Every time there’s a fantastic football match – specifically, every time there’s a second half which is absolutely out of this world – I phone up my brother. “Well,” I say, “did you stick with this one? Or did you give it up like that night at Wairds Park?”
Wairds Park, don’t you know, is the home of Johnshaven Dauntless, who were our other team during summer holidays of fond 1970s memory in the Mearns. For the game in question on that hallowed, daisy-speckled pitch with its flat-fronted posts and old lobster creels stitched together for nets, the favourites were three-nil down at the interval to the imperious Stonehaven Swifts with, or so bro thought, no hope of turning things around.
What happened? The match resumed and Dauntless scored five, the comeback led by Magnus Taylor, a medieval trebuchet of a centre-forward and just about the only member of a team of fishermen not called McBay. The Swifts were the Barcelona of the Fettercairn and District Summer League, which was a kind of Champions League with half-time oranges and/or cans of Double Diamond. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s where Uefa got the idea for their competition.
My brother has never given up on a game since he missed what he accepts was The Greatest Comeback Of Them All. Lording it over him to this day, I’ve never left when it’s been 0-3 although there was a near thing at the 2015 Scottish Cup semi-final, Hibernian playing like berks against Falkirk, when my son, demonstrating at the age of eight the kind of grace under pressure which should set him up for a rewarding career as an international peace negotiator, talked me out of fleeing the stadium/charging on to the pitch to try to have the tie halted. “Oh ye of little faith,” was the gist of what he said. His actual words were: “You said you’d buy me a pie. My first ever.”
Now, the first thing I want to say about those other comebacks from three in arrears last week is what a pity both semis were on BT Sport. What a shame the subscription-only coverage meant many were denied the epic dramas of Anfield and Amsterdam. Yes, kids could catch up later with the highlights, the goals, but these were games meant to be watched in full: the ebb and flow, the churns of emotions, the ultimate glory even if it takes until the 95th minute, proving as the song goes that with hope in your heart, there will be a golden sky. BT have said they may make the final available on a freeview platform. This must happen.
“Yay, football!” I saw this on Twitter the other day. It could have been worse, I suppose: “Yay, footie!” for instance. At times like these, after games like these, football goes stratospheric and all sorts of people who didn’t show much interest before get involved. Radio 4 hosts pretentious discussions reminiscent of the Monty Pythons with furrowed brows and turtleneck jumpers. The sub-text of these debates is: “Okay, plebs, you’ve had your fun this season with pitch invasions and the like but these games were real, proper art so we’ll take it from here.”
Those of us who are there every week for the SPFL and the Fettercairn and District Summer League may be irked by this, but we should be magnanimous. We have always known football could be this good and should congratulate ourselves for our stunning foresight. But I think we’re allowed to laugh at one type of response to the stupendous feats of Liverpool and Spurs: the claims by Brexiteers that the rest of the country should see these victories as confirmation that Britain can go it alone and doesn’t need assistance from other nations. The comebacks, you see, were down to good, old-fashioned bulldog spirit. I mean, did any of you hear Germany’s Jurgen Klopp, pictured, or Argentina’s Mauricio Pochettino or any of their French, Spanish, Danish, Brazilian, South Korean, Egyptian and Senegalese stars utter such bilge?
If you were being churlish you might say that Barcelona were brittle and prone to collapsing like this (viz Roma last season) and that Lionel Messi’s enduring brilliance tends to mask these deficiencies. The momentum was with Liverpool and 24 hours later it was with Spurs. That must be one of the most overused words in football but here were two of the truest, most supercharged demonstrations of what momentum actually means.
If you were being churlish you might say that Spurs did go bulldog, forsaking the “Tottenham way” and lumping it high and long to their own medieval trebuchet, which discombobulated the Ajax defence, also brittle but similarly there had been a tendency to over-praise their glistening forward play. Some Spurs fans wondered if their team would receive the same orgasmic acclaim as Liverpool, 24 hours later. But this was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, or the Pochettino calling the Klopp black. These two coaches are equally drooled over and are engaged in a private contest, not of their own making, obviously, to find the Premier League’s biggest media darling.
At the start of last week – which seemed as long ago as the start of the decade, given how protracted those two second halves seemed, and the extent to which they’ve been eulogised – Pep Guardiola said the pundits had their favourites and these weren’t Manchester City. This was a bit sniffy of him because he’d had plenty of praise but Liverpool are the romantics’ choice. The Etihad’s Tunnel Club for Roger Nouveau Football Fan and his VIP plonker-chums or the Kop? It’s no contest, even if the latter doesn’t sing She Loves You anymore.
Regarding the Champions League, it’s more difficult to say who I want to triumph in the Madrid final. Barcelona didn’t deserve to beat Liverpool but, as Christian Eriksson generously admitted in a soundbite which got lost amid the hysteria, Ajax played better than Spurs though in the end didn’t have the luck.
I’ll go with Liverpool. At the end of his semi Pochettino sobbed winningly but Klopp swore even more winningly. “My boys were f****** giants,” he said.
I mean, they’re not Johnshaven Dauntless but good luck to them.