Posted: 5/4/2007
Title: PEPE REINA'S MAGIC GLOVES

Blog:                                                                                                                         

     It was 1974 and Atletico de Madrid were playing Bayern Munich in the European Cup Final in Brussels' Heysel Stadium. The Madrid team were leading 1-0 from a Luis Aragones free-kick until injury time when Miguel Reina failed to save the tying goal from Bayern captain Georg Schwarzenbeck. It went to a replay 2 days later and Bayern won easily 4-0 with two goals each from Uli Hoeness and Gerd Muller.

    Switch forward 33 years and his 24 year old son Pepe is brilliant between the posts for Liverpool in their penalty shoot out against fierce rivals Chelsea. Although born in Madrid, his first club was Barcelona and then Villareal until he arrived on Merseyside. He saves 2 kicks and almost gets a hand to Frank Lampards shot, and is off to The Olympic Stadium in Athens on May 23rd to face the favourites A.C. Milan.  His dad wasn't at Anfield and has only been to three matches in recent years because he gets nervous, but Pepe hopes that the old man can make it to Greece.  His coach Rafael Benitez is going for his third European title in 4 years, having won the UEFA Cup with Valencia, and the Champions League in Istanbul over AC Milan 2 years ago.  When Pepe and his wife returned home they found their house had been burgled and his 100,000 Mercedes stolen, trashed, and found burned out later.  Frank Lampart couldn't account for his wherabouts that evening, he was so quiet on the field, that he was an early suspect!!

   Why do the fans have to go to Athens anyway? It could easily have been 2 English teams meeting there and only 20,000 tickets per team, excessive air fares and hotels.  I FULLY SUPPORT moving the UEFA championships for national teams and the FIFA World Cup around, because whole countries benefit and the tournaments last 3-4 weeks. It is VERY inconvenient and costly for the average fan for a one-off final that they can only book when the two finalists are known within  2-3 weeks of travel. Why not my idea of having the Champions League Final permanently at the STADE DE FRANCE in Paris which is easy to reach from the cities of the 'usual suspects' from England, Spain, Italy and Germany.  No French club is likely to make it all the way to the final so the stadium will be neutral AND accessible.

   AC Milan look untouchable with elegant play from Kaka and others and a rather tired and jadded Manchester United defence in shambles and a non-firing forward line. Coach Ancelotti got it right and Gennaro Gattuso's determination, Clarence Seedorf's skill and power, and 180 minutes of classy Kaka in both legs more overwhelming. At least Sir Alex was full of praise for his Italian opponents. The night before in a passionate night at Anfield Liverpool shut down Chelsea, who constantly tried the long high ball up front to no avail. The Special One, Jose Mourinho made excuses and thought his team were better on the night.  Liverpool GM Rick Parry countered that Chelsea had spend 500 million just to win the League Cup, as they are 5 points adrift of United with 3 matches to play in the EPL, and only the FA Cup against the same United to reasonably play for. 

    There are 3 airports in the Paris area and 5 major train stations with fast TVG connections.  2 1/2 hours to Gare du Nord from London Waterloo, and 2 more hours from Liverpool and Manchester; Madrid to Paris Montparnasse in 15 hours, Milan to Paris Gare de Lyon in 7 hours, Barcelona to Paris Austerlitz in 8 hours, Munich to Gare de Est in 7 hours.  Lots of inexpensive to luxury accommodation in Paris and Ile de France and no need to spend the night in many cases-with couchettes on overnight trains another choice.   Michel Platini can probably stay for free at the Elysee Palace with his UEFA entourage and can probably get a free haircut which he usually badly needs, from a local couiffure specialist in The City of Lights.

   Alan Ball was finally laid to rest after a moving ceremony with thousands of fans and his family and former team mates at Winchester Cathedral. His coffin was drapped with the flag of St. George and resting on it was his favourite 'flat hat' very similar to the one I am wearing right now.  Songs included The FA Cup Final anthem 'Abide with Me, Frank Sinatra's My Way and my favourite  'I'm leaning on the lampost at the corner of the street...' by George Formby, which I love to hum. His family had requested that no black ties be worn, and at all stadiums, big and small last weekend there was one minute of applause instead of silence.

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