After Our Kid’s epic journey to Kiev for last season’s Champions League Final (https://football-nerd.org/2018/05/30/all-the-way-to-kiev-a-guest-piece-by-our-kid/) he of course had to be in Madrid for this season’s final, this time he was accompanied on the rather more straightforward journey by our father, Roger, although securing tickets was going to prove to be much more of a challenge. Here are their stories.
It started badly, as, despite the commitment of a small fortune; the vendor could not deliver our tickets. But we regrouped, and decided that the glass was half full. Liverpool were in the final, and we had a weekend in Madrid to enjoy. So on Friday morning, Phil and I boarded the Eurostar to travel to Paris for the flight to Madrid.
The mood among the Liverpool cognoscenti was apprehensive. We HAD to win. A win would consolidate Klopp as one of the pantheon of great Liverpool mangers, Liverpool would be back to the forefront of European teams, and the momentum of the last three years would be sustained and lay the platform for further progress. But to lose …. didn’t bear thinking about.
The early part of the trip was passed in a football-free bubble. We stayed with my old Spanish university friend who lives round the corner from the airport. He is the only Spaniard with no interest in football. Friday evening was spent having a nice meal with his family, which included Phil and I sharing half a cow. And on Saturday morning, we went to visit a charming medieval town about 30 minutes’ drive outside Madrid.
Football reality began to intrude when we returned to the centre of the city at 14.00 to see the horde of red jerseys milling around. But with 7 hours until kick off, we made a leisurely entry into planet-football by having a slowly-paced lunch featuring excellent Segovian suckling pig. But then it was time to get ‘real’. We entered the Liverpool fan park to find many thousands jammed into an enormous square, and spent an hour with them as, led by the electric guitar player, we went through the Kop’s extensive repertoire of songs. They were all there – ‘Scouser Tommy’, ‘We are Going to Madrid’, the Virgil Van Dyke anthem, the Mo Salah ditty, a new complicated tribute to Mané based on ABBA music. And, of course, the hypnotic ‘Allez, Allez, Allez’, and all the rest.
We found the bar to watch the game, rammed with 60%Reds and 40% Spurs. The game was nerve-wracking. LFC’s early goal doing them no favours as they lost rhythm. Their passing was off, as they constantly surrendered the ball. Spurs were playing well, dominating possession, but not managing to pressurise the Red defence. They brought on extra attackers, looked threatening, but were frustrated by the excellent Allison. It left them exposed and yet again Origi got the vital goal.
Chaos broke out, the Reds were going to win it six times, they would be the Kings of Europe again, and Klopp would ascend into greatness. A quiet trip back to Ramon’s with smug satisfaction coursing through the veins.
Next year Istanbul.
Having got over the disappointment of tickets having fallen through, the excitement built, but in a contrast to last year, so did the nerves. Last year we had made it to Kiev on a wave of emotion and high risk football and were facing the winners of 3 in the last 4, it was almost a free hit. This year we were there on merit as one of arguably the best 3 teams on the planet alongside Barca and City.
In Spurs we faced a good side but one that was very fallible as defeat in nearly a third of their matches this season testified. So a team we should beat, all things being equal, which they never are in football. Add to that the monkey on our backs of 3 defeats in our last 3 finals; it was clear we had to win. As soon as the Spurs goal went in against Ajax the stress levels increased. This team we should beat had played some great football on the way to the final, dispatching quality teams on route, including one of the other three best teams in Europe. They’d played with enormous heart and a very familiar never give up attitude, with match winners all over the park. The final stress inducing factors were, the removal of the “at least we got there card” as another English club would have succeeded if we failed; then there’s the in-laws, lots of them and all Spurs, Christmas dinner would be painful.
After the drama of last year’s journey, this year was much more straightforward, Eurostar to Paris courtesy of business trip points, then flight to Madrid. Accommodation was secured with my Dads university friend of 50 years previous, who resisted the temptation to capitalise on inflated lodging market, to provide us with bed and superb breakfast.
After dinner on the Friday night, some site seeing Saturday morning and an exceptional meat intensive lunch we made our way to the fan park. Packed full of Liverpool fans and many locals, we joined in the renditions of the increasingly tuneful, if complex songs, making mental notes to google the words to the new ones afterwards; life for the modern football fan is much easier in that respect, it took half a season of home games on The Kop to fully get up to speed with “Scouser Tommy” back in the day. The atmosphere was as amazing as the heat intense, and not a hint of bad behaviour anywhere.
As the red army dispersed, some to the stadium and the ticketless hoards to find a suitable hostelry to watch the match, I made a tactical error. Deciding to head for another metro to avoid the designated Liverpool route to the ground, we headed straight into the Spurs fans on the green light. Surrounded by their songs, they contrasted with ours in lacking the same creativity but also in the negative slant. It’s not the place to get into the “Y*d” debate, but for me it’s not nice to hear and was the only negative for what was exceptional, good humoured support for Spurs. We’d identified an Irish bar on the edge of town close to where we were staying which provided the perfect balance of a wonderful atmosphere without being too packed.
As we walked in the place was bouncing, whites to the left, reds to right. Both sets trying to out sing each other. I had been worried that so many English alcohol fuelled fans would inevitably bubble over into trouble, but not a hint of it, with fans that have no historical grievances mixing together really well.
The early seconds brought instant ecstasy, then a gradual eroding as Liverpool struggled for fluidity and Spurs enjoyed such great possession. The tension had overtaken the bravado to such an extent midway through the second half that we realised there actually was Spanish commentary playing. Just at the point of maximum concern that the inevitable Spurs equaliser was imminent, the unlikely hero of our champions league campaign, Divock Origi, sent the Black & Gold Irish Tavern into pandemonium, that had hardly subsided when the final whistle went.
The most prominent feeling as we finally departed into the still hot Madrid night was relief that the chance of no 6 hadn’t escaped. Not pretty, but decisive when needed, as a friend of mine put it on a WhatsApp message, “are we in danger of becoming a boringly/ overly successful team…..I really hope so!”