It wasn’t to be. Reds 1 Milan 2

It wasn't to be. We didn't deserve to be behind at half
time, but we didn't seem able to do anywhere near enough in the second half.
Then again, the referee didn't add on anywhere near enough time. 3 minutes?
That wouldn't have been enough – but he only added on 2:40! Would we have
scored in that remaining amount of time? Probably not.

It's still been a
great show from the Reds this season to get all this way, and with new owners
on board there's a real feeling we'll be seeing great things next season.
Perhaps it will be a blessing in disguise – a win might have made the new
owners hold back a touch with the spending.

It sounds like sour grapes, and I'm reluctant to say it, but
the referee did not perform well tonight. He allowed Milan to waste time, a
side of the game I hate to see even when we are guilty of it. He seemed to blow
the whistle too easily. I won't say he was biased, I will say he wasn't very
good.

That said, Milan did enough in that second half to keep us out. If the tables had been turned we would have been proud of our players for scraping through to the end. Congratulations to Milan.

None of our players should be criticised tonight. Every
single one did their best, and then some. Tonight their best wasn't enough.
Milan had two chances. One went in via a hand, the other went in when the game
was stretched. We made Milan look ordinary.

Rafa's game plan worked for 43 minutes. After that we
controlled the game, but just did not seem able to get anywhere near goal. If we're good enough to come so close to number six this season, how good will we be next season with Rafa able to finally go shopping without having to sell first, without having to compromise?

Michel Platini will be delighted!

I'm still proud of you Liverpool.


You'll never walk alone.

* If you want to get it
off your chest too, send us an email. I'll try and read them and might even publish
some of them. Send the emails to blatant-handball @ anfieldroad.com.
If you're a fan of another team just trying
to gloat be warned – I might publish your email address and so on!

Continue reading It wasn’t to be. Reds 1 Milan 2

CL Final teams: AC Milan v Liverpool

We're nearly there. It's nearly time for kick off in the Champions League final.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has gone for a 4-4-1-1 formation with Dirk Kuyt up front and Steven Gerrard just behind him.

Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise, Pennant, Mascherano, Alonso, Zenden, Gerrard, Kuyt
Subs: Dudek, Arbeloa, Hyypia, Kewell, Gonzalez, Crouch, Bellamy

AC Milan: Dida, Oddo, Nesta, Maldini, Jankolowski, Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini, Seedorf, Kaka, Inzaghi
Subs: Kalac, Cafu, Kaladze, Gilardino, Favalli, Serginho, Brocchi

Officials: (All from Germany)
Referee:
Herbert Fandel
Assistants:
Carsten Kadach, Volker Wezel
Fourth Official:
Florian Meyer

Kick-off: 7.45pm BST, 8.45pm CET

Continue reading CL Final teams: AC Milan v Liverpool

Gerrard wants to win for best fans in the world

Steven Gerrard was asked by the Liverpool Echo if he had a
message for the fans who are all waiting expectantly for tonight's final. He did:
"You know we won't let you down," he said.

All the predictions are that AC Milan are favourites, but
Liverpool have shown under Rafael Benítez, especially in this competition, that
they fight to the end: "What we can promise is we'll do everything we can to bring
that trophy back," said the Liverpool captain. "We've shown on plenty of
occasions, particularly in big cup finals, that no matter what the situation,
we'll never give up. We'll have exactly the same attitude tonight."

There can be few arguments, even from neutrals, about
Gerrard's next words: "They're the best fans in the world and we know our
responsibility to them."

Tickets were scarce, and far too many fell into the hands of
touts, and flights have been cancelled and rescheduled. One group of fans even travelled
by minibus to get to Athens for the game. Reds have gone to great lengths to
see this match, and Gerrard is aware of this, it acts as an extra boost of
motivation for a game that comes with automatic motivation: "People have paid a
lot of money to see us perform, and the least all of us can do is give our all
to make them happy. We all want the same thing, and it's an honour for us to
have another chance to do what we did two years ago."

If Gerrard hadn't had his dreams come true and become a
professional player with Liverpool FC, chances are he'd have been in one of
these minibuses or arguing with touts for a ticket.  He says:  "As a Liverpool fan myself, it's obvious that
even if I wasn't a player I'd want to see the club winning all the best
trophies. Winning European Cups and being the envy of everyone in England is my
ambition as a supporter as much as a player, so to be actually part of a team
that can do that, and achieve something so special makes you want to take that
opportunity even more."

Gerrard is often brought into the conversation whenever new
owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett talk about their pride in their purchase,
along with vice-captain Jamie Carragher. The two local lads are considered a
vital component to what makes Liverpool so special, and they know what is
expected of them: "I think it's fair to say that this responsibility brings its
own pressures, which are massive. Jamie Carragher would feel the same way, but
when you're growing up and dreaming of being a player, this is what you're
working for. These are the opportunities you want, so you're not going to hear
us complaining about it."

17,000 tickets were officially handed over to Liverpool
fans, but you know that Liverpool fans won't limit themselves to tickets
officially for them. There'll be Liverpool fans filling huge parts of the "neutral"
sections of the ground, and a whole lot more outside the ground, in Athens to
be a part of what is a special experience: "There are going to be 30,000
Liverpool supporters in Athens," said Gerrard, "maybe even more, and every one
of them would give anything to be in my shoes. There is no way we can let those
people down. I want to make a lot of people happy because I know from growing
up in the city what it means to them. I know the sacrifices people have made to
follow us around Europe. My family and friends have done the same to get here
for the final. It's just a shame more people couldn't get tickets and I feel
sorry for those who have had to stay at home."

Gerrard told the Echo that he glancing around at his team
mates gives him another boost: "It gives you a lot of confidence when you look
around the dressing room and see players who will perform on the biggest stage
and can be match-winners. We have lads who've played in World Cups, European
Championships and massive Champions League games, so there's no sense of going
into the unknown with us anymore. There are leaders all over the team."

He also had praise for the man who got us here, Rafael Benítez:
"We also have a manager we know we can trust to prepare us in the right way. He
proved it at Valencia and now at Liverpool that when it comes to the big
occasions, he knows what we need to do to win. It's up to us after that."

This is a big game in so many ways: "These are the kind of
games which define your career. If you have the right impact, people will talk
about it for years. The last final definitely changed my life forever. Before
then people can say I was a good player who had enjoyed a bit of success but
still had to fulfil his potential. When you win the European Cup it takes you
to a new, higher level and people probably see me as a different player now."

Continue reading Gerrard wants to win for best fans in the world

Riise focussed on success

Liverpool's left-back John Arne Riise is a certainty to
start in tonight's Champions League final in Athens, although where he'll be
used remains to be seen. If manager Rafa Benítez is confident that either Bolo
Zenden or even Harry Kewell are fit enough to start on the left wing then Riise
will be playing at full-back. If not then Rafa is likely to use Alvaro Arbeloa
at full back on allow Riise to play a more advanced role.

Riise was asked in the press conference whether Liverpool
thought they could win it. Liverpool aren't just in Athens to make up the
numbers, they are confident they have a good chance of victory: "We have always
believed we could win it again. Those two performances against Barcelona just
underlined how we all felt, that we were good enough to get to the final again."

Riise says Liverpool have improved since the 2005 final when
they beat AC Milan on penalties in what is regarded by just about everyone as
the best Champions League final of all time. "Two years ago we didn't know what
to expect, but we do now, and this time we are a better team than in Istanbul,
and we will take all the experience we gained in that final into this one."

Milan players and fans were stunned two years ago. They did
not expect to lose a game that they were winning by three clear goals at
half-time: "They want revenge, we keep hearing that. But we will just
concentrate on ourselves, we know we are confident and we can win it again,
Milan know we can beat them, and we know what we have to do and what to expect
now from Milan."

Riise is pleased with the preparations in the build-up to
the big match: "We trained yesterday and it was quite warm, but we went away to
get used to the humidity. We have done everything right and we are well
prepared. We have confidence for the final."

Continue reading Riise focussed on success

Crouch: Milan different class

As hearts start to beat faster and the Champions League kick-off
grows nearer the fans aren't the only ones with that unique feeling you get before
a big game. It's a mixture of nerves and excitement that forces the body to
produce all manner of substances ending in "ine".

Confidence one hour about all the qualities in your team and
the weaknesses of your opponents are replaced shortly after with a long list of
concerns about the weaknesses in your team and the strengths in theirs.

And that's without the mind games the media persuade the
coaches and players to get drawn into.

Is Peter Crouch really worried about Milan as much as he
implies? Or is this just a psychological attempt to lull the other side into a
false sense of security?

He says he was impressed with their performance against
Manchester United in the semi-final. Maybe it's also an opportunity to rub
things in for the Mancs. Maybe he's nervous too. It's hard to tell at this
stage. "They were fantastic. I've not seen too many of their games this season
but against United they were different class. I know they're a class side, a
fantastic side, but United have been so consistent and the best team in England,
so for Milan to take them apart in the way they did at the San Siro was
eye-opening and made me more aware of what a good side they are."

Crouch then explains that what he means is that Liverpool
know it won't be an easy game, but they also know that some of the other
matches they played to get here weren't easy either: "We're certainly not
taking anything for granted. We know we're playing a top-class side and will
have our work cut out. But we've overturned Barcelona and Chelsea to get here
so why not Milan?"

The win over United for Milan may have impressed many
onlookers, but so did Liverpool's win over Barcelona, who were favourites to
retain the trophy they'd won in 2006: "I think it said a lot about the players.
It was a real test for us; Barcelona looked like the best team in Europe at
that time and we beat them over two legs. I don't think many people saw us
winning in the Nou Camp so it was a fantastic achievement to do that job."

He went on: "And if anybody thought that was lucky, then we
beat Chelsea as well, another fantastic side, to get to the final." Liverpool
had been underdogs in both games.

In the last final between these two sides Liverpool went 3-0
down in the first half. Crouch is hopeful that the current side are capable of
keeping their opponents out: "The starting point of our success is our
resilience. We are difficult to beat. We have a fantastic defence and all work
hard for each other to keep clean sheets, and that will always be the main
objective. But when we attack, we do attack. We went to Barcelona to win the
game and that proved to be the case."

The fact Rafa is looking for new strikers to add to the
squad says a lot about how Liverpool have squandered chances over the season,
but they have shown they can put those chances away: "We work for each other
but when we go forward we can score. We got three at PSV Eindhoven and two in
the Nou Camp. We've scored goals in this competition and we can do it when we
need to."

The quality of the defence might be making the attack look less
capable: "Maybe we don't get as much credit as we deserve attacking-wise
because our defence is so solid. But of course we were trying to beat Chelsea
at home after we'd scored. We had chances and could've scored a few times. Yes,
we try to keep a tight shape and work to keep a clean sheet, but we don't go
for 0-0. We try to score goals and win games and that's been the case
throughout the European campaign."

With everyone expecting another 3-3 thriller, this game has
all the signs of ending goalless at full time. But it won't be through a lack
of trying from Liverpool. They just need to make sure those butterflies in the stomach
don't put them off their game.

Continue reading Crouch: Milan different class

Momo’s help for Mali children

Liverpool midfielder Momo Sissoko has been talking about his
commitment towards improving the lives of the people living in his family's
home village. His parents were originally from the village of Bendougou in Mali
before they moved to France, and although Momo's never been there before he's
been helping out financially since he made it as a player.

He sends clothing, shoes and money to help the children of
the village and is hoping to go to the village this summer for the first time.
Momo told the Sunday People: "It is important that I send what I can and help
the children now I can because they have nothing. I have never been there, but
I am going for the first time this summer with my brother."

He's expecting it to be s moving experience: "I know it will
be very emotional for me to meet the children I am trying to help because they
are really poor. They send me letters and pictures of themselves; sometimes I
speak with the children on the telephone. But to actually be there will be
wonderful."

The player feels it's vital he does this: "I do this because
I want to make a difference. There is so much poverty there. It is important
that people like me try to do something that can help them."

Continue reading Momo’s help for Mali children

Mascherano wants Tevez at Anfield

Javier Mascherano started the season as an unwanted player
at a club in turmoil. Signed by West Ham just before it fell into new
ownership, the then coach barely used him. That may well have been due to a
discovery that trouble was looming because of the way Mascherano and his
compatriot Carlos Tevez had been "bought" by West Ham. Both players were signed
contrary to Premier League rules on third-party interference, a breach of rules
that cost West Ham £5.5m and according to some, should have cost them points.

Rafa Benítez had seen in the world cup just how good a
player Javier was, and couldn't believe he was being left to rot at West Ham.
With Liverpool's own change of owner still not agreed – in fact it was still looking
like being DIC as new owners – Rafa had no money to spend. So a bid to sign
Mascherano on loan was made, with FIFA agreeing to the transfer just before the
deadline. The Premier League couldn't agree to it straight away however, but
after what seemed an age the player finally became a Red.

Javier is well aware of the contrast between where he could
have been and where he is – on the verge of playing in the biggest final in
club football: "When I think about this match, I can't quite believe what is
happening to me. It really is incredible,"

Javier, known as "The Chief", realises just how much work and
determination Rafa put into securing his signature, working through the red
tape to make him a Reds player: "I feel really grateful to all my team-mates
and everyone at Liverpool for making me so welcome here, but especially to Rafa
Benítez. As you can imagine, the fact he wanted me so much in his team gave me
a great boost. I now feel very strongly that I can't let this person down, as
he has placed so much trust in me. I get the feeling that my team-mates all
think the same way. From my first day at Liverpool I noticed that there is a
mood of total determination here, a never-say-die spirit. The manager transmits
a strong mentality to the team and gives a lot of confidence to each player."

His performances since he was allowed to start playing in
the Liverpool shirt have been good enough to see him give Xabi Alonso and Momo
Sissoko a real fight for a place, especially in games where captain Steven
Gerrard plays centrally. Perhaps he was too good for West Ham, perhaps both bosses
he had at West Ham weren't good enough to get the best from him, but he's not
bitter at how he was treated: "I've got no regrets. When I went there I
genuinely thought it was the best thing for me. Obviously I didn't know what
was going to happen. I was always treated very well but things didn't turn out
how I expected on the pitch."

There's no escaping the fact that the manager did not sign
him for West Ham – the manager was pretty much forced into accepting both
Argentineans. And both players were almost certainly forced into accepting West
Ham. Javier, looking back now, thinks the circumstances of the transfer were bound
to cause problems: "Many things went wrong. Maybe, first of all, it was down to
the way I arrived at the club, and the state they were in at the time. There
was a great deal of hype surrounding our arrival. But I needed time to adapt
and I think they didn't let me have that. As for my relationship with the
managers there, I wouldn't say any one thing went wrong. Looking back, though,
maybe I should not have been in such a rush to go there when I was offered the
chance of a move."

The two players remain friends and keep in touch with each
other. Javier says Tevez was determined to help West Ham to survive the drop: "I
speak to Carlitos nearly every week. I am very glad for him because in the end
he finally managed to achieve what he had promised to himself and everyone at
West Ham. He said he was not going to give up until he helped West Ham to avoid
relegation. Personally, I think that if West Ham had been relegated, he would
have been ready to stay with them to help the team get back to the Premiership.
He might be a star, but he also has a lot of humility."

Tevez now wants to leave West Ham though, he wants to do
what his friend has done and move to a bigger club. Mascherano was asked
whether reports linking Tevez with a move to Anfield were true: "He hasn't said
anything to me personally about it, but I would love it," said Javier. "It
would be great for me and for the club. I can't imagine any team in the world
not wanting Tevez. He is a great player and Liverpool are a great club, so of
course he would be very welcome here. But from what I'm hearing, I think that
Liverpool will find it hard to compete with the other offers that West Ham are
apparently receiving for him. I think it will be too much money. And I don't
know what he wants. Maybe he is keen to play in another country."

It's not even clear if it is West Ham who are receiving
those offers, or if it's MSI, the people that owned Tevez at the start of the
season. Figures being quoted for the player are high, but maybe it's time Tevez
got the move he wants rather than the move he's forced into. And Anfield is somewhere
he'd probably like to play if he believes what Mascherano says of the club. He's
got on with the players he's now got as team-mates, was it because of the numbers
of Spanish speakers at the club? "It has helped, but it wasn't guaranteed to be
that way. Sometimes, even when you know a person, you do not get on with them,
but I feel like I was made for Liverpool and they were made for me. I come from
a team that was used to challenging for titles. That was the way it was at
River Plate, and it was the same at Corinthians. Well, that didn't happen at
West Ham. Thinking about Carlitos, while I know he is happy because he helped
his team escape relegation, I am also sure he must have felt a bit confused
that he was celebrating something like that. Tevez and me are used to
celebrating winning titles, not fighting to avoid the drop."

Mascherano was asked his views on recent jibes by Jose Mourinho
that Liverpool were just ‘a cup team': "I heard that. That's his opinion. I
guess Mourinho must have his reasons. I respect him but I don't agree. In
Argentina they say the same thing about Boca Juniors. Many people call them ‘a
cup team' and, like Liverpool, they have won many finals, but I don't think it's
fair to say that about either team. Liverpool have shown on many occasions that
they are capable of competing for every trophy. And next season we will
challenge for the league." Ironically Chelsea ended their season today with
their second cup of the season, making them this season's domestic "cup team".

That challenge for the league is something for next season,
for now the Reds have to concentrate on the Champions League final. Can they
beat Milan? "I'm not sure how difficult it will be to beat them, " he says, "but
Liverpool have showed again and again that we are a difficult side to beat. Everybody
runs and works for each other and when everybody is focused on the task ahead
it is extremely difficult to break us down. All I hope is that on the 23rd we
perform the way we did in the semi-final or against Barcelona and are able to
bring the trophy back here."

Continue reading Mascherano wants Tevez at Anfield

Carra’s respect for Milan past and present

Liverpool's on-field voice Jamie Carragher has been putting
forward his views on the big match on Wednesday night. Liverpool will of course
be facing AC Milan in the Champions League final in Athens, getting there after
beating Chelsea in the semi-final. That result meant quite a lot to Carra's
neighbours on Merseyside: "As soon as the Chelsea game ended, the people on the
street were buzzing, especially with me being local. People you don't even know
were out in the street waving their fists and shouting. You just know it means
so much to people us getting there. The football club are a big part of people's
lives round here and they're not slow to show you."

Carragher told the Mail on Sunday that the match with Milan
is something special, not just because it's the European Cup final but because
of who it is against. Rafa Benítez used tapes of old Milan teams to demonstrate
good football to his players when he arrived at Anfield. Carra was already well
aware of some of the Milan greats, being the scholar of football that he is
himself, in particular the era of Franco Baresi and Marco van Basten: "The
manager still talks about that team now, they're probably the team he loves
most. He'd like to get us to play like them, which wouldn't be easy. You'd have
to get Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten's boots back on. We've watched videos
of them and they're as good a club side as I've seen. They had a bit of
everything. Normally, you get teams who are great at attacking and not so good
at the back or the other way round. But they had the lot going forward, plus
Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta at the back to sort it out. If
you were picking a World XI of all time, you'd probably include Baresi and
Maldini."

The media have fun before big football games trying to get
sound-bites and quotes from players and coaches about their opponents. When it
was suggested to Carra that Milan were arrogant at half time two years ago
(well they were 3-0 up!) the Liverpool vice captain refuses to bite: "I don't
want to get involved in that because I've got too much respect for Milan. Maldini
shook my hand at the end of the game and in his position I know how bad you'd
feel. It was just something crazy that happens in football, six crazy minutes.
Great for us, a nightmare for them."

Carra was a hero that night, as all the team were, but he
really did give all he could; fighting through the agony of cramp to keep
Liverpool in the game. His memories are as strong as ever: "Probably the best
was Jerzy Dudek's save and running towards him and all that cramp suddenly
disappeared. The worst was probably when their third goal went in. I've seen a
picture from the centre circle of me and Stevie behind each other and you can
see in our faces there's nothing there, total dejection, just on half-time."

Different tales of what was said in the interval and how the
players dealt psychologically with being so far behind. The players felt they
had to do what pretty much all Reds fans were hoping for – to narrow the gap of
Milan's victory. A 3-2 defeat would hurt, but not as much as a 3-0 or worse
defeat. Damage limitation was called for: "People always ask what happened at
halftime and want to hear you say we were all like lunatics saying: ‘We're
going to win'," recalls Jamie. "But in any game, at whatever level, when you're
losing 3-0 what you fear is that it's going to be five or six by the end. The
fact we got to the Champions League Final was a great achievement and if we'd
lost we'd have been disappointed. But I was just thinking, ‘if we come off
losing five or six, that's embarrassing'. The fact we'd done so well would be
ruined by losing like that."

After a slow start to the second half the header from Steven
Gerrard brought the score back to 3-1 and gave the Reds some hope: "I've
watched the game lots of times and if you watch the start of the second half,
if anyone was going to score it was Milan," says Carra. "Jerzy had to make a
couple of good saves, but the first goal gave us a bit of hope, the second one
gave us belief and it went from there. It's probably now, two years later, that
you look back at the videos and realise what an achievement it was to win a
game that's probably as good a game of football as there's ever been."

Carra's done his own analysis of the opponents, comparing
them to last time: "They haven't changed too much, just a bit at the top
without Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo. But Filippo Inzaghi's got great
experience and they paid a lot of money for Alberto Gilardino. Kaka's position
is maybe slightly different, where he plays off one striker, but the back four
and the midfield we know quite well."

In fact Kaka is a player Carra singles out for special
praise, classing him as possibly the best player in the world: "Not just
because of this season. You remember his display in the first half in Istanbul.
Afterwards we all felt that, along with Ronaldinho, he was definitely the man,
and this season he's probably gone on to eclipse him."

Jamie takes on board everything his manager tells him and
certainly gives the impression that he's already learning the ropes to be a
future coach. He says: "The manager always says it's about balance – you don't
want to be too attacking and you don't want to be too defensive. And Milan have
probably got that perfect balance. Rafa is the type of manager who likes to be
very organised and that's probably the reason why we've done so well in Europe.
You've got to be good at the back to get to these finals and that's how it's
proved."

Carra thinks injuries to their opponents probably made Milan's
job a little easier in the semi-final second leg: "Manchester United have one
of the best defences in the Premiership. If you look at their statistics, I'm
not sure it's true that defending's their problem. You need of luck to win any
cup, especially at this level. The back four United had out against Milan –
that's the bit of luck you don't need. At this level the teams are so close
together, the smallest details make all the difference."

Liverpool fans, and of course the staff, players and owners,
want to see the Reds take that next step and become League champions once
again, adding to their record 18 titles. To do that Carra thinks there is a
need for some new faces to enhance what's already there: "Maybe we do need to
be more expansive at times in the Premiership, especially away from home where
we don't have a good record this season. The difference for us is that Europe's
a thinking game. If you look through our team, you don't see all powerful, pacy
players. What you see is a lot of clever players. We don't have a Didier Drogba
or a Michael Essien and you need that to win the Premiership. You need people
with that physical power."

Some criticism has come Liverpool's way recently for the way
both sides played in the semi-final. Carra agrees to an extent: "I watched our
Chelsea game again the other night. It wasn't a great game at all, was it? It
was poor, although it was great in terms of the intensity. But the main thing
is winning. I'm sure Arsene Wenger would swap places with Rafa Benitez right
now and Arsenal play the best football anyone's ever seen, don't they?'"

Carra was on the front page of the Sunday papers many years
ago for his antics at the club Christmas party, but he says that's something
from a different stage in his life: "As a lad, you go out and have a few
drinks, can't take your ale and get carried away. I'd like to think now I've
matured a little. Everyone goes through it and it's something you have to go
through in a certain way. It's not something I'm proud of but it'll make a good
autobiography, won't it?"

I don't think there's any doubt that Carra's intelligence
and experience will make for anything other than an excellent autobiography.

Continue reading Carra’s respect for Milan past and present

Dirk wants medal for dad

Liverpool's hard-working forward Dirk Kuyt is determined to
help Liverpool win number six in Athens so he can bring a winners' medal home
for his sick father Gerrit.

Kuyt says his dad won't be able to go to the final against
Milan because of his illness. He's been to a number of games at Anfield this
season, but feels the journey to Athens would be too much. Travelling to Merseyside
and staying at Dirk's home is less difficult for him, and that is what he's
going to do for the final.

Dirk explained: "Unfortunately, my dad won't come to the
final because the travelling would be too much. He'll watch the game at my
place and, hopefully, we can bring the cup home and celebrate together."

Dirk says his dad has always been around when he's played
football, but has never been the type to shout out orders on how to play: "He
has been there watching me play football from the age of five and I am happy he
has been able to watch me this season. He is not the sort of person who talks a
lot and never gives me advice. But we just have to look at each other to know
what is meant."

Gerrit's cancer needed surgery just as Dirk arrived at
Anfield last summer, a situation that upset the former Feyenoord player: "It
was the hardest time of my life when I came here and he was a few days away
from a big operation. It is very difficult for any family person if their dad
has cancer. And it was an extra problem for me being in another country. I saw
him every day in Holland and although England is close, it seems far away when
your dad is sick."

That distance is shorter now that his father's health has
improved since the surgery and Dirk sees him much more than perhaps he thought
he might: "Now he comes over to home games and stays with me for the weekend.
That means a lot to me."

Kuyt's got the type of attitude that endears a player to the
Kop – although fans appreciate skill and have seen some of the world's best
players over the years, the players who work their backsides off in a game will
always be appreciated. Dirk works his socks off and he knows how much the supporters
love him: "The crowd has been incredible to me from the first moment of my
debut against West Ham. The minute I stepped on to the pitch, I felt I had been
a Liverpool player for a long time."

If he scores the winner on Wednesday he'll be a Liverpool
hero for a long time too.

Continue reading Dirk wants medal for dad

Parry explains where the tickets went

Liverpool fans have been outraged recently by what was some quite poor handling of a difficult situation by the club. Liverpool were only given 17,000 tickets by UEFA for the Champions League final on Wednesday, and this was clearly never going to be enough.

Tickets were given to former shareholders, sponsors, current and former staff and players, and then anyone who went to 7 Champions League games was offered a ticket.

That wasn’t going to leave too many for the next group of fans to be considered, those who had been to six CL games. Nobody in that group felt they should automatically get a ticket, but they expected a fair chance in a fair ballot. It was worked out that they should have something like a one in three chance of getting a ticket.

Then when the ballot result was revealed fans shared details of how successful they and their friends were. People were claiming to have checked with friends and family, only to find that out of 7, 8 or 9 eligible fan cards nobody got a ticket. Someone else would say they knew of one out of twenty. And so a few websites made efforts to try and work out what the figure was. Nowhere near 1 in 3 were getting tickets.

Computer programs were written to query the club’s online system for checking if a fan card got a ticket. Again, it seemed to show nothing like 1 in 3.

Fans were angry, because something didn’t seem right. They wanted answers. Rick Parry was asked repeatedly for a breakdown of the allocation: “I’m not getting drawn into the numbers game.” It became the club’s official response after that, members of the press office staff clearly instructed to say the same.

A second ballot was run, and now it seemed that most “winners” were those with season tickets living in the Liverpool area. It went a long way to pacify those who’d been angry before, because finally people were starting find they actually did know someone who’d got a ticket, even if it wasn’t them.

And then today, finally, Rick Parry chose to “play the numbers game”.

Was he forced to do so by our new owners? After all they’ve already ripped up the plans authorised by our current Chief Executive for the new stadium so that they can fit more seats in. Or did he see the depth of feeling that his attitude had brought out? Fans have been scathing in their criticism of him, referring back to the near-loss of club captain Steven Gerrard in 2005 as an example of a blunder by Parry.

The important point is that, whatever the reason, Parry has now come forward and tried to put things right. By putting things right I mean he’s explained where the tickets went. It means we can now put the issue to one side until after the final itself. We don’t need this problem overshadowing the magnitude of what we were all looking forward to. We’re trying to win our 6th Champions League.

After the game is over we can look in more depth at what happened with the tickets, and Tom Hicks has said there will be reviews done this summer. Far too many tickets get into the hands of touts – and I include most “ticket agencies” in that – forcing fans to pay well over the odds for tickets. Touts can buy fan cards the same way that fans can, and over the course of a season can make a real killing. This money isn’t going to the club to help buy new players or improve facilities, it’s going to those who are uninterested in the club or Liverpool supporters. Any measures need to take into account that genuine fans aren’t penalised either – such as those who share season tickets to split the costs, or pass tickets onto mates at face value or less.

And in future it would always be best to be honest rather than imply there is something being hidden, which is how the “no numbers game” statement sounded, intentional or not.

Here’s what the statement said from Mr Parry:

Most of our supporters will be aware that the controversy surrounding the ticket allocations for the Champions League Final has been greater than ever before.
Regrettably, many feel it has cast a shadow over the incredible achievement of the Club reaching its second Champions League Final in just three years.
 
Because of the intense depth of feelings, I want to give some more information on how the tickets for the final were actually allocated and to address some of the issues that have been raised in this very public debate.
 
We received from UEFA a total of 17,095 tickets for the Final in Athens which compares with the 20,051 for the game in Istanbul.
 
For any Final we have commitments to former shareholders, corporate season ticket holders, players, former players, staff and sponsors. These commitments do not change significantly from one year to another and were in place when I arrived at the Club. So when people suggest that tickets have somehow gone astray this year I think it's important that these commitments are taken into consideration.
 
In Istanbul, some 14,500 supporters had been to six games or more and we were able to offer each of these people the opportunity to purchase a ticket for the Final. The split between season ticket holders and Fan Card holders was approximately 50:50.
 
For the game in Athens we had around 11,000 tickets available for general sale after the commitments I previously outlined were taken into consideration. However, although there were 3,300 people who had attended seven games, the problem was that there was a huge increase to 27,000 in the number who had attended six games.
 
As has been widely publicised, all those attending seven games were given the opportunity to buy a ticket for Athens, which meant that the other 27,000 supporters went into a ballot. The final number of tickets available for fans in the ballot is 7,700 which makes the chance of obtaining a ticket 1 in 3.5.
 
I am aware of continuous speculation about the numbers of tickets involved in the ballot and peoples’ chances of success but would like to assure our supporters that these figures have been thoroughly checked and are accurate. They also take into account that not all of our shareholders, for example, took up their allocation and the fact we were able to obtain a small additional number of tickets from the FA, for which we are grateful.
 
On the issue of ticket take-up it should be pointed out that because of the very tight timescales involved the first ballot had to be conducted at the same time as tickets were being offered under contractual commitments and to those who had attended seven games. Consequently, it was always likely that we would need a second ballot. I want to emphasise that the ballot itself was scrupulously conducted. It was independent, and fully computerised and there was no scope for manipulation or interference. I am aware of anecdotes concerning groups of fans who have failed to receive any tickets. I can't explain the anomalies but I have asked for the process to be checked and double-checked.
 
I think I should point out the total number of tickets purchased by season ticket holders will be in excess of 7,000 (at the time of writing we still don't know precisely what that figure will be as the selling process continues). The equivalent number in Istanbul was 7,900. So, despite the fact that we have 3,000 fewer tickets, the difference between the number of season ticket holders receiving tickets to the two finals is less than 1,000. A difference that is scarcely reflected in the strength of feeling that clearly exists.
 
Given that the ballot denied a ticket to many of our supporters who have been so instrumental in helping the team reach Athens, the outcome is understandably disappointing to those so affected. The qualification criteria were intended to be as fair as possible yet inevitably it means there are many aspects of those criteria with which individuals denied a ticket can and will take issue. However, these conditions were published at the beginning of the season and have been in place since 2002.
 
One of the most emotive issues with those season ticket holders with six credits who have been unsuccessful has been the inclusion within the ballot of fan card holders with just the corresponding six credits for the European games but no other games. This goes to the very heart of the reason why we introduced the fan card in the first place. We are convinced of the value of a fan card system for ensuring the invigoration of our active fan base. The sheer numbers involved prove that this is working. However, the depth of feelings over this particular aspect of the fan card system has reminded us we must never neglect our long-standing supporters.
 
There has also been much comment from Season ticket holders regarding their loyalty to the club and I want to recognise that commitment. However, without in any way belittling that support, I also need to point out that there are over 60,000 people on the waiting list for a season ticket, many of whom have been there for years and all of whom would dearly love the opportunity to secure a season ticket. They do their utmost to obtain tickets to all games and I also want to pay tribute to their dedication to Liverpool FC. I am certainly not going to get into a discussion about who loves the Club more as their support is equally important and this is clearly a very emotive debate.
 
I want again to express my regret over the heartache experienced by so many of our supporters in missing out on a ticket they deserve. I wish you could all have a ticket. I can only assure all those fans that we did our best with the very limited number of tickets we were given and at all times we have been consistent and fair.
 
Just as we did in 2001 at Dortmund and 2005 in Istanbul we raised our grave concerns with UEFA over what we consider a totally inadequate allocation. We have asked them again to look at the needs of the supporters as the paramount consideration in the staging of any European final and we will continue to do so.



Continue reading Parry explains where the tickets went