“LFC Encore” is a series that relives the club’s significant moments from its recent past.
Flashback: 14 April, 2009
When the Reds brought out the other rendition of YNWA.
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart,
and you’ll never walk alone!
It is perhaps the most famous of football anthems around the world; well-known to be associated with one club, but shared with another. It has been sung in many forms by the club’s supporters; sung in self-pity during miserable times, sung in celebration of triumphs, sung as a source of motivation, sung as a weapon of intimidation, sung in extreme pride of the performance and has also been sung as a prayer to the heavens above.
Two of its best renditions, though, were seen in a week in April 2009, albeit in a losing cause.
When “Chelsea v Liverpool” popped up in the UEFA quarter-finals draw in the 2008-09 season, the world mourned. It wasn’t only because the all-English, London-Liverpool affair had become a frequent occurrence in the Champions League. It was because the match up was renowned for becoming a chess battle rather than a footballing affair, famous for its binary scorelines and of course, popularly known for a goal that will be debated for decades to come.
However, a tactical masterclass by Guus Hiddink on April 8, 2009 completely caught Liverpool off their guard and Rafa Benitez’s men were stunned at Anfield, conceding three goals after taking an encouragingly early lead. The 1-3 result meant that Liverpool needed to score at least three times at Stamford Bridge; a task that wasn’t labeled ‘daunting’, it was labeled ‘virtually impossible’.
The first leg concluded with a self-pitying chorus of You’ll Never Walk Alone in injury time. Bill Shankly had once said that Liverpool supporters are the most knowledgeable in England and they knew that although Liverpool’s performance could have been way better, Chelsea were both, physically and tactically, much superior on the day.
A season that was promising so much, had suddenly been derailed by one poor performance and Liverpool were said to be ‘all but out’ of the Champions League.
“An early goal for Liverpool could see them on course for an incredible comeback but logic suggest that three goals at Stamford Bridge is too much to ask of Benitez’s men.” (Goal.com)
And who could oppose these views? The club had failed to score in their last three European meetings at Stamford Bridge. In fact, Liverpool had failed to score at the Bridge in five seasons of the English Premier League since Cheyrou’s winner in 2004. So, when a Gerrard-less Liverpool lined up to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge a week later, the match was expected to be a mere formality.
What followed was a spirit-defining performance, with the Istanbul-inspired men from Anfield simply refusing to throw in the towel when the world and, at one point of time, even their own manager had ruled them out.
Alarm bells, to indicate a topsy-turvy night for the home side, began ringing when a moment of pure genius by Fabio Aurelio caught out Petr Cech from a free-kick, to give Liverpool the early goal they needed. By the half-time break, a Xabi Alonso penalty meant that Stamford Bridge was shell-shocked into silence as the visitors went into the break 2-0 up and in total command. How could this be happening? Commentators had gone berserk, experts were searching for explanations and fans all over the world had mainly one thing to say – “Never write off those damn Scousers”.
But things changed. While Liverpool dreamt of another miraculous comeback, Chelsea gathered themselves and gained control of the match through three goals that completely turned the match on its head.
Liverpool’s 12th man
With little less than fifteen minutes left on the clock, and after so much effort, Liverpool were back to square one – needing three goals to progress. And the time in the equation had reduced six times from ninety minutes to fifteen.
The tie was finally over. Or so the world thought.
Stamford Bridge’s flag-distributing strategy was in full flow for the first time on the night. Even Rafael Benitez finally threw in the towel, when he brought on David Ngog to replace Fernando Torres. Little did he know that his players had a bigger heart than anyone could imagine.
A lucky, deflected goal by Lucas made it 3-3 on the night. And a minute later, a Dirk Kuyt header meant that, somehow and against all odds, a sensational comeback was on, once again.
“The comeback kings are at it again“.
The moment Kuyt powered in that header, every Red across the world felt an incredible surge of pride in the football club. Rafa’s team had forgotten when to give up on a football match. And perhaps, the ultimate compliment for any team is to not know when they are finally beaten in a match. For Liverpool to just be in the game with ten minutes to go was one achievement, but to be just one goal away from progressing to the next round was an achievement and a half. Stamford Bridge went into hiding, fearing perhaps the most humiliating defeat in many seasons.
Players in blue could hardly believe the game wasn’t over, yet. They were seen shaking their heads in disbelief. Guus Hiddink was seen as perplexed as the Liverpool manager himself. Their tactical diaries were thrown out of the window in this match. Finally, though, Liverpool were dealt with, once and for all, after a wonderful Frank Lampard goal settled proceedings in the 89th minute.
89th minute – yes. That is how long Chelsea took to settle a tie that was already supposed to be over when the match began; a tie that went down in history as arguably the best Champions League two-legged tie ever.
“Liverpool came within a hair’s breadth of pulling off a Champions League feat to arguably surpass the miracle of Istanbul.” (Mirror Football)
“This bold display will be recalled almost as often as the comeback from 3-0 down to beat Milan in the 2005 final.” (The Guardian)
It was Chelsea that enjoyed the rendition of YNWA in the first leg at Anfield. They were pleased to hear the Liverpool supporters singing in self-pity after being demolished at home. That night, it was music to their ears.
“It was subdued Anfield by the end, the home fans reduced to singing about past glories.” (Chelseafc.com)
On the night of April 14, 2009, the Reds – who were in the minority – again sang their anthem in the dying minutes on enemy soil. On this occasion, with heads held high, it was Liverpool’s moment alone. The Blues’ sense of triumph had been transformed into a sense of relief. The celebrations had been low-key, since they had assumed smooth progress before the match. The plastic flags that the club had kept on the seats to ‘create’ an atmosphere had failed in doing so.
While they were still recovering from the bizarre night, the Bridge drowned in a proud rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. And while Chelsea progressed to the next round, they knew that they had survived a huge scare. The muted celebrations were an indicator of respect towards their opponents. At Stamford Bridge, on that night, there was defeat on the field.
But a sense of victory off it.
Other articles in the series: