That Night in Istanbul

The clock counting down to the nine o’clock prime time news comes on screen signalling the news is about to begin. Usually, it’s my cue to leave the sitting room but I stay put.

“It’s time for bed James. Go to bed. You’ve got school tomorrow,” my dad says like clockwork.

“But dad, the final is today. Can I stay up and watch the game?” I beg my dad.

“You have school tomorrow and you have to wake up early. Go to bed. You’ll watch the highlights in the morning.”

“But–.”

“Don’t argue with me,” my dad says cutting my follow-up plea short. “Go to bed.”

Displeased, I storm off to bed and slam my bedroom door. Fuck it. I’ll deal with the consequences of my offence in the morning.

He’s such a wet blanket, I think to myself as I get into bed and pull the blanket over my head. An absolute killjoy. It’s the final and he isn’t letting me watch it. Now I won’t be able to chip in when everyone is talking about the game at school tomorrow. And then he has the audacity to tell me to watch the goddam highlights. Watching the highlights and the actual game isn’t the same. It’s like watching a movie trailer instead of the actual movie. Sure, you’ll catch snippets of the movie but you won’t know the story.

See, that’s the problem with adults. They’re party-poopers. They’ll send you to bed because you have school tomorrow (as if they don’t have work too) and you have to wake up early. Then when you try to reason with them, they won’t want to hear any of it. They’ll say you’re a kid and you need a minimum of eight hours sleep. An arbitrary figure if you ask me. Who came up with it anyway?

Or you could come home slightly past your curfew and they’ll say you’ve broken your curfew. Then when you try to reason with them that you were just playing football with pals within the estate, they’ll concoct an illogical argument like you could have been kidnapped (as if they can’t be abducted too) and then they’ll ground you.

Or you could be watching your favourite cartoon and then an adult will come and change the channel without your consent. As if you’re a lifeless object like a cabbage or potato that’s seated on the couch watching telly.

I could go on and on about how adults suck but I’ll stop there. Back to the story.

I toss and turn in bed unable to sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping clear your mind. I read that up somewhere. It’s impractical advice. I try to clear my mind but I can’t. All I can think about is the game.

Unable to sleep, I turn on my bedside lamp and start reading a Goosebumps novel hoping it will put me to bed. But before I can get consumed in the story, loud cheers erupt from the neighbours who live in the storey above disturbing the stillness of the night.

I glance at my bedside clock. It’s 9:46 p.m. The game kicked off a minute ago. Just one minute into the game and there’s already action.

I can’t help but wonder what’s happening. Which team has scored? Or has one of the teams conceded a penalty? Or has a player been sent off? All these questions bombard my mind diverting my attention from the novel.

I try to ignore the distraction and resume reading the novel but it’s a slog. I reread sentences. I lose track of the story and reread entire chapters. My mind isn’t on the book. It’s on the game.

I put aside the book and lie in bed staring at the ceiling. I think about how I’ll feel like an outsider at school the following day. I will myself to sleep but anger and curiosity keep me awake.

Suddenly, my bedside lamp begins to flicker and then it goes off. Loud groans erupt from the neighbours upstairs. The power is out. I know this makes me sound a tad sadistic but it makes me slightly happy. Serves my dad right. It’s poetic justice. Now we can all watch the goddam highlights. Plus at least now I’ll get a good night’s sleep free from the ruckus coming from above.

But my joy is short-lived. Because a few minutes later my bedroom light goes on and loud cheers erupt from the neighbours above. Their cheers are louder and longer than usual. I can’t help but wonder if they’re cheering because the lights are back or if they’re cheering a goal.

Eager to know what’s happening, I jump out of bed, slowly open my bedroom door and tiptoe to the living room. Sure, curiosity killed the cat but cats have nine lives anyway.

I pick a vantage point behind a wall where my dad won’t spot me and peek at the TV. Not that it will matter anyway. He appears to be asleep.

It’s the biggest game of the season and he’s fast asleep! Yet he sent me to bed. The hypocrisy! Honestly, I don’t get adults. They’ll feel sleepy yet they’ll insist on staying awake to watch telly.

Fathers are especially notorious for this. Take my old man, for instance. He often passes out while watching TV. When he does, I usually flip the channel to watch something more interesting like cartoons instead of news. And then when he wakes up, he switches back to the boring news cutting my cartoons short and shortly after falls asleep again. Adults are spoilsports. Sorry, I digressed again. Back to the story.

It’s halftime and there are a couple of pundits on TV discussing the game. The scoreline is unbelievable. AC Milan is leading 3-0. I knew it would be a one-sided game but I didn’t expect it to be this one-sided.

See, at the time AC Milan was the best team in the world. Their squad comprised of numerous star players like Kaka, Shevchenko, Pirlo, Crespo, Maldini and Cafu. The challengers Liverpool had a modest squad. Going into the game Milan were the outright favourites to lift the title while Liverpool were the underdogs. Still, a 3-0 scoreline at half time was unexpected.

The pundits finally stop yapping and the match highlights come on screen. I crane my neck to get a better view. I watch a replay of the first goal by Maldini. Liverpool conceded a free-kick on the right-wing and Pirlo delivered a pin-point cross into the Liverpool box and Maldini volleyed it in to put Milan in the lead in the first minute.

Crespo then scored a second goal after a deadly counter-attack from Milan. The build-up to the third goal then comes on screen and my dad flips the channel.

Damn it! He should have just continued sleeping or gone to watch the game at the local pub he frequents. He’s flipped to CNN. I can’t stand the news. Most of the time it’s about war. The war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Darfur. War, war, war. How does he constantly watch this stuff?

The reporter on TV is describing a terror attack in Baghdad. An insurgent detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) killing and injuring several people. The images are graphic and I can’t comprehend how my dad is still watching. The second half is about to begin and I’m stuck watching the news.

I wish I had telekinetic powers. I’d flip the channel. Or better yet, I wish I had telepathic powers like Jean Grey. I’d make my dad flip the channel or send him to bed. Boy, I can’t wait to grow up.

As if reading my mind, my dad switches back to the football match and abruptly gets up from his seat.

Before he catches me, I dash back towards my bedroom and stub my toe against the wall as I make my escape. It hurts like hell. I want to yelp out in pain but I stifle myself. Unable to run, I limp the rest of the way and pray my dad isn’t headed in the same direction.

I can hear his faint footsteps in the distance. If he catches me, I’m dead. I continue to limp back to my room trying to ignore the throbbing pain. My bedroom feels further than usual. My father’s footsteps sound closer. He’s gaining on me. I won’t make it back to my bedroom in time. If only I could teleport.

Fortunately, his footsteps recede and I breathe a sigh of relief when I get back to my room. I’ll miss out on the game but at least he hasn’t caught me.

Defeated like Liverpool, I get back into bed, pull my blanket over my head and try to forget about the game. It’s done and dusted anyway. Milan will lift the trophy.

It starts drizzling. The soft patter of the rain lulls me and I drift into a shallow sleep. But before sleep can grasp me, bedlam strikes waking me up. The neighbour’s upstairs are at it again. Even if I wanted to sleep, I wouldn’t be able to because of them. Darn neighbours.

And then just when the noise subsides and I think I’ll get back to sleep, my dad pounds on the door and barges into my room. I didn’t even say come in, he just barged in as if we have an open-door policy. I can’t get any privacy under this roof.

“Wake up James! Wake up! You’ve got to come and see this!” my dad says excitedly.

“What?” I say feigning sleepiness.

“Come and watch the game.”

I drag myself out of bed as if I’m reluctant to watch the game and accompany my dad to the living room.

“Why are you walking like that?” my dad asks as I trail behind him.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” I lie.

I take a seat adjacent to his and stare at the screen. My eyes must be deceiving me. The game is tied at 3-3.

“What happened?” I ask my dad.

He gives me a quick recap of the game. AC Milan led by three goals to nil at half-time. I act surprised when he says this. Then Liverpool came back in the second half thanks to a rapid succession of goals by Gerrard, Smicer and Alonso.

“You just had to come and see this. It’s an interesting game,” my dad says once he’s finished recapping the game.

What about school tomorrow? What about at least eight hours of sleep? I want to ask him these questions but I keep my smart-arse comments to myself. I appreciate the kind gesture.

The game is at the hour mark. There’s about half an hour left. Emboldened by their comeback, Liverpool take the game to Milan.

After some decent interplay from Liverpool, Smicer gets the ball in space and attempts a long-range shot. It looks destined for the back of the net but the Milan keeper, Dida, manages to parry it away to safety.

Liverpool continues to pile on the pressure. Gerrard makes a good darting run into space and he is brought down just outside the penalty box.

“Free-kick!” my dad shouts, flailing his arms and appealing to an invisible referee but the referee on-screen waves play on.

“Did you see that?!” he asks me. “That should have been a free-kick. This referee is biased.”

I agree with him. The referee is biased. In football, the referee is always against your team, never for it. He’s been paid off to screw Liverpool out of victory. My dad is an ardent Arsenal fan and I’m a Manchester United fan. But for some reason, we both rally behind Liverpool.

Unfortunately, after a brief spell of Liverpool dominance, Milan reassert themselves in the game.

They bombard Liverpool’s defence with attack after attack. The Liverpool players can’t seem to get the Milan players off the ball. Liverpool is hanging on for dear life. It’s only a matter of time before their defence caves in.

As the match approaches sudden death, Milan gets a corner kick. Pirlo delivers an excellent cross into the Liverpool box. Milan defender Jaap Stam’s head connects with the cross. It’s going in. Liverpool’s keeper Dudek springs into action. He won’t get to the ball. I can’t bear to watch. But fortunately, the ball flies narrowly wide of the far post.

I exhale when the referee blows the full-time whistle. The Liverpool players look relieved. My dad does too. The game will go into extra-time.

Milan dominates the extra period. They hog the ball. Liverpool struggles to dispossess them.

“Come on hustle the ball! Hustle the ball!” my dad shouts at the Liverpool players. I remain silent. My dad fascinates me. Whenever he’s watching a football match, he’ll shout himself hoarse as if the players on the pitch can hear his instructions. It never works but he always does it.

Before my dad loses his voice, the extra time duel is brought to an end when the referee blows the whistle. The game will be decided on penalties.

Both sets of players look exhausted. The two sides part ways to discuss penalty tactics. The camera cuts to the Milan camp. The players are huddled together and their manager is trying to stir up enthusiasm among his players but his efforts seem futile. The players look dejected. They’ve given their all. Yet, they’ve been unable to break down Liverpool.

“Who do you think will win the shootout?” I ask my dad.

“Shootouts are unpredictable. It could go either way,” my dad says indecisively. He’s not a betting man.

“I think Liverpool will win,” I predict.

“Do you remember what happened the last time you predicted a shoot-out?” he asks.

A couple of days ago I predicted a shoot-out and my team lost. It was the FA Cup final and Manchester United faced Arsenal. My dad watches all Arsenal matches at the pub with his pals. But for some reason, that day he stayed home to watch the game with me.

Arsenal won the match 5-4 on penalties. And rather than gloat and celebrate his team’s victory, my dad consoled me for my team’s loss. I took the loss hard but his consolation numbed the pain of the defeat.

That’s one thing that’s kinda cool about adults. They’re good sports. If Manchester United had won my dad wouldn’t have heard the last of it. I’d have mocked him and rubbed the defeat in his face.

See, adults are mature. Take this match for instance, when it ends, no matter the victor, the players will shake hands and swap jerseys as a sign of sportsmanship.

Us kids aren’t like that. Like last week my school faced another school in a football match. We hammered them 5-0. And then to celebrate our victory we broke into song and dance chanting:

Tumeshinda, tumeshinda kikombe!

Wanalia, wanalia machozi!

Tumeshinda, tumeshinda kikombe!

Wanalia, wanalia machozi!

And then incensed by the taunting, a player from the other school got into a fight with a fan from our school who was all up in his face. It was mayhem!

See, unlike adults, most kids aren’t gracious in defeat or noble in victory. We’re proud winners and sore losers.

“Manchester United lost the shoot-out,” I respond to my dad’s question.

“Then don’t jinx this one,” he says.

Milan’s Serginho steps up to take the first penalty. The Liverpool fans jeer him as he walks to the penalty spot. I can’t imagine the weight on his shoulders. If he scores, he’ll give his side a huge morale boost. If he misses the odds will shift in Liverpool’s favour.

Serginho plants the ball on the penalty spot. He then steps back and runs up to take the penalty. He strikes the ball with tremendous power but it sails over the bar and vanishes into the crowd. Liverpool’s fans go berserk. My dad and I do too. Now we’re the noisy neighbours.

“Now was that a penalty or a conversion,” my dad jokes.

I laugh. He can be funny at times. Most of the time he’s a no-nonsense guy. Conversations with him feel like walking on thin ice. When he’s not asking me about schoolwork, he’s asking whether I’ve done chores. But when he’s watching football, he becomes animated and loosens up. It’s refreshing and it sometimes makes me wish he’d watch more matches with me rather than his pals at the pub.

Anyway, it’s now Liverpool’s turn. Hamaan who came on as a substitute steps up to take their first penalty. He stutters in his run-up to trick Dida. His trick doesn’t work. Dida dives to the right side but he is unable to stop the shot. Liverpool takes the lead for the first time in the match. We applaud the goal.

Pirlo then goes on to miss Milan’s next penalty while Liverpool scores their second one. The camera cuts to the fans. The Liverpool fans cheer hysterically while the Milan fans look distraught.

But, Milan’s third penalty taker restores their dwindling hope when he converts his penalty. It’s a low shot to the right that Dudek has no chance of stopping. The Liverpool fans are again on edge.

They are unnerved even further when their third penalty taker’s penalty is saved by Dida. The Milan fans who have been silent during the shootout burst into life. Their team is back in the game. Game on.

Milan’s best player Kaka takes their fourth penalty. He oozes confidence as he makes the journey to the penalty spot. He blasts his penalty into the roof of the net leaving Dudek flat-footed.

Smicer, the player who scored Liverpool’s first goal in normal time takes their fourth penalty. Calm and collected, he places his shot in the bottom left-hand corner sending Dida the wrong way.

Liverpool leads the shootout by three goals to Milan’s two. The next penalty is crucial. If Milan miss, Liverpool will lift the coveted trophy. The game is on a knife-edge.

Milan’s clinical striker, Shevchenko, strides to the penalty spot to take the decisive penalty. The camera focuses on him. He looks so small against the backdrop of the entire stadium. A Herculean task awaits him.

The camera cuts to the fans. The Liverpool fans boo Shevchenko to unnerve him. The Milan fans hands are clasped together, praying he doesn’t miss.

My dad and I draw closer to the screen. Shevchenko firmly places the ball on the spot. The camera angle shifts behind Shevchenko and focuses on the goalmouth.

Shevchenko runs up to strike the ball. In goal, Dudek remains rooted to the spot. Shevchenko hits his shot straight down the middle. Dudek dives to the right. The ball is going in but Dudek somehow gets to it with his leg stopping the shot.

As if on cue, the Liverpool players standing at the centre of the pitch run towards Dudek to celebrate the victory. Thanks to his heroics, their side has turned the tide of the tie completing a miraculous comeback.

Onscreen, the camera shifts to the fans. The Liverpool fans are cheering hysterically. Two Milan fans hold on to each other for consolation you’d think they were at a funeral, not a football match.

Back home, my dad and I cheer wildly and jump up and down like little kids celebrating Liverpool’s win. We settle back into our seats when the proceedings shift back to the pundits in the studio.

“It’s now past 12. You should catch up on some sleep,” my dad says ruining the moment.

I get up from my seat and retreat to my bedroom. I want to watch the award ceremony but asking if I can watch it will be pushing my luck. At least he allowed me to watch the match.

“James!” my dad shouts just when I’m about to get to my bedroom. What now? I wonder.

“Yes!” I respond.

“You can come and watch the award ceremony if you want to!” my dad shouts.

“Okay!” I reply as I walk back to the sitting room.

I sit next to my dad and we watch as Liverpool lift the Champions League trophy in Istanbul capping a memorable night.

*Image by Jesus Solana on flickr

6 Replies to “That Night in Istanbul”

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