On Tuesday evening, after I’d had a few more beers than might be prudent for a school night, I walked out of the bar at the Wanderers Club past a man wearing a new Liverpool Football Club training top and shorts.
“Nice top,” I said to him.
“Thanks,” he replied.
I stopped. Time stood still. My brain stood still. I turned back. The man in the Liverpool top had stood still.
“You,” I stuttered. “You’re Didi Hamann.”
He agreed. He was indeed Dietmar Hamann, Liverpool legend. The Kaiser. The German Scouser. I fell to pieces.
“I want to ... it’s you. You’re Didi. I want to say ... thank you. My name is Kevin. I’m ... you did so much. 2005. Istanbul. Thank you. I’m a big fan ... big fan ... a Liverpool fan. Thank you.”
I gibbered. I was a wreck. I didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense. This is what I do for a living. I get paid to talk to some of the greatest sportsmen on the planet. And here I was, stammering, struggling to string together two words in a row. I shook Hamann’s hand. I turned and walked away. “Who was that?” asked my girlfriend. “That, my love, is Didi Hamann. He came on at halftime in the Champions League final and changed the game. He is a legend. I think I love him.”
Hamann was in town for some Standard Chartered coaching clinics. Yesterday I bought his book, Didi Man, My love for Liverpool. I spent the morning going through clips of that night in May in 2005. I think I may have cried.
Hamann did not make the starting XI in Istanbul, coming on for an injured Steve Finnan at halftime. When he had been sitting on the bench in the first half, he was a little grateful he hadn’t been picked by Rafa Benitez: “When the third goal went in I thought, ‘Well, thank f*** I’m not playing’,” wrote Hamann.When he ran out on to the Ataturk Stadium and stood in the middle he had another thought: “I could think of a lot better places to be on a Wednesday evening than right here right now.” But he dug in, tightened up the midfield and allowed Stevie Gerrard the freedom to push forward. Then came those six magical minutes when Liverpool scored three goals.
Then came the penalties. Hamann wasn’t a prolific penalty taker, but he accepted the responsibility to take the first one. He had decided on a simple strategy: “Score”. He hit it to his left and scored. With a broken right foot. Five minutes before the end he had suffered a hairline fracture of a metatarsal.
Then Jerzy Dudek saved from Andriy Shevchenko. “The save of saves,” Hamann called it. Hamann is the hero of heroes.