‘Fernando Morientes needed passport to get us on pitch after Istanbul final’
Injury robbed Neil Mellor the chance of being involved in the miracle of Istanbul – and he wouldn’t even have got to celebrate with his Liverpool team-mates it if it weren’t for Fernando Morientes and his passport.
Mellor played a crucial role in getting Liverpool to the Champions League final in 2005, stepping off the bench to score and then set up Steven Gerrard in that memorable win over Olympiakos that secured progress to the knockout stages, but a knee injury meant there was never any chance of him playing a part in the final against Milan.
He was at least among a group of players who travelled to Istanbul and watched that incredible comeback, but he had to work harder than he might have expected to get onto the pitch to celebrate with his team-mates.
Speaking on the Planet Football podcast, The Broken Metatarsal, Mellor says he doubts it would have happened at all if it weren’t for Morientes.
“I was among 10 other players who weren’t involved for various reasons. It was hard to get on the pitch because there were so many Liverpool fans. We were all in our Liverpool tracksuits, but there were so many fans in Liverpool shirts trying to get on the pitch as well.
“The steward was not having it, pretending he didn’t speak English. Morientes was there and he’d won the Champions League three years previously, but he had to get his passport out to prove to the steward that it was actually him.
“Then the steward all of the sudden was hugging him, wanting to have pictures with him.
“Fair play to him, he made sure every one of us also got over the barrier on to the pitch to enjoy and celebrate on the podium alongside the team.”
And once Mellor had enjoyed his moment alongside the match-winners from that night, another one of the players not involved, Mauricio Pellegrino, ensured they both left with a memento of it all.
“After we’d celebrated, there was me and Pellegrino,” Mellor says. “He goes to where all the medals have been and pulls out two or three AC Milan silver medals.
“He goes to me, ‘Do you want one of them?’ And I said, ‘No problem, I’ll have one, that’ll do.’ So I’ve got an AC Milan runners-up medal. I just put it in my pocket and that was it.
“I’m waiting for a knock on the door from Maldini to say can I have that medal back please?”
Setting up Stevie
While Mellor may not have been involved on that amazing night, he can at least say he helped get the Reds there with his contribution in the Olympiakos game.
But, once again, he had to work hard to get onto the pitch.
“When I came on, I was absolutely exhausted,” he says. “I spent the whole second half sprinting up and down the touchline just trying to get in Rafa’s eyeline to get me on.
“Eventually he did put me on and pretty quickly I got a goal which got us back in with a chance to qualify. Then Stevie scored that wondergoal which is a moment I’ll never forget.
“Jamie Carragher dinks one up to me and I’ve got a few options. Do I flick it on, do I control or do I lay it off?
“I can see two players to lay it off to. One is John Arne Riise and the other is Steven Gerrard.
“Now John Arne Riise has got a decent left foot, but if I’m laying it off it’s going to be on his right foot and one in about 300 are going to hit the target so I’m thinking, ‘Mo chance am I laying it off towards you.’
“So I’ve laid it off towards Steven Gerrard’s space and obviously we all know what he’s capable of and delivered with a wonder strike.”
The rest, as they say, is history, and Mellor told us all about Rafa Benitez’s role in making it happen in the latest episode of The Broken Metatarsal, which you can listen to below.