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Wednesday
Feb292012

I Don’t Ever Wanna Feel, Like I Did That Day

BY JAMIE DALTON / @JamieDalton82

It felt unbelievable at the time and it still feels that way years later. For the first time ever Arsenal had made it to the final of the European Cup. Real Madrid and Juventus had been banished in style on the way and although we’d struggled against Villarreal in the semi-final it felt like the journey had been completed in a very Arsenal way. There was just one massive, juggernaut standing between us and the trophy – Barcelona.

The Catalan giants had Ronaldinho in their ranks, but with Thierry Henry still in his pomp I was unusually confident in the build-up to the game. That was until the whistle sounded and utter panic set-in, “What if we lose? What if we never get here again?” They were the two questions that kept racing through my mind.

I was already in an emotional state having decided to travel to Paris despite going through a tumultuous phase in a relationship. To say my decision to up and leave for France was greeted negatively is an understatement, but what did I care; this was the holy grail. I mean…it was the final of Europe’s premiere competition, a trophy I’d watched other teams win and dreamed one day we’d lift as well.

When Jens Lehmann was sent off, it was obvious that it was going to take a monumental effort. Then Sol Campbell gave us the lead and things descended into a blur. I can barely remember anything, but did take note of the clock when Henrik Larsson came on just after the hour. “Watch him,” I was thinking, “He’s a danger.” Then Juliano Belletti took to the field ten minutes later and my mind again worked overtime, “He can do damage.”

After the 70 minute mark, every 60 seconds seemed to take an hour. 19 minutes, 18, 17, 16, 15 left…and then it happened. Samuel Eto’o skipped though on goal and slid home to equalise at Almunia’s near post. 1-1 and extra-time was on the cards. Except we’ve only got ten men and we’re looking tired. 13 minutes, 12, 11, 10…

A Larsson pass to Belletti and the Brazilian scored in the pouring rain from a tight angle. I knew we were done for at that moment and despite superstars dominating the pre-game headlines it was an unassuming Swede who’d made the difference.

To this day I’ve never felt so bad about a result. To be so close to a dream only for it to be taken away felt incredibly cruel. Worse still was the coldness - the way defeat was delivered like a sudden stab. I’d never before cried because of Arsenal. I’d often been euphoric when we won and desolate when we were down, but I’d never been reduced to tears. Maybe it was my own emotional immaturity or because I’d always been told that real men don’t cry.

However, in that moment, and recalling that I’d have to endure the cold shoulder when I returned to England, I gave in and the tears rolled down my cheeks. Luckily it wasn’t caught on TV and shown endlessly on repeat – that really would have been the cherry on a shitcake nobody would have wanted to eat.

In normal circumstances I’d have waited a couple of days and then forced myself to watch the highlights again. I’ve never again watched the Champions League final though and I don’t think I ever will. To quote Antony Keidis: “I don’t ever wanna feel, like I did that day.”

Reader Comments (4)

God, just reading that made my gut do sommersaults and I am feeling slightly queasy. I never watched that match ever again too. And I never will. Thanks for sharing Jamie. As always your way with words is wonderful

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna Lvova

I was there, and I've never watched the video either.

Amazing day, blighted somewhat by Titi fluffing that chance to put us 2-0 up (and it was right in front of me – I swear if I'm ever strapped in front of a DVD, I'll be able to spot myself).

I replayed that moment in my mind over and over during a sleepless night till I wearily made my way to the Gard du Nord to wend my way back to London.

Still, redemption (of a sorts) came with Henry's goal against Leeds. Small beer, I know, but damn it tasted good.

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve E.

I did watch the game, but I was travelling at the time in Costa Rica, and my dad recorded it for me just in case. The VHS is in my collection, but I've never been able to bring myself to watch it again. It was painful enough the first time.

March 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMada L

So many memories of this day. Nearly missing my connecting flight in Amsterdam but so grateful for the pilot who waited 5 more minutes for the Arsenal fans as all flights to Paris were fully booked.

Arriving at Gard du Nord, dropping the bags off at the hotel and then heading to congregate with at least 1000 Gooners outside the moulin rouge. 8 beers later on the train and then realising you are going to watch The Arsenal in a champions league final. Nerves, excitement, belief and trepidation all rolled in to one.

The game itself was a blur, not because of alcohol but because it really felt like this was written in the stars, going down to 10 men, but being the dominant side despite of the sending off. As soon as Theirry missed that golden opportunity I feared the worse and the tide turned. Seeing the Barca fans celebrating Belleti's goal still hurts, never watched it back but so vivid a memory it will always remain.

Sadly feels further away then ever from putting right that rainy evening in Paris in 2006 but we live in hope.

March 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter@nickgooner80
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