By Steve Cotton

As the metro train rumbled along Line 5 in the general direction of Estadio Vicente Calderón on a more-than-pleasant Thursday afternoon in late April, I found myself feeling a little sorry for those who were simply making their mundane daily journeys home from the centre of Madrid.

In this particular carriage, about 40 Liverpool supporters were making the sound of 400 as the train headed south, some banging the ceiling for effect. “They say our days are numbered, we’re not famous anymore – but Scousers rule the country, like we’ve always done before…”

A middle-aged woman, presumably on her way home from work, struggled to contain her annoyance as these foreigners then bounced up and down in front of her to a song about a young man from nearby Fuenlabrada; he who would get the ball and score, again. Perhaps she was merely an Atlético supporter, still pissed off that Fernando Torres had been sold three years earlier and that here we were, rubbing her nose in it. But probably not.

The train arrived at Pirámides station and the carriage emptied, save the few homeward-bound commuters, no doubt relieved that the songs, the stench of booze and the Scousers had alighted.

As those from our carriage spilled onto the platform, we were met by more groups of Reds, who had no doubt been giving other Line 5 regulars a similar performance of the finer creative arts further down the train.

Out of the station, up the steps and into the warm glow of Madrid in the late afternoon, fuelled by cerveza and song, this was what it was all about.

The armchair helmets who have never been within 300 miles of seeing their heroes in the flesh, yet still revel in their team’s glories and mock their rivals’ failures would not understand, but the kind of feeling that comes from bounding out of Pirámides station in Madrid with a couple of hundred fellow Liverpool supporters en route to a European semi-final makes an awful lot of the other shit worthwhile. Not all of it, obviously, but a lot of it.

Back in the early part of 2010, a Hicks-and-Gillett-sized shit-storm was clearly well underway and would get even worse as the year wore on – but, despite the spiraling and crippling interest payments on the club’s debt, we still had plenty of reasons to believe.

For one, Rafa Benítez was still pacing the touchline, while Torres – although he would miss out on an emotional return to Atléti for the second season in a row – was still Liverpool’s No 9, and occasions like these were the rule rather than the exception.

So, when other clubs’ supporters, whose only forays into Europe were for pre-season friendlies, summer holidays and duty-free booze-runs, would chant, “Thursday nights, Channel Five”, I used to think: “Yeah, and so what?” A Thursday night on the beers in the spring sunshine in Madrid, watching my team play at a venue such as the Vicente Calderón still pisses all over a night of moaning down the Dog & Duck, regardless of whether it’s being broadcast on ITV, Sky, Five, Nickelodeon or Babestation.

A Thursday night on the beers in the spring sunshine in Madrid, watching my team play at a venue such as the Vicente Calderón still pisses all over a night of moaning down the Dog & Duck.

Upon venturing into the centre of Madrid, there was an almost eerie calm for much of the day, so much so that the eyes of the unfortunate Sky Sports News reporter – sent to collect reactions to the latest tabloid bollocks about Benítez and Real Madrid – lit up when he spotted us innocently walking through Plaza Mayor.

This made it clear that many Reds had not made it as far as the Spanish capital. In fact, only a fraction of those who were supposed to be there that night actually got there, for this was the week of that fucking Icelandic ash cloud, which seemed to ground the majority of flights in northern Europe.

Relieved our easyJet special had not fallen victim to Eyjafjallajökull (try saying that after five pints of Cruzcampo) on an away trip where even the team had to go via bus, train and, judging by the way they would play that night, tandem, rickshaw and horse-and-cart, there was ample time to tuck in to some local fare before setting off to meet my mate Andy and his mate Pete, who had the tickets.

Tucking into a paella (apologies for being so obvious) and a pint (see previous parenthesis) just off the main square, we were approached by another film crew (this time from a Spanish children’s television programme), and asked to discuss recent research that suggested the Spaniards were now Europe’s biggest drinkers.

Having horrible flashbacks to images of Brits abroad sullying Spain’s finest (and, in fairness, worst) spots with their binge-drinking and street-pissing – and, also in fairness, being a Brit abroad getting stuck into my second pint of the day a few minutes after noon – my contribution was limited to what sounded like, in my head anyway, “No, no es posible. Es probable el Inglés.”

International relations humbly restored, we found a decent little bar, where just about the whole Liverpool song-book came out, before heading to the stadium via another bar and the metro.

Outside Pirámides station, a local was doing a roaring trade in selling cans of ice-cold Mahou from a bucket, while the Atléti supporters gave us the warmest of welcomes, which we put down to their respect for Torres and the fact he was clearly idolised by the Kop.

Being applauded by the home fans all the way back to the station after the game was a surreal experience – and probably wouldn’t have happened had their team not beaten an insipid Liverpool 1-0 – but it was one of those things that makes you feel better about football and humans.

But the football is only ever part of the experience of a European away trip – which is a bloody good job, because the football served up by Liverpool that night was absolutely woeful. The paucity of the quality in Liverpool’s performance was rivalled only by the opening hours of Madrid’s city-centre eateries, all of which were long shut by the time we went in search of a post-match feed.

But then, by the time we settled down for an evening meal that consisted exclusively of a tiny slice of chocolate cake from the hotel vending machine, it had long been clear that no away trip – however great it looks in the afternoon sunshine when fuelled by the local booze – can ever be perfect.

Do you have a football travel tale you’d like to tell? If so, email us at smallfootballworld@gmail.com


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