That’s apparently how long it’s been since Liverpool last visited Wembley.
Kenny Dalglish might reference the fact that Wembley was closed for a few years due to renovations and constructions, but the fact remains that it’s been 16 years.
Sure, we’ve made the trip to numerous other stadiums during that time (“we” meaning Liverpool, since I, of course, remain an overseas armchair cynic), but this is the famous Anfield South that Liverpool used to be so familiar with during all those glorious years.
What does Wembley mean to me?
To the detached fan, to some extent, every European stadium is the same, barring how the stands look, since the crowds are always quieted for the TV commentator and the signs only tailor-made to show the current zeitgeist surrounding that particular club.
Sure, we strain our ears to pretend like we catch the chants sometime (and we boast of this to our less fanatic mates), but we’re never actually sure if it’s the home crowd singing about Steven Gerrard’s transfer request or the away section about his forty-yard passes. So, really, aside from the legendary voice of George Sephton booming into Anfield’s PA system, we’re missing out on the local Scouse flavor. We can’t hear songs about the size of a former player’s primary appendage. And we certainly couldn’t hear the Kop serenade the Anfield Cat.
So whatever is being made of Liverpool’s return to Wembley as the traditional cathedral of English football – it sounds romantic and fantastic, but I will always focus on the prize.
And this time, the prize at stake isn’t just the League Cup (otherwise known to other just-as-enthusiastic celebrators as the Mickey Mouse Cup), but our future.
Because, as the first piece of silverware on offer in the season, this is a chance for Liverpool to achieve something tangible.
A chance to show that we’re not down and out. Not quite a resurgent force in the championship races just yet, but that the erstwhile Cup Specialists are back.
Many fans seem to abhor this nickname. Why let the abusers and labelers belittle you? Cup Specialists are Cup Specialists because they win Cups. They get their hands on silverware. That’s surely better than making a final and not winning it. (Should those clubs be termed Runner-Up Specialists? I rather like that idea. And I should know the irony behind that – we did famously “only” finish runners-up just three whole seasons ago.)
But since the unfortunate end to Rafa Benitez’s reign and the forgettable (but unfortunately unforgettable) tenure of Roy Hodgson, this has been a Liverpool determined to bounce back and show what it’s made of.
And, having taken the much harder path to Wembley and fought all the potential final clashes in the rounds leading to Cardiff, Liverpool won’t get a better chance than this.
Sure, it wouldn’t be a Liverpool final if Sunday didn’t feature much drama. After all, we did only win a fifth European Cup having scored three in six minutes, saved an incredible double-shot at point-blank range, and denied a striking powerhouse from the spot. And after all, we did only win the FA Cup with a rabbit out of Steven Gerrard’s magnificent hat and Pepe Reina’s equally magnificent gloves. Liverpool, final, and comfortable aren’t words that go easily together.
A clean and comfortable win wouldn’t be as fun for the neutrals and as stressful for my heart as an epic shootout would be. I am very aware of that.
But I’ll take the win and go home with the Cup. The parade doesn’t have to be a city-stopping affair.
After all, it’s been 16 years. Let’s just keep it simple and get it done.