On May 7, 2019, Liverpool Football Club made history. A breathless game of football saw Georginio Wijnaldum and Divock Origi score twice each as the Reds completed an unlikely Champions League comeback against the mighty FC Barcelona. But this win was so much more than scorelines and statistics — it was the stuff of legend.
As ever, George Sephton — Liverpool’s popular matchday Stadium Announcer and DJ — was overseeing proceedings from the box at the join of the Kop End and the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand.
A regular on the Kop throughout the 1960s, he made his debut behind the mic at Anfield on the same August 1971 day that Kevin Keegan did so on the pitch. So it says something when he’s in no doubt as to where that day ranks.
“The Barcelona night, the whole occasion, is still far and away the best occasion. I’ve been going to Anfield for 60 years, working there for nearly 50, and it stands out a mile. Everything about the night. It’s the absolute number one.”
Introductions, in so many ways, are all about how they are heard, and who by. This whole entity — the highlights packages, the winners, the losers, the Tweets, perhaps even the feelings — will feel almost like an old friend to many. Especially to those who lived it, breathed it and then relived it and relived it again.
For some, maybe even more, it represents a partially-faded recollection of an era that now feels partly, weirdly, bygone. Perhaps something as simple as a Twitter trend — ‘Liverpool’, ‘Alexander-Arnold’, ‘Messi’ or ‘#CornerTakenQuickly’.
For none though, inevitably, will it be precisely the same. A different pub, a different front room, a different seat in a different stand, a different drive through the night accompanied only by radio and its waves.
It’s one of the many reasons that a multi-voiced approach felt the best one for this particular story.
Jürgen Klopp’s side were 3-0 down on aggregate after the first leg on May 1. The damage was dealt first by ex-Red Luis Suárez and then by Lionel Messi’s typically breathtaking spell, and brace, late in the second half of the game — or second quarter of the tie. Despite the Merseysiders’ performance in Catalonia being widely praised, it could have been four had Ousmane Dembélé struck the game’s last kick more decisively, too.
A 3-2 league win at Newcastle — while Ernesto Valverde’s men, already Spanish champions, rested their first XI for their 2-0 defeat at Celta Vigo — and a pair of injury blows later, though, and Liverpool would win by four goals of their own to Barça’s nil in the Anfield return.
Origi 7’, 79’. Wijnaldum 54’, 56’. Names and numbers say it, but they don’t quite tell it.
“It was a strange feeling around Anfield. Getting to the ground, it didn’t feel like a European semi-final. It felt a little bit flat,” recalled Craig Hannan of The Anfield Wrap.
“I remember it raining. You know, you associate those big nights with the warm weather, the lighter nights but this was grey. It was a little bit dull and usually you’d be in the pub, there’d be singing, you know, the drinks would be flowing. This time it was a bit subdued, I think.”
The clouds could, indeed, be said to have been gathering over the Merseysiders’ season. Vincent Kompany’s stunning winner for Premier League title rivals Manchester City against Leicester less than 24 hours earlier further heightened the possibility of the Reds somehow finishing what would become a 97-point season trophy-less.
Their chances weren’t helped, either, by top-scorer Mohamed Salah being ruled out of the second-leg, courtesy of a concussion sustained in the league game on Tyneside. ‘NEVER GIVE UP’ the now famous line emblazoned upon his t-shirt as he joined fellow forward Roberto Firmino in watching the action from the stands.
“People forget [Salah’s absence],” said Ian Dennis, BBC Radio 5 Live’s senior football reporter, whose memorable commentary on the game for the station, alongside Alan Shearer, has been widely shared on numerous platforms since and was also enjoyed by Jürgen Klopp after it was sent onto him by Liverpool’s head of press Matt McCann.
“It wasn’t a strong Liverpool side but, I can’t put my finger on it, sometimes there’s no logic in football, is there,” Ian reflects.
Soon enough, there were sources of optimism for Craig: “It was only really once I saw how the coach was met that I thought ‘Alright, these fans and these supporters are here to give this a go’. I’d imagine the players felt exactly the same on that front whenever they saw the pyro and all of the usual stuff that you see around that.
“I think one thing that we continually said in the pub beforehand was, if this was any other team around Europe you’d probably say it’s not happening or it’s definitely not happening but, with Liverpool, there’s that 10pc. There’s that 10pc just because it’s at Anfield, just because we know what we’ve seen on European nights from both this football side and this football club throughout its history. You always have that sense that there’s a possibility Liverpool might just do something special.”
Steven Scragg, a senior writer at These Football Times who has been visiting Anfield for more than 40 years, also approached the match with a degree of cautious optimism.
“I wouldn’t say I was convinced we’d turn it around, but nor did I ever think it was impossible. Even without Salah and Firmino. Barcelona had thrown that mad game away against Roma the previous season, so that sense of them having a psychological weakness, that could rest on the mind, was what gave hope. This was added to by the feeling that we really can do anything we want to at Anfield. The general feeling, for me, was that we could do it, with no guarantee that we will.”
“Quite good, actually,” was how sportswriter Jonathan Liew, then of The Independent and now of The Guardian, rated the Reds’ chances. “I thought an early goal would change the dynamic of the tie completely. But I also felt Liverpool’s biggest task would be keeping a clean sheet.”
There was, indeed, many years’ worth of evidence supporting the chances of a fightback, some of which Ian utilised before and throughout the match.
“The two games that have provided me with a great deal of satisfaction are both at Anfield. Liverpool-Borussia Dortmund, 2016 in the Europa League. You know, that quarter-final tie. And, in fact, funnily enough, because of that — and everyone says it’s a myth about Anfield on a European night, and it’s not because of that experience against Borussia Dortmund. That actually stood me in good stead then for the Barcelona game because you knew that it could be possible because of what Anfield is like on a European night.
“I actually remember saying to Alan Shearer in the press room before we went up to our commentary position, ‘we need to be mindful of the fact that, if Barcelona score, the game is probably over but we still need to do the commentary’. So I said I might go a bit left-field and Alan’s great like that, Alan works and says ‘yeah, not a problem’.
“I said it could happen. It might happen. So I was mindful and probably in my heart of hearts I thought it’s probably not going to happen but, because it’s Liverpool, because it’s Anfield, it’s in the back of your mind.”
Few things would age as well on the night as Klopp’s programme notes. A reassurance? A rallying cry? A precursor? Either way, they did the trick.
“Here is one thing everyone inside Anfield knows, including our opponents. This Liverpool never stops. This Liverpool never quits. This Liverpool gives everything at all times. Whatever happens, this Liverpool leaves it all on the pitch and nothing left for regrets. We don’t do ‘if only’.”
They certainly didn’t.
Within a minute, captain Jordan Henderson had almost poked home a Xherdan Shaqiri effort at the far-post. Within two, Andy Robertson and Messi had given each other a talking to, with the help of Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakir, who had also taken charge of the aforementioned Dortmund game.
Within seven, Divock Origi had tucked home the rebound following Henderson’s shot to set the hosts on their way. Amid the scenes that followed was a sight that has stuck with Jonathan since.
“It’s a steward near the press box, in the Main Stand, when that first goal goes in. And his eyes are just wide with wonder, and he’s jumping up and down in his orange vest, just the same as all the fans around him. And then he gives his mate over at the next post a little look: a look that says ‘hey, this is on, you know?'”
George said: “All of a sudden, you could just hear a heightening of the crowd noise and you’re thinking ‘hello’. You know, we’d got one back and people were thinking of Istanbul.”
Craig was working the vocal chords hard by this stage: “I was stood in the Kop, in 306, which is known for where most of the atmosphere comes from and right from the off it was us against them. It was loud, it was getting on top of Barcelona, it was whistling them when they have the ball, it was giving Suárez s**t.
“It was everything you want from an Anfield atmosphere on a European night to make it difficult for the opposition and obviously the early goal helps because then Anfield is bouncing from the first 10 minutes onwards. But even at times where Barcelona had chances and they made it a little bit difficult for Liverpool, you know, the atmosphere was still good.”
The Catalan side would indeed have opportunities dotted throughout the remainder of the half.
Messi in the 14th minute. Philippe Coutinho in the 18th and Jordi Alba in the fourth minute of first-half stoppage time. All were moments when home goalkeeper Alisson Becker — wearing a one-off grey kit because of potential colour clashes — would have to come to the fore before the break.
“Alisson made a number of excellent saves in the game as well, which people forget,” said Ian. Klopp’s men reached the relative landmark of half-time, with clean sheet intact.
Sat high in the new Main Stand, Steven could also sense the occasion simmering nicely.
“I have a season ticket in the Main Stand Upper. The atmosphere up there on European nights is usually pretty good. [Fellow These Football Times and This is Anfield writer] Jeff Goulding calls us the Main Stand Upper Ultras.”
Simultaneously, he observed the interesting dynamic developing between ex-Liverpool men, Suárez and Coutinho, and the crowd: “Suárez. Some booed and whistled him, giving it that pantomime element, but I’ve never been one to boo former players. I’ve nothing against those who do, though. It’s just personal preference. Looking at the TV footage later on, both he and Coutinho looked like they knew what was coming.”
In amongst the typical mix of magic and mischief the Uruguayan tends to produce, he had concluded his running battle with Robertson by forcing the left-back’s half-time substitution, courtesy of a crafty flick of the heel into the Scot’s calf.
“Who’s going to the final?” Robertson would later ask BT Sport’s Des Kelly, tongue both figuratively and literally in cheek.
Georginio Wijnaldum took Robertson’s place, with James Milner moving to left-back — an enforced throwback to Klopp’s first full season in charge in 2016/17. The reshuffle worked out fairly well. Out came the aces.
Virgil van Dijk tested Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen with a cleverly improvised attempt in the 50th minute — and then came the gear change. A hefty one.
Four minutes later Wijnaldum had the ball in the net after he ruthlessly converted Trent Alexander-Arnold’s low cross with a sweep of the right foot from 15-yards. The Dutchman got about getting it out of the goal – and ter Stegen’s grasp – just as quickly and he’d plonked it back onto the centre-spot within seconds.
“We get the second goal and it’s chaos, it’s madness,” says Craig of the scenes in the Kop.
Anfield was bouncing. “Do you believe?” Ian asked all those listening over the airwaves.
The German stopper’s somewhat impressive amateur dramatisation of Wijnaldum’s tug of war victory seems the most likely reason for the VAR check for a possible red card that followed, but nothing came of it. Apart from another cheer.
“It certainly wasn’t obvious what it was about,” recalled Steven. “The hum of reaction to Wijnaldum making it 2-0, with so much time left to play, just reverberated through the VAR check.”
As Jonathan explains, even the press box was getting lively by now, at least in places: “Mark Critchley, my colleague at the Indy, remembers seeing my jaw literally drop open around the time of the second or third goal. Some of the Liverpool fans in the press box — and there are always quite a few at Anfield — had long since given up any pretence of decorum. And then I remember Miguel Delaney, sitting on the other side of me, and he’s literally just sitting there writing his piece, reading his WhatsApps, as if he was at the beach. It takes all sorts.”
Barcelona kicked-off somewhere amongst all of this. Then, in thudded Fabinho, one of many notable contributions within what many feel was one of the Brazilian midfielder’s very best displays for the club.
Liverpool had the ball again, and were coming again. Origi was played in-behind, towards the baying Kop. Xherdan Shaqiri collected his slightly overhit cross, found Milner, had it returned to him and then he delivered. In every sense.
“Shaqiri with the cross… Wijnaldum! Sensational!” exclaimed Ian. The roar did the rest.
Craig, it’s fair to say, enjoyed it: “The gap between the second and third goal is one of the best three minutes, four minutes I’ll ever experience in Anfield because the second goal goes in and Anfield is rocking and it only takes two or three minutes. In fact, we’ve just about finished celebrating after the second goal.
“Anfield is as loud as it possibly could be and then Wijnaldum scores again and it’s one of the great let-offs, it’s one of the most special five to 10 minutes that I’ll ever experience in a football ground.
“It’s seeing Shaqiri with the ball and whipping it in for Wijnaldum and Wijnaldum’s header and just from that. I was stood on the steps of 306 and it was just bedlam, struggling to keep your feet. There were bodies everywhere, people were crawling over each other, hugging each other.
“It’s the high that you seek as a football fan. It made going to the Nou Camp and getting battered 3-0, it made all of that worth it, in that moment. That’s when that little glimmer of hope turns. You know, it becomes much bigger. It swells, doesn’t it.”
It was going off. In every sense. Everywhere.
“Things went primordial after Wijnaldum got his second goal,” said Steven. Everyone was still buzzing from it going 2-0, so for it to suddenly be 3-0, was incredulous. I think I hugged everyone that was within arm’s length, whether I knew them or not. From my spot, I can see into Stanley Park, over the roof of the Anfield Road end. The noise generated inside the ground set a load of car alarms off on the car park.”
George could tell things were getting pretty special: “That night, the building was shaking, my room was literally shaking as if we were in an earthquake. Just for a few seconds, I thought the thing was going to fall out of its stanchions into the ground. But it’s never happened like that before, I’ve never heard a noise like that in the stadium. It was just so emotional, it was fantastic.
“By the time Gini Wijnaldum scored his second goal, we had belief.”
“Forget extra-time, Liverpool are going to win it in the 90 minutes,” Ian told 5 Live and BBC Radio Merseyside listeners. Given the chaos ensuing around him, it was a very well-placed observation.
Barcelona may not have been thinking quite so clearly: “There’s no doubt, they were rattled. They were absolutely rattled. You could see, the way that they were looking at each other, they were bewildered. But, again, I think you’ve got to put that down to the Liverpool performance but also the atmosphere,” he recalled.
“It’s something that they probably benefit from when they’re at the Nou Camp because teams can be intimidated when they go to the Nou Camp but, equally, it worked against them on this occasion and they sampled what it’s like when the boot’s on the other foot.”
Alisson would have to make another sharp stop when Messi burst into the box from the right and shot towards the near-post in the 68th minute, after a clever one-two with Iván Rakitić. It was a save which ensured the foundations — upon which Alexander-Arnold and Origi would combine to win the tie 11 minutes later — remained solid.
Craig remembers the unique nature of the decisive goal’s scoring and the celebrations that followed: “The Origi goal is a strange one. I saw the corner happen and then it’s in the net and we’re surprised by it. We’re bouncing around and we’re celebrating but it’s out of, I don’t know, it didn’t have the same surge of emotion like Wijnaldum did.
“Because of the second Wijnaldum goal, it felt like we were building towards that. We’d just scored, you know, the Kop were on top of Barcelona, we had them penned in. It was Liverpool going for the third goal, they knew they had Barcelona on the ropes and then it happens, and you get the explosion.
“The Divock Origi goal, it comes out of nothing. Like, it literally comes out of nothing. It takes the Barcelona team by surprise. It takes some Liverpool players by surprise. Only really Trent Alexander-Arnold and then Divock Origi, once he’s scored it, know what they’ve just done.”
Jonathan just about caught the winning moment: “Well, you have to realise that at this point it’s 79 minutes in, and the bulk of the piece is written. And in my mind, it’s a piece about epic, epic failure. Because all night, I’d been expecting Barcelona to score at some point. So like everyone else I’m furiously typing, and then out of the corner of my eye I see Alexander-Arnold double back and take the corner quickly.
“I was quite lucky. A lot of people in the press box missed it. It’s only on the replay monitor that I notice that about half a dozen of the Barcelona players are facing in the opposite direction when the corner is taken. So, at that point, you just have to start writing. I don’t think a huge amount of thought went into it. Just focusing on two main points, ‘f**k me, this is weird’ and ‘Barcelona could still score here’.”
Ian, meanwhile, had to multitask: “Well, funnily enough, when the corner was going to be taken, I had my notes and I’d looked down and I’d passed to Alan because I thought ‘oh, the corner’s going to come in’, so Alan was talking as Alexander-Arnold hit the ball across. So I actually didn’t commentate on the corner being taken quickly, it was one of those: “Oh, Origi!” and then he’s scored.
“When I got back to my car, that was the one thing that I wish I’d done. I wish I’d said ‘it’s a quick corner’, but because I’d handed to Alan and I’d looked down and then I’d looked up — I mean it happened so quick. It’s easily done, it’s one of those things. But then, of course, in many ways, that just adds to the drama. It just goes to show how quick-thinking Alexander-Arnold actually was.”
Steven, understandably, could hardly believe what he was seeing: “The winning goal. Just the speed of it all really. It didn’t seem real. I remember staring at the ref, then to the linesman, then back and forth again, expecting it to be disallowed I suppose. Then it went nuts.”
George views it as the stand-out moment from the evening: “Oakley Cannonier was the name of the ball boy. Good quiz question, that. You know, just the movement — him to Trent, Trent walks away and then suddenly comes back. It’s weird, it’s like the whole rest of the game was frozen, just Trent Alexander-Arnold and Divock Origi were moving. Everybody else was just frozen in time and then the ball’s in the net.
“I’m looking, thinking ‘he can’t possibly give that goal, can he?’ Well, why can’t he? And then the referee’s pointing for a goal. And then the downside after that is we’re 4-0 up against Barcelona and we’re thinking they only need to score one stupid goal and they’re through on away goals.”
Liverpool knew that all too well, and Ian was impressed with how they were able to settle at the appropriate moments in order to see out the game and secure their ultimately triumphant trip to Madrid to win their sixth European Cup on June 1. “Still, the Liverpool players had that presence of mind, that match experience. The concentration levels are so high, still to keep Barcelona at bay.”
There were one or two promising moves by the visitors in the closing minutes, but never once did their hosts allow them a clear effort on goal.
What of the atmosphere? “A form of scream therapy. Honestly, there was a sort of religious fervour to it. It wasn’t just the noise, it was the faces. Like people were possessed,” recalls Jonathan.
With little over a minute remaining of the five of stoppage time added, Fabinho burst out from the block, won possession and, even more invaluably, won a free-kick. Anfield exhaled.
Van Dijk found Milner on the left. Experience is there to be used and the veteran most certainly did so in those final few moments. The ball was safe-side as he crept towards the corner, and he forced another foul. Another few seconds. Another free-kick taken. Another few inches closer to the corner.
Then, as Milner safeguarded the orange treasure almost directly below George’s box, that whistle.
George, indeed, came into his own at full-time: “The time’s going on and on, and it seemed to go on forever. But, at the final whistle — wow! We’ve done it. How did we do that? Have I just seen that? I can’t believe I’m watching this. Am I dreaming?
“And then, of course, the way it fell out after that. The squad come down to the Kop, all in a line just at the second I bang on You’ll Never Walk Alone, which I very, very rarely do after games. It’s probably, I don’t know, 10 times in 50 years, if that. And they just stopped and joined in and the Kop joined in and the whole place, the atmosphere was fantastic.
“So at the end of that I’m thinking ‘right, you’re going home now’, and nobody’s moving. And I looked down and basically I’d run out of music on my memory stick and I looked down and I’ve got the little pile of CDs on the desk which are there just in case there’s a problem with the memory stick, or whatever. On top of there – John Lennon’s Greatest Hits. Bang it straight in and Imagine comes on and the whole place just joined in.”
At one or two points in the minutes following full-time, the Barcelona supporters even applauded, and Liverpool’s applauded back. “They were very gracious,” said Ian.
Craig loved the organic nature of the moment: “The John Lennon Imagine, that’s the thing that I look back on most fondly because, you know, throughout the years of Liverpool in these big European games, there’s always a song that comes out of them that you wouldn’t necessarily see as being something Liverpool fans would sing.
“So, you think of Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash, in 2005. You think of Three Little Birds during the Europa League run in 2016. You think of these two songs and John Lennon, when that was played and the Kop sang along, the fact that it’s impromptu and it’s George that plays it and takes us all by surprise, that’s like a proper moment to cherish, because it probably doesn’t happen again. So that was brilliant.”
Steven made a telling observation, too: “You’ll Never Walk Alone and Imagine was pretty emotional. In modern football, it is easy to feel detached from the players, but it felt like a genuine collective right there.”
Jonathan’s match report for The Independent was hugely popular in the hours and days that followed and has approximately 10,000 likes on Twitter at time of writing, but he’s emphasised the point on a number of occasions since that he does, in fact, feel it was far from one of his best pieces of work.
“I genuinely have no recollection of anything that happened from the fourth goal (9.39pm) to me filing the piece (10.06pm, bit late). I remember walking down the steps from the press box with Tony Barrett, who now works for the club, and he was absolutely buzzing, as you can imagine. And all I could think about was ‘well, that report was a bit shit, wasn’t it’.
“As you can imagine, it was quite surprising to discover over the subsequent hours that a lot of people liked it. What they really liked, I think, was not the delicate wordplay or the trenchant analysis, but the fact that Liverpool beat Barcelona 4-0. You know when your team has a big win, and you just want to inhale it as much as you can? So you watch the highlights back, over and over. You read every single word written about it. You just want to wallow in how amazing it was. This piece was just in the right place at the right time.
“It’s obviously hugely satisfying when so many thousands of people are saying nice things about you. But it’s also quite an instructive insight into the poetics of reception, social media’s vortex of call and response which obviously fuels both poles, the extreme praise and the extreme abuse. This is not hyperbole — I wouldn’t put that report among the top 20 things I wrote in 2019.”
Just as it did for George, it is an evening that ranks right at the top of Craig and Steven’s experiences of following Liverpool.
“I’ve been a Liverpool supporter since I was four years old. I’ve been a regular match-goer for 11 years and the Barcelona game probably ranks at the top, just because of the sheer audacity of it,” says Craig.
“The fact that it is Barcelona. It’s the biggest name in football, probably. We’re playing against Lionel Messi, who is the best footballer in the world. Possibly ever, probably ever. It’s against Luis Suarez who left us five or six years ago for Barcelona and who comes back as both a hero and a villain, which is really interesting as that develops through the match.
“And then obviously the fact that it’s four goals, it’s 3-0 down. It’s the whole storyline and it’s everything that’s great about Anfield on European nights that makes it special. So I would say it certainly ranks right at the top.”
A sentiment Steven echoed: “It’s almost 43 years since I first went to Anfield and I’ve been present for most of its finest nights ever since, but I’ve never seen anything like that Barcelona game.”
Ian praised the powerful collective spirit harnessed by the Reds manager and players: “It was just like a force of nature. I actually think at Anfield on a European night, when Liverpool are playing like that, they’re a force of nature. And credit to Jürgen Klopp who I think has created that and the players, as well, who have bought into it.”
George provided some additional insight on the aforementioned John Lennon tune: “The plan was to play it at the end of the game when we win the league but I don’t think I’m going to get the chance now, obviously. Unless I smuggle myself into a neutral venue, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said, with a smile.
A humbling thought, and a reminder of the current situation. But perhaps also a pointer towards the kind of moments we would all love to have back within our reach sometime soon. We’re probably not the only ones.
The Kopite would like to thank each of Jonathan Liew, Ian Dennis, Craig Hannan, Steven Scragg and George Sephton for taking the time to share their memories of that night a year ago.