As a break from the Fantafrica series, which shall resume next month, Pete Martin recollects watching Liverpoolâ€™s famous victory over Borussia Dortmund in Marrakech two years ago.
If my plans had worked out I would still be in the desert tonight, but I am not. As I was last Thursday for the first leg, I am in Marrakech. We got lucky last week with a good draw, so it would seem the same routine is in order.
I walk to Djema el-Fna, which is easier said than done with the amount of people doing the same. I take the same seat at the lamb butcherâ€™s stall as last week. The square is as chaotic as ever. As I eat, the butcherâ€™s boy hangs up the stall number â€“ No. 13. Itâ€™s not my favourite number at all, but then I remember that the street number of my riad is thirteen too. Last weekâ€™s riad was thirteen as well. I check my iPhone for the time. 19:13. Ok, perhaps itâ€™s a sign that we will either be beaten very heavily or that we will be lucky again. Of course, when I check the time, every tout nearby thinks I am about to take a photograph and wants money from me. I smile at this crazy place and this crazy city. False start, fellas.
I wander around Djema el-Fna as I did last week. The sun begins to set over the frivolity. “Sir, eat here, sir.” Then another one, “Sir, photograph?” “Hammam?” “Tagine?” I smile and keep walking until itâ€™s time for a seat at CafÃ© Montassir again. I climb the stairs and get handshakes from the two waiters. Do they really remember me from last week? One definitely does, as he immediately angles a table into the perfect place to view the telly and then goes to work finding the right channel.
The other waiter sits next to me to watch and listen to â€œYouâ€™ll Never Walk Aloneâ€. The Dortmund fans join in and pay their respects to the victims of Hillsborough. Like Celtic, they are a true club. For the new rich clubs, neither history nor class can be bought.
The waiter gives me a strange look and goes back to work when I stand for the minutes’ silence. How can he know?
Apart from the waiters and me, there is nobody else in the restaurant. It feels strange as it looks out over Djema el-Fna, which is thriving with merry revellers. Even stranger is that Dortmund score twice in the first eight minutes. Shit, game over. The two waiters look at me. One asks if I want a beer. I didn’t even know they sold beer! I haven’t opened my Pepsi so I decline. Dortmund are completely on top but soon Liverpool wake up. Was it too much emotion from the rendition of â€œYouâ€™ll Never Walk Aloneâ€? The current players are not used to it. There is always a Hillsborough hangover when we play so close to the anniversary. Yet we have a few chances. All is not lost it seems.
Liverpool are 3 – 1 down on aggregate at half time. The waiters have reminded me a few times that we need to score three goals to win. All of a sudden the wind blows across the square. The plastic sheeting protecting the sides of cafe blow wildly and noisily. It’s cold too so I order a coffee to warm up.
A group of Englishmen come in to watch. They laugh at the score. Then Origi scores for Liverpool. We need another goal and quickly, but Reus scores for Dortmund. So we are back to having to score three again. There is no chance.
Coutinho scores for Liverpool. The waiters are watching now, kicking the same imaginary ball that I do. Ok, game on. Only with Liverpool is it game on, especially considering how good Dortmund are. Klopp prowls on the touchline. Then Sakho scores. Now it really is game on! I hear the English guys cheer from behind me this time. One of the waiters has his hand on my shoulder. Itâ€™s 4 – 4 on aggregate but Dortmund have the away goal and so we are still going out. So close but so far away. The minutes tick down but there is always one more chance. Always.
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It happens. Itâ€™s in the DNA of LFC. Milnerâ€™s free kick to Sturridge, who then plays Milner back in. He crosses to the back post and Lovren powers it in. It’s wild. There are only seven of us in the restaurant, yet the waiters and I are jumping around and high-fiving. Djema el-Fna carries on oblivious to us. The English guys are cheering too, but it’s not their team – they look more like rugger buggers. â€œYouâ€™ll Never Walk Aloneâ€ is sung again. I sit and breathe. I wonder about the game. It seems Dortmund surrendered. They were on top so much and they had better players. Yet it seemed Liverpool FC surrendered too. They knew one more chance would come. The great Bill Shankly, whose ashes were scattered at the Kop end, once remarked that the Kop was capable of sucking the ball into the goal such was the sheer passion and fervour of the crowd. Whatever the explanation, itâ€™s magical.
Now I need to navigate the frenetic square to get back to my riad. I am high. There is no need for any local kif tonight. A glass of wine would be good though. No chance in a dry medina where kif is easier to get hold of. On the way back, at a corner junction, the tout outside a restaurant shouts to me. â€œTagine? Shisha?â€ I slow because some people are in my way. “Beer, sir?”
What! “No thanks but I would love a glass of wine.”
“What you want, sir.” He beckons me in.
I follow him into the hotel foyer, then to a back room of unhappy tourists and into a small back bar. He ducks under the counter, fumbles around under it and produces two bottles of red and one bottle of white wine. I point to the red bottles. The white one disappears back under the counter. I ask how much.
He points to the one on my right, his left, and says, “Two hundred, fifty.â€ Then with regard to the other bottle, he says, “Two hundred, twenty.” I realise we are in the game. I don’t want to haggle, but there always has to be a negotiation in Morocco. I surrender.
I point to the one on my left and I make an offer, “One hundred, fifty.”
Of course, he is offended. Then I am offended with his next suggestion. Then he wants me to be happy. Then I want him to be happy. One hundred and eighty dirhams is agreed. Â£13 for a dusty bottle of wine. Despite my plastic bag phobia, I ask for one as I don’t think walking round with alcohol is the right thing to do here. He wraps the bottle in newspaper.
Back outside, night time Marrakech is in full flow, even away from Djema el-Fna. The square near my riad is packed with horses and carriages for night tourists. Itâ€™s difficult not to stand in horse shit. I zig zag past them and then navigate the mess from the construction going on.
Inside, I am still buzzing, plus I have a glass of wine (or two) to look forward to. I pop the cork. Wow, what a sound and then what a smell. Of course, I have to double check that LFC really did win. I do, and we did! Against all odds.