Novelist and Liverpool fan Kevin Sampson's excellent 1997 season long diary, Extra Time, has been re-issued. Here's an extract he chose for us.
16 September 1997.
Celtic, away (UEF A Cup, 1st Round, 1st Leg)
Ah, the silliness of it all. The pure, wonderful, inexplicable silliness of being old enough to know better, old enough to do sensible, responsible, grown-up things but to still be turned on and psyched-up to meltdown point by the prospect of Liverpool's latest European jaunt. I love these trips. I live for them. Okay, Glasgow is hardly the exotic destination of Euro fantasy games. You live in hope of a latter-round tussle with Lazio or Atletico Madrid, but any game against Celtic, in any competition, is a Big Game. It's one to get the pulse throbbing and it's one we've been looking forward to like impatient children.
It's a full turnout for this trip. Among the impatient children assembled in the Costa coffee shop, Lime Street station concourse, in good time for the 7.38 (change at Wigan North Western) are Danny, Jegsy, Peter Hooton, Mick Potter, Roy and Gag. There's nothing to match those first few moments of a big away trip when everybody's meeting up, there's a new arrival every minute, jokes and tall stories are flying around and everybody is everybody else's best friend. It's like going on holiday. Real life is put on hold for a short while.
We arrive at Glasgow Central, check into The Charing Cross Tower Hotel and dive over the road to The Baby Grand for a quick pint while the rain subsides. The rain doesn't subside. It gets heavier. We stay in The Baby Grand for an early scran - plenty of potatoes for me, a notorious lightweight when it comes to all-day drinking. Murphy and Clive arrive to raucous applause. They've driven up in three hours flat, which is nifty jockeying indeed. Jegsy hangs his banner from wall to wall- it's about 15 feet long, a good old Liver Bird flag in the finest traditions. Mick and Danny succumb to the Jameson's at twenty past one. They start singing at five to two.
We take cabs down to Baird's bar in the Gallowgate. The driver tells us that the match may yet be postponed. The rain is unstinting, the ground is under an inch of water and there's going to be a 5 p.m. pitch inspection. It's about 4 p.m. now.
Baird's is a time-served, dyed green Celtic bar, as great a part of the Glasgow Celtic tradition as The Albert on Walton Breck Road is a part of Liverpool's folklore. Nobody 'takes' Baird's, not even with friendly fire, and, regardless of the good relations between Liverpool and Celtic fans, it's not recommended to go singing the songs of other teams in this place.
So what we do is we go in, The Deficient Seven, hang the flag between two wall lights, and sing many-versed songs about the Liver Bird upon our chests. It takes less than a minute for an ice-cube to whistle past Potter's head, and another minute for a diminutive, genuinely outraged barman to march over and remove the flag from the wall. A game of cat and mouse ensues. We wait for him to get right back behind the bar then shove the flag back up again. A minute later he comes back over and pulls it down. In between times, when we're singing, he sends ultrasonic ice-cubes socking into the back of our heads. The local boys, who outnumber us ten to one even at this early stage, eye us with suspicion. They give us a few minutes to get it all out of our systems then drown us out while they find their range with a couple of old standards.
'We are Celtic supporters, we will follow you .. .'
They're loud. We're drunk. It seems like a good time for some of the old European numbers, just to remind the Celts that they're in the company of Greatness here - four European Cups to their paltry lone success. So there we are, harmonising 'A Scouser In Gay Paree' when, 'allo 'allo - he's here! It's our first Tune-In of the season. Hello, Tommy, and welcome! Tommy Tune-In is a person, almost always alone, who just ... joins your gang. One minute he's not there, the next he's your leader, right in the thick of it, leading the singing - almost always, too, with the wrong words. Today's Tune-In is an excellent fellow, a young lad in a Liverpool shirt who's ready to stand up on tables for the cause and take his share of nuclear ice-cubes. The angry barman gets him right on the side of his ear, causing him to howl with pain and dance a raindance, hopping from one foot to another, as if it'd miraculously cause an ear graft. Tommy Tune-In is gone as quickly and as mysteriously as he arrived.
Baird's is heaving. Hooton goes next door to find his friend Sandy, a piper in the popular Peatdiggers ensemble. Sandy brings news that the match is definitely on, and is enveloped with sloppy hugs and kisses and offers of drinks. He points out, very practically, that we're a good two miles from the ground and taxis, at this time on match night, are an impossibility. He suggests we walk to a less-packed bar about 15 minutes away, a sort of halfway house where we can take stock and cater to our individual needs with things like pies and soothing unctions for ice-cube welts. We wave a cheery farewell to Mr. Angry and head off to This Bar.
Standing with Jegs outside This Bar in the now tropical rain - no idea what the place was called, very inebriated indeed - I witness a surreal sight. Mick Potter, Danny and Murphy are walking by on the other side of the road, singing lustily. It's them. It is. I'd recognise Danny's walk anywhere, Murphy always sings out of the side of his mouth and Potter always has his telescopic chin in Cagney position. And yet ... how can it be them when they're here, with me, in this halfway-to-paradise bar?
'Zegs,' I say, tugging at Jegs. 'There's Potterandat .. .'
He shouts them over. It is them. They are not with me in This Bar and have not, indeed, been in our company since they left Baird's in search of a chippy an hour ago. They point out that the game starts in 40 minutes. Sheltering from the downpour under the flag, we trudge through mudflats and paddy-fields until we reach Celtic Park and designate an after-match meeting place, for the very likely eventuality that we get split up from each other.
Mick and Danny head for a different turnstile to the rest of us; it is to be Mick's last few moments of liberty in Glasgow. Stopped in a random check-up by the match police, he's asked if he has been drinking. Mick laughs.
'Of course I have!'
The officer asks him if he knows it's an offence to be intoxicated at a football match in Scotland.
'You must be awful busy,' quips Potter. This is more than enough for the zealous copper, who hauls Mick off to repent in the cells at leisure.
There are 3,700 Reds inside the ground - our full allocation - in full, tonsilitic throttle. The Celtic crowd, notoriously partisan, are a bit subdued until the teams step out onto the pitch. But then, suddenly, what a noise! It truly does feel as though your eardrums are going to burst. The new Celtic Park is not fully up to capacity yet, but there's over 40,000 here and it's an atmosphere without parallel. There's no way that, say, Barcelona v. Real Madrid, even with 120,000 in the stadium, can generate more noise than this. We start off You'll Never Walk Alone but the Celts drown it out with their own passionate version. They sing it a bit too quick, so they're finished before us. We just keep it going, nice and slowly, thousands of red scarves and flags lighting up that comer of the ground. It's one of the most beautiful renditions of the anthem I've ever heard. McManaman applauds when it's over. Kick-off time. A roar to put the fear of Satan into anyone, and we're off.
The match is bizarre. If anything the crowd's volume seems to paralyse Celtic, instead of Liverpool. We're quickly into our stride, knocking the ball about and running into space. The overwhelming impression from that first half is of vast expanses of green space for Owen and Macca to drift through, unchallenged. We murder Celtic first half. Michael Owen speeds through the Celtic backline as though they're not there, to score with now typical aplomb. We're denied a penalty and we're cutting through their defence at will. McManaman can do whatever he wants. The Celtic crowd are stunned into absolute silence while we dance and sing in the rain. This is fantastic. This is why you get up at 4.30 a.m. to come to games like this. You dream of nights in Europe when your team are, by any standards, a class apart. This is one of those nights. Everyone around me is delirious. Celtic are relieved to hear the half-time whistle.
At half-time I run around the refreshment area, bumping into people I haven't seen for ages, exchanging bear-hugs and assuring each other that this is the team that's going to lift us out of the doldrums. Michael Owen is compared to Jairzinho. The team is compared to France's 1984 side. Everybody is, of course, completely, marvellously pissed. I find Peter and Jegs, who think there might be unoccupied seats on the front row, right in front of the goal we're attacking. We head down there and drape Jegsy's flag over the front. It's a bit exposed, which is obviously why there are seats vacant, but the rain has now stopped and we're going to be in prime position for Liverpool's second half avalanche.
Which doesn't come. Celtic come out growling. This time it's us, team and fans, who are battered into submission. Celtic go close twice before Simon Donnelly's brought down by Matteo. Penalty. It looks an outrageous decision from our end of the ground, but when we see it again on TV it's pretty cut and dried. It's a pen. And they equalise. It's now a completely different game. Celtic are laying siege to our goal and the crowd noise is cranked up to unbearable volume. It's only a matter of time before they score again, Burley hooking in a difficult volley. Now, having looked like Didier Six's France, we look like Doncaster Rovers.
Somehow we weather the worst of the storm, due to a combination of heroic defending, two tremendous saves by David James and a couple of glaring misses. You can sense that Celtic have nothing left to offer. They've run themselves ragged. We're back making space, playing our football again. If there's going to be any further goals in the last five minutes, it'll be us doing the scoring. It's uncanny the way you develop a feel for these sorts of situations. Both Jegsy and I are utterly stone-cold certain that we're going to equalise. So certain are we, that we shuffle along the row to give ourselves a chance of hugging the triumphant goal scorer when he runs to celebrate with the crowd.
McManaman receives the ball in his own half. Everyone has seen the wonder goal a hundred times and everyone still marvels at it - grace, skill, tenacity and athleticism shaped into 12 fluent, determined, wonderful seconds of our lives. McManaman accelerated away like a jaguar and, drifted on and past them all, cutting left and keeping left, getting a sight of goal and curling that delicious, spinning shot inside the goalie's right-hand post. What a fucking goal. Unbelievable.
We can't contain ourselves. Hugging each other just is not enough. We have to get to McManaman. So, it seems, do about 100 other jubilant Kopites. In slow motion, McManaman runs behind the goal, eyes crazed. He knows this is a Big Moment, not just in personal terms but for everyone who's here. He knows this goal, this moment, this feeling will be talked about for decades. We've got to get to him, get him on our shoulders, share the ecstasy with him. Jegsy bursts past the cordon of stewards. Four or five of them go after him, leaving me with a clear run on Macca. I'm over the asphalt perimeter track. McManaman's being mobbed by team-mates. They're maybe 20 feet away. I can do it! I can be the one who thanked Steve McManaman (Crap finisher. One-off.) for his wonder goal. Head down, I go into Six Million Dollar Man slow-motion, slipping on the wet grass but driving on towards my target. I can't hear anything. I'm vaguely aware of Jegsy getting hauled away, laughing hysterically, but my mind and my eye is on The Prize. Just a quick pat on the back for Stevie then ... BOOMFF!! Where the ruddy heck did that come from??! It feels like I've been hit from the side by a runaway train. I fall heavily, poleaxed, slam-dunked onto the greasy turfby a hefty copper's high-velocity rugby tackle. He comes with me, all 16 stone of him landing hard on top of my ribcage. OOFF!! I can't breathe. He says something witty to me - honest, he says something really funny, but I can't, no matter how often I try, recall what he said because at that moment another policeman comes over with my mangled spectacles, yet another asks me if I'm alright and another still points out that they're going to have to eject me. All of this seems to have taken a quarter of an hour, but as they run me down the ramp, shouting for the stewards to open the gates, Jegsy is only just ahead getting the same treatment. We collapse upon each other, laughing in the rain. Not because we think we've done anything heroic - we feel utterly stupid - especially as we're missing out on the big party sing-song the travelling hordes are now enjoying. No, we're laughing out of delayed, shocked euphoria that McManaman has scored that goal right in front of our noses. We were here to see it. In our small, pathetic way, we've been part of another little bit of Liverpool history tonight.
We wait outside for the others. Peter has forgotten to bring the flag. I'm allowed back inside to look for it, but it's been zapped. We'll have to keep an eye out for it at the next home game and make a plucky citizen's seizure. Meanwhile, there's the small matter of Mick Potter, custodian of the constabulary. We make a few calls, but each telephonist tells us a different story. Mick knows where we're staying. Either he'll make it back there or he'll contact us himself. The remainder of the evening is spent on Sauchiehall Street and in the hotel bar, reliving the spectacle of Liverpool's most hopeless finisher scoring one of the best goals any of us has ever seen. He'll never do it again, of course. But even if he doesn't score again all season - which he won't, for sure - he's given us something to treasure. Thank you, and goodnight, Mr Mac.
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