All the game can share in English clubs’ dizzying European glory

Premier League monopoly of European finals has a global dimension that should not be ignored

George Sephton has been Liverpool’s stadium announcer for 48 years and is such a part of the furniture there that he is known as The Voice of Anfield. His is a low, rumbling, almost soothing voice that makes pre-match announcements, names goalscorers during the game and wishes everyone a safe journey home after the final whistle. From his office in the Kop, Sephton, a 73-year-old born and bred Scouser, also plays records, often capturing the mood perfectly.

That was the case a little before 10pm on Tuesday as the home spectators made their way to the exits following Liverpool’s 4-0 victory over Barcelona. Suddenly, Imagine by John Lennon struck up.

“You … you may say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one/I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will live as one”

Lennon was singing it and so too were the crowd because it was absolutely the right song at the right time. What they had just witnessed was wondrous, incredible, beguiling and beautiful, a victory even the most optimistic of supporters had only half-heartedly believed was possible. But it came to pass. Liverpool had overturned a 3-0 first-leg deficit against one of the best teams in the world, and with two of their best players in Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah missing through injury, to secure a place in the Champions League final. After that how could you not be a dreamer? How could you not imagine anything was possible?

24 May 2000: Real Madrid 3-0 Valencia The first intra-national European Cup final in the competitions's 45-year history acted as the stage for Steve McManaman to write his name into Champions League folklore. The Englishman secured victory for Real in Paris with a stunning 67th-minute volley, with Fernando Morientes and Raúl scoring the others.

28 May 2003: Juventus 0-0 Milan (Milan won 3-2 on pens) Dripping in Italian defensive energy, 120 minutes of tough tackling and swinging elbows at Old Trafford yielded just eight shots on target and a whopping 57 fouls. The goalkeepers remained on top in the shootout with five of the first nine efforts saved before Andriy Shevchenko sealed Milan’s sixth European Cup.

21 May 2008: Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea (United won 6-5 on pens) Didier Drogba has spoken of his uneasiness at seeing Moscow adorned in United red before the final and that anxiety was vindicated on a pulsating night that saw Cristiano Ronaldo and Frank Lampard trade goals before Drogba was sent off in extra-time. John Terry then slipped at the crucial moment.

25 May 2013: Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Bayern Munich Twelve months is an eternity in football and no one knows that better than Arjen Robben. In the 2012 final Robben was the scapegoat in defeat to Chelsea. A year later he cemented himself as a Bayern legend, scoring the last-minute winner after Ilkay Gündogan and Mario Mandzukic each struck in the second half at Wembley.

24 May 2014: Real Madrid 4-1 Atlético Madrid (aet) At 90 minutes Atlético looked to have triumphed against the odds to win a historic double. On 94 minutes Sergio Ramos wheeled away in celebration of a heartbreaking equaliser. By the time 120 minutes had elapsed in Lisbon Real had run riot en route to La Decima.

28 May 2016: Real Madrid 1-1 Atlético Madrid (Real won 5-3 on pens) If Cristiano Ronaldo was still searching for a crowning moment as king of Madrid then the fifth and final penalty in this shootout in Milan confirmed his coronation. Sergio Ramos and Yannick Carrasco scored in normal time before Juanfran hit the post with his spot-kick setting up Ronaldo's vintage moment. Benjy Nurick

It has been that type of week. The night after Liverpool’s triumph over Barcelona came an almost identically jaw-dropping one by Tottenham over Ajax. They arrived in Amsterdam 1-0 down from the first leg and conceded another two goals before half-time. It was done. Game over. But then came the second half. Tottenham scored twice and then, with practically the last kick of the game, got a third to put them into the final with Liverpool in Madrid on 1 June.

That is the beauty of sport – a crucible of unscripted performances that at peak moments of tension and consequence produce the most thrilling of dramas. While lovers of cricket, rugby, boxing and athletics are sure to disagree, there is no sport that electrifies the senses quite like football.

Not always. More often than not games simply come and go. But every so often the beautiful game serves up something unforgettable, something miraculous. That it happened twice in two days is mind-blowing.

The game at Anfield was particularly sensational, partly because of the stadium’s history when it comes to special nights in European competition. There they will tell you about Internazionale in 1965, St Étienne in 1977, Olympiakos in 2004, Chelsea in 2005 and Borussia Dortmund in 2016, so it really does mean something that amid the roars and cheers on Tuesday many home fans were calling the game in front of them the best of the lot.

Everything came together: a meaningful victory in adversity over a team containing Lionel Messi, arguably the best player ever. Crucially, too, it was a victory that was fully deserved. Liverpool were excellent, displaying a collective will that was fully appreciated in the stands around them.

The songs that so many opposition fans sneer at throbbed with spirit and the jubilation sparked by each of the four goals was unconstrained. I kissed at least five different men, fell to my left and to my right and, during the celebrations for the second goal, had my glasses punched clean off by a fist of delight that came out of nowhere. It was that type of night. Presumably the celebrations among the Spurs supporters at the Johan Cruyff Arena were just as febrile, and what bonds both triumphs is the sense they came in large part because of the character of the clubs’ respective managers.

The venue: Estadio Metropolitano, Madrid (Saturday 1 June, 8pm)

A new venue for the Champions League showpiece and it hosts the first final since 2015 not to feature at least one Madrid team. Atlético spent around £200m overhauling the 20,000 capacity Estadio La Peineta in the Las Rojas neighbourhood before moving in September 2017. It will hold 63,500 for the final, with 17,000 tickets allocated to each club. Demolition of Atlético’s former home, the Vicente Calderón stadium, began in February.

This season's meetings

Tottenham 1-2 Liverpool (15 Sept, Wembley)

Liverpool made it five wins out of five at the start of the season with a deserved victory. Goals came from Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino either side of the break before Erik Lamela’s consolation in stoppage time.

Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham (31 March, Anfield)

Last-gasp drama as the match headed for a draw: Toby Alderweireld prodded the ball into his own net to hand Liverpool a vital three points after Lucas Moura’s second-half effort had cancelled out Firmino’s early strike.

The history

It will be the second all-English final after Manchester United beat Chelsea on penalties in Moscow 11 years ago. Liverpool have won the European Cup five times: 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984 and most recently under Rafael Benítez in 2005. A sixth win would lift them to third behind Real Madrid (13 wins) and Milan (seven). Tottenham have reached their first European Cup final in their fifth campaign. They won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963 and Uefa Cup in 1972 and 1984.

Routes to the final 

Tottenham

Group B 

Inter (a) L 2-1, Barcelona (h) L 2-4, PSV (a) D 2-2, PSV (h) W2-1, Inter (h) W 1-0, Barcelona (a) D 1-1

Qualified: Barcelona 14pts, Tottenham 8pts

Last 16

Borussia Dortmund (h) W3-0, (a) D1-1

Quarter-final

Man City (h) W 1-0, (a) L 4-3

Semi-final

Ajax (h) L 0-1, (a) W 3-2

Liverpool

Group C

PSG (h) W 3-2, Napoli (a) L 1-0, Red Star (h) W 4-0, Red Star (a) L 2-0, PSG (a) L 2-1, Napoli (h) W 1-0

Qualified: PSG 9pts, Liverpool 9pts

Last 16

Bayern Munich (h) D 0-0, (a) W 1-3

Quarter-final

Porto (h) W 2-0, (a) W 1-4 

Semi-final

Barcelona (a) L 3-0, (h) W 4-0

Compiled by Benjy Nurick

English football is living through a different age. Gone are Sir Alex Ferguson, José Mourinho and Arsène Wenger, giants of the previous generation who ruled with an iron fist, a morose sense of self-entitlement and an understated thoughtfulness. Now we have Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, all of whom lead as much with their hearts as they do with their considerable brains.

There is passion and a driving sense of optimism, not to mention a touchy-feely relationship with the players that you cannot help but think ties them to their managers in a way that makes them dig that little bit deeper and run that little harder when necessary, as it was on Merseyside and in Amsterdam.

Lucas Moura celebrates his winning goal against Ajax
Lucas Moura celebrates his winning goal against Ajax. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Action Images via Reuters

Klopp and Pochettino led the celebrations as much as they did their own sides, while Guardiola did similar on Monday as Manchester City secured a 1-0 victory over Leicester that all but guarantees they will be crowned Premier League champions Sunday. Again there was magic in the air as City’s goal came via a long-range thunderbolt from their creaking captain, Vincent Kompany.

On Thursday, Arsenal and Chelsea came through their respective Europa League contests to ensure there will be two all-English European finals in one season for the first time. And to think, it was not so long ago that this country was constantly looking elsewhere for ideas on how to succeed at the national game.

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That is not to say we should start getting all insular. One of the reasons English football is thriving is because it has opened itself up to ideas and people from different countries. Liverpool are managed by a German, their goals against Barcelona were scored by a Belgian and a Dutchman. Spurs are managed by an Argentinian and the scorer of their goals in Amsterdam was Lucas Moura, a Brazilian. The dizzying glory is English in name but global in nature. Something for all to share.

And that is what has happened: people everywhere have been talking about what Liverpool and Tottenham achieved. Heck, it was even discussed at prime minister’s questions. Football is forever in the mainstream but all too often for the wrong reasons. Not this time. The discourse has been positive and uplifting, sparked by contests that even now feel too magical to have taken place in reality. As Ferguson put it after the treble of 1999, Manchester United’s own wondrous achievement: “football, bloody hell”.