Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Basel Diary - A Week On

The story of me as a Liverpool fan is a strange one. We'll, not that strange, in fact it's probably fairly common. Born in Bath and brought up in a nondescript town in rural Wiltshire I had absolutely no connection with Liverpool whatsoever. My early exposure to football was through my Dad, watching World Cup 94 on telly, the playground at school and the likes of Match magazine. My Dad couldn't have been further from a pushy Dad if he tried, he always had a laissez faire attitude to what I should be interested in or good at, but I was aware that his affinity to Bristol Rovers and to some extent Southampton having worked there. But through magazines and TV I had begun to feel affinity to a team in red… I don't know what it was but I remember being fascinated by John Barnes and also a skinny curly haired player, a bit like me, Steve McManaman. My Dad must have noticed that I had become attracted to Liverpool because I distinctly remember asking him who I should support, almost begging him to say Bristol Rovers, knowing that was “the done thing.” But he just said “support who you like.” So I did. I became obsessed. I collected cuttings and Liverpool magazines, I collected those weird big headed player models, I read up on Liverpool as much as I could. I’ll never forget how gutted I was when we lost to Utd in the 96 cup final.

Aged 11 my Dad took me all the way up to Liverpool for my first ever game. A friendly against Inter Milan and 7 years later I shunned Durham Uni to accept a place at Liverpool. I stayed for 10 years. So why am I telling you all this in what is supposed to be an account of a trip to Basel? Well I’m now living back down in the south West and it's lovely to be closer to family again but despite not being a scouser I sometimes feel like an exile. I miss Liverpool as a city so much and I miss the football club equally. I still get to a lot of home games and have the odd weekend back up, but European nights and mid-week games are a no go now. Which is why, having watched us triumph over Dortmund and then Villareal on my own in a bar in Bristol I decided I had to make the trip to Basel. I bottled going to Istanbul because of money and despite having no chance of a ticket this time I couldn't miss out again. Being exiled from Liverpool made the desire to travel and be amongst what I see as my own kind again all the stronger.

I was in touch with a mate of mine from Uni and a scouser who I knew would be going and he told me their travel plans. Heathrow to Geneva and then the train to Basel. So I booked flights. Probably still slightly inebriated and on a high! Now for accommodation. I’d only half paid attention to all the talk about Basel being tiny and unsuitable for a final of this magnitude, so I was pretty shocked when a quick look on revealed no accommodation within a 20 mile radius of Basel. Air BnB looked like the only option, I tried a few with no luck and wondered whether it was because I was saying I was coming for the football. It sounded like a few Swiss were a bit apprehensive about the scouse invasion! But one did accepted, and it seemed decent enough, fairly central etc.

So I was sorted!

Next up the little matter of navigating the Swiss National Rail Services website to book the train tickets. There didn’t seem to be any available for the train my mate was on so I booked the nearest time to him and thought I’d try and blag it.

We flew early on Wednesday morning, so rather than have to pay for a hotel at Heathrow on Tuesday night I thought it would be a good idea to book a coach straight from Bristol, leaving at 2:25am! What a way to start the journey! I was buzzing after work on Tuesday night and of course couldn’t get to sleep. My alarm went off just after 1am just as I’d drifted off for an hour I think. Brutal. But once I was up and on my way I felt fine. I tried to doze on the coach but not to much avail.

I’d forgotten that my mate had actually changed his flight and used his BA air miles, alright for some! So they were in the BA lounge living it up, but I took the chance to grab a bit of breakfast and relax for a bit. I had the obligatory pint of course, hoping it might help me sleep on the plane. It didn’t. So it was on landing in Geneva that I finally caught up with my mate Tim and his mate Jason. They both had tickets but we got chatting to a group of lads from London who were ticketless like me, no one held out much hope. With the train we were booked on we now faced a couple of hours wait, which none of really fancied in what was effectively a shopping centre at Geneva airport. We asked at the information desk if we could change our train and a fairly stern woman informed us that it was cost a near fortune (well 170 Swiss francs) so we decided we’d just try and blag it and hopped on the next train to Basel (after stocking up on some cans.)

As you’d expect the Swiss trains were pretty nice, surprisingly quiet and pretty comfortable. We settled down to enjoy the picturesque Swiss countryside, hoping the ticket inspector wouldn’t come round. We’d got pretty far into our journey, but of course we did. We played dumb, pleaded ignorance about the fact we had the wrong time and non-transferable tickets and the fella took pity on us. One down, just the connecting train to go now. It turns out the guy was a bit of a hero and contacted his colleague on the other train to explain he had let us off and told him to do the same. Happy days, so a nice clear path to Basel.

We arrived at around 2pm and headed to our separate accommodation, agreeing to meet back at the Bafusserplatz, which was the designated square for Liverpool fans. I managed to navigate to the nearest train station to my Air BnB which only took 10 minutes and took the opportunity to dive into the McDonald’s opposite before my host arrived and get a bit of food. It was likely to be my last of the day! Sat outside enjoying the sunshine I spotted a group of young lads, they could only have been 17 or so with a class banner - “There she goes AGAIN.”

From chatting to them briefly and overhearing their conversation, it became apparent that they had gone all over Europe with the reds this season. That really is the way to do it, your best mates and some real adventures following your beloved football team. They knew a decent trainer when they saw one as well.

As I waited for the arrival of my host she spotted me, presumably from my Air BnB profile. The very friendly Nora, who worked at the University as I found out, clearly didn’t have a clue what was about to hit her city! When discussing the amount of people who might be around she likened it to “Art Basel” or some clock festival. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it might be a bit different to that. Anyway she showed me to a perfectly acceptable apartment and left me to it. I quickly dumped my stuff and got changed before heading back into the centre of town, wishing I had taken a bit more notice of my surroundings (more on that later.)

Tim Left, Me Right. 

Bafusserplatz was back across the river, and it turns out Sevilla’s square was my side of the river, which explained why there seemed to be a lot more of them around than Liverpool fans. It didn’t take long to get to Bafusserplatz and I could hear it before I could see it. I walked into what can only be described as a sea of red, as clich├ęd as that sounds. Banners hung all around the square, from hotel windows, hotel balconies and the surrounding restaurants. Tim and his mates arrived in the square and after a bit of phone tennis I located them. They’d set up camp with an ice bucket full of beers so I joined them and said hello to a few lads and some familiar faces. There was talk of a few spares knocking about, but I’d come a bit late and there didn’t seem to be any left. There was also talk of a lot of fakes going around as well, and a few hours later my mate got hold of one and passed it to. It was worth a try I thought, I hadn’t paid for it, so fuck it.

The square was pretty bouncing as you’d imagine, with Liverpool’s road to the final replaying on the big screen and plenty of songs ringing out and flares covering the square in a red fog.

So I joined the rest of the lads in the walk up to the stadium as we made our way through the streets of Basel the songs started and “the reds are coming up the hill boys” rang out. We came to the first ticket check, which we knew was a little way from the ground and I passed my ticket to a pretty uncompromising looking security officer. Nothing doing, he was having none of it and ushered me over to a copper. He inspected the ticket and took it off me, indicating for me to go back towards town. So that was that. It was worth a try.

I headed back to the square amongst a few lads who had tried the same trick as me and got back in plenty of time for kick off. The first half couldn’t have gone better really could it, we looked in control without looking outstanding and it was a piece of absolute brilliance from Sturridge that really made the difference. Needless to say the square went while when he curled that in, it really was sublime.

By halftime the lack of sleep and significant volume of beer was really kicking in and the 2nd half was a real haze of disappointment and misery. I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing to be honest. Obviously conceding so early in the second half and in such a manner was a real blow, but it was the way we responded to that which was even more disappointing. After seeing so much fight and so much character since Klopp took over, we just froze, bottled it. Moreno was getting slaughtered on social media and he did make a couple of bad errors for the goal, but I felt it was a bit unfair to lay it all at his door. The entire team went missing in the 2nd half and it simply wasn’t good enough.

News was filtering through of a bit of trouble in and around the ground, but I didn’t see any sign of anything in town and these things tend to get blown out of proportion a bit. As you can imagine there was a real feeling of deflation after the game and I decided to head back to my apartment, the lack of sleep and day on the beer had really taken its toll. Tim and the lads were on their way back from the ground, but they ended up heading straight for the hotel too.

The aftermath. 

On getting back to the train station near my apartment I had this sudden realisation that I couldn’t really remember how to get into my apartment, I now had vague recollections of a side door but it now dawned on me just how tired and pissed I was. In a slight panic I spent about 10 - 15 minutes walking up and down the same road with all the apartments looking the same, walking in and out of driveways and alleyways before I finally had an epiphany and located the right door. I was pretty relieved to see the key turn!

I got my head down pretty quickly as I had promised Nora I would be out by 8am! Getting up was pretty tough and I can only image what sort of state she thought I was in when she came up to collect the keys at 8am. She must have wondered why the hell we do it, but despite the tiredness I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the trip! Well except the result of course.

I was booked on a train just after 9am back to Geneva airport, so I jumped on that and tried to get a bit of sleep. I decided to get back on the beers relatively quickly, to ease the hangover and ease the pain of defeat. It was a long old trip back and I finally arrived back in Bristol at about 8pm and was soon in bed, with work on the horizon the next day.

All in all it was an incredible trip if a bit of a whirlwind involving very little sleep and a lot of beer. But as I say, I wouldn’t change a thing, and I’m confident I’ll have the a lot more opportunities to follow the reds abroad under Klopp. Up the reds!

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