Three weeks ago, the chances of both Liverpool and Tottenham reaching the final of the Champions League — the Super Bowl of European club soccer — seemed as far-fetched as weekly predictions of May rainfall in Santa Barbara.
Yet it’s happened, in the most insanely dramatic fashion imaginable, and on Saturday, June 1, at Madrid’s Metropolitano Stadium, choruses of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Liverpool fans will be met by “Oh, When the Spurs Go Marching In” from Tottenham partisans. The TNT-televised match starts at noon West Coast time.
Gavin Plant, an insurance advisor at Brown & Brown in Santa Barbara, will be in Madrid, soaking up the atmosphere whether or not he is able to snag a ticket to the match. He grew up in Holyhead, Wales, in a family of ardent Liverpool fans.
(Trivia he did not know: Ron Yeats, an esteemed Liverpool center back from 1961-71, was captain of the Santa Barbara Condors, an American Soccer League team that went bust halfway through its only season in 1977.)
Phil Crewdson, a native of Folkestone in Southeast England, will be in his usual seat at the Press Room pub on Ortega Street, pulling for Tottenham Hotspur, in defiance of his father, who backed another London club, Chelsea.
Plant and Crewdson, who works for Sientra, a breast-implant firm (cue the dry British humor), both migrated to Santa Barbara a dozen years ago. They were glad to see they could gather with other expats and continue following England’s Premier League, through which the top-level teams qualified to play against other European league leaders in a nine-month competition to find the best of the best.
“The World Cup is a great tournament as a spectacle, but the Champions League is the pinnacle,” Plant said. “It’s where the best soccer teams play.”
Liverpool was the first to claim its berth in the final by overcoming mighty Barcelona in the second leg of the two-match semifinals. Having lost 3-0 at Barcelona, Liverpool retaliated on its home pitch by going up 4-0 in 90 delirious minutes. In extra time, Plant said, “I was waiting for that Messi moment,” but Barcelona’s Lionel Messi had no answer, and Liverpool celebrated one of the most memorable wins in its history.
The next day, Tottenham had a 1-0 deficit going into its road match against Ajax in Amsterdam. Two more Ajax goals made it a 3-0 mountain to climb in the final 45 minutes. The Spurs pulled it off, Brazilian Lucas Moura scoring three goals, the third in the last second of extra time, and the 3-3 tie was broken by Tottenham’s 3-1 advantage in away goals.
“We kept saying, ‘We can do it. We can do it. We can do it.’ Then everybody jumped up and down,” Crewdson said. “Five or 10 minutes later it sunk in. We did it.”
If there is to be another miracle Saturday, it would be a Tottenham victory over Liverpool, which has history and experience on its side. “We will win, because that’s what we do,” Plant said, citing Liverpool’s 18 English League titles and five Champions League crowns. He was overly excited when the Reds won a penalty shoot-out over Milan in 2005. “Raf [Press Room boss James Rafferty] kicked me out,” Plant said.
How can Tottenham, which won its only two English titles more than 50 years ago and has never before appeared in a Champions League final, score the ultimate triumph? “Divine fate,” Crewdson said, “and the fact that we deserve it more.”
As for a wager on the match, Crewdson said he might put up a cockerel, the male chicken that stands atop a soccer ball on the Spurs’ crest. Sir Harry Hotspur, whose name was taken up by the club, fancied fighting cocks in his day.
Plant could bet a bowl of scouse, a stew of various leftovers that was a popular Liverpool dish and gave rise to the term Scousers for fans of the soccer club. Crewdson, in a shot across the English landscape, said Plant was more likely to offer “a second-hand set of rims stolen off a car in Liverpool.”
GAUCHO GLORY: After suffering their 11th consecutive defeat to Cal Poly over the past four years, UCSB’s baseball players received a text message from Head Coach Andrew Checketts on Friday night. “It told them how proud I was to be their coach,” he said. “I was looking forward to being in the foxhole with them.”
The Gauchos went out Saturday for the last game of the regular season, clinging to a one-game lead over the Mustangs in the Big West standings, and scored an emphatic 7-0 victory to claim their first conference championship since 1986.
“We were just building the anticipation,” Armani Smith said of the worrisome start to the series.
The high stakes of the finale drew a crowd that filled the seats at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium and rimmed the outfield fences.
The Gauchos vanquished all doubts. “We were the better team,” Tevin Mitchell said. “We had to show up, and we did.”
Freshman left-hander Rodney Boone shackled the Poly batters, and the Gauchos banged out 10 hits, including a run-scoring triple by McClain O’Connor and a home run by Mitchell.
The Gauchos did drop in the rankings, and the NCAA is sending them to regional hosted by Stanford, which has been a top-five team most of the year. UCSB (45-9) will play Fresno State (38-14-1) on Friday night, May 31. Stanford (41-11) will open against Sacramento State (39-23). The double-elimination playoffs will continue through Monday.
DOWN TO THE LAST CUT: UCSB senior Zach Smith took second in the golf regional at Pullman, Washington, by firing a final-round 65. The senior advanced to the NCAA Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he finished in an 11-way tie for 65th, after shooting 10-over-par (78-74-74) at the Blessings Golf Club.
STATE CHAMPION: Beau Allen made his second-best high jump of the season when it counted. The San Marcos High senior cleared 6’11” to win the title at the CIF State Track & Field Championships in Clovis. Teammate Jadyn Mata went 6’5” for seventh place.