I'm going to eschew our normal tactical analysis of the man of the match, because it's Cup Final week and I think it's more fun to just get revved up for that. And because who needs tactical analysis of own goals? Plus, they only produce those chalkboards for league games. But whatever, still more fun.
As I've said before, I'm not a life-long Liverpool supporter. I imagine most American Reds aren't either. It's something that access in our early lives didn't allow, and only as our punk rock sensibilities and curiosity grows and pushes us to go counter culture do we begin to seek it out. Funny no matter what you end up liking to be part of a cult and avoid the mainstream, somehow that thing always ends up going mainstream. When I first started washing up at pubs early on weekend mornings, little did I think it would only take a decade or so before it became "the thing to do". Parts of me loves that, parts of me hate it. Such is life.
Because of that, the first Final I ever was emotionally involved in was the 2001 Worthington Cup Final. Sophomore year of college, and because of that it wouldn't surprise you that making it to The Irish Embassy (R.I.P) in The North End of Boston on Sunday morning was questionable at best. My Saturday night activities were strenuous, even though I don't remember what any of them were. So there was definitely a thought of staying in bed. After all, it was just the League Cup against a First Division side. Was it really that big of a deal?
But a sense of duty got me on the T, as well as the fact that I knew I could get a hair of the dog there (because the establishment is no longer there, I think I can safely say that yes, they did serve me at the age of 19 with my terrible I.D.. But seeing as how I was always watching football there, I think they knew I needed it). But more importantly, this was my first Final with Liverpool, and I needed to be there, or at least be there as much as I could in spirit.
The place was packed, but only for United's 6-1 demolition of Arsenal that morning. Once that was over, the place fairly well cleared out except for the Liverpool support. Once I saw the pomp and ceremony before the players had walked out, I knew that even the League Cup Final was an event.
I remember my first impression of it was just the pure mania of the opening minutes. The noise, the passion, and Finals at Wembley or Cardiff (as this was the first one there) seemed like they were played on an Australian Rules pitch. Everything just seemed BIGGER.
I actually had to go back and watch the highlights to remember a lot of the action, it was 11 years ago. But I didn't need reminding of Fowler's goal. It always strikes me that when a player scores a goal like Fowler did in that Final, there's a moment of shock where you can't quite figure out what just happened. It takes a second to realize yes, he did it from there and yes, it did go in. Still one of the best goals I've ever seen, especially considering the occasion.
For Liverpool supporters my age who got in on the action late, we never really got to see the best of God. We missed it by only a season or two. Oh, we got flashes here and there, this goal being one of them. First one I remember was a thunderstrike from 30 yards against Arsenal at Anfield in '98. There were others before Houllier forced him out of the next season. But even with just the words and the flashes, even I could tell Liverpool never really have had a striker like him since. Sure, Owen was a great poacher, but he couldn't wow you as consistently. Torres was close, and probably better, but it seemed he rarely conjured something out of nothing. It seemed to me, even as he got older, Fowler just never missed when presented with an opportunity.
I guess that's why we all rejoiced when he returned to the club briefly under Rafa. Those who were there would get to say a proper goodbye this time, and enjoy his skills one last time. Those who missed out on the prime would at least get to see a couple more of those flashes and more time to wonder what it may have been like. Sure, he never wowed us in that second stint, but he also never missed when he got the chance.
I remember as the Final wore on, and Liverpool couldn't find a second, and they did that thing they always did under Houllier which was make things harder than it had to be (5-4 Alaves, anyone?), there was just this sense that they were going to biff this. Birmingham began to grow and grow, and we knew under severe pressure that vintage of Carragher and Stephane Henchoz were always capable of getting jittery. Of course, they both did at the same time, but you can only give one penalty at a time. Purse buried it, and though we all saw it coming, there was still disbelief that it was going to take extra time to see off a First Division side.
I think I swallowed my heart four times in the last 30 minutes, especially when Henchoz almost gave away another penalty. When Hamann crashed one of the post, I was sure it wasn't our day.
Then a penalty shootout, the first I went through with the club I had come to love. When Westerveld saved the last one, it was one of the first time I remember involuntarily jumping for joy. I watched myself leaping around like an idiot, I just couldn't stop it. Five minutes later was the first time I sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" in a bar full of my fellow Reds, and once that happens, well, you're stuck for life, aren't you?
Houllier's reign eventually fell short of what we demanded. But he did provide us that day, as did God. While the details will probably get sketchier as I get older, I won't forget the day, ever.
And I have things like this to help: