Fixtures and results so far
Al Wilkinson's poems
Mystic Mick's predictions
The season in pictures
End of season awards
19 November 2002
There's quite a difference in the way fans support their clubs around Europe.
Due to work commitments work does have the habit of getting in the way at the most awkward of times I'm penning these notes a little later than normal. This has allowed me to take a step back from the initial euphoria I had on Wednesday, the morning after the game.
I've had a chance to read quite a few acccounts of the game and noted than many commentators managed to squeeze into their copy a reference to
the Alps. The Daily Telegraph's normally reliable Henry Winter wrote:
"In the shadow of the Alps, Liverpool had a mountain to climb and they resembled daytrippers tackling the Matterhorn in flip flops."
I can only think that poor Henry travelled to Basel during the night, as the Alps are a good two hours' drive away. You'd be looking at a pretty long shadow.
Still, I have to report that Tuesday night's game really was an incredible experience, one that will remain as a firm favourite in that mind cabinet labelled "best games I ever saw!" joining the two Grimsby Town Wembley appearences, the Everton game, the West Ham cup game,
Burnley and Fulham in '98 and a few more Town performances.
I'd arrived at St Jacob Stadium spelt Jakob on the uefa.com site, which meant that numerous reports also misspelt it about an hour before the game, and already thousands of fans were milling about.
I'd bought my ticket from a friend of a friend for 350 Swiss francs about £150. Its face value was 83 francs but I could have sold it for three times what I paid to any of the numerous Liverpool supporters who'd arrived without tickets. I wonder now if they'd still have been prepared to spend this enormous sum had they known what was about to happen to their team, but I digress.
I'd borrowed a digital camera with telephoto lens, and once at my seat was testing shots and taking pics of both teams as they warmed up. Unfortunately, continental stewards are very much the same as the stewards at Blundell Park, so having spied me trying to work out how to
work the damned camera I was asked to put it away. This explains why the pics you see here are borrowed from elsewhere!
An extravaganza of ticker tape and flag waving met both teams as they came out onto the pitch. The noise generated by the home fans as they
greeted their team was deafening, with 30,000 screaming their lungs out within the confines of the fully enclosed stadium (imagine Sunderland's Stadium Of Light, but double-tiered).
As Gerard Houllier and Phil Thompson walked onto the pitch making their way to the dugout, one of the Liverpool fans seated by me shouted: "Good
luck Gerard". Houllier looked up, catching me directly in the eye, and winked!
There was the normal preamble, with the UEFA anthem blasting out of the sound system and centre-circle logo being flapped around by 30 or so kids. Then a slight delay as both teams readied themselves for action, which I guessed must be for the TV companies' commercial breaks.
Then kick off.
I have to admit that I'd thought Liverpool would be able to do enough. Gerard Houllier had said in the previous week's Sunday newspapers that we were to expect a very special performance from his team. Michael Owen had left behind his poor early season form, and it seemed from the reports I was reading that he was scoring at will in the Premiership.
I'd watched the last FCB home game: a 5-3 win against mid-table FC Zurich (not Grasshoppers, who currently lead the Swiss league by one
point over FCB), in which the Basel defence had been dire. I'd even predicted in earlier Champions League musings that FCB were heading for a UEFA Cup spot.
So what happened during the next half-hour was unbelievable, even to those fans who believe absolutely in all things FC Basel.
Within 90 seconds Christian Gross's men were one up. Hakan Yakin, who played one of his best games, found himself in acres of space on the left and was allowed to run and run. His perfect cross was met by Julio Rossi, who easily scored past a diving Dudek. Cue roars of delight from the home fans.
It got better.
Twenty minutes later, Rossi fed Yakin in midfield and his through ball was met by Jimmy Gimenez racing through the middle, who lobbed the ball over the approaching Dudek to make it 2-0. The home fans' celebrations were magical and quite unbeliveable.
A few minutes later Yakin was brought down 25 yards or so out and his brother Murat stepped up to take the free kick. His fierce shot could
only be palmed away by Dudek, and FCB defender Timothee Atouba seemingly doing a Wayne Burnett flick managed to somehow slide the ball away into the far corner.
Now there were amazing scenes of celebration from the FCB fans.
The rest of the half saw yet more attacks from the men in claret and blue, and a Liverpool team in total disarray.
Although the scoreline was a disaster for Liverpool, it hadn't been one-way traffic. Earlier in the half Heskey had thumped a goalbound shot, which was only just pushed onto the bar by Zuberbuhler, and a goalmouth scramble nearly saw the ball in FCB's net.
Half time was spent getting beer and bratwurst, and chatting with other fans. No-one I spoke to could believe the scoreline, though no-one now
believed that Basel would lose.
The scoreline would be closer than anyone dared think.
Liverpool started the second half much as FCB had started the first. Houllier had substituted the ineffective Gerrard with Diao; Vladimir Smicer started to be far more effective in midfield and it was his link-up with Danny Murphy on 60 minutes that saw Liverpool pull a goal back. Smicer touched the ball onto Murphy and wham! the ball was in the back of the net from the edge of the area. Three-one, and the crowd got a little quieter.
Two minutes later Heskey was substituted for Baros, who two minutes after that flicked on for Smicer to fire home and make it 3-2.
The crowd got a lot quieter!
This seemed to energise the home team and with a little more luck they'd have scored another goal. A mazy, dribbling run from Ivan Ergic saw him shoot from distance and Dudek save (with his head, apparently); and Rossi came close twice, but both efforts went wide of goal.
With five minutes to go, the unbeliveable happened. FCB defender Murat Yakin, grounded after a tackle, seemed to handle the ball. Owen shouted for the penalty and the Italian referee awarded it.
The crowd, now nervous and edgy, were chanting "Zooey! Zooey!" imploring the Basel keeper to save. Owen, penalty claimer and taker, stepped up to take the kick. Zuberbuhler saved, only to push it back to Owen who doesn't need to
be asked twice to score, and slotted home. Three-three.
For what seemed quite a few seconds there was silence, and then the crowd really did amaze me by supporting their team. A crescendo of
noise, starting in the Kop but spreading around the ground, got louder and louder as the clock ticked away.
After 90 minutes the fourth official raised his board indicating four extra minutes to be played. Boos and hisses ensued from the crowd.
FCB managed to keep their heads for two or three of the supposed four minutes, and then it was over.
Relief and incredible noise swept through St Jacob stadium as the fans and players enjoyed the moment.
The Liverpool players trudged off.
The officials trudged off, guarded by umbrellas from objects thrown by spectators.
The FCB players saluted all corners of the crowd, before leaving a still-packed stadium 10 minutes later.
All in all, this was an unforgettable experience, especially for those of us that like to see the underdog being top dog! Three Basel players made the difference. The two forwards Jimmy Gimenez, Julio Hernαn Rossi with midfielder Hakan Yakin linked up and played some of the best football I've seen during those first frantic 30 minutes. Yakin was involved in all three goals and the forwards scored a goal each.
Gerrard and Heskey were really awful. I'd seen Heskey score against Town in the FA Cup when he played for Leicester. That Heskey looked sharp and up for everything. This version looked slow and cumbersome, as if he was carrying an injury. Poor young Steven Gerrard
was just invisible for the whole of the time he played.
The local TV cameras were filming fans leaving the stadium, and when I had the mic pushed in front of me, I could only explain: "Blooming
The 'banner of the night' award went to 'Bye Bye Liverpool, say hello to GZ!' (GZ being main rivals Grasshoppers Zurich, who Liverpool will join in the UEFA Cup.)
Next game for FCB a very unglamorous league fixture at Luzern next Sunday.