That’s how long I was awake for. It’s the longest time I’ve been awake in my life, and by the end, well, I wasn’t tired. My brain was completely spaced out; I was suffering from audio hallucinations (I kept hearing “people” singing Liverpool songs when there were quite obviously not people doing that); I was walking like one of those wind-up robots, barely lifting my feet off the ground; and telepathically asking the taxi driver bringing me home from Schönefeld airport to just put his bloody foot down, and stop driving like a learner.
Despite the massive amount of hours spent waiting around in airports and sitting on aeroplanes and crammed into Metro trains, and – more importantly – despite the sad result, it was a great three days.
It was an early start on Tuesday morning: up at 6.30am to fly to Luton airport. Every time I have to fly, it’s the same. Some sort of unintentional pre-flight routine. Try and be in bed before midnight. Set alarm clock early enough to leave a snooze margin. Set mobile phone alarm for fifteen minutes later just in case I snooze too much. Then watch some warm blanket favourite DVD in bed; Seinfeld or The Simpsons usually. Find myself still wide awake at 1am. Start worrying about not hearing my alarm clocks. Eventually fall asleep. Wake up half an hour before the alarm would have sounded. Get out of bed, shower and dress quickly. Find myself with a load of spare time, but unable to think of anything to do with that time, so spend it looking at websites. Think about making some breakfast, but I’m not hungry. Wonder if I should do a poo, cos I’m bound to need one as soon as I get to the airport, and I loath using public toilets for a number two. Suddenly realise I’m gonna be late cos I’ve spent too much time looking at websites, so dash around the flat, checking everything is turned off, and that I’ve not forgotten my passport.
I get a cab to make sure I get there on time, and that was the moment it hit me: I’m going to the Champions League Final! I want to tell everyone. I want to tell the flight attendants, the guy sat next to me, the woman checking passports at Luton, the bus driver taking me to Luton train station.
I get the chance to have a good chinwag having a couple of beers with some mates in London during their lunch hour. Soon after, I’m meeting up with Keith (my mate who I was going with, and the man who, through some rather nice fortune happened to be two or three links down a chain that could get hands on a couple of tickets), and eventually we’re hanging around in a half-closed Gatwick airport for our easyJet flight to Athens.
Why the hell, by the way, when there are people waiting for flights, do some airports all but shut down after 9pm? Note to Gatwick: McDonald’s, a Yates’s bar, and a place to play fruit machines are not enough.
Nearly four hours later, at about 5am local time, we were in Athens. The airport already had plenty of sleeping Liverpool fans scattered around the floor, and a bunch of Milan fans singing whilst being herded around by policemen in riot gear. Time to cram the essentials in my pockets, dump my rucksack at the left luggage thingy, and get on a bus as the sun came up, taking us into the city centre.
The bus dropped us at Syntagma Square (Constitution Square). I’m sure it looks lovely on a normal day, but that morning the square was filthy and sticky with spilled beer.
After a coffee, we trudged up a hill to see the Acropolis of Athens. It was one of those slightly surreal moments in life: here I am, already awake longer than 24 hours and I’m off to see one of the planet’s sight-seeing greats at eight o’clock in the morning, along with a bunch of other Liverpool and Milan fans.
After that we took a taxi to pick up our tickets from Keith’s connection. A forty minute, broken-English conversation about what sort of boat we needed to find on which particular dock. But the ride was insanely cheap, just seven euros.
So there we are, in front of a huge ship; a ship that AC Milan organised for the family and friends of the club. This is how we got our tickets. Through the lucky chance of Keith being in a relationship with someone who’s sister is married to someone who’s, well, important at AC Milan, we got tickets. And while we were picking them up, we were stood around as loads of ex-players milled around. Look! There’s Cesare Maldini! There’s thingy.. that bloke… oh what’s his name? Oh and there’s that other bloke who used to play for Italy! And, for the record, the coffee on the ship was awful.
Tiredness was beginning to kick in at this point. We went to the old 1896 Olympic Stadium where they’d set up some bullshit corporate wanky stuff to help remind us how great UEFA is. More importantly, there was plenty of space for us to take our shoes and socks off and lie down for a while. Until it pissed down with rain, when we ran off to hide in the toilets.
By the time the rain had cleared we went off around the town to eat and drink something. There seemed to be way more Liverpool fans than Milan fans. But it was slightly tough to judge what it’d be like in the stadium as most Milan fans seemed to be in small groups, whereas the LFC fans were camped and singing in big groups outside bars. But when it came to style, the Milanese trounced us.
Time trundled along at its own sweet pace, and around half past six, seven o’clock, we were back in Syntagma Square, and into the Metro station where we got on the crammed train and, along with some bemused-looking locals, sweated our way north to the stadium.
Which is where the UEFA shambles began. There’s been a lot in the press the last couple of days about ticket holders not getting into the ground, fans getting tear-gassed, UEFA blaming Liverpool fans for the chaos, etc. I can’t speak for what went on closer to kick-off, but when we arrived it was obvious that it would be a nightmare. We came out of the station directly into a huge throng of people. It was like being halfway back in the crowd at a stadium concert or something; you could move around, but there wasn’t much space. At the front of this was an area which we assumed was turnstiles. We rolled our eyes and went there, just wanting to get it over with. As we got closer, it became clear that there was just one gate open, with police doing the most cursory checks on tickets. If you had a blueish bit of paper in your hand, you’d have got through. That opened up into a fairly huge area, which, one assumes, must’ve been lovely during the Olympics: plenty of space to sit down, mill around, soak in the atmosphere. But for us, it was just a big space between one load of policemen in riot gear and another load of policemen in riot gear. This second
checking area was ridiculous. Someone with a bullhorn told us all to hold our tickets in the air. Sophisticated security against forgeries, huh? We did this, then the police walked slowly through us, supposedly checking we had tickets, but not really doing so.
(Not excusing any of the Liverpool fans who blagged their way in with no ticket or forgeries, but this shit shower is almost entirely UEFA’s fault. To say that they warned us not to travel without tickets is to abdicate responsibility. They cannot do that. If you’re running European football’s top event, you have a duty to do it properly and safely, and to be prepared for most possibilities. It’s not like they didn’t know loads of ticketless fans would turn up. It must be gutting for those who had tickets to be kept out of the game and tear-gassed, and those that were sat in their seats should feel ashamed, but UEFA have the power to make sure things like that don’t happen, and to just blame the fans and hope the press swallow the official line is shameful.)
Sadly, I didn’t take any photos of all of that, being too bothered about holding on to my ticket, not falling over or getting clobbered by the mean-looking policemen. So, annoyingly, there’s a gap between the crowds coming off the train (the photo above), and the nearly-in-the-stadium photo (below).
Two checks done, two more to go. Time for a quick piss before we in the ground… or maybe not. Maybe it’s time to trudge through a slick of pissy shit that covered the whole floor. Maybe I can hold it in ’til we find another toilet. The next security check was the most stringent. Stringent isn’t really the word, seeing as it was less tight than when a barman checks your £20 note under the UV light in a nightclub. Then a quick frisk for weapons, booze, etc. and we were in the stadium area itself.
Seeing as we got our tickets from a Milan source, we checked where our seats were. Right behind the goal, in amongst the hardcore Milan fans. Gulp. We’d better keep quiet, then. So we went back out and asked a bunch of Milan fans with tickets in a more mixed area if they wanted to sit with their brethren. Although a couple were tempted, they all – understandably – said no. I wouldn’t trust two English blokes trying to – in their eyes – blag a better view of the game either.
We were resigned to the fact that we’d have to keep our mouths shut should Liverpool score. Back to our seats, we half-heartedly clapped along with the Milan fans when their team came out to warm-up. We held up the squares of white plastic when the Milan end did so to form a big area of their team colours. And we scoffed at their love and chanting for club owner and über-cunt Silvio Berlusconi as he walked around in a throng of photographers in front of the fans.
So, the game. Well, you know what happened…
After Milan’s goal just before half time, and having to be in amongst thousands of joy-filled Milanese, we went out and because of the disappearance of virtually all the stewards we were easily able to get into an area where loads of Liverpool fans were. And because of the ease in movement around these parts of the stadium, loads of seats were empty as their previous tenants had moved lower down to sit in the aisles.
And then it was over. Liverpool had lost. I suppose you can become used to stunning comebacks after the 2005 final and last year’s FA Cup Final, but it wasn’t to be this time. We stood and watched the Milan players and fans celebrate.
We applauded when they were given the trophy (quite unlike the Milan fans in 2005, who’s end of the stadium was half empty by the time of the trophy presentation), and we traipsed out to make our way back into the city centre.
As we got off the train, and walked through the station, the fans begin singing again. We’d lost, but still had pride. And it makes you wonder, do the players realise how much their club is loved? Do any players of any team know? I really hope so, but I doubt it.
Back in Syntagma Square, the floor was still sticky, the singing still loud, the fountains were still a foamy bubblebath of beer-y water, but the Milanese were the only ones smiling. Fair play to them. They were the better team in Istanbul, and they lost. The roles were reversed this time. We sat in a shop doorway with a few cans of Amstel for an hour or so, watching fans of both teams wander around, then went back to the airport at about 4am.
This was organisational shit-shower number two. In their wisdom, they’d decided to treat Liverpool fans like illegal immigrants or something. Herding us away from the main airport in buses to a “holding area”, a big tent in a car park. On the plus side, they were giving out water and a few sandwiches. On the down side, it was a tent with a filthy wet floor in a fucking car park, with scant regard for anyone’s comfort, physical or mental.
Things only got worse when it rained, as the overspill of people who’d been sitting around outside all had to cram inside. As for getting onto flights, I’m convinced that half of the people on the charter flights were probably on the wrong flight. The checking of passports and handing out of boarding passes was cursory at best. We had problems on an scheduled easyJet flight. First being told to go to the holding area, then being told by the British Embassy people there that our flight was back at the proper airport, then being told again that it was back in the holding area. After hour upon hour of no information, after rumours of various reasons of why our plane was late; after being told to queue at door no.4, then door no.1, then door no.4 again; after getting on the bus to take us to the plane with a driver who seemed not to be able to drive; and after the hellish scramble to get onto the plane, we were sat down, and on our way back to England.
We got the Gatwick Express train to Victoria station, and Keith and I said our farewells. It’s always a sad moment to say goodbye to a friend since I’ve been living abroad, but like two years ago after the final in Istanbul, it was extra sad to say goodbye to Keith. It’s good to have a friend to share these football-related highs and lows with. Having said that, I knew he was gonna be home and in bed half an hour later, the cunt. I was gonna meet a friend for lunch across town, but stood in Victoria tube station, I realised I didn’t have the energy to use London’s underground system, and sheepishly slunk back to the Gatwick Express and went back to the airport to wait out the seven hours before my flight back to Berlin.
A Coke and a burger later (apologies to the cow. I know I’m a vegetarian, but I was too hungry and tired, and lacked the willpower to force myself to eat a spicy beanburger), and I found myself
sprawled out on the plastic chairs, nodding in and out of consciousness. I must’ve dozed for about half an hour there. I would’ve slept for hours, but the sun was coming straight through the window and I was sweating into a t-shirt that had been sweated in and dried and sweated in again several times, so I got up, wandered around and tried the best I could to freshen up. (Have you used those Dyson Airblade things that they have in Gatwick, and, I assume, other public places? Pretty snazzy, and they dry your hands super quick. Sadly, though, they’re utterly fuckerly useless if you’ve just washed your face.)
Minutes passed slowly. My brain felt caked in mud. I had a beer to try and feel something. The minute that checking in for my flight was possible, I was there and ready for the totalitarian hell of Gatwick security. Yes, I will put my dignity in this small plastic bag, thanks very much.
And finally, ten minutes before the flight was due to leave, the departures display told us to go to gate 14. Four easyJet flights within three days. Every one of them flying later than it should have been. I wonder if it’s all some air traffic control bullying, treating the crappy little dogshit airline like the speccy weak kid. Yeh, fuck ‘em, they paid fuck all for their flight, doesn’t matter if they’re late.
But, here’s a tip that I worked out on easyJet flights: the seats in front of the emergency exit over the wings don’t recline, so if you sit on the emergency row, you don’t have to put up with some inconsiderate fuck’s dandruffy hair three inches from your face for the whole flight.
And, of course, the one time I could really have done with someone not sitting in the middle seat, someone did. This guy in a seersucker pinstriped jacket who insisted on playing the armrest war. Little did he know I’d been awake for nearly three days and couldn’t give a fuck if he wanted more arm room so he could use his laptop.
Off the flight, into a cab, into the building, into the flat, bag on floor, clothes off, and into the shower. No superfluous effort there. Nothing would stop me from being clean for a second longer. Heaven. Clean. Then dry and pampered in a cloud of talcum powder. But, sod’s law, I wasn’t tired at this point. A cigarette, some apple juice, and – nothing in the fridge – so some ketchup on toast, and I’m in bed watching The Thick of It DVD, chuckling away like the sleep deprived madman I surely was at that point. I was asleep before one episode had finished. And I woke up 12 hours later, still not quite believing that Liverpool had lost. But they did. Bugger.