For the first time since the 1985 Heysel disaster, Liverpool were in the European Cup final and around 30,000 of their fans found their way to the outskirts of Istanbul. Milan were a daunting prospect, boasting top international pedigree in every position. Liverpool had finished a poor fifth in the league in Rafael Benítez’s first season. The team he selected that day looked weak in many places. It seemed a one-sided contest.
Well before kick-off, deep under the main stand, I chose my spot for the game. It is a well-rehearsed routine for all photographers at major games. When your name is called out you walk forwards to a map of the pitch and choose your seat. I plumped for behind the goal at the Liverpool end, where the red hordes were gathering. It’s assumed that both sides play towards their own supporters in the second half. I fancied Milan to blast Liverpool away in the first half.
I was right, apart from one major problem – the captain who won the toss decided to swap the teams around. Suddenly I had Liverpool attacking my end first and within a minute my pre-match prediction came true, with Paolo Maldini volleying Milan ahead. I forlornly watched the goal and celebration from afar, cursing my luck. Things then went from bad to worse. Hernán Crespo scored two more in the 39th and 44th minutes. As the whistle blew for half-time, I was in despair. Three goals, in the biggest match of the year, and I had virtually nothing.
I began to review my tactics for the second half. Did I stay put and hope that Milan keep turning on the style or did I blag a spot up the other end to witness an improbable Liverpool comeback? Then an amazing thing happened behind me. A spine-tingling rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone rose up and filled the ground. Red scarves held high above heads. I decided to move, trying my luck down the other end and found an empty seat on the side of the pitch level with the penalty spot.
Benítez tweaked his tactics and began the second half with a 3-1-4-1-1 formation. In the 54th minute Steven Gerrard scored with a looping header. Two minutes later Vladimir Smicer smacked in another. In the 60th minute the most unlikely of all comebacks was complete as Gerrard was fouled in the box and Xabi Alonso scored on the rebound after his penalty was saved. I was thanking my lucky stars that I had moved.
The game then calmed before heading into extra-time. With three minutes to go Jerzy Dudek made a stupendous point-blank double save from Andriy Shevchenko. We were heading to penalties.
Fortune then went my way again as the coin toss decided the spot kicks were to be taken at the Milan end. Somehow I had ended up in the perfect place. Dudek tried to distract the Milan players by copying Bruce Grobbelaar’s famous spaghetti-legs routine. It paid off. Serginho skied Milan’s first kick over the bar, then Dudek saved Andrea Pirlo’s attempt.
Liverpool were 3-2 up when Shevchenko came to take Milan’s final penalty knowing he had to score to keep the game going. It’s at times like this I wish I had a couple of heads with an extra pair of eyes. Do I look at the keeper, the penalty-taker or team-mates in the centre circle? I decided on the latter. Dudek saved and the Liverpool players erupted. Cue pandemonium.
From then on my priority was to get a good position for the presentation. I managed to squirm into the best spot, front and centre. While he waited for the cup to be handed over, Steven Gerrard walked over to the huge pot and planted a kiss. Perfect! Then, as the red ticker-tape exploded above, he finally got his hands on the cup and raised it to the sky. Never before or since have I experienced such a night – one that started as a total disaster but ended up a triumph.