Them Scousers Again

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And so the exodus begins.  After both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur completed miraculous second leg comebacks the race was on to finalise travel arrangements for UEFA’s 64th European Cup final.  Cup fever’s back in town; all roads lead to Madrid and Liverpool’s 4-0 schooling of Barcelona ensured first dibs for the travel-weary Kloppites.

Liverpool fans, renowned for their innovation and dogged determination, will take any route possible to get to the grand host venue, Atletico Madrid’s magnificent 67,829 capacity Estadio Wanda Metropolitano.  Planes, trains and automobiles, they will go to great lengths to reach their destination.  It’s a calling that only match going supporters will ever be able to fathom. 

Most reds will fly to the easily accessible Spanish capital, albeit via one of the many Spanish holiday resorts, where they’ll party like rock stars as a precursor to Saturday’s shenanigans.  Others are more sadistic and will take to the roads for the 29-hour endurance test.  Vinny Jones’ aptly named ‘Death Vessel 4’ departed at 7 am on Friday morning, 37 hours before kick-off so no margin for error.  It’s the latest in the death vessel quadrilogy that has previously seen staunch red Vinny captain-coach trips to Liverpool’s previous two European finals after the success of ‘Death Vessel 1’ and its maiden voyage to Bordeaux for a Europa League jaunt in 2015. 

 

The build-up to the final started with a Boss night Madrid send-off at the Echo Arena the week before the final.  The renowned BOSS nights, usually headlined by Jamie Webster, the young Scouse musician behind the Allez, Allez, Allez anthem, have become a popular hang-out for Liverpool’s cool kids.  Starting out as a Liverpool fanzine called BOSS, the BOSS team started to put on a sing-song for their young mates after matches.  Their popularity grew, the BOSS night was born and the rest, as they say, is history.  The BOSS team have since organised gigs around Liverpool games all over the world, including the much-lauded gig in Kiev’s Schevchenko Park prior to last year’s Champion’s League final defeat to Real Madrid.  This short film by ardent reds fan Joel Rookwood, captures the moment perfectly.

The BOSS nights have brought a renewed vigour to Liverpool’s young fan base that has helped to revitalise a forgotten generation.  Jamie will headline a Madrid Boss afternoon gig in the Liverpool fan park on the afternoon of the game, where he’ll be supported by John Power, Kieran Molyneux and Ben Burke. 

Liverpool is experiencing something of a renaissance.  From the pinnacle of English football in the 80s to a 29 year title drought, via a mini-revival under Rafa and a calamitous transfer of ownership, the big German’s Kloppification of the club has steered the team to the brink of a sixth European Cup success and once again transformed the reds into a dominant force in English football.  Like Shankly, Klopp has a collective vision, a vision that echoes Shankly’s philosophy on how Liverpool Football Club should be run. 

The socialism I believe in isn’t really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it’s the way I see football and the way I see life”

There is definitely something Shanks-esque on the Anfield horizon.  Something that fits into the Shankly ethos.  Something unique to Liverpool Football Club. 

Let’s start with the manager.  The comparison in personality traits is remarkable.  Klopp is a super motivational leader, who like Shanks 50 years before him, has connected players with the fans.  He lives and breathes football and has instilled a belief into the Anfield crowd that with a collective effort, the team can beat anybody.  He’s turned doubters into believers and has dared to make fans dream again. 

 

Klopp’s heavy metal brand of football has won plaudits far and wide.  All the indicators suggest that Liverpool are close to making the transition from a great team to trophy winning team and that under Klopp’s tutelage, Liverpool once again could be set for a period of success comparable to the Shankly era.

Outside the remit of the club is the Shankly inspired Spirit of Shankly (SOS) Liverpool Supporter’s Union.  Named after the great Scottish Socialist himself because of his political beliefs, the country’s first football supporter’s union was formed in 2008 by outraged fans opposed to the Hicks and Gillett takeover.  The union has since flourished and become a prominent mouthpiece for supporter issues.  They have been unrelenting in their pursuit of making a genuine difference to Liverpool Football Club, its supporters and the wider Liverpool community.  Organising weekly collections of food prior to home games to top up local food banks and fronting a campaign to reduce ticket prices are two of their most recent success stories.

Continuing with Shankly’s Socialist theme, An Hour for Others is a Liverpool charity for Liverpool people set up by enthused red Kevin Morland and his partner Gill Watkins.  Kevin, one of the ‘Morland clan,’ a prominent family of fiercely loyal Liverpool supporters that goes back through the generations, has sent hundreds of local underprivileged children and deserving families VIP style to football matches.  Together with his fiancé Gill and their group of volunteer helpers, they have transformed the lives of many people using Liverpool Football Club as a trusted conduit.  Liverpool and England full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, a born and bred Scouser, is the charity’s ambassador and the club’s players and supporters continue to support the good work that the charity is responsible for.

 https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/liverpool-charity-hour-others-voted-10581317

The piece de resistance of Klopp’s collective jigsaw is the fans because football without fans is nothing.   Liverpool supporters have been pioneering fandom for decades and only the Mancs over at Castle Greyskull ever came close, but that was before the advent of modern football.  Anfield’s atmosphere is revered worldwide for its intensity and the cauldron-like European nights have unsettled some of the world’s best players.  The Spion Kop 1906 supporters group formed in 2013, is Liverpool’s first organised fan group.  With their self-funded choreography, flags, banners and displays and their sheer exhuberance, they have been instrumental in helping to create youthful scenes at Anfield not seen since the days of the Boy’s Pen.

Prior to Klopp’s arrival the Anfield experience, once a bastion of invincibility, was heading towards sanitisation.  It’s the Achilles heel of all top-flight modern football clubs.  But against the odds, the group have given the younger fan base a platform from which to express themselves and have undoubtedly become the inspiration behind the Kop rediscovering its mojo.  They’re the glue that binds the Kop together.  Madrid will be the group’s second Champions League final and they’re support will be the focal point of Atletico’s Fondo Sud.

 

With the ticket allocation for the final restricted to a pitiful 16,613 for each club, the social media fume was understandably palpable and with the extraordinary high demand greatly outweighing supply, thousands of fans were left distraught, angry and inconsolable. 

Liverpool FC rarely cover themselves in glory in these situations but if you remove emotion from the equation the buck stops firmly with UEFA, arguably the most unaccountable organisation in the world, where the gamekeepers are also the poachers.  The relationship with their corporate paymasters, who rightly stand accused of stealing the game from its working-class sanctuary, goes well beyond the pale and does nothing to stem the rising fan discontent that is consuming stadiums across the globe.  

The influence these cash-rich corporations have over ticket allocation cannot be understated.  It is pure unadulterated UEFA greed and there have been many banners unfurled at games across Europe angrily portraying UEFA as the ‘greedy pigs’ they are; snouts so deep in the trough that it covers their ears.  UEFA never learn from their mistakes, they are only interested in trousering corporate loot because cash reigns king in this dirty business.

 

The percentage of tickets allocated to finalists has been on a steady decline since the turn of the century.  It has become increasingly difficult for rank and file supporters to get their hands on tickets, as corporate sponsors continue to be served up with the lion’s share of the allocation.  Nevertheless, ticket or not, fans will descend upon Madrid in superabundance. 

The UEFA Champions League Final is the pinnacle for football supporters.  There is no greater achievement in the domestic game and fans will do anything to be part of it.  A fan’s gotta do what a fans gotta do to get there and they will, because the reality is we are a nation of football addicts whose unwavering loyalty seemingly knows no bounds, which of course leads to the exploitation of supporters who are prepared to make huge financial and travel commitments to support their team.

We flew into the capital on a late Friday morning flight via Frankfurt; taxi to Getafe, check-in, quick swill and over to Madrid for a rendezvous with the lads and a few ales just to be sociable.  Or at least that was the plan. 

Thousands of Liverpool supporters had already laid siege to central Madrid with numbers visibly swelling on an hourly basis.  The bars and restaurants in the Puerta del Sol district, Plaza Mayor in particular, worked tirelessly to keep thirsty fans fed and watered on an industrial scale.  Si Senor, the South American inspired Bobby Firmino song, has replaced Allez, Allez, Allez as this year’s Champions League anthem and it was vocalised incessantly as the celebratory mood continued deep into the early hours, setting the tone for Saturday’s showpiece final.

Matchday is upon us.  It’s the morning after the night before and we’ve no casualties to report.  The sun is out and with loadsa degrees forecast again, another scorcher was on the cards. 

We arrived back into the centre only six hours after vacating it.  First port of call was the touristy Plaza de Oriente to see the giant replica Champions League trophy located across from the Royal Palace.  UEFA’s much-maligned corporate sponsors had defiled most of the tourist hotspots, with Plaza Mayor bearing the brunt of it.  They utilise football’s showpiece events as a medium to connect with supporters, courting them with their branded free gifts, Champions League souvenirs and photo opportunities. "Come sample my ware," said the spider to the fly?  There is no escape from UEFA’s paymasters who have successfully overseen the transition of football from working-class sport to a global business model with unlimited revenue streams.  Boo!

Football mad and five times Champions League final host Madrid is a bustling, cosmopolitan capital city of plazas, statues, fountains and watering holes; it has in excess of 15,000 bars and restaurants, so there’s sure to be no shortage of places for the scores of thousands of ticketless fans to watch the game.  Madrid also boasts one of Europe’s most historically rich backgrounds.  It’s the complete package and the perfect host city for tonight’s Champion’s League final.  Liverpool supporters have been allocated the Plaza de Dali as their dedicated fan park so that will be base camp for the majority of the exodus.

Over 60,000 Liverpool fans were expected to make the trip to Spain, many of them without tickets.  Demand was extraordinary.  Reports of tickets exchanging hands for in excess of five thousand pounds were not uncommon, so the likelihood of finding a ticket was remote.  But they didn’t seem to care; fans just wanted to be a part of the occasion.

With the mid-day sun beating down on us we found temporary refuge on the short metro ride from Sol to Goya where Liverpool’s fan park was located.  The Salvador Dali Plaza, one of the most visited in Madrid, was a sea of red and white as far as the eye could see.  This wasn’t a gathering, it was an invasion.  

The plaza was awash with flags and banners trumpeting the club’s past glories and others prophesising future ones.  There’s an inspired mix of song lyrics, Kop chants, Scouse wit, club icons, tributes to those no longer with us, and the hilarious barbed wisecracks aimed at the trophy dodgers over at boo central. 

Liverpool fans simply excel in this department; no amount of oil money can buy fandom like this.  It’s old school, priceless and in this excess, it’s unique to Liverpool Football Club, whose supporters continue to wave a two-fingered salute to the modern era, where other clubs with storied histories have allowed foreign owners to desecrate their stadiums with manufactured tack.

  

      

 

This year’s final was categorised as high risk for both fan violence and the potential for terror-related activity; security was unprecedented.  With 4700 police officers on duty, aided by helicopters and drones, it was the largest security operation for a sporting event in the city’s history.  But the mood at the fan park, as with the previous evening, was celebratory.  The Spanish robocops, who have a history of brutality towards English supporters dating back to the 1982 World Cup, positively engaged with fans and it helped set the mood for the occasion. 

John Power’s emotional acoustic version of You’ll Never Walk Alone was the highlight of Boss night’s opening set.  “Let’s bring it home” was the message from John as he departed the stage.  Damn right.  The crowd agreed. 

 

With temperatures peaking in the mid-nineties match day demand for beer was outstripping supply.  Fortunately, Madrid’s army of street hawkers anticipated the lull in supply and was on hand to capitalise, charging three Euros for an ice cold 330ml can that would set you back fifty cents in the local off-licence. 

We caught the beginning of Jamie Webster’s set but with just over three hours to kick-off, we decided to break free from the merriment and head towards the stadium located in the Rosas neighbourhood in the north-east of Madrid.  Although Spurs are UEFA’s designated home team, for security reasons not disclosed, their supporters were allocated the northern end of the ground and the team by default will have use of the less than salubrious away team dressing room. 

In stark contrast, Liverpool has copped for the palatial home dressing room situated beneath the southern end of the stadium where the Reds fans will be seated.  The segregation plan will ensure Liverpool supporters will approach the stadium from the opposite direction to Spurs supporters and reduce the risk of any potential for disorder.

The metro was heaving and the character building seven stops to Las Rosas seemed to last an eternity.  Hot, sweaty and noisy but a welcome break from the direct sunlight nevertheless.  We left the fan park with the best of intentions but as usual, we left it late to get to the stadium, but despite having to navigate several security checks, the entrance to the stadium was surprisingly drama free which gave us plenty of time to soak up the occasion. 

These affairs are nerve-shredding experiences.  The thought of losing a final is bad enough but to lose to a Premier League rival means you’ll be reminded about it at least twice a year for the rest of your life.  It’s a game that Liverpool simply had to win.  But football sometimes has a habit of deviating from the script. The only guarantee in life is that one day it ends.

With kick-off almost upon us, the stadium was creeping towards capacity and UEFA’s pomp and ceremonial splendour was drawing to a close.  I’ve been kidding myself for years that I’d fell out with the modern game.  I’ve cribbed incessantly about football losing its way;  modern football this, modern football that, modern football the other.  Over a decade of griping about profiteering and the expense of it all, together with the rest of the unpleasantness that dinosaurs like me refuse to embrace.  But it’s moments like today when you’re reacquainted with your old mates going back nearly 40 years, that you realise what football is really about.  Because nothing can provide ‘the buzz’ like a day at the match.  Football is a drug and a Champions League final weekend is premium uncut class A quality.  It’s more than a game; football is life.

 

With all the pre-match rituals complete it was one last sign of the cross and a prayer to the big fella in the hope of summoning divine intervention just to make doubly sure.  I don’t know why we do this because as Johan Cruyff once famously said, “If God really existed, every game would be a draw”!  Nevertheless, we carry on regardless but stop short of genuflecting.

In the red corner, I give you Jurgen Norbert Klopp, yes Norbert; a gift from the footballing gods. The players love him.  The fans love him.  The media love him.  And apart from the DVD merchants over at the woodshed, even rival supporters have a begrudging admiration for him.  What’s not to like?  The uber-charismatic German and his attacking, rock n roll brand of all-conquering power football has brought the joy back to Liverpool.  Success on the pitch is high on the mind of Klopp, as the club’s collective vision sees a return to the summit of domestic and European football.  He gets the club.  He gets the city.  He gets the people.  He just gets it all.  He was made for Liverpool and Liverpool was made for him.    

 “For others, it’s sport, for us it’s a way of life.  They have a stadium, we have a home.  They have songs, we have an anthem.  They have a manager, we have a guardian.  They have supporters, we are a family.  We are Liverpool, this means more” Jurgen Klopp.

In the lily-white corner is Mauricio “Poch” Pochettino, the poker-faced Argentinian with a burgeoning reputation.  Like Klopp, ‘nice guy’ Poch has endeared himself to the Premier League with his gentleman like persona and his expansive style of play.  Spurs have been reborn under Pochettino.  Through his outstanding coaching and his commitment to developing young players he has engineered Tottenham’s revival and earned his seat at the top table.  Four consecutive top four finishes and a Champions league final to contest has made him one of the most sought after managers in world football.  We should also not lose sight of the fact that due to the construction of a new state of the art stadium, Spurs have played every game away from home for just shy of two years.   

 

If ever two managers deserved to contest this season’s UEFA’s showpiece event it is Herr Klopp and Senor Pochettino.  Not least because of their miraculous comebacks in the semi-finals, but both have also overseen remarkable transformations of their respective clubs on a limited budget and both are looking to end long standing trophy doubts. 

Spurs fans who had been eerily conspicuous by their absence the previous evening swelled the north stand to capacity and beyond with way in excess of 20,000 supporters.  Tottenham fans I’d spoken to earlier in the week were just happy to be contesting a Champion’s League final, something they thought they’d never see in their lifetime.  But come kick-off time, make no mistake; there will be a thirst for victory.

Prior to kick-off there was a minutes silence for former Arsenal player Jose Antonio Reyes, who was earlier tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 35. 

 

 

 It’s show-time and they’re off.  Liverpool do the honours and with only 24 seconds on the clock Skomina points to the spot.  Handball, penalty to Liverpool.  Salah steps up; goal.  Cue scenes.  A mate at the side of me has seen enough.  Only a minute into the game and his nerves are shredded.  The occasion has got to him, it’s making him ill so he leaves his seat and doesn’t return.  That’s what football does to you.

Barring the 18th minute pitch invasion by American swimwear model Kinsey Wolanski the rest of the half was unremarkable.  Probably the worst half of football in Champion’s League history, with neither team able to dominate play.

The second half featured more chances for both teams but was played out in a surprisingly semi-muted atmosphere. Tottenham had the lion’s share of the 45 minutes again, particularly the last 20 minutes, where they were a constant threat to the Liverpool back line. But Divock Origi’s scruffy left foot 87th minute goal killed any chance of a Spurs comeback. Tottenham 0-2 Liverpool.

 With five minutes of added time played out the referee brought proceedings to a halt.  Extraordinary scenes reverberated around the Metropolitano as 35,000 Liverpool fans celebrated a sixth European Cup.  Amid the delirium that met the final whistle, You’ll Never Walk Alone was played over the PA system.  The crowd and the players ensured the Liverpool anthem was infused with the power and emotion fit for such an occasion.  Grown men crying tears of joy, many hugging their children, their love of the game passed down from one generation to the next.  This is football.  This is Liverpool.

 

 It’s now time to update the Scouse solidarity flag and immortalise ‘the normal one’ into Anfield folklore.  If he delivers the title next year we can commission the statue and the transcript shall read… Jurgen Norbert Klopp…"Ein Mann des Volkes."

 

It’s the morning after the night before…Liverpool won.  The message is simple.  We’ve conquered all of Europe.  We’re never gonna stop…..

 

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Read 2685 times Last modified on Monday, 10 June 2019 17:09
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