THOMAS KIENZLE/AP/Press Association Images

'When we were 3-0 down, I tried to get out of the ground'

Liverpool playwright Nicky Allt is bringing his much-loved show ‘One Night In Istanbul’ back to Dublin.

NICKY ALLT DOESN’T try to sugarcoat it when looking back on the evening of the 25th May 2005.

“I just remember it being the strangest game of all time. Liverpool didn’t have a very strong side and AC Milan were probably the best team in the world. We should’ve lost. When we were 3-0 down, I tried to get out of the ground but a big Turkish steward pushed me back in and I probably owe him a load of money because I’ve gone on to write the play and the movie since.”

The Merseyside playwright has the 2005 Champions League final to thank for inspiring his much-loved show One Night In Istanbul, which returns to Dublin for a brief run at the Gaiety Theatre next week.

Allt, a hardcore Liverpool fan, was in attendance at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium but even when Steven Gerrard pulled a goal back to reduce the deficit early in the second half, he feared the worst.

I thought that even when we scored the one goal, that they’d step it up again and score three more. I’m usually an optimist but that Liverpool team at the time had people like Djimi Traore at the back and Harry Kewell. There’s a word we use in Liverpool – ‘tonk’ and I thought we were going to get tonked.”

Luckily for Allt, he was wrong. Liverpool famously scored two more and ended up winning on penalties. And the level of drama and excitement that Allt experienced in a far-flung place that night got him thinking.

“I’ve been following football for 30 years and I was a fanatical supporter. The whole show is about what football supporters are like when they go away together to Europe and what they’ll do to get to a game. Supporters of any team can come and watch the show, but when I was at the final, I thought ‘If ever I was going to tell a supporter’s story about going away to watch a team, it should be based around Istanbul’.”

TURKEY CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL Jerzy Dudek makes the decisive penalty shootout save to win the Champions League for Liverpool. THOMAS KIENZLE / AP/Press Association Images THOMAS KIENZLE / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

Allt also has Ireland to thank, at least a little bit, for inspiring the hit show.

“Quite a famous Irish play – Alone It Stands – influenced me quite a bit. I watched that, with the rugby game as a backdrop, and I’d always thought a big sporting moment is a great way to tell a story because it adds so much excitement and drama.

A born storyteller, Allt’s wit and ability to weave a yarn second to none. But when piecing together the narrative for One Night in Istanbul, he drew upon a remarkable true story as a key plot-line.

In 1981, Liverpool played in the European Cup final in Paris and played Real Madrid, beating them 1-0. But the semi-final was against Bayern Munich away and a couple of Liverpool fans who were skint went into the Adolf Hitler museum and they took his cufflinks out, brought them over to the pub and sold them so they could get to the game. It became a legend in Liverpool that a fan had Hitler’s cufflinks somewhere. So, I’ve incorporated that story into our show.”

“I had people from the Jewish Times getting onto me saying ‘What are you doing going on about Hitler for?’ and then I told them the story and they found it really funny. But these Liverpool guys had the cufflinks under the floorboards for 20 odd years so we decided to bring the story into our play and it’s central to how our guys get to Istanbul.”

OneNight The poster for Nicky Allt's hugely-successful One Night In Istanbul which returns to Dublin next week.

Allt knows all about being a hardcore supporter. Over the last three decades, he’s followed Liverpool to every corner of the globe. He lost money and jobs along the way but his support never wavered.

“In the 1970s and 80s under the Thatcher Conservative government, the city of Liverpool was in a sorry state so if you were a football fanatic, it became like passports. I had to bunk trains and boats all over the place until it got to the point of having our pictures put up in the boat ports in the south of England because we’d been bunking for so many years. But I even bunked to the 1990 World Cup in Italy to watch Ireland. I was at all the games at USA ’94 as well, even when John Aldridge kicked off on that poor guy on the touchline!”

Allt laments the disconnect that exists between clubs and the current generation of supporters, feeling that the era of ducking, diving and hopping on trains and boats and buses in an attempt to see a favourite team is now over.

I feel sorry for a lot of younger people now because they can’t get away with that stuff. Everything is so expensive. Whenever I come over to Dublin, I always think about why Dubliners or other Irish people don’t follow their own local teams because it’s so costly for them to head to Liverpool, Manchester or Glasgow. There’s the tickets, the travel and suddenly you’re paying £200 to see a home game. And the days of trying to do it for free – like I did – those days are gone.”

For Liverpool fans, it’s not just those days that are gone. The club’s season ended in embarrassment with that 6-1 thumping at the hands of Stoke City at the weekend. So, does Allt think Brendan Rodgers should stay or go?

“If I’m being brutally honest – the season has been absolutely crap. But we are very fussy. Most of the other clubs would be really happy to be close to the top-four. But I’m from the Bill Shankly school of ‘First is first and second is nowhere’. And a lot of the younger generation think that to get in the top-four is an achievement. I was brought up on winning things and it’s just not good enough for me.”

One Night In Istanbul runs at The Gaiety Theatre from Tuesday 2nd to Saturday 6th June 2015. 

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