Just one word. The passion of football, the romance. The majesty and mystery, the mystical even. The miracle of football, all wrapped up in one word.
Even those with limited appreciation of the sport know exactly what it means. The greatest European final ever. Hell, quite possibly the greatest sporting spectacle ever.
Jamie Carragher rolls it slowly around his mouth, savouring those three syllables.
“It really is one of those words isn’t it,” he says, not as a question, but as a statement of fact.
“It’s funny how those great European triumphs are known by the city where they took place. As a kid, for me it was Rotterdam, with Everton. Rome ’77. United have Barcelona… Not ‘the Bayern game,’ but Barcelona.
“Istanbul, though. It’s somehow even more powerful. It’s our city and our club. Just the word makes you feel lucky to have been part of it. An honour and a privilege.”
Even in these socially-distanced days of phone interviews, you can sense the shaking of his head in disbelief still.
It was on this day – May 25 – 15 years ago that the miracle of Istanbul occurred. Even now it is hard to put into words just how unimaginable Liverpool ’s comeback was. Just how disbelieving AC Milan were. Perhaps it is fitting one word encapsulates the impossible.
Yet perhaps Carragher provided a perfect snapshot of what it meant with his celebration when Reds keeper Jerzy Dudek saved Andriy Shevchenko’s penalty in the shoot-out to deliver the trophy.
Did he tell himself beforehand to celebrate properly if they won or was it that, being a Scouser, he truly knew what it meant to the club to lift old Big Ears once more?
Nothing so calculated.
“I think that moment, when you win something big, it takes you to a place very few other moments in your life can take you. That feeling, that moment, it’s what you miss most,” he says wistfully.
“It’s the one moment in my career I’d love to go back to. That moment of realisation, and then release. I ran towards Jerzy and was the first one there. But there was no way I could stop and hug someone. I needed to keep running, jumping, shouting, screaming.
“I couldn’t have bottled that up. It was just an energy rush that had to come out. I carried on around the track, couldn’t have stood still with the players, had to get involved in the crowd. It’s just a pity I didn’t get that energy in the first half!”
There are so many stories from Istanbul and Carragher is happy to tell them to those fans who still hang onto every word to describe the greatest night of their lives. Yet he prefers to listen, he says, to all those untold tales of a far-fetched night.
“We had a great night in the hotel after the game, with the lads, the chairman and the manager giving speeches,” he said, “but when we got back to Liverpool for the homecoming was the real celebration.
“The final was on a Wednesday and I kept drinking until the Sunday night! I was with people back home who couldn’t make it to the game but still had so many stories, and I’m probably more interested in how they felt.
“I think it’s one of those games – it’s for the people of the city, not the players. The whole city had a glow to it, a bounce in the step for six months.”
Of course, he has so many entrancing stories still. Being millimetres away from stopping two of Milan’s first-half goals, and how luck changed those millimetres into match-saving blocks in extra time.
How he took Paolo Maldini’s discarded shirt from the abandoned Milan dressing room.
How time stopped in that agonising extra period, during the moment which has been voted the most memorable in Champions League history – Dudek’s incredible save when Shevchenko had the goal at his mercy at 3-3.
“Jerzy’s save, I still see it vividly. I was five yards out. Time stands still. Everyone stops, stops breathing. It’s now or never. Then ‘oh my God, he’s saved it.’ Impossible.”
Istanbul. One word. A lifetime of adjectives. A lifetime of memories.
2005 – THE BREAKDOWN
AC Milan 3 Liverpool 3 (aet). Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties
Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul
May 25, 2005. KO 7.45pm
AC Milan (4-3-1-2): Dida; Cafu, Stam, Nesta, Maldini; Gattuso (Rui Costa, 112), Pirlo, Seedorf (Serginho, 86); Kaka; Shevchenko, Crespo (Tomasson, 85)
Manager Carlo Ancelotti.
Liverpool (4-1-3-2): Dudek; Finnan (Hamann, 46), Carragher, Hyypia, Traore; Alonso; Garcia, Gerrard, Riise; Kewell (Smicer, 23), Baros (Cisse, 85).
Manager Rafa Benitez.
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