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Liverpool Fall at the Final Hurdle

They came from literally all corners of Europe (and the world) to turn Kiev (or Kyiv to the Ukrainians) red on Saturday night. For some, it was a nightmare journey of delays, mammoth coach journeys, stop off’s in places I’ve never heard of. We had all come with an expectation that Liverpool’s 6th European Cup was coming to Merseyside.

That expectation had come from watching a Liverpool side, under Jurgen Klopp, playing some of the most exciting football we had seen for years. The Champions League campaign had seen us score goals, goals and more goals on the way to the final.

The final hurdle

A small matter of Real Madrid was the final hurdle. A Real Madrid led by one of the greatest players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo. He was to be aided and abetted by world stars such as Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos. We weren’t scared, we accepted the challenge that on a one-off warm night in Eastern Europe we could conquer Europe yet again. It wasn’t meant to be.

We left Manchester Airport on the morning of the game after a few hours in the Executive Lounge. Why not treat ourselves we thought, it’s the final after all. Beers downed, prosecco quaffed and a nice breakfast to line the stomach for the day ahead. Beers were also sneaked out the lounge even after the young lady running the show ‘chased us’ to the entrance asking who was responsible. We shrugged our shoulders in perfect unison, whilst my cousin coolly walked past us and into the departure lounge.

The bus drove us across the airport tarmac. I say drove but with the songs going I’m sure it almost bounced to the plane steps. Standard team pictures taken at the foot of the plane and we were onboard the quite huge aircraft. The aircrew were French, and I think they were taken back a little with the party atmosphere, fuelled by sneaked on duty-free. Fair play though, they took everything in good spirits.

Absolutely zero chance of a quick nod with the songs being sung virtually all the way to Kyiv. The stewardess was amazed when we handed in our empty beer bottles on the descent down to Boryspil International Airport. She couldn’t get her head around how we had got the bottles, with tops intact, onboard the flight.

Party time

We got through security and got directed to the bus transfers by the local girls with UEFA tops on. It was all quite smooth and about 45 minutes later we arrived at the party in Shevchenko Park, named after a poet and not the footballer. Wi-Fi was on the bus, so messages were sent to the lads already over here and meeting places were agreed.

Shevchenko Park was completely nuts. All good fun but on a very warm day, the party atmosphere was cranked up to 10. Live music on the stage, lots of singing, lots of pyro and lots of beer, a wonderful atmosphere.

Two of us broke off from our group to search for some more beer and the locals tried to rip us by trying to charge us a fortune for 12 cans. We regrouped and wandered down the hill to the supermarket and we picked up a crate of 24 for half the price and parked ourselves on a wall.

I wasn’t in Kyiv that long, but the lasting impressions are that it’s a bit of an oddball place. Down the main street we watched some sort of woman’s march, before a few (what looked like) local Ultras tried to surround us, so we slid back towards the main crowd at the bottom of the hill with our cans. A man came over with a live lizard on his head, never seen that before. Kyiv seems a mixture of huge riches and obscene poverty.

Kick-off moves closer

We made our way towards the ground and then parked ourselves up outside a bar close to the ground to finish our beer, before heading into the concourse to take our usual group pictures. The security wasn’t overzealous, and I saw at least a few fans blag their way inside.

Inside the ground, it was at least 2/3rds red, with Real Madrid mostly parked behind the goal in their allocated end. If it was a battle of the fans (not fighting by the way), Liverpool would have won easily.

I needed the toilet after a long day of travel, shit food and beer. However, I hadn’t realised the toilet paper had run out after I had finished what I was doing. The kind, fellow Liverpool supporter, in the next cubicle realised my predicament and passed a roll under to my grateful hands. What a lifesaver, whoever it was.

The game kicks off and Liverpool start superbly, and look the most dangerous side despite any real, clear-cut chances. At least we haven’t frozen on the big stage. Then Ramos nobbles Mo Salah. Salah departs clutching his shoulder and the Liverpool end realise our talisman will play no part in proceedings. Real take charge and we ‘hang on’ for half-time to regroup.

What can I say about the 2nd half that’s not already been said? Loris Karius has his worst half of football that he will ever have and Gareth Bale scores probably the best goal ever that I’ve seen live. In between, Sadio Mane had tapped home a downward header from Dejan Lovren to give us hope and set of some mad celebrations in the Liverpool end. Mane had also hit the post with hope sapping away. It wasn’t meant to be.

Lack of strength in depth

The result highlighted the gulf in squad depth between the two teams and what is needed for success at the highest level. We had introduced a half-fit Adam Lallana from the bench to replace the irreplaceable Salah and we then threw on the departing Emre Can late on as the game slipped away. Madrid brought on Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio (even though it was only for a few minutes), both worth over £100 million in today’s market!!

We left the stadium with a feeling of what might have been. Just outside the stadium, the strange locals were at it again. A mad local, easily over 6 foot-tall and clearly powered by the local steroids, wanted to fight anybody who stepped forward. He was quickly ignored, and we made our way back through the city to Shevchenko Park and the bus back to the airport.

The transfer went surprisingly smoothly, and we were soon back at the airport. Drinks and eats were purchased with the last of our hryvnia’s, before a long, frustrating wait for our 2-hour delayed plane, which had seemingly gone missing (according to the desk girls).

The journey back to Manchester was much quieter than the outgoing journey. You just wanted to be home in your own bed now.

Liverpool had done us proud in Champions League. The final was just a step too far. Anything that could have gone wrong probably did. You need a bit of luck to win trophies like this, the Reds had none. The support from the travelling Reds was extraordinary. I sat on that plane on the way home and smiled to myself. I wouldn’t want to support any other team in the world.