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."