IT was by chance that I ended up in Madrid on the day of the UEFA Champions League Final. I had booked the flight months in advance, visiting an old friend, originally from Pollok, who had got lucky in the madness of London’s housing boom, sold up and moved out with his partner and three young children. We were both excited about the massive football celebration in one of Europe’s biggest cities but UEFA put paid to that.
With only 16,000 of the 70,000 tickets being made available to the Liverpool and Tottenham fans and with predictions of 40,000 Liverpool fans travelling, there was a clear need to help facilitate the watching of what is one of the biggest games in world football.
But, rather than extend the fan zones, install more big screens around the parks in Madrid and encourage the celebrations, UEFA instructed the Madrid authorities to close the fan zones at 6pm and banned the showing of the game on any big screens, leaving fans to aimlessly walk the streets in search of a bar that wasn’t already packed out.
The first Irish bar we tried was full, the owner pointed to other streets and bars but the bouncers shook their heads. We joined fans jumping on and off the underground searching for bars, watching the panicking faces as it got closer to the kick-off and it started to dawn on people that they might not even see the game. With ten minutes to go and with the help of some local knowledge we found a cafe-bar in a suburb and managed to squeeze inside.
The day after the game, I met Colin, an Everton fan who now lives in Colorado who had felt the need to bring his Liverpool-supporting son over for the game. On this occasion, family loyalties came before his hatred of Liverpool FC, he explained. The two of them ended up in a bar, “with a TV the size of a postage stamp”, Colin explained. “There were thousands in the streets, peering through windows trying to watch the game.”
Liverpool fans in particular know what it is like to be treated with contempt and the UK authorities now look back at the caging of fans that led to the Hillsborough disaster with a sense of embarrassment. They’re no longer caged in but instead find themselves locked out. The old conservative snobbery about football, the ‘slum game’ may have died down but in its place a new more ‘enlightened’ body of officials has emerged across Europe who continue to treat football fans with a special level of condescension.
The ruining of the greatest sports event of the year. One would think this might be something of a news story. But then, who cares? They’re only football fans.