What Makes A Classic Football Match? Part 3: Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United

In Parts 1 & 2 I nominated Manchester City 2-3 Liverpool and Portsmouth 2-3 Liverpool for Classic Match consideration. These nominees come from a supporter’s perspective. I invite others to say what they deem a potential classic from their own perspectives in the comment section. I’ll cover one more match tomorrow…

3.) Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United – 13 September 2008

Since moving to Boston, I began to develop a strange set of rituals when Liverpool played Manchester United. Trek down to the pub. Squeeze into the standing-room-only atmosphere. Make as much noise as possible. Be devastated by Tevez’s single goal or Bennett’s red for Mascherano. Sulk.

Was it more comforting that I was surrounded by Liverpool kits, by supporters who’d come out with as much hope as me? All of us wondering if this would be the day Rafa beat Fergie? Only to finish the morning (yes, morning) ordering a consolation pint when we’d hoped to drink to victory.

On the 13th of September last year, I tried to maintain the hope. But mostly I braced myself for the inevitable. Liverpool had been playing well. But there would be some O’Shea-like tap-in moment to derail the result. I smelled a 0-1. I went anyway. I did prefer to watch with others. Even when we lost. And, besides: if we won this and I was at home alone, I’d be in a year-long snit with myself for not going. 

Packed in tight with fellow supporters: We shifted on our feet. We speculated. We sang. We nursed our 8am pints. 

Torres and Gerrard were on the bench, still unfit to start, so it was hard to see anything different from previous season’s results. But I reminded myself: in football, one never knows.

That  devastating moment came early when Berbatov found Tevez (who else) unmarked, charging into the box. Tevez fired it past Reina. Less than three minutes gone and we were already a goal down. At least O’Shea had left it until the 92nd minute.

Without Torres or Gerrard, it was hard to imagine us putting two goals past Edwin van der Sar. But I started praying for a draw. A point against United would be decent enough. Deny them the two extra points at least. Part of me buzzed saying, we can still win this. Plenty of time. But I decided to maintain my emotional reserve until we got the equalizer.

Then, nearing the 26 minute mark, Xabi gets the ball some 35-yards out. (Why do I love to slip into the present tense for moments like these?) He sends it in. A promising looking service, but who will be at the end of it? Wes Brown as it turns out. Finally that weird did-that-really-just-happen moment goes the other way for Liverpool: against United. Xabi’s ball takes a deflection. Van der Sar tries to push it out, but he pushes it out against Wes Brown’s knee. The ball bounces back into the empty goal. 1-1. The pub explodes. If an own-goal was to be the key to restoring our chances: we’d take it.

And anyway, after the early minutes, Liverpool seemed the better team. My hesitation to believe began to give way to timid hope.  New guy Albert Riera was showing his potential. Dirk Kuyt made a promising shot from distance. Mascherano was beyond brilliant as if to say to United’s players: “See what I can do when I stay on the pitch?” 

And if Masch’s first-half as-clean-as-it-gets strip off Wayne Rooney wasn’t mouthwatering enough, in the 76th minute, our defensive midfielder charged deep into attacking territory, doggedly weaving past defenders. Giggs tries to hold him up against the byline but Masch pushes the ball to Kuyt. Kuyt turns and finds Babel in a world of space. Babel arcs it home. 2-1!!!!!

If I hadn’t been in a pub packed thick with my fellow supporters I would have fallen on my back. Thankfully, I had a swarm of jumping, screaming bodies to keep me upright. Also, I’d learned to put my beer down whenever Liverpool neared goal, just in case I needed to flail my arms about in celebration. You only need to be soaked with your own lager once or twice to learn that invaluable leason.

The remaining minutes would be tense. But United could not find the equalizer. And Vidic even got a late second yellow for trying to put his elbow through Xabi. Bye-bye, Nemanja. (Have I mentioned how much I love opposition red cards?)

The City match may have be a more well-rounded nominee for classic classic status… two goals down… three goals back… red card… late winner…

But the 13 September match has a contextual edge. Until then, Liverpool had never beaten United under Rafael Benitez. To do it after being a goal down—to do it without Torres or Gerrard (Gerrard came on in the 68th but didn’t look himself or play much of a part)—to finally have that incomprehensible goal-scoring moment be at United’s expense rather than in their favor (the universe is a balanced place, John O’Shea)—this was beyond belief! I couldn’t imagine a better result against United….

Until the visit to Old Trafford… 

Tomorrow… Part 4: Gerrard, Torres, Aurelio and Dossena (Yes, you heard me right: Dossena)…

7 thoughts on “What Makes A Classic Football Match? Part 3: Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United”

  1. I was there. There were wild celebrations on the Kop when Babel scored. Was nice to finally end that Man Utd hoodoo!

  2. I enjoy the topic of your stories but your writing, at times, gives off a very pretentious feel. You could be the most down to earth gentleman on the planet, however, I just begin to feel a bit of a distance when reading your pieces due to the sub-par attempts to use juicy adjectives and your winded, run-on style descriptions. It just seems that I have a tough time feeling the authenticity of your emotions due to how much time you seem to focus on making your descriptions sound cool and edgy instead of truly reflecting on how you felt.

    My opinions (that is strictly what they are) could’ve been shaped due to your love and my hatred for the Scouse. Very memorable match, mind. I will still keep reading your pieces though in attempts to one day find a connection. Much respect though.

  3. When the Reds score against Man Ure and you havn’t got a ticket so your in the boozer. You should be throwin your ale in the (keep hold of pint pot), its part of the celbrations.

  4. Joaq,

    I’ve been thinking about your comment:

    I was a bit taken aback by the word “pretentious” to describe my writing. I hope this comes from your bias (which I can understand and appreciate) because this is far from the tone I hope to convey in my work.

    When I began writing about football, I tried to take an unbaised approach and write with a broader lens. But I couldn’t get as excited about this kind of writing as I can about my more recent Liverpool-specific approach. Since I’ve been writing more from my own perspective as a supporter, I’ve felt I’ve moved much closer to where I want to be as a writer (although, looking back at my earlier pieces, I realize I managed to mention Steven Gerrard in nearly every article even when I wasn’t talking about Liverpool… oops.)

    My hope is my writing can appeal to supporters of many clubs because they can relate to my passion even if we don’t support the same team. I don’t know if I’m there yet. I do feel I’ve gotten closer over the last couple of weeks.

    I really appreciate your statement: “I will still keep reading your pieces though in attempts to one day find a connection.” I hope you can connect with my passion even though your passion is for a different club. I suspect few Spurs supporters keep a copy of Fever Pitch on their bedside tables, but that book has meant a lot to many non-Arsenal supporters because Hornby gets the experience of being a supporter down so well. His take on supporting a club is broad even if the club he supports is very specific.

    I aspire to write like that. My own voice, though, the run-on sentances and all, seeks to capture the intensity and energy of football in the flow of the writing. Again: not sure I’m there yet. But I’m looking for it with every article. Writing short pieces like this every day means I keep moving. I could go back and wrestle with adjective choices and other details all day long. But at some point I have to click “submit” for better or worse and move on to the next article. I know my word combinations don’t work perfectly every time. But for every miss I hope I stumble upon a crisp line that gets it right. What you see as seeking “cool and edgy” is, I think, me seeking a fresh and surprising language to discuss this sport that constantly surprises and excites me.

    This is a journey. I’m not sure where I’m going. But I like that I keep moving.

    Thank you for your comment and for continuing to read. I hope you find something that works for you in my stuff sometime in the (hopefully near) future.



  5. Mac,


    I can’t afford a ticket and I’m stranded in New England. So my pub becomes my makeshift Kop. The closest I’ve got for now.

    I also put my pint down to have hands free to shake the person next to me in a can-you-believe-that-just-happened kind of way.

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