’ wins in favor of gallic flair, so I still fail to see how they could be negative.

    English and Spanish football is awesomely passionate, and while the Spanish may be more tactically astute, the English catch up with sheer zest and pace. As for the Italians, they’re also great when they can be convinced that catenaccio is a thing of the past and that modern football has to be played by stamping on your opponent’s neck and then pressing down with all your strength.

    Pity Milan forgot that. 😛

    People also forget that on their way to the winning the whole thing, Liverpool whipped Germany’s best side Bayer Leverkusen, outsmarted Italian champions Juventus, snuck past English champions Chelsea, and finally defeated Serie A runners-up AC Milan in the final. Maybe a knowledgeable football fan may be willing to make a check of similar past winners who had to fight their way past so many daunting championship teams.

    Liverpool are worthy winners. Indeed, they will never walk alone.

  • HJHJ

    I wondered whether Verity would make a comment on the football. I agree about Blair – I’m just surprised (and relived) he didn’t give them all knighthoods before their plane touched down to get good publicity. Michael Howard’s comments (whatever you think of him) were clearly those of a genuine fan.

    Steve’s comments are just badly informed. Yes, AC Milan were better for much of the match, but Liverpool’s comeback was incredible and they just blew the defence away for a crucial few minutes (unlike Arsenal against Man U who hardly had a shot on goal).

    The penalty definitely was a penalty – not a shadow of a doubt as the replays clearly showed. Gerrard’s shirt was pulled and his leg was taken away when he was through on goal. Liverpool could also argue that AC’s second goal was unfair as they had just been denied a legitimate penalty.

    It could have gone either way, with either team a worthy winner. It went Liverpool’s way and would not have done had they not opened up a supposedly watertight defence. To begrudge them the win is just sour grapes.

  • dearieme

    My wife will watch only the penalty shoot-outs, where we try to guess who will miss. It’s easy to do far better than a random guesser could; last night was particularly easy- the chaps whose faces are drawn with tension tend to miss. So, why don’t the coaches take them out a wee tot of whisky or brandy before the shoot-out? Would it be illegal?

  • steve


    Liverpools second goal wasn’t offside, but the preceeding attack which pinged straight back was flagged for offside, which the ref chose to ignore

    Didn’t look like any contact at the penalty to me

    Liverpool only played when they had nothing to lose

    Dudeck was three yards off the line on at least one of his saves.

    Liverpool deserved to win becuse the scoreline said so, but not with the paly within the match

  • Verity


    Was that an echo?

    Is anybody there? This is eerie. Eight pm British time on Thursday and no new blogs since Wednesday.

    Is it something wrong with my computer, or have all the Samizdatas made good on their threat to move to NH, folded their nappery, packed their wine glasses in straw and stolen away in the night?

  • Matra


    Being picky here but both ManU goals in the 1999 European Cup Final were scored in injury time – first by Sheringham then Solskjaer. I heard that George Best turned off his TV at the 90 minute mark unable to bear watching ManU lose, and so he missed both goals.

    I was unable to enjoy Liverpool’s win. When I was a kid in N Ireland I was a fanatical Reds supporter but then left the UK and lost interest in football for a while. When I returned to it I’d discovered politics and was appalled by the leftism of the average scouser. It’s not that I’ve changed football teams (something totally unacceptable) I just don’t have a Pommie team anymore. For political reasons I just don’t like seeing Liverpool’s victim complex, dole-sponging, commie supporters enjoying themselves.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Fear not, Verity. Something will hit the screen soon.,

  • Ahh, nothing sets the table for a nice nap like a game of soccer. There’s something so . . . somnolent about it all.

  • HJHJ


    “Liverpool only played once Hamann came on and their formation changed ” would be more accurate.

    I’ve seen the replay several times. It was a clear penalty. Gerrard was through. His shirt was pulled and he was caught on his leg by the defenders foot. Either you haven’t seen the replay or you need an optician.

    Dudek three yards off his line at least? You do need an optician! He was off his line, but so was the AC goalkeeper for more than one penalty (it just didn’t do him any good).

    I wonder why you didn’t mention the legitimate penalty Liverpool were denied just before AC scored their second goal? The referee was generally excellent, but that was a clear mistake.

    The match could have gone either way and neither side could have claimed they were robbed. Accept it.

  • Jwarrior

    Nothing worse than a half arsed football fan.

    Football should breathed, eaten and lived not turned on when your ‘supposed’ team wins.

    Without the lows how can you truely understand the highs.

    Get a season ticket, get a life!!

  • John K

    I heard that George Best turned off his TV at the 90 minute mark unable to bear watching ManU lose, and so he missed both goals.

    Bestie was at the final in the Camp Nou, but he missed Utd’s goals because he’d left his seat. Probably wanted to get to the bar first. So he missed just about the most exciting climax to any European Cup final. Anyone who saw it will never forget it.

  • As far as I know I am the only person in the UK who thought Liverpool played quite well in the first half and simply conceded three very good goals.
    I was confident that there were going to be more goals in the second half. I sensed that AC Milan were going to play an open game confident that they could score more goals than Liverpool and turn it into a goal fest a la Real Madrid Eintracht Frankfurt 1960 final.
    I looked forward to the second half with optimism.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Well, for those who remember, AC Milan suffered a similar fate in 2004, conceding 4 goals to Deportivo La Coruna in a frenzy of offense by the Spaniards in the Riazor, which sent them out on a 5-4 aggregate score.

    So it wasn’t exactly totally unprecedented. That was the first clear sign that Milan’s defense was getting too old and too slow.