Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Athens

21st-25th May 2007

The end of the 2006/07 football season saw Liverpool once again beat the odds and make the European Champions League Final in Athens. After knocking out Barcelona in the second round, the draw was made that very much favoured us from the quarter finals onwards. PSV away then at home, followed by Chelsea in the semi finals, at the Bridge first and then at Anfield. It was never going to be easy but I was confident that the Anfield factor in both second legs would be the key to us making the final. So after seeing the draw, I booked flights and a hotel room for two between Monday 21st May and Friday 25th. I was determined to be there and make a week of it. At the time of booking I was with Emma but made it clear to her I wouldn’t be taking her as this was no ordinary match and needed hardcore supporters to be present, plus we couldn’t really afford to pay for the two of us to go, even myself was a stretch.

Speaking to Martin online, he really wanted to go and persuaded me to get the tickets for him too. The flights and hotel came to just £150 each so he was happy enough with that so then I kept my eyes peeled for tickets. Just a couple of days after booking the flights, 2 tickets came up on eBay Australia that had enough to convince me they were legitimate and at £500 each, I snapped them up. It was a lot to pay for a football ticket you may say but I was ok with that price as in Istanbul 2 years earlier, tickets were sold at an average of £1k each. I told Martin of the tickets and he was surprised at the price but still said he was ok to go. We still had to see of PSV and Chelsea at this stage as well as wait for the tickets to arrive but I was confident in it all and if we didn’t qualify I would’ve got more than my money back for them, selling them to Chav’s probably.

In the end we destroyed PSV and edged past Chelsea in another one of those memorable matches that will live with all reds forever. I’ll always remember my reaction to Dirk Kuyt's winning penalty as I was at the local with Milly and Stu and as soon as he rippled the net, I did a full lap – of the gents! How strange. It was the closest door to me and I just felt I had to burst through something before running back into the pub screaming “I’m going to Greece!”



The next day was even funnier as I went to the same outlet to watch the Man United v AC Milan semi final to determine who we would be facing in Athens. I bravely wore my Milan shirt (under my jacket) as I thought the pub wouldn’t be full of Manc's. How wrong could I be? It was standing room only as the pub was rammed with the filth so I kept the shirt well out of view until the end when it was clear United would be going out and a few guys were stood next to me were winding up the United fans so I joined in showing my shirt only to receive daggers from every possible angle. I suddenly didn’t feel safe, especially when the other guys left leaving me to face the wrath. Surprisingly, no-one in the pub said anything and most of them left soon after. I had a feeling they expected me to be leaving sometime soon but I thought I’d play it safe and have another drink to give them enough time to forgive and forget. It didn’t work. I left the pub about half an hour later and noticed a large gathering to the left of the door. I didn’t need to be told twice who they were and sprinted across the road in the direction of my car, hurdling a 3 foot barrier on the way. A few bricks and stones hurtled past me, as did a glass bottle which smashed a yard away from my feet and a stray trainer whizzed past my head. I was lucky not to be hit by anything but I didn’t look back to see if anyone was gaining on me and ran half the way across the town before I felt safe enough to stop. I’d gone well past my car as I thought I would be caught if I’d’ve stopped to get into it so ran past it. I waited a while longer and then hid in the shadows up to my car before getting out of there, luckily in one piece!

So it was Liverpool v Milan again in a repeat of the 2005 final. I was very much looking forward to it. Martin soon made it clear that he would be letting me down with the tickets. I’d be surprised if he had any intention of coming at all. Why I was surprised is beyond me, that lad constantly lets me down. I advertised the tickets on unofficial Liverpool websites and had many takers for them. I really wanted to go with someone I knew but no-one could get the time off or afford what I was prepared to pay.

I was emailed and had numerous conversations with a guy called Steve Brown from Liverpool who I eventually met and sold the tickets too. He drove to mine on the eve of the flight and stayed over so it cut his journey down by a third the following day so he didn’t need to go from Liverpool – Gatwick all at once. I drove us to the airport first thing Monday and the flight got us to Greece by about 9pm Greek time. At the airport, whilst attempting to find someone to take us to our hotel we bumped into a fellow scouser by the name of Graham Osborne, who just happened to be staying in a hotel yards from ours so we split the cab fare and booked into the hotel.



It was only a small room but it would do us for the week. We then got Graham booked into his hotel before going to sample the local ale. It was fairly late when we were ready for our first drink and we’d already said we would probably only stay in the vicinity of the hotels on the first night as we were some way out of the centre of Athens, where we had planned to spend the majority of the week. We were then told by an old drunk Ozzie by the name of Pete Farmer, who insisted on buying all our drinks that night that the night was still young and Greek nightlife tended to go on until the very early hours of the morning. When the bar we were in closed at 12:30, we were well in the mood for a good night out so we jumped back into a taxi and headed for the town centre.

Steve and Graham knew of Syntagma Square where all the reds fans would be meeting up on the days before and after the match so we headed for their in the hope that there would already be a few fellow reds there. We weren’t disappointed as just a few hundred yards before we saw them, we certainly heard them. The noise I thought was quite deafening as Liverpool songs echoed around the city but there were only about 500 fans there that night, which was nothing compared to the 15,000 that would occupy that patch of concrete over the next 4 days. We had a couple of beers before joining in with the singing. I even joined in on a 20 v 20 football match on the concrete, as did some madhead scouser who played in bare feet and then wondered why his feet were cut as he was running over a ton of broken glass. It didn’t stop him though!

We stayed at Syntagma Square until about 5am and were in fact the very last ones to leave. We’d sung ourselves stupid and I certainly suffered the next day as my voice was well gone. My head wasn’t feeling too clever either thanks to the €5 a pint official UEFA beer. They could do one if they thought we were paying that for the rest of the week. The following nights we found a place to buy cans for €1 each although for the rest of the week I didn’t drink an awful lot. Graham was similar to me in that he didn’t drink much too for the rest of the week but it was ok as Steve drank enough for the 3 of us!



The second day we got up and met Graham at an outdoor restaurant for breakfast. Had a slap up meal of kebabs. I had to get used to eating them very quickly! It was pretty much the only thing I ate over there. We then headed straight back into Athens city centre and found Syntagma Square once again. I’d taken my banner in the hope of finding a good spec but was surprised to see the mass of red already there. There wasn’t an inch for me to hang my banner up. We stood around singing and drinking for a while and then the heavens opened. It hammered it down constantly for well over an hour. It was funny to see all the fans diving for cover and every inch of shade was taken up by scousers, all standing on top of each other. There was also the hardcore element who decided this was the perfect opportunity for a bit of half naked rain dancing, which is always fun to see! We also enjoyed the game of ‘tip the gallons of water collating on the roof covers on top of the posh twats doing there best to stay dry!’ Many of the reactions were really funny as they thought they were under the covers enough to be safe from the rain so let their brollies down, only to be hit by a huge truckload of water from above. Most were on good spirits about it but some were really angry, but what were they going to say to a few thousand scousers?

When it dried up I found a place to hang my banner, between 2 trees in the open and then we had a walk around the city. Near the end of the day we decided to have a walk up to the Acropolis but it was closed for spectators but we still got a good sight of it from the bottom of the hill. We went back to Syntagma Square for a good few hours of singing and beer swilling, it was cool to see the passion amongst the crowd and the large banners being hung left right and centre. It was a laugh to see a huge banner attempting to be hung across the main steps on the square as it took a few guys over an hour to get it hung across, only to find out they’d hung it upside down and had to start again! It was well worth the wait as the word “Carraghercules” was hung above the fans to a huge roar and lots more singing.

After a while we decided to venture a little further into the town when we heard a great deal of singing coming from a side street. I initially thought it may have been the Milan supporters but it was another few thousand reds fans outside of a bar. The singing was extremely loud and constant so we stayed there until the early hours of the morning. It was a great night and the spirits were high ready for the final. We stayed in Athens until quite late before heading back to the hotel ready for the big day.



On Wednesday morning, we woke eager for the day to hastily go by ready for the action to start tonight. After a kebab breakfast we headed to Syntagma Square once more for a day of constant singing and drinking. We met up with a few of Graham’s friends who had arrived that morning hoping find a ticket for the game at some point during the day. The weather was glorious although there was a brief spell of heavy rain which was soon forgotten about once the intense heat from the sun arrived. The tension in the air was clear and at one point the mass crowd who had been very well behaved throughout the week looked to be getting out of control at one point when one drunk fan climbed a giant plant pot only to be greeted with a heavy barrage of glass bottles and near-full cans being hurtled his way. Not just his way but as this plant pot was in the middle of the crowd, those bottles and cans that didn’t hit him as well as many that did found there way into the crowd and it wasn’t a pretty scene at all. A few fists were thrown and it got quite scary but it lasted only about ten minutes before everything calmed down and the songs got underway again.

Graham’s mates were up on the steps that looked down on the sea of red and this was where the majority of the more vocal support was standing. We made our way up the steps to Graham’s mates and had a bit of a sing and drink with them whilst we waited for the clock to tick down. It was at this point that one of the funniest things I have ever seen occurred. Syntagma Square is surrounded by large hotels, up to 12 or more stories high, as well as being below ground level to the hotels itself and on the square was huge trees that towered above the hotels, so were at least 300 feet high. As the Liverpool fans sang, drank and chatted amongst themselves in the square, all of a sudden there was a great deal of laughs and pointing to the tops of one of the trees where a crazy Liverpool fan had climbed to the very peak of the highest tree in the square. He stayed up there for a good half an hour, swaying around; singing and receiving many songs aimed his way. It was pretty hilarious.

We had a walk to a different section of the town centre, famously called Plaka, where there were many little streets with many restaurants all together trying there best for the custom. We went into one for a nice meal but the atmosphere in this section of the crowd felt different to closer to Syntagma Square and it was soon apparent that we weren’t alone in that a good portion of the people around us were Milanese. I say the atmosphere around us was different wasn’t a bad thing, it was actually quite exciting and fun to see the two sets of fans mix, eating together, singing and talking with each other. There wasn’t any trouble whatsoever.



During the day, my beliefs on how the match was going to pan out went from very confident at our chances to lesser so as the numbers of Milan fans seemed higher than expected and they were all in very buoyant mood. Something about what I was feeling made it feel like it was going to be their day. Had 2005 not happened, I’d probably be more confident in the reds but with us having stole the trophy from their clutches just 2 years ago, they would certainly be up for revenge and would’ve learned from the mistakes made in Istanbul.

The best part of the day and the week for me came when we began to make our way to the stadium, via the tube. We left quite early, a good few hours before kick off but we weren’t the only ones as hundreds, if not thousands of reds began to make the journey to the ground. The atmosphere was electric as sound bounced off every marble tiled wall underground and the songs echoed down every tunnel. The first half of the walk to the first train mainly consisted of reds fans but as we approached the desired platform, we were joined suddenly by a mass of Italians so the banter really began there as song after song were sang at high voice aimed at the rivals, it was a great sight.

We got to the ground early and it wasn’t busy at all. The first thing we noticed was the heavy armed forces present to eradicate any trouble early as it was expected many fans were turning up without tickets hoping to find a way into the ground. From what we went through to get inside the stadiums perimeter it felt impossible as we went through numerous checkpoints, most well marshalled by the Greek army and police force. All tickets were scanned, punched and scanned again to check for forgeries and we were excited once we’d managed to get past all the checks and we could relax knowing we were in and the tickets were real etc.



We had a walk around the outside of the stadium before we went through the final checks that segregated each section and as Graham was in a different section to us, we arranged to meet on the other side of the check, just before we entered the stadium. There was still a good few hours until kick off and although we were stood with reds fans in the Liverpool end, I could hear the Milan fans already inside the ground. This added to the feeling that a defeat seamed like the only outcome of today’s match. I was still determined to enjoy it though and who knows what will happen on the night. After meeting Graham on the other side of the final checkpoint and queuing up for a long time for an expensive coke, Graham decided to go and take his banner and get it hung over the railings before coming back out to us so we could walk around to our section for me to hang mine up. Whilst Graham was in the stadium, we noticed the large amount of reds fans that had begun to arrive and their seemed a sense of urgency about the police and more and more began to arrive. Suddenly a gate was pushed aside and thousands of ticket-less fans surged inside bursting every gate to get inside the ground and get seated as soon as possible. I made sure my ticket was well out of sight as the crowd flew past me and Steve.

There were hundreds if not a couple of thousands that had got into the stadium for nothing and this resulted in the closure of many of the gates, including the one Graham had just came out from so he was stuck outside the ground. He walked around to our gate with us which were further round the ground than the masses had gone so our gate was still open so Graham decided to find a seat to sit next to us for the match. I was surprised to see just how far from the Liverpool end we were sat, in fact we were very close to the Milan end and even our section had quite a lot of Milanese in it. We got my banner hung right underneath a TV camera, so there was no chance it was getting spotted unfortunately and made our way back to the seats. The noise from the Milan fans was booming whilst we could barely make out what the reds fans were singing as they were quite far away and the openness of the stadium meant the noise didn’t travel well. Graham decided he was going to find a way back to the Liverpool end by hurdling the mediocre 2 foot section barriers all the way around the ground.

The action began finally after a long wait and Liverpool were by far the better team in the first half. The line up was confusing as I was looking forward to Steve Gerrard squaring up against Rene Gattusso in the centre of midfield but Gerrard was being played as a striker alongside Kuyt which made no sense to me. Pennant had a belter on the right wing and the defence was solid, as was Mascherano in centre midfield. Our weakest player was Bolo Zenden at left midfield who seemed to lose the ball every time he got it. The crowd were screaming for us to get Kewell on, which makes a change! Had Kewell started, I believe we would’ve won that match as their back four seamed weak and were being run ragged by Pennant, Kuyt and Gerrard. Had Zenden been on form I’m positive we’d be 2 goals up by half time.



It was however Milan who went a goal up right on the stroke of half time as Alonso gave away a sloppy free kick on the edge of the box that Pirlo took. Inzaghi ran across the goalkeepers’ line when the free kick was taken and a lucky deflection off his arm put Milan 1-0 up. Heads were down at half time but the songs were still sung in the Liverpool end but where we sat it was the Milanese that was making all the noise.

Changes were eventually made in the second half and we had chances to get back on level terms but we failed to take them. A second Inzaghi goal seemed to kill us off and although a Dirk Kuyt header two minutes from time gave us some hope, the match soon ended and the cup was lost. We applauded the Milan and Liverpool players and stopped for the presentation and a short while after as the reds gave us a lap of honour but it was disappointing as we were more than capable of winning on the day, we just didn’t take our chances and made too many mistakes. We left the ground and met back up with Graham and spoke about what might have been. Graham was still in high spirits and did his best to gee us up by saying at least we’re in Greece and we’ve just been to a Champions League final whilst everyone back at home watched it on TV and have to get up for work in the morning.

We got the tube back to the city centre, whilst a Greek citizen did his best to get his head pounded by winding up every scouser in sight. Brave or stupid?! Either way he got off the train in one piece. We headed back to the side street where we’d spent the previous night hoping there be a big gathering again but it wasn’t to be as most people returning did so with there heads dragging along the floor. Graham thought it was a good idea to jump in a cab and get us all to a strip club. I wasn’t best impressed with that idea as I’d just got with Milly and we were pretty serious and it’s certainly not something I’d consider doing for fun but I was dragged along basically cos the other two were well up for it. Oh well, I didn’t have to get involved, I could just think of it as a bar. We went into one and found a table but there were no girls on the stage. That was fine by me but clearly not Graham or Steve who had just paid €30 to get us all in and a drink. Graham was well kicking off at everyone in sight, he wanted to see some dancers, whilst Steve tried his luck with every prosy in sight. We were in there between 2 to 3 hours and Steve spent the whole time trying it on with 3 different ladies – having no luck with any of them. Graham spent the first hour finding out where all the dancers were whilst I sat chatting to a few fellow scousers. After it was clear that there would be no dancing, I chucked Graham my banner and took over the strip club! The other reds joined Graham and Steve on the stage and we sang a few Liverpool songs and made a good night of it before we left for the hotel, but not before Graham had pretty much gave the owner of the bar a piece of his mind for the lack of action!



Thursday and Friday seemed pretty dull in comparison to the previous 3 days as Syntagma Square remained almost empty other than a mass of crushed cans and broken glass bottles scattered on the floor. We decided to make the last full day more of a sight seeing day and headed to different areas of the city, closer to our hotel. As we were having breakfast, Pete Farmer, the drunken Ozzie came and sat with us and told us of good venues so we invited him along with us. We hopped on a bus and went to the village just down the road from us where we found a really nice, quiet bar and sat around chatting and having a few beers there, all on Pete who had had a good win on the Ozzie Football that night. He was a professional gambler and apparently had made quite a success of it, spending 6 months a year in Greece with his winnings. Nice work if you can get it! We then found a pleasant restaurant where Pete treated us to a few more beers and a nice Greek salad. A few beers later and Pete was well on his way so we headed back to the hotel in the early evening and decided to spend that night in the main town next to the hotel. It had begun to rain quite heavily and Pete was going to join us for some drinks in the next town but on the bus on the way he changed his mind and jumped off the bus in the pouring rain, right into a knee-high puddle before walking in the opposite direction to the hotel. He was totally hammered and we never saw him again. I worry to this day what happened to him and hope he’s ok!

We got off the bus in Voula and due to the heavy rain jumped into the nearest bar but after reading the prices of drinks, soon bailed to find another. We found a quiet bar that still looked fairly expensive but opted to go in for one, mainly as Graham and Steve both needed the toilet. I ordered a round of beers for us and we also got some free shot and free crisps. Graham got talking to a couple of reds fans from Brighton on the table next to us whilst I watched some of the footage I had taken on the video camera I borrowed from work. I showed the tree-boy clips to the Brighton guys before it went to the clips I took of Steve trying to pull the prozy’s. He wasn’t impressed after watching it, probably through embarrassment and he asked me to delete it. I said no but he got a bit stroppy so I pretended to delete it and he noticed and wanted to delete it himself. He tried to snatch the camera off me so I pulled it away from him and because he was being a total arse about it; he grabbed me by the scruff of my top and told me to delete it. I pushed his hands off my top and shoved him off his stool and was very close to kicking the prick in the chest but kept my cool and just told him if he touched me again I’d cave his skull in!

I kept my distance from him from the rest of the time there and stayed with Graham, who was sound and I’m really glad he was over there and that we’d met him. We had another drink in that bar before going to another one where there were a few more reds fans. One of them, a guy called Tony, was an ex military man who was telling us of his stories from the match. He’d managed to blag his way into the ground by printing his own ticket and even his own steward’s jacket and pretended to be a steward! He’d not only got into the ground but managed to watch the entire final from just 10 yards behind one of the goals at the Liverpool end! Classic! We had an awesome time in that bar, talking to Tony as well as reminiscing about our memories of the club. It was well past 7am when we left for the bus back to the hotel. That was a fun journey as we were all smartened up after a night out and we were all quite wide awake whilst the rest of the bus was filled with knackered people just on their way to work.



I slept till well after midday on the last day before getting up and packing all my stuff up and meeting Steve and Graham at the outdoor restaurant for some lunch before heading back to the hotel to get Steve’s gear all packed up. As we were leaving the hotel, the guy on the counter claimed because we had stayed past the 12pm checking out time, we owed him €20 but the day before we asked if we could keep the room until 6pm as our flights weren’t until late in the evening and had paid an extra €40 to keep it, so if it was supposed to only be €20, we asked for the other half back. The guy went to speak to the owner, who we had paid the money to before coming back over 20 minutes later claiming it should be €60 and we still owed them €20. We weren’t having that, they were out for every penny they could get so we stormed out, throwing the keys at them and giving them a few choice words to remember us by!

Things were still a little awkward between me and Steve after the incident the night before and became even more so when Graham left us at the airport to catch his flight, about an hour before ours was due. We sat in silence for a while so I went and bought a paper. Then we checked onto the flight and it wasn’t until we sat down on the plane that we got talking again and in fact the 4 hour flight whizzed past as we talked about allsorts, from football to politics. Then on the drive up from Gatwick airport the talk continued all the way home as we discussed gathering all the footage from the trip together to make a decent video of our time there. I still have to do this but I’m sure I’ll get around to it at some stage. Steve grabbed a few hours’ kip when we got home but as it was 7am I thought I’d stay up so I could see Milly asap.

Click here to see more photo's from Athens

1 comment:

gherlashdawn said...

Athens is perfect for everyone! It full of great schools for babies on up to UGA. America offers a significant number of temporary and permanent migration options for those looking to live and work in America. A fab independent music scene, great food, and it's close enough to Atlanta to enjoy stuff over there but you can come back to normalcy in under and hour.