The Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, Madrid – June 1st, 8.01pm. It is very rare in life that you can pinpoint the exact moment that your innocence died. But I can. It came about 23 seconds in the Champions League Final, right about the time that Damir Skomina, Slovenia’s top referee and UEFA’s top hatchet man, decided to award Liverpool a rather dubious and ridiculously early penalty. He didn’t even see fit to consult VAR, who has easily been our best player in Europe this year, to ratify the decision. This guy literally thinks that he is above technology. Sad. Anyway, having spent the majority of the day discussing the fact that we might stand a chance if we could just manage not to concede an early goal, you can see how this decision took the jam out of our collective doughnuts. Now, clearly I am being a tad dramatic, as it was a 50/50 call that ultimately didn’t go our way but it certainly killed the game as a contest. And to be fair, my innocence died a very, very long time ago……I did go to a Catholic School after all. Only kidding, I wasn’t molested as a child. Not much, anyway. And if I was, I wouldn’t be writing about it in some stupid blog. I would be saving it for my autobiography!!!
It has been over two weeks now, since I was lucky enough to experience the breathtaking highs and the soul destroying lows of my whistle-stop pilgrimage from Sydney to Madrid (whilst spending the GDP of a small African nation in the process, I might add) and my therapist feels quite strongly that if I share my experiences with a group of like minded individuals, then I can finally move on with my life and learn to love (football) again. So…..here goes nothing. It all started in Valencia Train Station at 7am, Saturday 1st June. We had a booking for the 9.45am service to Madrid and even though they advise you to arrive 15 minutes before departure, my dad decided to “play it safe” and get there nearly three hours early…..like it was a f**king international flight!!! Bless him, I have no idea how he gets through life. Even at this early stage and in a city nearly 350km away from Madrid, we were seriously outnumbered by the Liverpool fans. I swear to god, they are like cockroaches……not because of their numbers necessarily, they just look an awful lot like cockroaches. Anyway, we enjoyed a fairly mundane trip through the Spanish countryside (they appear to have a disproportionate amount of donkeys in Spain….I’m just saying) before we arrived into the sheer chaos of Madrid. It was almost as if UEFA had opened up the largest Job Centre in Europe but had hidden it’s actual location, the rascals……it was basically just a sea of red shirts, as far as the eye could see, milling about aimlessly and eyeing up people’s hub caps with increasing gusto.
We headed straight to the Tottenham Fan Zone, which was essentially just a giant white circus tent, full of dancing, signing Yiddos. It did exactly what it said on the tin. From an atmosphere perspective, it was great. From a speed of alcohol service/protection from sunstroke perspective, it was less great. Still, we had about 12 hours to kill, so it wasn’t really a problem……unlike the portable toilet situation. In the end, we just popped to the local Shell garage and bought a slab of beers to drink on the grass, much to the disgust of the passing Spanish locals. The ones that weren’t sleeping in the middle of the day, anyway.
A couple of hours before kick-off, we decided to make our way to the stadium and sample some of that fabled Champions League Final atmosphere you hear so much about. But it didn’t take us long to realise that the Spanish couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery…..which is kind of ironic, as it was being hosted in a completely dry stadium! Having exited the train at our designated station and fired up Google maps, it slowly dawned on us that we might as well have been back in bloody Valencia! As such, we were forced to walk for about about 30 minutes in the soaring Spanish heat, not entirely sure if it was the stadium or a mirage that we were all aimlessly trudging towards on the horizon. I swear, I saw little kids leaving the Tube station with their dads that had reached puberty by the time the had game kicked off. They could also have been other, different kids. I didn’t really have time to check. Anyway, in a refreshing reversal of recent trends, I somehow managed to get head butted by a police horse on my way into the ground. The horse’s rider, clearly panicked by the sight of several hundred Englishmen queuing in an orderly fashion, made the snap decision to charge his horse into the group, presumably hoping to take the enthusiastic queuing down a notch or two. As you can imagine, it only really helped in knocking me over and covering me in horse spit. Thankfully, this wasn’t the first time that I had been covered in horse spit and it probably wont be the last….no matter how much I promise my wife that I have left that sordid part of my life behind.
Once we finally managed to get into the stadium, we were rather shocked to find that it both looked and felt like a Soviet-era concrete monolith to budget cuts…..even though it was only completed two years ago! To add to the slightly underwhelming effect, it also had a half-completed car park at one end of the ground, which I guarantee is now the final resting place for at least a dozen Spanish mob hits. This was the sort of stadium that would give Daniel Levy sleepless nights. And the service wasn’t much better. Having queued for about 45 minutes to buy a couple of ham baguettes and a bottle of water, we were politely advised that the stadium wasn’t set up to take card payments and had, rather inexplicably for a dry stadium, totally run out of water….and there was still 30 minutes left before kick-off! Honestly, the entire stadium felt like it was still 2-3 years away from completion and the Champions League Final had just been pencilled in at the last minute. The car park is probably unfinished because the rest of the money was used to bribe UEFA in to hosting the match.
Anyway, first world problems aside, we were here for a game of football. After a predictably emotional build up and opening ceremony, we were ready to go…..and then my hangover kicked in. After about 23 seconds to be precise. The rest, as we all know, is history. Fun fact: If Champions League Finals were only played for 22 seconds, then we would have managed to draw this one! And for what it is worth, I thought we played OK for much of the game. Aside from Kieran Trippier’s consistently woeful positioning and Moussa Sissoko deciding to do star jumps in his own box, we didn’t make many mistakes and we certainly controlled possession for most of the match. Unfortunately, our big game players didn’t really show up. Dele Alli seemed to be playing as if he was being controlled by someone who had never played FIFA before (just passing the ball off the pitch and chipping the ball at the keeper when he meant to shoot) and Christian Eriksen’s head was clearly already on the other side of town. Son was decent and the two Harry’s seemed fit and worked their respective socks off, which is really all you can ask. Ultimately, we didn’t play badly…..we just didn’t play very well. And neither did Liverpool…….and that is the absolute spit in your face, kick you in the crotch reality of it. They were there for the taking.
Anyway, having suffered the ignominy of defeat, it was once again the Spanish Police Force’s time to shine. Seemingly intent on setting some sort of Guinness World Record for incompetence, they proceeded to direct us away from the perfectly good concrete walkway and into what can only be described as a quagmire of unlit marshland. Incredibly, we saw a number of elderly fans needing to be pulled out to safety and one of our guys came out with mud up to his bloody knees! To top things off, once we had completed yet another death march to the train station, the authorities packed us all in, turned off the air conditioning and then announced that the train had broken down. Despite the fact that Spurs had just played the biggest game in their history, I am sad to say that my enduring memory of that night will be of standing on the platform, feeling totally dejected, as the faint odour of sweat, unbridled despair and chorizo soured the night air.
But hey, you can’t win them all and I can honestly say that despite the result, I wouldn’t have missed if for the world. I got to go to a Spurs game with my dad and best mate for the first time in 9 years and managed to catch up and drink with so many fellow Spurs fans from around the globe. During my weekend in Madrid, I genuinely forged bonds and friendships that I remembered right up until I boarded the plane. Good times, amazing atmosphere and I think it is safe to say that everyone should be proud of our great club and our even better fans. Even in defeat, we sang and danced and bantered with the Liverpool supporters on the Sunday and we played our part in what was a brilliant advertisement for English football. So I guess that you can really look at this experience in one of two ways. It could have been a once in a lifetime experience to be savoured and reminisced upon with our grandchildren. Or maybe, just maybe……..much like Liverpool’s recent experiences, it could be a sign of bigger and better things to come under Mauricio Pochettino and his Champions League Finalists. Only time (and money) will tell, I suppose. But at least one thing is for bloody sure……I won’t be going back to Spain any time soon! COYS.