5.15 am. Never a good time. Worse after the inevitable late night and then waking every hour thinking that it was 5.15am. A look at the clock – no, it’s 2 am. Back to sleep. Time slipped back into my dream – it was 5.15am. No, the clock says 3.
I had set the alarm on my phone and, as a back-up, had pulled a little old clock from the back of a drawer. I hadn’t used it in years. At least I thought I had set my phone’s alarm. For some inexplicable reason, I hadn’t. If that old alarm clock hadn’t shaken me awake at 5.15am, I would have missed my flight to Munich. On such little things, does so much lie.
I ran across the car park at Manchester airport, chasing down a bus to the terminal, my blue flag in hand. A lady sitting at the front of the bus smiled as I got on, “Going to the game then?” I expected the rest of the trip to be like this. Champions League final? Everyone knew this was the day.
I have been on a fair few European tours from here, my adopted home, up norf. There had always been Chels here and there, at the airport, on the flight or connections. The NW has a healthy contingent of Blues. This time however, I didn’t meet a soul. Not one. At the airport, on the flight to Hamburg nor connection to Munich. Not one chat about the game, not a knowing smile at my flag or shirt. This set a tone for the day.
Standing by a ticket machine in Munich I struggled to make sense of the written instructions. Pulling out some Euros, tentatively looking where to put them, a German walked over. He asked if I wanted to have his all-zone train ticket. Err, yes please. That set a tone for the day too. The people of Bayern were unerringly gracious and warm-spirited. Little but smiles and sweetness all day.
I texted a heap of people on the short ride into town. Where was the best, the most Chelsea part of town? Replies varied between the main square, Marienplaz, Odoensplaz or the Englischer Garten. Marienplaz was the first station along the way. Marienplaz it was then. And wild it was.
Munich was red for the day. And a hefty chunk of it was rammed in its main square for a party. The cup was already theirs, the match a mere after-thought, replica cups paraded aloft their Champions of Europe shirts. They kicked a ball, to a huge cheer each time, from one side of the square to the other. High, high into the sky. Their fortune, they believed, was riding as high.
Wild, yes; Chelsea, no. There was barely a blue shirt in sight. My mate told me they were in Marienplaz’s Ned Kelly bar. It wasn’t here, it wasn’t there, it wasn’t bleedin anywhere. No one I spoke to had even heard of it. I headed to Odeonsplaz instead. Not far along, I heard some proper songs. There were 50 odd Chels, outside a bar, trading songs with 100 odd Bayern on the street. The day begins there.
I chatted with a couple of youngsters between the songs. The stories start here. They had been in a bar the night before when it was raided by a Ukrainian firm carrying pickaxes. They battered and splattered all and sundry – preparation for Euro 2012 so they forewarned.
A group of Chels had smashed up a pub, dragging the bartender over the counter. A well-known firm, travelling through Stuttgart, arranged a meet. It was to be a 40 v 40 and go off in this particular bar. The Stttgart turned up, tooled up and in balaclavas. They went out in bits. So they say.
The lads noted I was on my own and generously asked me to join them for the day. Thanks but no thanks. Billy-no-mates they must have thought but it was more a case of Billy-can’t-find-his-mates. I was bound to run into some of them sometime soon. Anyway, I have travelled for many a year; on your own is the only way to go. I was happy enough wandering and meeting new faces along the way. You just don’t do that as part of a group.
On my way to Odeonsplaz, outside the next bar, over a terrace of tables, a long, long rendition of ‘You are my Chelsea’ was underway. This was definitely the song of the day. And beautiful it is too. Keen to join them, I first went inside to get a beer. You would assume that getting a pint, here in Bavarian Munich, the Capital of Beer, Munich who gave the world its first Beer Purity Law, back in 1516, getting a pint was not an unreasonable expectation. In this particular place, it was.
The bar held such a hefty array of pumps that nowhere was left to actually be served. After a long wait, I was told that you don’t go the bar to get a beer. You wait at the table and the drink comes to you. I joined some Germans who courteously let me order from their table.
‘Bitte’ (Please/Excuse me), I called to the first waiter. He indicated he would be back. He wasn’t. ‘Bitte’,to the second; she shook her head. ‘Bitte’ to the third, fourth then fifth. The same response. After the twelfth Bitte, literally, and none to the same waiter/ress, I gave up. Keep your beer. I would sing ‘You are my Chelsea’ at another bar.
Walk on. Walk on. Only a couple of minutes down and I heard what I was looking for. Serious singing. Chelsea had taken Odeonsplaz for themselves. On the steps of the Fedherrnhalle, Field Marshal’s hall, flanked by two Bavarian Lions, a couple of hundred Chels youth, and a few oldies like me, led the songs to the many hundreds ranked in the square below. Everyone was in party mode. And loud with it.
Before I made it to the steps – the only unpleasant event of the day. The guy was a twat. A serious twat. Only young, in a red shirt, he stood on the plinth of one of the lions taunting the Chels below. He flicked his fingers. He gestured. I have no idea what he was thinking. He didn’t seem drunk or coked up. Grabbing and thrusting his crotch, he leered at the baying crowd beneath him and then begun to make his way down into them.
The guy standing next to me had had enough. He flung his beer stein, a particularly hefty bit of glassware, as hard as he could, straight at the young Bayern’s head. It missed by inches. If it had hit, I don’t think the guy would have got up for some time. The glass exploded into tiny shards over one and all. No one seemed to mind. Police led the Bayern away; silly boy.
I climbed to the back of the stairs for song after song, from old and new. The England song ‘Ten German bombers’ was changed with the RAF and Chelsea shooting them down. Oliver got the biggest cheer. The five year old sat on top of his Dad’s shoulders, waving a big flag. ‘Oliver, Oliver give us a song.’ I sang and sang till four hours to kick off. It was time to find somewhere to watch the game.
I never had any expectation of a ticket. Well, not quite true; after Barca I sent a hopeful, blanket series of texts and more emails. Within a couple of days, as prices spiralled out of control, I knew I would never get one. One friend did find me one for a cost-price 1,000 Euros. Thanks, but I find the price of a season ticket hard to justify. One game? Ain’t going to happen. I heard of a pair going for twenty grand. World gone mad. There were fans, outside the ground, with begging cardboard signs. I wonder if even one of them got in? I doubt it.
I had to be here though. No doubt about that. It was just a question of where. The Olympic stadium had a big screen with, so it was said, a separate section for Chels. Sounded good; till you found it sold out in days, to Germans. There was another large screen. Already sold out. I hadn’t come here just to watch it on TV in some bar. There had to be somewhere with a whole heap of Chels to share it with. Had to be.
It so happened, a few yards down in Odeonsplaz, a tented Fanzone answered such questions. Large screens? Yes. They put a ring around three options on a map for me. Hacker Bruker, Hirsch Garten or the nearest, not far down the road, the Englischer Garten. I had been heading there to meet friends anyway.
The Fanzone staff said I wouldn’t want to go the Englisher Garten, there were too many people there already. I told them that was exactly why I wanted to go. Three hours, fifty five minutes and counting and my quest for the Holy Grail, a Munchen Champions League Final large screen, with a larger group of Chels on the side, began.
It didn’t start well. Within a few hundred yards I was lost. They’d said turn right but it didn’t seem likely the Englischer Garten lay down this particularly spartan side street. I wasn’t sure what the young trio of Chels fans walking towards me (the only other people around) were doing here. I don’t think they knew either.
They just driven in from Denmark, one of them Jesper Gronkjaer’s cousin. Each had a drink in hand: one a box of Heinekens, another a bottle of rum and Jesper’s cousin, some Vodka. They drank all of them in turn. They were on the same trail as me but without any idea where to begin. I showed them my map of the large screen Holy Grails. They joined my quest.
They didn’t last long. We came to a large junction with a red light holding back us pedestrians. The Germans, to a man, woman and child, wait at red lights. Boy, do they wait. Even when that little red man has popped up and there ain’t even a sniff of a car for miles around, they patiently wait for mr green to pop up. Barbara Woodhouse couldn’t have trained them better. Stay… stay.
I’m a contrary sort of guy. Tell me I can’t go there and am not allowed to do this, you can bet I’ll have had a pretty good go at both by the time your back is half-turned. Not allowed to cross at a red light? I am just honour bound to cross before others have left the pavement.
As I strolled over, not yet half way over, I realise I’ve been looking right rather than left. Ahh. Silly boy. I turned my head to see cars speeding towards me. But still far enough away for me to make out, of course I know which side the cars drive in Europe and casually saunter to the other side.
By the time I reached the outskirts of the Englischer Garten, and asked another group of Chels if they knew about any large screens (they didn’t), I turned to look for the Danes. Nowhere to be seen. The Heineken, Rum and Vodka must have taken its toll. I can’t quite remember how I hooked up with Dave. His mates all had tickets and were already on their way to the ground. He was on the trail too. We walked into one of the largest urban parks in the world.
Beside the Chinesischer Turm, a 25m wooden pagoda, next to a beer garten, there it was. The Holy Grail. This particular one had more of the Monty Python about it. The wide screen was not much wider than one in the window of your local Currys. Worse, it was fenced off. A thousand odd red shirts, with a small table of Blue at the back, were cramped inside. We couldn’t get in to join them.
As much as I pleaded with security, that my dying grandmother was just over there, we were not to be allowed in. Hundreds of Bayern couldn’t get in either. We could have joined them outside but the screen was a long way away. And not very big anyway. Three hours before the game.
No problem. Someone told us there were two other large screens in the park. It left me cursing Corporate Chelsea once again. On the CFC site was a notice, ‘Don’t travel to Munich without a ticket. There are no big screens to watch the game. ‘ Of course there are big screens. Do you really think we are such idiots? You want to take away our joy, our passion, our beyond the wildest dreams moment from when Ashley cleared that shot off the line.
This was our time, the hardcore fans without a ticket but more than happy to be there. And because you are afraid it might go off here and there (the only reason I can assume they put up such misinformation), thereby sullying the name of Corporate Chelsea, you tell us all not to go. Such disdain, for the thousands not interested in trouble, reminds me of Bates’ electric fences. I digress.
There was a problem with these two other large screens in the park – no one knew where they were. The Englischer Garten, at 910 acres, is not the easiest place to search with a deadline. Not that Dave and I didn’t try. Thousands of both Chelsea and Bayern were looking for the same. Germans are famous for their organisation and efficiency. Piss up and brewery come to mind.
We met an eight strong group of Chels, all with season tickets but without the necessary points for this particular ticket. None of them wore a shade of blue or white, usually a sign of the more hard-core fan but they seemed sweet.
They searched one way, we another.
We all met up again on Leopoldstrasse, centre of the Bohemian, Latin quarter of town, where people painted the town red. Leopoldstrasse was scheduled to be closed to traffic after the game. For one big, night-long celebration. Munich was gearing itself up for a party, the cup was in their bag. The season ticket holders decided to join them here. I couldn’t quite believe just where.
They were lined up, leaning on the wall of an underground entrance, half way in the street. Three televisions sat outside an adjacent bistro, some forty foot away. And not big ones either. You are watching it here? Come all this way to stand in the street and squint into a restaurant? There wasn’t even a beer to hand. Stroll on. A little more than an hour to kick off, Dave and I strolled off in search of that Grail.
There were still rings left on the map. We chose Hirsch Garten, the farther of the remaining two on the Fanzone’s map. This would, perhaps, be less full. Getting in anywhere would no doubt be harder the closer we got to kick off. I have never seen anything like the trip there. Passage to a football ground, kick-off approaching, is always, all one way. Not here it wasn’t.
Blue and red scrambled everywhere. This was the line straight to the ground, so trains heading north were understandably rammed. Many couldn’t get on. ‘Can you hear the Bayern sing? Nooo, nooo.’ Thing was, all the trains heading south were packed in blue and red too.
At our intersection, blue and red shirts rushed here and there, up escalator and down, down and up stairs, in every direction. The non-ticketed hordes of Munich were rushing to their personal Holy Grail; the blue half with notably less intent. We stopped at the Odeonsplaz on the way, to check where all those singers from the steps and in the square were heading.
Everyone we asked had no idea. They did however, know what they were going to drink. Boxes of beer in hand, forty minutes to kick off, they headed north, south, east and west. Three hours plus into my quest, I was in little better a position. By the time we got to Hirsch Garten, it looked worse.
Some way from the centre, Hirsch Garten was all blocks and building sites, not a shop, bar or even a red shirt in sight. Twenty minutes to kick-off and where on earth were we? There was something that looked it may have held a beer garden and large screen a little north of the tracks. It could have been sweet. But we never found out.
Wally Otton texted, ‘Where r u? I’m in a massive beer garden with big screens and 2,000 Chels.’ You what, you f***ing what? You truly are a beautiful man Mr Otton.
We made it there, five minutes to kick-off. The Holy Grail. And bloody beautiful it was too. This. That. This is what I came to Munich for. And f- you Corporate Chelsea for trying to take it away from me. An open garden, bars to either side and several hundred Chels crammed around each of the four large screen TV’s. I stood back and savoured the moment. The Bleedin Grail at last. Lovely.
Funny thing was, it had been there all along. Right under my nose. Four hours walk around town and I had returned to same spot. The same corner of Odeonsplaz where that stupid, rubbish Fanzone set me off across town. This beer garden was less than a hundred yards away. Ah well. I was here. Whatever.
I walked around each of the four mobbed screens looking for Wally and gauging which was best to watch the game. Never found the former (just wasn’t looking for a Mohican, his new haircut for the day) but chose the near right TV to watch. Near left was too wet, plastic glass after glass of beer up in the air; far left, too quiet; far right too packed.
I chose the right screen. The noisiest, by far. The song of the day, ‘You are my Chelsea’, went on and on, taken up time and time again by those around us, for around 15 minutes. The old songs went round from group to group (I don’t know, does any club have more?). You just had to start the first word, or first syllable, and everyone around joined in. I racked my brains to think of any other classics but thought we got them all.
As long as we didn’t concede, all was fine with the world. We conceded.
An instant flat all around. We weren’t going to get back from this. A few rallying cries but we knew that was it. One kid took out his frustration on the TV, throwing a pint glass. The moment it hit the screen the TV went down . You *!*^!!* We all knew who it was; a couple of people went to confront him. He did mess it up big time. For a lot of people.
We all ran to another screen. I made it to the one right behind by the time we got a corner. Behind the horded hundreds, I didn’t even have a glimpse of the screen when the corner was kicked.
It’s kinda odd celebrating a goal you haven’t seen. Champions League final or not. People jumped up and down in front of me but I wasn’t sure. No one around me had seen it either. None of us actually knew, there was a kind of suspended disbelief in all around me : have we actually scored? By the time the message sunk in, maybe all of one second later, I couldn’t celebrate anyway.
A guy to my right had fallen off a table – this must have happened all around, hundreds were stood on tables and chairs. 99.9% of them would have gone down. This hefty guy fell with a thud, flat on his back. It looked bad. Two others promptly fell on top of him. You can’t jump up and down cheering when the bloke next to you, who could have been you, might have broken his back.
Three of us cut short our celebration to help these guys. The guy at the bottom of the pile was shaken but seemed ok. I looked over to watch the rest of the game. I couldn’t. The TV had gone down in the revelry. And the one next to that.
Three large TVs had accidently fallen. There was one screen left, for over a thousand of us. Incredibly, I got a decent view from the side, as we went into injury time. Within a minute, someone at the back threw a glass. The screen went blank. WTF. You stupid **** And if one more TV should accidently fall, there’ll be no more TV’s in the garden at all.
I ran out into the street. Along with hundreds of others. In the frenzy, I asked the bar’s waitress for a place to watch the rest of the game. If there was any. Someone might have scored for all we knew. She pointed over the road, not far down she said. I didn’t think of even trying that one; it would be rammed full by now, no point.
Two lads flagged down a taxi ahead of me and I ran to join them. Anywhere with a TV, please, chop chop. The driver told us not to bother. He pointed to that bar 200m down the road and told us it had a TV. And so it did. And it wasn’t even full.
I ran in as extra time kicked off. We all went down as Drogs conceded the penalty. We all went mental as Cech save it. As time wore on I said, to no one in particular, ‘God, please don’t let this go to penalties.’ All five heads in front of me turned as one, muttering varied agreement. One said,‘I think we all have a consensus on that one then.’ I lost all track of time. Penalties it was then.
The guy next to me said he couldn’t bear to watch them. One guy I met later, at the game, did a solo Posman for every penalty after Mata’s. He said he couldn’t have cursed them by turning around from then on. I told the guy in the bar, don’t be silly, ‘The Germans can’t do it every time’ (though I thought they would). He watched and predicted every one of them. Every single one.
Everyone has their own special picture. One to last forever. I couldn’t see all of the screen; but enough to see it hit the back of the net. My memory is a leap; an image of my clenched fist, high above, silhouetted against the light on the ceiling; a guttural, feral scream of triumphant victory. You don’t get much better.
Within the minute we were out and dancing on the street; traffic be damned. There were only about thirty of us (I cannot imagine what the rest were doing inside) but it felt like there was a lot more of us. A lot more.
So intense, so in-the-moment, such compelling, sublime glee. A therapist searching a way to break down their client’s male-bonding inhibitions should consider football. Thirty Chels on the street and I think I hugged about every one of them. Not a reserved English embrace but full-on, hard-core bear hugs.
One big guy I remember in particular. Minutes after the ball hit that net, he looked at me across the pavement, exhilaration in the eye. With magnetic attraction, we came together and hugged not once but three times, lifting each other off the pavement every time.
I was able to say little else than I had to all of them,‘How good was that, how f –ing good was that?’ He told me, ‘This is the best hug you’ll ever get in your life (probably was) and….’, he added with a cackling laugh, ‘ I don’t even know you.’
Many might doubt my sentiment. But it’s true. I would prefer, by far, to have been there, in that bar, on that street than be in the stadium. If I had the wrong people around me. A lot of East Stand season ticket holders, West, Shed and North Stand too come to think of it, just do my head in.
They never sing, they celebrate with no more than a half-hearted clap. Look at any cutaway to the crowd ‘celebrating’ any big Chelsea goal. There they are. As others jump around them, standing up is as much as they can manage. Look at some You-Tube footage of those inside the ground in Munich – there they are. The beer garden, bar and then on this street or stuck amongst some of that lot in the Allianz Arena? It’s not even a contest.
Two of the guys on the street were in tears. One inconsolable. He could barely hold himself up. I pulled him up on his feet and hung on. He couldn’t get a word out for a while, till he blubbed, ‘But I’m getting married next week.’ I wasn’t sure quite why this was a concern of the moment but assured him, ‘This is the best wedding present you could get.’
It was a bit muted back on the steps of Fedherrnhalle in Odeonsplaz. More than odd after us winning the biggest cup of all. But I think we were all in shock. The colossal adrenalin rush of the game, of that moment, left us crushed and bewildered. I was told it was the same on trains back from the stadium. The Bayern were quiet for obvious reasons. But the Chelsea as well, in shell-shocked exhaustion.
I stayed and sang half-heartedly on the steps for a while but moved on. I needed time to let it sink in. Had we just done that? Really?
By the time I got back to Marienplaz I was up for a celebration. And a great place it was for that. There were only around twenty Chels but twenty times more locals, desperate to party with us. Any song they could handle was sung with German accented glee. The other team in Munich is blue, their badge a Chelsea lion. They wanted to make the most of this time with us. The rest just wanted to party. They LOVED bouncy-bouncy. And made up a nice song of their own too, ‘Ole… ole, ole, ole, Didi… Drogba.’
Soon a small mob of Bayern began chanting at us. As with every other time throughout the day, when any of their fans teamed-up near us, a line of police held them back rather than us. And then ushered them away. There wasn’t a hint of trouble. If they’d wanted, they could have walked around the police line, open at either side. But they didn’t.
Bayern fans were gracious to an implausible degree. They came up to congratulate us, they smiled and patted us on the back, they shook our hands and wished us all the best. I know, sadly, for sure, we would not have been so generous of spirit were the result to have been reversed at Wembley.
I wandered town in a daze, pockets of Chels here and there, none chanting nor celebrating. Just drinking in quiet pockets. It sounds bizzare but if you were there, you saw it too. A friend texted from an 1860 Munchen bar, the other team in town. No red shirts were allowed inside. It was a hard place to find, deep in the suburbs, where the Mile End’s never been.
Twenty hours into Munich and I finally met people I knew. We sang the old songs. I thought all had been sung at the Holy Grail but here was song after song that had slipped my memory. The 1860 crew, nearly, not quite, but nearly as pleased as us with the day, sang their own in reply.
The barman wouldn’t take my money. The manager immediately offered me a lift to the airport when I mentioned the time of my flight and worry that the first train of the morning may not get me there in time. Another offered me a bed at his house, for a week, if I missed it. I like the people of Munich.
I headed off to the airport. The trains were running early. By the time I got there, I had been up for 24 hours – back in a circle – it was 5.15am. Never a good time. I began to write this article. 5.15am? This was a good time. One of the best of my life.