Upon waking suddenly in the early hours of April 24th 1997, I initially assumed it was due to excitement. That afternoon I was off to Anfield for the second leg of the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final against Paris Saint Germain. Sure, we were 3-0 down after an insipid first leg performance, but even in those pre-Istanbul days anything seemed possible with Liverpool in Europe. You may have heard about this, you may not; we certainly don’t like to go on about it.
Seconds later I realised it wasn’t excitement that had woken me, but the need to vomit. Immediately. I had no time to make it to the bathroom, my bedroom soon resembling an abstract art installation. I had contracted a bug, and some 22 years later it remains the most ill I have ever felt.
In spite of feeling closer to hospitalisation than able to endure a three hour drive to then sit in a cramped seat in an exposed stadium, I ludicrously decided I was still going. I sat shotgun, constantly turning the heating up. Why wasn’t it working?! I turned around, to see my friends had assumed liquid form. Oh.
I strongly considered curling up on the pavement outside rather than watching the game, but eventually struggled in. The atmosphere was one of loud defiance. You’ll Never Walk Alone was special — so special that my friend, a Spurs season ticket holder, sang it proudly (oh, for smartphones in 1997). It didn’t rouse me. I was more concerned with remembering to breathe.
But in the 12th minute, something happened that I will never forget. Stan Collymore controlled a hopeful punt, nudging the ball into Robbie Fowler’s path. My idol didn’t break stride, lashing first-time one of his trademark angled drives into the bottom corner.
As Fowler retrieved the ball, Anfield went berserk. The noise, and the possibility we might actually pull this off, instantaneously lifted the illness from me. From that moment on I sang my heart out, truly engrossed. It was football as healer on an extremely micro (and admittedly self-important) level.
Liverpool laid siege to PSG’s goal. Mark Wright scored in the 79th minute but, despite a frantic last 10 minutes, this was not to be one of ‘those’ nights. Liverpool went out 3-2 on aggregate. For me though, Fowler’s goal remains ingrained in my memory more than any other; representing the power of football’s collective experience to affect both emotionally and physically. Outside the ground, I immediately projectile vomited, and the journey home was punctuated by numerous related delays. It was totally worth it.
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