Ahead of Sunday’s All-star charity match at Anfield, the only serious question being asked was whether Fernando Torres would be afforded a decent reception by the Kop.
The Spaniard was returning to his former home for the first time where he would not be wearing the colours of bitter rivals Chelsea, and instead was ready to step out for the Steven Gerrard XI, alongside former teammates the likes of Xabi Alonso, Ryan Babel and John Arne Riise.
With Luis Suarez also poised to make his Anfield return, you wondered whether Torres would be afforded the same hero’s welcome as of those mentioned above, given the way in which he departed the club for Chelsea in a £50million deal back in 2011.
The rivalry between Liverpool and Chelsea is one that has grown considerably in the last decade, with the Torres transfer four years ago just another sub-plot to a story that has included Champions League semi finals, domestic cup finals and Premier League deciders.
Each time Torres returned to Anfield in Blue he was the subject of loud disapproval from the Anfield faithful, so it remained to be seen just how the Kop would take to him this time around.
The fact Torres has since returned to former club Atletico Madrid will have certainly helped his cause, as the Kop responded to his half time introduction alongside Luis Suarez with a passionate rendition of ‘Fernando Torres, Liverpool’s number 9’ – a song that has not been sung since the opening weeks of 2011.
Time is a great healer of course, but the Spaniard appeared deeply moved by the reception he was afforded by the supporters who have idolised and despised him since his arrival in England back in 2007.
“I didn’t know how to react because I was not expecting them to sing the song which I still remember,” Torres said after the game.
“I remember the great games we had here in the Champions league and trying to win the league and fighting for trophies.
“I have this song in my head and it was so important for me.
“Those three and a half years changed my entire life and I remember every important moment there was always that song from the Kop.
“So to hear that once again is something I will never forget.
“Everybody knows Liverpool fans are different class and for me today it is one of those things you can only dream about.
“It is just amazing to be able to be here and I just want to thank everybody for the welcome.”
Whilst Sunday was all about those returning to bid their final farewell’s, it was the Liverpool supporters who made the occasion truly one to remember.
The 45,000 sell out crowd produced a superb ovation half an hour before kick off, when Gerrard and Carragher led the likes of Pepe Reina, Luis Garcia, Craig Bellamy, Harry Kewell, Suarez, Torres, Riise and Babel back onto the Anfield turf to warm up.
Once You’ll Never Walk Alone had been sung, the attention turned to serenading those who had returned for one last time.
Xabi Alonso was the first player’s name to be sung, with all four corners of the ground breaking into song moments before kick off, whilst his substitution on half an hour saw the stadium rise to it’s feet to give the Reds former pass master the send off he so richly deserved.
John Arne Riise was the next player to hear his song be sung, with the Norwegian playing the first 45 minutes and almost scoring, hitting the target with a trademark thunderbolt free kick.
Even John Terry was given warm applause by the Kop at one point during the first half. The pantomime villain for the day responded to some minor boos when in possession by turning back to the Kop and winking, which brought laughter and a warm round of applause. Would Steven Gerrard ever have been afforded the same treatment had he turned out at a charity match at Stamford Bridge?
Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba were also afforded warm receptions, with the latter forming a fine partnership with Mario Balotelli during the first 45 minutes, and scoring the second goal for Carragher’s XI. Whilst Henry produced one of the best moments of the first half, with a sublime piece of skill to set Ryan Babel through, although the former Reds winger could not provide the finish the dummied pass had deserved. The Frenchman is someone who has always spoken in glowing terms about the Anfield faithful, and was given a reception his class was worthy of.
There was a nice touch at half time also, with Dirk Kuyt and Pepe Reina brought out to take part in a half time penalty competition amongst supporters.
Kuyt had been scheduled to play in the Carragher XI, but injury had cruelly robbed him of the opportunity. The Dutchman instead was given a makeshift role of giving advice to those supporters taking spot kicks against Reina, and was afforded a standing ovation by the Kop after saying a few short words on his gratitude at being asked to return – despite the injury.
Reina had already been afforded one of the warmest receptions of the day having come out to warm up, and was once again cheered off the pitch having saved four penalties in the supporters shoot-out – bringing back a few memories of West Ham in 2006 and Chelsea in 2007. The current Bayern Munich number two saw all corners of the ground rise to give him a proper send off as he was substituted on the hour mark.
Half time saw the introductions of Luis Garcia – who remains a firm favourite at Anfield and was serenaded in the same manner he was during the Hillsborough charity game 12 months ago – whilst Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres were given perhaps the biggest ovation of the afternoon as they came out in tandem moments before the second half kicked off.
Suarez saw his song sung within seconds of his arrival, with those special memories of the Uruguayan striker still fresh in everyone’s minds.
Then the attention turned to Torres, and the Anfield faithful showed class and a sign that all was forgiven, as the Spaniard’s song was sung with all the gusto and passion that it had been done with during his three-and-a-half stay on Merseyside.
The strike partnership that never was seemed to take it in turns to hear their names being sung during the second half, and at one point Torres stood centrally in the penalty area and applauded the Kop. Supporters rose to their feet in return, scarfs were raised, and the noise levels were raised once more.
Fernando Torres may not be Liverpool’s number nine anymore, but the class of the Liverpool supporters on Sunday made he and every other returning hero feel as though they had never been away from Anfield, ensuring it would be a special day that lived long in everyone’s memory – perhaps none more so than the Reds former Spanish striker.