Activate discovery+Sep 23
“My reaction to the goal is straightforward,” Luis Garcia, the protagonist in the greatest did-it-cross-the-line controversy on English soil since the 1966 World Cup final, tells BT Sport.
“When they touch the ball, I wait for it to bounce and then I go to celebrate. I don’t wait around, I just run off to celebrate.
“My reaction means I saw the ball going in. Nothing more to say, your honour.”
Four minutes into Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea and Steven Gerrard’s deft flick puts in Milan Baros.
Baros gets his foot to the ball but is clattered by his compatriot Petr Cech, the ball bounces on the six-yard line, evading desperate Chelsea defenders but allowing Garcia to poke towards goal.
It deflects off John Terry, bounces once more before a covering William Gallas fires off the line. Except he hadn’t, or had he?
Garcia runs off in celebration, referee Lubos Michel blows his whistle and a goal – one that would prove enough to send Liverpool through to the Champions League final – is given.
Fifteen years ago, long before the introduction of goal-line technology and without anything close to resembling a definitive camera angle, it’s a question that can never be answered.
And the fallout was massive. Garcia’s ‘ghost goal’ denied newly-crowned Premier League champions Chelsea the path to continental glory they desperately craved, propelled Liverpool onto the most glorious European night in their history and solidified the bitterest modern rivalry in English football.
There was already bitterness brewing between the two clubs. Chelsea were the nouveau riche club with football’s first megabucks owner Roman Abramovich, who’d overseen the greatest spending spree England had ever known.
Three days previous they’d sealed their first league title in 50 years with victory over Bolton
Liverpool, the most successful team in English football but without a league title in 25 years, were the old guard who’d had their feathers ruffled by the new kids on the block.
Chelsea had defeated Liverpool on the final day of the 2002/03 season in a straight shootout for a Champions League place.
And three months before the semi-final second leg, a bitter League Cup final clash at the Millennium Stadium saw Chelsea lift the trophy after an inexplicable own goal from Steven Gerrard sent the match to extra time.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho sparked further controversy when he was caught shushing the Liverpool fans in Cardiff.
And Mourinho, always willing to throw fuel on the fire, didn’t shy away when asked about Garcia’s goal following the match.
“It was a goal that came from the moon – from the Anfield stands,” Mourinho quipped sarcastically. “I felt the power of Anfield, it was magnificent…
“Liverpool scored, if you can say that they scored, because maybe you should say the linesman scored. They are in the final and in my heart I hope they win it.”
It was a goal that came from the moon - from the Anfield stands
- Jose Mourinho
His goalkeeper agreed. “The linesman was standing in such a position that he simply could not see the ball as Gallas blocked it with his body,” said Cech after the match.
“I was surprised the referee’s decided the goal was scored, when they could not see it. I asked [the assistant referee] how he could be so sure that it was a goal.”
Yet Cech’s role in the ‘ghost goal’ raises another question. The Chelsea goalkeeper had caught Baros, felling the Liverpool striker after the ball had been poked beyond him.
Even if Garcia hadn’t been there to score, it looked a certain penalty and in the days of double-punishment, a red card for Cech.
Unsurprisingly that was Baros’ view. “At least it should have been a penalty. [Cech] flew at me, I think he did not even touch the ball.”
The man in the middle, referee Michel, would incur the wrath of Chelsea fans once again in sending off Didier Drogba in the 2008 Champions League final defeat to Manchester United.
Yet the Slovakian was adamant the goal was the lesser of two evils for Mourinho’s men, given he adjudged Cech to have fouled Baros.
“I believe Chelsea would have preferred the goal to count rather than face a penalty with just ten men for the rest of the game,” Michel said in retrospect.
“If my assistant referee had not signalled a goal, I would have given a penalty and sent off Cech.”
More than a decade on the mention of the ghost goal still stirs the passions.
“I lost a semi-final with a goal that was not a goal,” Mourinho said in 2015. “Today with goal-line technology it would not be a goal.”
In a 2018 BT Sport feature where Gerrard and Terry relive classic clashes between the two sides, the topic was raised once again.
“I was right there and I didn’t think it was a goal,” Terry recalls. “Gallas is adamant to this day it wasn’t.” “Obviously I’m going to say it was a goal!” said Gerrard.
Garcia, who dressed as a ghost on Halloween 11 years later in reference to the moment, is sticking to his story.
“The reaction of a player you cannot change, if you feel you do something bad, you will have checked if someone have seen you,” Garcia added.
“When I saw the ball going in I just ran off, if I had a doubt I would have checked with the linesman."