Part 1 -Pre-match
I was meant to go home on Tuesday, with flights booked to Lublin, Poland, then down to Warsaw and back to Liverpool. However – and I wasn’t alone in this – a rogue taxi driver and accomplices meant we missed our plane. Passports and money were robbed in broad daylight by a corrupt minority. Let’s not tar all with the same brush. Practically all our hosts welcomed us with open arms and shared an incredible few days in Ukraine.
Kyiv and Liverpool should now be twinned. Scouse Mayor Anderson should sail from the Mersey estuary down to the majestic Dnipro River with a Liverpool flag to wrap up the locals and protect them from their intense winter cold.
It’s been an epic journey; an odyssey, in fact. A plane from John Lennon Airport last Wednesday and a lovely warm evening in Warsaw was a precursor to the main event. If you haven’t been there you should make it your business to visit – to admire the beautiful squares and spires typical of so many European cities in that neck of the woods. Brexit should be officially branded a profanity; the decision to leave Europe motivated by those with no sense of community with our friends across the Channel and North Sea. Britain, the Sceptered Isle? No, instead a septic island looking inwards and never finding its own fault.
The train passage from Warsaw was hot, long and hard; almost 14 hours with a brief hour stop-off near the Ukranian border. Thanks to my travelling companions, Red sisters Emily and Amy, Graham – who I first met queuing for final tickets with another mate Ashy – and new mates, young Wirralites Dan and Lewis, and finally Andrew from Woolton, the train ride was a joy.
The green expanse of the Polish countryside – and its fertile black earth coveted once by Adolf Hitler – reminded that wars are fought with money and Earth’s natural resources at the root of such evil.
Eventually, getting off at Kyiv station, to be met by my friend and Kop neighbour, Gary Shaw felt like Journey’s End, but it was only the start.
Within an hour, with the tired girls sloping off to rest, Gary and I were in dingy underground bars sipping cloudy lagers while realising the Scouse annexation of Kyiv was already half complete. The famous “Wine for my men, we ride at dawn” banner hung from a wall. My flag, representing the Kop’s “306 Lift Crew” was too big for the cellar but out it came anyway taking half of Ukraines’ glass supply with it. Not so much “Boom” as “Smash”.
Outside I met the Anfield Wrap’s chief football strategist, Sean Rogers making friend with locals. We hugged and said goodnight, as you do when you see a friendly face thousands of miles from home.
Two pints was enough and we headed off to the hotel Rus, right next to the ground where Liverpool would contest their 8th European Cup Final. En route, we spotted – like a mirage – an enormous replica of “Old Big Ears”, the first thing to dwarf my stupidly massive banner and took pictures which would be the first of many in a classic album.
On Friday, in came the legions. Thousands came “from Paris down to Turkey” and from way beyond – Brisbane, Mumbai, LA, Dubai to name just a few I spoke to. But, mostly they came from Bootle down to Aigburth – young Scouse lads unmistakable in Under Armour, Lacoste, Adidas and 110s. This was a final for their generation and no telly in the North or South End back home would suffice.
Gary stayed in on the Friday; his final prep sponsored by Dominos Pizza and Ukranian films. Like us all, my mate is a bit of a maverick and if abstention Mo Salah would be proud of was his thing, then so be it. It’s a free country. The rest of us ventured out into the warmth of the night. When I say the rest, we’re talking the many, many thousands who rocked the City’s bars and restaurants to their foundations. “Allez, Allez, Allez” echoed all night in pockets everywhere and it “was never gonna stop” until Tuesday.
Three days after the final, still you heard this anthem – synonymous with a remarkable journey – ringing round Kyiv.
Friday night was the highlight for me, but not by much. Towards midnight I bumped into my good mate Harinder Singh and his friends as we marvelled at the sight of young, bare-chested Ukrainians bounce and sing become honorary Kopites and probably Liverpool fans for life. It went on all night and sounded like we’d “conquered all of Europe” there and then.