UEFA Champions League Final: Matchday Experience
First things first. I am a Chelsea fan, so apologies if bias and loud typing in CAPITALS gets in the way of your enjoyment of this piece, particularly during the bit where the Blues WIN THE EUROPEAN CUP – or Champions League as we now must call it.
OK, that administration out of the way, here we go. It all started when Chelsea somehow managed a 2-2 draw with Barcelona in the Nou Camp despite being down to 10 men with a two goal deficit. I watched the game in the pub, and afterwards ended up celebrating a bit and rewatching it on Sky+ when I got home.
By the time it got to 2am, I started to think ‘Shit, we’re in the final.’ I started scrabbling around for flight prices and hotels, but they had gone up three, fourfold in the time between Fernando Torres being left alone in Barcelona’s half and my investigations.
The club run travel schemes through Thomas Cook, and one of them involved a coach trip which left on Friday night from Stamford Bridge, arrived in Munich the next day and set off again after the final. This was the basket I put my eggs in. A couple of weeks later, it was confirmed. I was going to the Champions League final.
Before I knew it, it was Friday May 18, and time to go. I arrived at Stamford Bridge and started queuing up for my ticket and coach pass. There were loads of people there already, despite being an hour early. I did not know anybody going on the coach; plenty of friends and acquaintances were going to Munich, but flying instead or driving themselves.
I picked up my ticket – and soon enough was offered £1,000 for it. Obviously tempting, considering it had only cost me, including the travel and travel insurance, £230. But really, how many chances do you get to see your team in the Champions League final? It could be years before we make it back.
So I got on the coach and off we set, around 5.30pm. Our ETA for Munich was 12pm local time the next day (Germany being one hour ahead of us). I made new friends with the people around us and also the stewards on the trip. They were the club’s usual staff for matchdays. Lots of chat about the team, the hope, the expectation and the nerves.
A man near me had a betting slip his son gave him a year ago for Fathers Day, which had a selection of Chelsea winning the Champions League in 2011-12. We all hoped he’d get to pick up his winnings when he got home.
They put on DVDs to keep us occupied and before long it was time to get some sleep. But sleep was not forthcoming. It was about 7am when I finally dropped off, partway through Chelsea’s 2004-5 season being shown on the coach screen. We had just beaten Norwich 4-0. I woke up about 30 minutes later, just in time to see Makelele miss his penalty against Charlton and scruff in the rebound. Somehow that 30 minutes of sleep revitalised me – it was the power nap of all power naps.
When we got to Munich a few of us from the coach went into Marienplatz (the city centre). We came out opposite the impressive looking town hall, and went to get some breakfast, use the wi-fi from Starbucks and have a look around.
I soon met up with some friends who had made the trip the night before, and we took a walk around the baking city centre. Huge numbers of fans had already amassed by half 11, Chelsea and Bayern fans having a sing-off in the streets. Celery and beer were being thrown everywhere, but it was an excellent atmosphere. I was again approached by someone wanting a ticket, offering 4,000 euros for it, but no dice.
A few German fans confronted us on occasion, singing ‘Who the fuck is Chelsea?’ into our faces, but even then it was not threatening, just a little smug.
By the end of the night, they found out just ‘who the fuck is Chelsea’.
I then left my friends and walked to the Englischer Garden – a massive park, like Central Park in New York. People were enjoying the baking sun, with absolutely massive ‘pints’ of beer. Probably 2.5x the size of a normal pint. The benefit of these is that you don’t have to queue up as much. The downtime is the last third of the pint isn’t as cold as you’d like. They cost nine euros.
I met up in the garden with a friend and his dad, before meeting two more of his friends and going for some more drinks at a local bar. His dad pointed out that in Munich, he had seen just ONE overweight lady, whereas in England, at least half of the people you encounter would be considered so. We all decided we were probably going to move to Munich. It helped that every single barmaid in the place we were in must have been hired purely for their appearance. Not that they were bad at their jobs, either. (P.S. no photos, I didn’t want the Bundespolizei on my back.)
A few beers later and it was time to go. I wanted to have a look at the Olympic Stadium, which was turned into a fan park for the game – tickets cost five euros to get in – but these were now being sold for 400 euros. That much to watch on a TV screen shows how important football is. The U-Bahn was packed and it seemed foolish to head anywhere but to the Allianz Arena (called something else for the purposes of the Champions League, thanks to UEFA sponsorship agreements). So I abandoned the journey to the old ground and made my way to Frottmaning station.
There was still a great atmosphere outside, and no segregation inside, so I wandered through the Bayern parts of the stadium before getting a massive German pretzel (om nom nom) and heading off to the Chelsea side. Although my ticket was one of the cheapest available, the view was exceptional. The stadium was exquisite, probably the best I have visited. I met up with the boys from the coach and settled down.
We were all hoping Ryan Bertrand would start at left midfield, and he did. Before we knew it, the game was underway. Despite all the talk of it being a home fixture for Bayern, I didn’t really care until they unveiled a massive banner of the trophy, reading ‘Our City, Our Stadium, Our Trophy’. Hopefully that would galvanise Chelsea.
The match was horrifying; every Bayern attack seemed like it was destined to end in a goal. Eventually Thomas Muller did score and for the first time in the whole game, Chelsea fans were stunned into silence. Despite Bayern having two-thirds of the support in the ground, the Blues were just as loud, if not louder. But then something wonderful happened. Didier Drogba found the net with a bullet header and we went mental.
When Arjen Robben missed his penalty, it felt like so much had gone our way in this year’s competition, to lose it now would be impossible. Before the penalty shoot out, Chelsea fans sang ‘Three Little Birds’, by Bob Marley. It took a weight away from us. Until Juan Mata missed his spot kick, when the boulder dropped right back down.
David Luiz’s run up was terrifying. Manuel Neuer taking the penalty to make it 3-1 to Bayern seemed like it was taking the piss. Petr Cech diving the right way for each penalty but not making it was sickening. But then two saves later and Drogba had the chance to win the game.
It would be the pefect fairytale; the man who got sent off in Moscow, who would have taken the fifth kick there which John Terry famously missed, could redeem himself. Of course, he had already been redeemed with his late equaliser (ignoring the tonnes of important goals he had scored between Moscow and now). But when he did score, an elation so all-encompassing formed that I do not think I will experience anything like it again. People burst into tears of joy all around and the sound of delight did not die down for a long time. Who the fuck is Chelsea?
On the way here we were tooted and had flags shown to us by Bayern fans. That didn’t happen on the way back. Apparently the atmosphere in Munich turned a little less friendly after the game than it was before, but due to the terms of my coach trip, I didn’t get to experience it.
Instead, I was homeward bound, with 70 other people all thinking the same thing. This is one of the greatest days of our lives.