Anfield South Welcomes Liverpool Home
Sunday 25th February marked the return of Liverpool Football Club to it's second home - Anfield South, known of course to everyone else as Wembley Stadium, and what a return it was. A return, that began, with the match against Exeter back in August.
Now during that game, a magnificent rainbow appeared in the sky and to those of you who understand the significance of this; it meant even back then, that the good times were on their way back. The rainbow too many is a sign of a turn in fortunes - my own reasons for believing in them was the arrival of my grandson Noah at the end of October 2011.
Football wise of course, it meant that perhaps Liverpool would bring home their first major trophy in six years. The last one was of course our FA Cup win against West Ham in 2006 and it had been played at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff as our second home had been knocked down and was being rebuilt.
Rebuilt it was, but due to a multitude of circumstances, Liverpool Football Club had found it impossible to return to Anfield South, until that is King Kenny took over in January 2011. Now Kenny had graced the Wembley turf many times himself not only as a player but also as a manager, and he held the belief that Liverpool would do so once again.
It was a belief that he instilled into his players and us the supporters, but to do that of course the club had to make strides in both of the domestic competitions. The first one was the Carling Cup - nicknamed the Mickey Mouse Cup because most of the Premiership clubs, had basically decided it simply was not worth bothering about. Why I simply cannot understand, because having grown up in the era when Liverpool was always winning it, its importance has always remained with me.
To ensure that Liverpool did make strides in the competition, at no point during any of the rounds did Kenny put out a reserve side. Every game was played with 11 players from the first team squad. Yes the team differed from round to round but that enabled us to beat teams such as Manchester City and Chelsea - teams who are by virtue of the monies spent were supposed to be better than us.
But beat them we did and with our journey nearing its end, Liverpool were again going to their Southern home and what a day it would turn out to be.
Even the weather seemed to have decided to be in on the act signalling that the arrival of spring would in fact be a couple of weeks earlier than planned. From the moment the journey south started on the Saturday morning for some of the supporters the sun shone and the temperature rose. By late evening, London was bathed in a sea of red as supporters found friendly pubs and restaurants to start the weekend's frivolities.
Liverpudlians though love a challenge and when it was announced by Virgin Trains that there had been a derailment overnight in Cheshire the journey south on the Sunday morning became one long adventure. But get to Wembley they did and when the first pictures of Wembley Way were shown all you could see was a massive sea of red, with the blue of Cardiff, poking through occasionally.
Time caught up with everyone and as kick off time approached, the team came out onto the pitch in light grey suits - never again would the white suit horror story be repeated and having soaked up the atmosphere began to take some photographs.
Liverpool had arrived at their second home and the twists and turns of another adventure would shortly begin. But first with the National Anthem dropped, it was decided that both clubs would be announced by their home pitch announcers. In Liverpool's case this would be Peter McDowall and after announcing the team with a great gusto, he signalled the singing of the club's anthem You'll Never Walk Alone. All I can say here is, 31,000 supporters made sure that North London heard and felt every word.
Formalities over, the match began and it became evident very quickly that Cardiff were not going to be the push over that everyone thought they would be. If ever an example was needed, it was there on the Wembley pitch. Cardiff may have been a Championship side but their spirit and their work ethic was amazing. They played their hearts out. so much so that they were the first to score having breached our defence.
Liverpool was stunned and it looked as though, it was going to be another of those days at the office. Andy Carroll was having one of his, is that strange object a ball days, Luis Suarez simply could not find the net and Stevie spent most of his time trying to ensure that Liverpool kept the ball.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man as the saying goes, and that man was Martin Skrtel who picked up a loose ball and sent it straight into the back of the net. Liverpool had now levelled the score line and it would be down to the stronger team on the day to win the game.
The ninety minute mark arrived and with the score line still level, it signalled the start of extra time. Now extra time can make or break a team, as players legs become tired and cramp sets in, which put Liverpool effectively in the driving seat. Cardiff though had other ideas and did everything they could until Kenny decided now was the time to make several changes.
Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy came on, replacing Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll and immediately the setup of the Liverpool team improved. The ball appeared to be moving around better and it was Mr reliable, Dirk Kuyt who put them in the lead.
Could Liverpool hold on was the question now on everyone's lips as nerves began to fray and fingernails began to be bitten down. They did their best but with the clock ticking towards the final couple of minutes, Cardiff found a second wind and caused major problems in the box. Problems that ended with the ball in the net and Cardiff level once again.
This of course meant only one thing, Liverpool who appears to have made a career out of penalty shoot-outs were faced with yet another one.
In the next ten minutes, the confidence of 10 players and two goalkeepers would decide the fate of the Carling Cup.
The toss was taken and it was decided that the penalties would be taken facing the Liverpool supporters. Whether Stevie chose this to unnerve the Cardiff keeper is something that we will never know, but it did not work, because he was magnificent.
Stevie stepped up first with a perfect kick, a kick that would have beaten many a keeper, but it was saved.
Then Cardiff's Miller missed his.
Both teams were still level when Charlie Adam stepped up and his kick sent the ball into the upper stands.
Dowie then scored for Cardiff with Mr reliable - Dirk Kuyt, next in line for Liverpool and he did what he does best with the ball hitting the back of the net.
Stewart Downing and Glen Johnson then both stepped up and hit the middle of the net and with Peter Whittingham of Cardiff hitting his kick home, it was down to the next Cardiff player to level the scores once again.
That player was Anthony Gerrard and for the supporters in blue, the day was a minute away from ending. He sent his kick wide and with the realisation that Liverpool had won the Carling Cup, the players were hugging each other, the supporters were singing and if I am not mistaken, Kenny was once more wiping a tear from his eye.
The formalities began once more with Cardiff going up to receive their loser's medal first, but you cannot take anything away from them because on the day they proved that if they can get promotion to the premier league next season, they will give many of the teams already there a great game.
Liverpool then having collected Jamie's son James and Kenny, made their way up the stairs, to be greeted by John, Tom and Linda who had flown in for the occasion. Medals were accepted, hugs were given and the cup duly handed over. The pride everyone's faces was a joy to see and with You'll Never Walk Alone ringing out from around the stadium it marked the beginning of a new era in the history of Liverpool Football Club.
An era in which I hope will ensure the younger supporters of today will see and feel what I witnessed from the moment Bill Shankly won the FA Cup in 1965 to the moment Stevie G won the FA Cup in 2006.