With the Champions League final being played in Kyiv, Ukraine, it was inevitable that some of the fan trips to the match would be eventful.
Cancelled plane trips; roundabout trips taking in various European countries; a variety of hotels and hostels; new friends made.
Benedict Segal recounts his experiences as a Liverpool fan travelling to Kyiv for RealSport.
Thursday 24th May:
It feels like it should be this way.
Travelling for what feels like years, slumming it at airports, skipping valuable revision time for my exams in my final year at university, just to watch the team you love potentially win the biggest trophy in club football on perhaps the greatest night of your life.
It all starts at Heathrow where me, my aunt and her son set off to Paris and Charles de Gaulle Airport in the evening.
Even as we travel further away from Kyiv than the UK is, there are still Liverpool fans bouncing around on the plane causing comical looks from the cabin crew as they hear the chants of ‘Allez Allez Allez’ casing turbulence of a different kind.
The journey only starts here, though, and in the real world all seems quiet on both the Liverpool and Madrid front: that the lineup of both teams seems to be known by the other team has dampened the excitement a touch amongst the media but among the fans the giddiness is still omnipresent.
Friday 25th May:
After arriving in France at close to midnight, our next flight – to Kyiv – didn’t take off until 5:30 the next morning, so the nervous wait goes on.
We meet some Madristas taking a similar route to us and the sparks fly. Football fans worldwide are unfairly castigated for their supposed hooligan attributes but this whole trip puts to bed much of that myth. Fans of both teams alike bond over football, food and drink over the weekend and the harmony dispels any worries that there would be any crowd trouble.
After getting next to no sleep and arriving in a scorching Ukraine at 11 am local time, even 35 hours before the game the atmosphere is buzzing.
Finding our apartment, located in the city centre, was a great struggle and the place itself all felt very insecure with questionable locks and beds all adding to the mystery of a European away day.
We decided to do the cultural side of Kyiv. The city has come under much criticism for its choice as host of the final and, clearly, it has its faults in having a very small airport and generally not being able to cope with the hundreds of thousands of fans that say London or Cardiff have done so successfully in recent years for this match.
Yet as a place it is truly stunning. Saint Sophia’s Cathedral is a piece of artwork to behold and the Motherland Monument forms an important symbol for the then USSR’s involvement in World War II: a must-see for anyone travelling to Eastern Europe for football or otherwise.
Saturday 26th May:
Gameday. Angst. Fear. Nerves.
It starts early and, with the match starting at close to 10 pm local time, it gives us all the time we need to check out what the city had to offer for the football fan.
The fan parks were simply perfect. The weather helped – as did the booze – but the music and entertainment set up by the city have Liverpool fans having the times of their lives.
We arrive at the stadium for 8 o’clock – a good two hours before kick-off – and that period before Liverpool started proceedings will always stay with me. Pictures taken with Liverpool legends of past, Dua Lipa showing why she’s the hottest artist in the world right now, fans entering the stadium to choruses of ‘You’ll never walk alone’.
The match result may go either way, but the Liverpool fans outweigh the Madrid ones in number, voice and heart. The goose bumps are visible, the emotions running high, but knowing that nothing could go wrong until the match started allowed me to breathe it all in. To bask in the cacophony of noise.
Don’t let anyone tell you football and sport in general don’t matter. Football isn’t more important than life and death as Bill Shankly once famously said but, as Carlo Ancelotti remarked, it is the most important aspect of all the lesser important things in life.
I’ve decided to not write much about the match itself. You know what happened. I cried. No shame.
For what it’s worth, I thought Liverpool played very well for a bit until Salah went off, but ultimately Madrid’s class showed and Bale and Karius’ roles in what will be a final remembered for the ages the outstanding moments for differing reasons.
Anyway, we have a car to Warsaw to catch.
Sunday 27th May:
Our hired driver sets off at 1 am, little more than an hour after the final whistle, and the journey is as smooth as it gets.
Taking only ten hours to reach Chopin International Airport in Warsaw (helped by a slightly dodgy transferring of money to assist us in crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland quicker) we stop off at enough service stations to start to be able to rank them.
Such a success was our journey we arrive a whopping eight hours before our scheduled flight at 7 pm. Yet the benefit of having a ton of sweaty football fans at an airport meant the staff shoved us onto an earlier flight to get us out of Poland.
Arriving back home in London for mid-afternoon rather than closer to midnight as was originally expected was an added bonus. It took me barely a hello to the parents before I collapsed on my bed and slept for what felt like days.
The match itself? Pretty disappointing. The experience? The greatest of my life.
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