One Chelsea fan's personal journey in Munich was as dramatic as the team's exploits on the Allianz Arena turf:
On Sunday evening I found myself sat in the press box of the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, covering the Italian Cup Final. It hadn’t been a great evening. I’d arrived about two hours before kick-off to sort myself out and write this piece about the previous night’s magic, trying to digest what I’d witnessed, and how I’d come to witness it. But instead the stadium wi-fi wasn’t working, my mobile wouldn’t let me call the sports desk in England and I spent most of the pre-match period frantically emailing my editors on my phone, telling them of my plight; at this rate I’d be writing the match report on my mobile. I’d been up since half six, had a crippling and deeply embarrassing panic attack on the flight back to Rome, and was shaking with tiredness and emotional distress. An email arrived: ‘stadium wi-fi never works. You should always bring a dongle or something with 3G’. (If any budding journalists are reading this, by the way, take heed. That way you won’t make yourself look like such an absolute amateur when your time comes.) Around me Juventus and Napoli fans were taunting each other, with the latter throwing a platoon’s worth of smoke bombs from the curva nord. I went downstairs to the help desk, telling them that without a working internet connection its quite hard for us to do our jobs.
‘Yep,’ came the reply.
‘Well what am I supposed to do? I would have been better off watching the game at home!’ A received a disinterested shrug of the shoulders as a response.
‘Do you at least have a phone I can use to call London?’
‘You’re a bunch of f*cking incompetents!’ I wailed, as I staggered off to the bar. As if not offering us hacks a working internet connection wasn’t enough, these b**tards hadn’t even laid on a spread! How am I supposed to focus when I have to pay for sandwiches? All this queuing and rummaging around in my pockets was making me sick with rage, and it was not good for my state of mind. I needed time to reflect before getting on with the extremely serious job of writing about football for money. Time to digest...
Outside the pub were some right mutants; pumped up muscle men wired on coke and plastered in Union Jack tattoos
I’d booked my flights to Munich and hotel almost as soon as we knocked out Barcelona, hoping to pick up a ticket from somewhere, and preparing myself to lay out an eye-watering sum of money; tickets had been changing hands for over two grand in the City as soon as they were released. I spent the next couple of weeks getting in touch with anyone who I thought might know where to get a ticket, season ticket holders who weren’t going, and got so close to getting my hands on one before missing out that I prepared myself to be watching it in a pub surrounded by Bayern fans. On the flight over I bumped into a friend of my fiancé, who slaves away doing fan initiative stuff for Football Supporters Europe. He was a guest of the ‘Uefa Family’, and he could hardly hide his shame at that fact. As we parted at the airport he gave me his number, and promised to let me know if he could get another one off Platini’s gang of freeloaders. I didn’t pin much hope on that happening.
The news got worse when I arrived in town at a pub on the corner of Odeonplatz. My dad had been talking to three fans who’d been in Munich for three days and not even seen a single ticket. Every now and again you’d see someone standing outside a pub, or stood on wall, with a sign round their neck written in English and German: ‘need a ticket’. My cousin had been smart enough to put his in the safe in his hotel, worried about being mugged. Outside the pub were some right mutants; pumped up muscle men wired on coke and plastered in Union Jack tattoos, while in the gardens out the back a large group had congregated on the tables, leading chants and seeing how many pint glasses they could balance on each other before they toppled over. Bayern fans were mixing freely and happily without any trouble, until a couple of idiots threw glasses (they were plastic, thankfully) at a couple of passing Bavarians. Quick as a flash a phalanx of machine gun-toting police scattered the crowd, with those responsible for the aggravation doing their usual trick of melting away, leaving others with the potential backlash.
There’s always been a tension in Chelsea’s support. Back in the 70s the Shed would sometimes break out into fighting as fans, bored of the pitiful football on display, would goad each other about who ran from who and when, and I’ve heard loads of reports of in-fighting on away trips. Frankly there are some fans of ours who I wouldn’t cross the street to p*ss on: English nationalists, anti-Semites, fat middle-aged louts who think that because they were there when we were sh*t they have the right to lecture the rest of us about ‘proper support’. The same people who boo the team off at half-time when things aren’t going right. Well it was my good fortune to bump into a couple of these specimens during the interminable wait for a train to the ground. We’d just rushed our way through a police line blocking us from getting to the platform, when on arrival we were greeted by three middle-aged men complaining that no-one was singing loud enough – in a U-Bahn station. One of them, decked out in full fat knacker kit of pink polo top, ill-fitting jeans and baseball cap, started on a friend of mine for this reason, basically berating him for being young.
‘Why aren’t you singing?’
‘You look about 12, you do.’
And so on. After pulling one of them away from my mate, they turned on me with a flurry of ‘c*nts’ and ‘w*nkers’. I shoved one of them, another one of them tried to get me in a headlock, and then a stand-off. At this point my cousin turns to me and explains that if I get into a row and he gets arrested after helping me out, he’s going to kick the sh*t out of me himself, so it was lucky that the police riot showed up and separated us, before plonking us on different carriages. It’s not often you can say that the police saved you from two beatings, after all.
My heart sank, and I cursed the Germans and their commitment to doing things right
After all that we found ourselves outside the ground, with kick-off minutes away, and faced with another line of police. And no ticket. My cousin, who’d got his through work, slipped into the crowd and disappeared, while I took stock of the situation: the match had just kicked off; I had no ticket; and I was at least 45 minutes away from the centre of town. I looked at the waves of people still arriving outside, and then looked at the police. They were busy asking that everyone had their tickets in the air, while checking for weapons or flares or celery. I looked at the 15 minute walk back to the U-Bahn, and thought: ‘f*ck it’. I slipped myself between two unsuspecting punters and squeezed past the line, only to be faced with turnstiles. My heart sank, and I cursed the Germans and their commitment to doing things right. Behind the turnstile there were stewards checking tickets and behind them another line of police. Now I was genuinely concerned about being arrested, and having to call my bosses to say that they might have to get someone else to cover the match tomorrow – how to phrase that without getting sacked? I strolled along the line of turnstiles; no-one so much as gave me a glance as I sized up my route, and I soon glimpsed a very bored looking young lady, who was staring into space as she waved people past her. My eyes narrowed and my heart thumped. Now or never Daley – GO! As a Bayern fan walked through I attached myself to him, rolling with the bars, only to feel a clunk and a tug at my foot.
I was stuck.
In the split second before I managed to free myself I closed my eyes and expected a brusque ‘HALT’, and a night in the cells, or at least a clump over the head. But there was no shout, and soon realised that the last line of police were only checking bags. I walked straight through them, looking straight ahead and ready to run faster than I’d ever run before, finding myself right behind the Bayern terracing, and free from the grip of Platini’s foot soldiers. Beyond the steps leading to the seats I could see the blurry blue of our end, while a bouncing drumbeat and powerful hand-clapping of Bayerns ultras led the ground in a slow, rumbling chant, and I carried on my brisk walk around the ground, expecting to see another line separating away fans from home. Nothing. I squeezed past the stewards helping fellow late-arrivers find their seats, and found the first space I could. Then it dawned on me.
I’d just bunked into the Champions League final. I couldn’t believe my luck.
This was 130 minutes of sheer terror alleviated by two moments of incredible relief, like a radiator being bled, or storing up a w*nk for a fortnight
To my left there was a stubby, nerdy looking chap, giving me a funny look. I wouldn’t have noticed had I not looked down, as he was about nipple high on me, but those were definitely evils he was giving me.
‘Just so you know,’ he piped up, ‘you’re in my brother’s space. He was mugged and had his ticket nicked, so I don’t know how you got it, but I hope your happy with what you did.’
I’d not heard about any muggings over the course of the day, in fact the atmosphere in town was mostly extremely friendly, if boisterous. But here was one, maybe the only one, who’d come over here and had his ticket nicked. I didn’t bother to find out whether it had been a fellow Chelsea fan who’d robbed him, because I was too busy spluttering my denials. I was half expecting him to run to the police and have me nicked, so he had to know that I wasn’t responsible. The problem was that I was in such a state of shock about getting in that my denials came across as half-deranged, like a man who was just protesting too much.
‘WHAT??? I would NEVER do such a thing!!!!’ I raved. ‘I got in with a sponsor, but wanted to be with the Chelsea fans.’
Bad bullsh*t of course, but my brain was so fried and my sense of paranoia so elevated that I didn’t want to tell him that I’d bunked in, lest he grassed me to the police. He had that sort of weasely rule-Nazi look about him, and he didn’t believe a word I was saying.
‘You can check me for his ticket if you want!’ (Yes, I really said this.)
‘What happened?!!! That’s SUCH a SHAME!’
My brain meanwhile was saying ‘shut the f*ck up you imbecile, we’ve come too far for you to f*ck it up now’, but something, somewhere between my ears was telling me to carry on with this childish diatribe. I looked like I had something to hide, and the fact that I did, but that it was something different to what he thought I was hiding made no difference to my prospects of staying in the ground. In the meantime there was a match going on, and going badly. Bayern were pitching up tents in our half, and it wasn’t helping my behaviour one bit. Apart from desperately trying to convince my new companion of my innocence, I was letting out a series of growls and grunts and expletives in reaction to our non-performance, until half-time eventually came and gave me my way out. I went to the bar – first asking in a super nice fashion if matey boy wanted anything – and then made my escape. I watched the rest of the game down in the front row, in a state or terror and anxiety.
I’ve written before on here about our FA Cup game with Liverpool in 1997, and what it meant to the fans (me) and the club. That’s still the key match in the modern era, as far as I’m concerned, and was far more enjoyable as a game – the second half was 45 minutes of pure, unadulterated joy. Certainty. This was 130 minutes of sheer terror alleviated by two moments of incredible relief, like a radiator being bled, or storing up a w*nk for a fortnight. I wouldn’t relive that match again if you paid me – but we did it, and I was there, sticking two fingers firmly up at the ‘Uefa family’ in the process.
On my way home from the match on Sunday, after suffering the interminable banalities that football managers offer the press post-match, I somehow managed to find my way back across the city to my flat on Rome’s ropey public transport. The buses were full of celebrating Napoli fans, who’d just seen their team win their first trophy in over two decades, beating the ‘invincible’ Juventus in the process. As I waited on a night bus home from the centre of town, a small group of Neapolitans got on board. They couldn’t have been any older than me, and obviously lived in Rome, displaced like so many others like them in the search for work. They spoke in thick dialect, but their faces said everything: confused relief – once you get the monkey off your back, what do you do next? I felt the same after winning the FA Cup, and I felt the same on Saturday night. That strange combination of emptiness and joy, a weird kind of desolation. The end of an era.
At a certain point one of them caught on that I was watching them. Maybe he made me for a fellow Napolitano, although I doubt it. We caught each other’s eye, and he must have seen the same look on my face, because he smiled a knowing smile. And we understood each other.
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