Psychological Flexibility and the Miracle of Istanbul

This is a story about what Liverpool Football Club has taught me about happiness, pain and meaning.

I love Liverpool FC, but I am also what’s known as an ‘armchair’ fan. That is, I support Liverpool but don’t go to the match very often.

In 2005, Liverpool staged the most astonishing run to the final of the European Cup that has ever been seen. With a truly average team, and defying huge odds, they beat many superior teams along the way, including incredible comebacks (Olympiakos) and heroic performances (Chelsea).  It was incredible, and now they would play the mighty AC Milan in Istanbul.

In nearly every position AC Milan had the better players than Liverpool – in fact the miracle was they were there at all.

At the time, I remember that I really wanted to go to the final. I thought about it very hard but I worried about the cost involved. I even found a ticket and a convoluted journey that would have got me to Istanbul in time.  I would have loved to have gone, but in the end I narrowly decided against it.


Because deep down, I thought Liverpool would lose, and I wanted to spare myself the pain of being there when they did.

And as it turned out, I was right. Because at half time in Istanbul Liverpool were 3-0 down. They were outclassed as predicted, and I was gutted, watching on TV.

But I was also a bit relieved I hadn’t gone, because I couldn’t have handled the pain of watching my beloved team humiliated on the biggest stage of all.  Plus what a waste of money!


For some people, their love of Liverpool is so great that they go to every single match. Irrespective of where it is, how they’re feeling, who it’s against, whether Liverpool are likely to win, they will be there. They love Liverpool, and they live that love. They feel the pain when the Reds lose, but they keep turning up, through the wind and rain.  At halftime in Istanbul, these people sang You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Just after half time Liverpool scored a consolation goal.  Relief!  They had avoided humiliation.  But then, they scored again….

What followed is easily the most astonishing match in any sport I have ever witnessed. Liverpool eventually triumphed amid scenes of utter joy, elation and incredulity – which I had witnessed from a bar in Farringdon.

Just imagine what it would have been like to be there.

And there we have it.

Happiness and sadness are not opposites, but twins. They either grow big and strong together, or they stay small and weak together. By being willing to be sad, I grow my capacity for happiness. By accepting pain, I open my life to joy.

For the real fans in Istanbul they will always be able to say; I was there.

For me, I have the satisfaction of having played it safe, lessening my pain.

Not got quite the same ring has it?

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