Article by Mike Nevin
How on earth do you write this up? Liverpool are in the European Cup Final again but it’s not even half my story. If Kiev is half as good, we’ll be laughing; and he who laughs last laughs longest.
My route to Roma and back this week goes like this. Liverpool, London, Luton, Buda, Pest, Roma, Vatican City, Milan, Torino, London. Planes, trains and automobiles were used and a lot of Shanks’ Pony.
Family and friends said don’t go. They also said come back once I’d gone. Madness they said, but those who witnessed our passage to Ukraine in the flesh will attest to the mad ones being the remaining few moored in Liverpool bay.
The travelling Reds came from all over and strode through the capital like Bob Paisley once did on his tank. We came in peace and met with a welcome that was “simpatica”. Thanks be to God for that after last week’s violenza in Liverpool.
European aways take huge planning if you want to save on costs. Unless you’re working as a reporter - and I’m on leave this week - it’s still expensive despite use of Skyscanner and/or myriad travel websites.
Wizz Air, Al Italia, Ryan Air all lift you off the face of earth; but not so high as a virgin Gini Wijnaldum away goal at the Stadio Olimpico. Europe’s trains are universally more efficient than Merseyrail; even the ancient rattler from the Hungarian station outpost Szentistvantalep into Budapest.
Budapest was as equally beautifully romantic and crazy as before, only this time with early summer’s burning sun. Owing to Nat West Wank's staggering inefficiency I was left financially high and dry but never once short of love or money.
My friends Istvan and Cristian went to the well and showed generosity that is shown to me but only as a representative of their beloved Liverpool. It’s a proud thing to say we’ve entertained in each other’s homes; that I’ve offered a tip for Cristian’s kids to enjoy decent fish and chips at George and Angela’s in College Road. I was more than paid back on Tuesday with a cuddle of Cris’s rabbit (Coutinnyul), a glass of Rose, a few bob to tide me over in cash and hospitality at his favourite pub.
The mad fucker managed to get into a fight while I was in the toilet and sustained a head wound but all was sound. Pal - I’m looking forward to Corfu next summer and before then, Kiev. Istvan - sort a fucking babysitter and see you there too, mate.
So, farewell to Hungary again and it’s great boys and girls. Jessica - what the hell happened to you? Did you get fucked up and miss your flight?Allez, Allez, Allez.
On to Roma. A flight late on the day to avoid any potential shenanigans. What I wasn’t counting for was a Si Hughes - Mein host - more scatty than usual after a night’s perfect prep for the Olimpico press box. Well in, Simon. Any post-match piece that mentions divinity, principally to wind up Evertonians, is all right by me. Anyway, if anyone there on Wednesday couldn’t feel an ecclesiastical vibe from both sets of supporters, you’ll never believe in God or indeed anyone or anything.
If their anthem, Roma, Roma, Roma didn’t move you to tears there is something wrong with you. Jonathan Northcroft who has an eye for a tune being a Scot versed in the “Northern Lights of old Aberdeen” captures it perfectly here:
Before that, and without time for a drink all day (I spent too much time waiting to see an Argentinian Pope shimmy, feint and sell more dummies than Maradona) it was time to head up to the the safe haven of Villa Borghese, otherwise known as The 306 Lift Crew On Tour.
In the park, from 306 I met - in order - Gary, Liam, Anna, Tizzer, Ben, Jay Mac, the Reades senior and junior, and SOS Kieth who should really be in the diplomatic service, teaching them how to team up a nice jacket and brogues and still look hard as nails.
I noticed Italian photo "journalistas" and spoke with Bianca Simonetti, whose working brief was to admire our support is and capture it in words, video and pictures. We planned to meet later and celebrate -at Campo dei Fiori - but the lock-in stopped all that. She filmed our supporters enjoying themselves earlier in the day at Piazzale Flaminio and only wanted to report us as a phenomenon for the good. Thanks Claudia.
In truth we probably didn’t need an Armada-like fleet of buses to take us to the ground. But, with Adam Melia - funnier than life itself - in tow with me and in his “smoke where the I like mode” it was a raucous pleasure.
If there was there any hint Liverpool would be targeted afterwards if was dispelled in those minutes moving towards the iconic Roman statues outside the stadium. There was no malice but we didn’t half sound like a rabble. It felt like we conquered all of Europe on those blue transit buses.
From Borguese down to Roma we never fucking stopped. We smoked out every window just like big Jurgen Klopp.
A treble ticket check at the gates was to be expected. It delayed things but was never too stressful. Most of us weren’t bothered about being in for kick-off anyway. We’re three goals up, for God’s sake mon.
More of a worry was the exhausting, sultry Roman night. After the Gladiators appeared, I spent the first ten minutes of the game buying two hot dogs and and a litre of water.
At matches in Europe, like when you needs a piss, buy food and drink when you can. Or you might just end up like poor Bobby Sands on a hunger strike that would put Jesus and his 40 days and nights to shame. At half time, near the narrow sweaty, oppressive routes to the bars, where Scousers prayed to turn water into wine, it wasn't pleasant.
But, by now Mane is on the sheet and all is well. We've matched their two away goals. We're in the final. Only those who don't believe still struggled. Somehow they now have 4 aggregate goals but we have seven, so lets go sing our songs.
First ten of the second half, I had my top off like I did in Brussels when I was 17. Not quite as lean as I was back then but svelte enough enough to not look a prick. I ached for a third goal so I could swirl my ringing wet lacoste to Allez Allex as though it was in a laundrette down South Road.
Roma rally but no more dagger blows. Just two mere flesh wounds; the latter a mere scratch. On that very note, that very moment, we are through.
Its emotional. Tears well up. We all hug up in Row 40 and then Row 60 of the Curva Nord. Me, Em, Kris, Jack, Phil, Margo.
We celebrate together and with our lads. Lads from Kirby, girls and boys from Asker, Norway, more and more from Liverpool, Sefton, Knowsley and wools from Wigan and St Helens. We range in age from 11 to 68, if my eyesight is right.
Most have heeded the plea not to wear colours. Discreet pin badges abound. Some Dickheads though are in full kit and boots and are trying to escape the Roman manor for the warmth and safety of our end.
One is called Sadio Mane from Senagal. Such a big red he's vaulting the railings to join us. Another tit is topless but in LFC shorts and boots, still on the perimeter track, and swirling his scarf like a West Derby lad who once went to my school. He did and his name is Trent Alexander-Arnold. Like me,like you, a Scouser born and bred.
I'm nearly at Lime Street now. It's 4pm Friday. I'm tired and still emotional. What a few days!
I came home via Turin. There, I said sorry to old Juventus guys long enough in the tooth to remember Heysel.
Today is also the anniversary of the tragic plane crash that wiped out Torino and Italia's finest in 1948.
Torino fan, Serena Avramo sorry that my Italian doesn't match your English but it was lovely to meet you on the plane home anyway. Mi dispiace.
I've come full circle. So have we. We're back in it again.
Szia Buda, Szia Pest, Arrivaderci Roma. Sorry, Juve.
See you lot in Kiev. Don't miss it.