The alarm clock on my mobile rang. I was surprised. Why was I using my mobile as an alarm? I reached out and looked at the time. It said 06.00.
Why was I in an unfamiliar room? Suddenly I realised I was in Stuttgart and in less than two hours I was going to be on a train to Munich to watch my beloved Chelsea play in the Champions League Final.
The previous day’s beer-garden tour had tired me out. We should have been taking it easy instead of walking several miles. I hauled myself out of the little bed and headed for the bathroom for the first major hurdle of the day-washing and drying my hair ahead of getting it into it’s lucky bun. The small hairdryer in the bathroom proved unexpectedly efficient, and the bun went up first time; a lucky omen, I thought.
By the time I had dressed (black vest, Chelsea shirt, pink hoodie, jeans) and hurled my belongings into my holdall, it was 06.40. The party had agreed to meet in the breakfast room at 06.45. I was down at 06.42. Somewhat to my surprise, I was the first one down. I decided not to hang around and helped myself to coffee and cereals. A couple of minutes later Matt appeared, looking a little fragile, followed by Pick Six, on whom the previous day’s drinking had taken its toll. Matt said that Steve was doing his hair too.
By 7am the whole squad, including Steve, were making inroads to the buffet. I decided that after the cereals and coffee, I really couldn’t face anything else but a yogurt. About to pull the lid off, I noticed something. The brand name was “FRANKENLAND” – Frank? As in Lampard? My mind went back seven years to Chelsea winning the league at Bolton, when hoardings behind the goal advertised “Franking Sense”. Could this possibly be a similar omen?
Breakfast finished, we handed over our keys and departed the hotel for the short walk over to the Hauptbahnhof. The station was pretty deserted and the train wasn’t due for 25 minutes. Dazza and Mrs A. wandered off to fetch coffee and snacks for the journey. A combination of yesterday’s alcohol and cuisine was leading Pick Six to create what can best be described as “gas incidents”. The rest of us mooched about.
Finally, some ten minutes before the scheduled departure, and with more people now on the platform, including a number of Bayern fans, the train arrived. We located our seats and settled down for the journey. As the train made its way smoothly out of Stuttgart, the landscape changed from modern cityscape into woods and countryside, and as we sped through Bavaria, we passed towns with the typical red roofs and cream walls which probably originated prior to late 19th century German federation. The sun shone, and I got the ipod out for some house and disco before listening to what @mowingmeadows describes as the winning playlist – Three Little Birds and The Liquidator.
The train made three stops en route, each time picking up more and more Bayern fans, before arriving in Munich just after 10.00 as advertised. The noise at the railway station was colossal. Air horns were being blown, and groups of Bayern fans were singing “WHO THE FUCK ARE CHELSEA LONDON!!” (a refrain we were to hear a lot of throughout the day). We gathered ourselves together on the concourse.
Our plan was to locate the hire lockers in the station and leave our luggage there. It had also been thought a good idea to purchase some refreshments and nourishing snacks for the return train journey that five of us would be making to Stuttgart at the unearthly hour of 03.25. We found the lockers and stashed the bags. Pick Six decided to absent himself at that point to use the facilities. We hung around by the escalators waiting for him to return.
Quite a long wait actually, until he returned with the look of a man at peace with the world, and providing too much information about his time on the lav. We then visited Munich’s answer to Whistle Stop and returned to the lockers to discover, to our collective anguish, that we’d have to pay another 3 Euros to re-open and re-close them. However, that done, Munich was our oyster, and, leaving Dazza and Mrs A to check-in at the hotel they had booked for the night, the remaining six of us headed for the famous Augustiner Keller which wasn’t too far from the station.
Notwithstanding the fact that it wasn’t 11.00 yet, the beer garden was open, and we negotiated with a traditionally dressed, albeit slightly surly, waitress to let us have a large table until 5pm. Originally I had tried to book a table indoors, in case there was a problem with the weather, but their 1000 seater capacity had already been filled when I had emailed them at the start of the week. We sat down, and the boys ordered a steiner each.
I had Orangina. Half a litre of it. Decided I’d probably eke it out for a couple of hours. So we sat there under the chestnut trees in the warm Munich sun. Just after 12, we decided it was time to think about lunch. I chose red snapper, Mr E. had the nine sausage platter, and the rest of the boys ordered half a chicken, or hendl as it’s called, which caused us some merriment, especially as I started chanting
“Who put the ball in the Tottenham net?
Who put the ball in the Tottenham net?
Arfur ***ing hendl!”
The food arrived and was perfectly edible, and just after another party of my friends arrived for a drink, followed shortly after by Dazza and Mrs A. The beer garden was filling up fast, although Chelsea were heavily outnumbered by Bayern fans. However, everyone was in a marvellously happy, friendly mood and if I’m being honest there was something refreshing about sitting there in a civilised fashion, with the home fans everyone having a drink and a laugh.
Speaking of which, I decided it was now time to have an alcoholic drink. “Wodka Lemon?” I asked our surly waitress hopefully. “Nein”, she replied. I settled for 20cl of pinot grigot, which meant I’d have to be careful. And it was served in a mug. Not even a glass. About 14.30, the oompah band arrived and, after playing a local song which all the Bayern fans sang, they turned to our table and struck up “God Save The Queen”. We got to our feet and sang with all our hearts. The noise volume around the garden was increasing and the Munichers massively outnumbered Chelsea fans.
Although we’d told the garden we’d stay till five, Steve had had word from a friend in town that he was in the Marienplatz, and we decided that we would head off about 16.00. We called for der rechnung and the usual lively discussion took place as to who had consumed what.
Just as we were leaving, we met our mate Seb going in, who took little persuasion to accompany us to the Marienplatz, and further down the road we met Darren Mantle of The ChelseaFanCast fame, who was heading to the Augustiner to meet his twin Steve and Ross Mooring from the fancast, who had arrived shortly before we left. We decided to get on a tram back to the Hauptbahnhof to take advantage of the free travel for matchgoers. However, we got into a tangle around the station’s complicated underground/S-bahn complex, and after milling around for a while, we eventually found our tube train thanks to a German Chelsea fan.
The Marienplatz was absolutely heaving, and we headed over towards Bohne and Malz, the bar where Steve’s friend had said he’d be. Everyone else dived into the express bar, where pints were on tap, but that wasn’t much good to me, so I wandered off down to the arcade in the hope of finding something more to my liking. And I found a divine little bar where they were selling vodka and sprite to take away, which made me very happy. When I got back, the rest of the class were still hanging around the front of Bohne and Malz, but we could see a little courtyard which appeared to lead into a residential block, which had tables and benches.
After the short but very hot journey from Augustiner Keller, we were happy to have a drink and sat down. I’d suggested moving off at 18.00 to give us plenty of time to get to the ground, as there was the possibility of not getting on the first U-bahn, but eventually we all compromised on 18.45. The Marienplatz was still heaving, and the U-bahn was crowded.
When we got down to the platform, it was to a heaving mass of humanity. We lost Mr. E. and Steve, although the rest of us managed to stick together. In fact we were quite lucky to be at the back of the crush. One train came on and we couldn’t get on it. There was a 10 minute wait. Another (empty) train came in and didn’t stop. After another 10 minutes, a train which would get us part of the way to the ground arrived but it would mean a change five stops on.
People heaved themselves bodily on to the train. It was incredibly hot. The train kept stopping. It took about 20 minutes to travel five stops and we were relieved to get off at (Municher Freiheit). I had a pleasant surprise as I found myself standing next to two friends from the CIU where I drink on matchdays. My only fear was that when the next train came in, it would be even fuller, and we’d have another wait. It was about 19.30 by this time and although the game wasn’t starting till 20.45, I was starting to fret about the possibility of missing the kick-off. However, much to our surprise, the next train that came in was an empty, air conditioned heaven, and the remainder of the journey was comfortable.
We got off the train in high good humour. As we came out of the station, the vastness of the stadium became apparent and I realised, this is it. We are here. And we are playing in the final. Mrs A. had managed to get separated from Dazza on the way out of the stadium, so she accompanied me and my CIU friends on what was a fairly long walk to the ground. We arrived at a little merchandising area where I stopped to get a programme and, after fairly light security checks, Mrs A. and I made our way around the stadium to the entrance for our adjoining blocks in the middle tier. Just as we were nearly there, I heard a booming Irish voice calling “Blue Baby” (see, it does help to have your name on your shirt) and my joy for the day was complete or so I thought, as my favourite Bruvvas from Dublin hoved into view. They’d been drinking at the Shakespeare in town, and filled me in on what they’d been up to, and vice versa, as they knew all of my travelling companions.
Once inside the ground, it was time to visit the facilities as kick off was now only some 20 minutes away. I found my seat towards the back of the middle tier. The stadium was a breathtaking sight. Bayern had a huge advantage in numbers, and as the opera singer Jonas Kaufmann bellowed his way through a new version of the champions league anthem (although it later turned out he’d been miming due to a respiratory infection which has caused him to pull out of his engagement at Covent Garden this week), the Bayern fans lifted cards which spelt out the slogan “our team, our stadium, our trophy”. We defiantly waved our flags in return.
Just before 20.45, the teams emerged from the dressing room into a frenzied stadium. Tens of thousands of words have been written about what happened next and I can’t imagine I’ll improve upon any that have been penned before. From my own point of view, the first 45 minutes seemed to last about 10. The team were holding their nerve on the pitch, even if it was already squeaky bum time in the stands, with Mikel putting in a superb performance. I was slightly miffed by the fact that having paid a hundred and thirty odd pounds for a seat in an attempt to save my wonky knees, I was still having to stand, and a plan was starting to formulate in my mind.
As soon as the half time whistle blew, I headed for downstairs to the Ladies and then to the bar for much-needed water. Coming away after making my purchase, I met Dazza and Mrs A., who’d managed to locate each other. “Dazz”, I asked. “Are they checking people’s tickets going into the lower tier?” No, he replied. “Right”, I said. “I’m relocating”. Because I’d decided that if I was going to have to stand for the second half, I might as well sneak into the lower tier and be with my mates. And as I reached the ninth row of the lower tier, not only did I find Mr E., Matt, Steve, H. and Pick Six, but yards away in the next block were the Bruvvas, Mrs A. who’d obviously made the same decision as me, and a host of other friends, including The Former Mr Baby.
The second half kicked off and sped by in similar fashion to the first. Then, on 83 minutes, disaster as Muller headed down, and the ball looped over Petr Cech. The Bayern end roared in delight. The Chelsea end were stunned into silence. With just seven minutes left, was it going to be yet more heartbreak in a European final? Optimist as I am, I couldn’t see how this was going to end well. I was resigning myself to defeat. Then, on 88 minutes, a miracle. Juan Mata’s corner was met by Didier Drogba, who powerfully headed the ball past Neuer, the Bayern keeper. The Chels support behind the goal erupted in ecstasy. I stood there whilst the rest of the crew jumped on top of me. When I emerged I subsequently found H. jumping on top of the seat back of the row in front and, fearful for his safety, I clung on to the waistband of his jeans until he jumped back down.
Five minutes later, we were going into extra time. Just three minutes later, we were staring disaster firmly in the face again. Drogba’s silly trip on Ribery resulted in a pen to Bayern. I said to the gang “Face it boys, we are not going to be allowed to win this”. Ribery had gone down as if presented with a teenage girl and required several minutes of treatment before the penalty could be taken. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and I resorted to prayer. Three Hail Marys, a Hail Holy Queen and a Memorarie, just finishing as Robben prepared to shoot and I put my right hand to my right eye – the “evil eye”. Seconds later, we were screaming in joy again as Cech got down low, blocked the ball with his thigh and then smothered it.
Half time in extra time led to another exodus to the bar for water before another nerve-wracking 15 minutes, of which I remember very little. I think that night was the first time I have ever been petrified with nerves whilst being in a stadium. Then it was all over. It was coming down to penalties. Again. We were in God’s/deity of choice’s hands now. We watched on in disbelief as it appeared that Bayern weren’t only being allowed to take the first pen, but to take them at the home end. We waited….
Cech was unlucky not to save the first, and we found ourselves one down. Mata, to my disbelief given his record this season, strode up to take the second. And missed. Gomez scored his. We were two down. Luiz put us back in with a chance following his quality penality. Neuer, the goalie, bravely took the third. Frank converted; 3-2. Then Olic – who missed. We were definitely in with a chance. Another quality pen from Ash. 3-3. Schweinsteiger stepped up, only to hit the post.
It all rested on Didier’s shoulders. I murmured to myself “This ends. Now.” Time stood still as Drogs prepared a perilously short-looking run-up.
A moment’s silence.
Didier struck the ball.
Neuer went the wrong way.
We had won.
In that one moment, our world and our club’s history and future had changed forever. I simply stood there, tears pouring down my face. I found myself being hugged by the boys. I went across to rejoice with the Bruvvas. Then I found myself face to face with The Former Mr Baby. Both in tears, we simply enfolded each other in a long hug. I then went right down to the front of the stand in the hope of getting some precious pictures and found myself next to H. I said to him “Could you ever have thought, that night in Naples, that this would be the conclusion?” (but that’s another Travels). His reply was drowned out as the players began to climb the stairs to collect their medals and the precious trophy.
The next half hour or so will live forever in the memories of all Chelsea fans. Luiz on the crossbar. Torres on the crossbar. Stamford the Lion on the pitch. The players with the trophy. Blue is the Colour, The Liquidator, One Step Beyond in a glorious segue. People in tears. People looking at their watches (it was now after midnight and it was going to be a tight schedule for those on day trips). I realised we’d be on the train back to Stuttgart in just three and a half hours.
Eventually, hoarse and exhausted, we dragged ourselves away from the arena, laden with flags, back on to the concourse. We decided to have a post match water/coke and use the loos prior to setting off for the U-bahn. I suggested to Mr E. that given the lateness of the hour, the original plan to return to the Marienplatz wasn’t viable (this turned out to be prophetic). I met more friends coming down from the middle tier, and the bars were showing the game again. About 00.40, we set off for the U-bahn.
It had felt like a long walk to the stadium before the game. After, it felt like an eternity. When we got to the entrance, we found that there were many thousands of people still waiting to get on trains. We were quite lucky to heave ourselves (except for Pick Six, Steve and Matt) on to a train which was arriving, but this was the start of a nightmare journey.
However tough the journey out had seemed, it was paradise compared to the hour or so it took to get back to Marienplatz. The train kept stopping in tunnels. Passengers, already weary, were feeling the heat. Some got off when next stations were reached in the hope of finding taxis. Those with flights in the early hours on club/day trips were particularly anxious. My knees were shot to pieces.
Finally we reached Marienplatz, only to find ourselves with another long wait for a train. Eventually, about 02.00, we reached Hauptbahnhof. On the “Up” escalator into the station, I’d noticed something called “Rail and Clean”, which were presumably the loos that Pick Six had visited that morning. I made a note to return for a wash and brush up after I’d picked up the bag. We bade farewell to Dazza and Mrs A. who were off to their hotel. We were still missing Pick Six but texted to say we’d arrived at the station. Disappointed Bayern fans were milling about the concourse, but we were touched to be approached by several, offering their congratulations. They truly are an exceptional bunch of fans. After we collected the luggage, I told Mr E. that I was going to the loos to try and get changed, and made my way back down the escalator.
I paid the required Euro to enter the facility and before popping into a loo, a sign caught my eye. It wasn’t just loos they had, but showers. I went to the desk and asked the attendant how much for a shower. 7 Euros, he replied. With towels? I enquired. Fourteen Euros, came the reply. If he’d said 20, I’d have probably paid up at that point after the long, hot, travel weary 22 hours. He heaved a positive bundle of linen into my arms and unlocked the shower room. It was bliss. There was even a plug socket. I could have washed my hair, if only I’d had a dryer with me.
After the lovely shower, I got changed into blissful fresh clothes, and made my way to the platform, where I found Pick Six, Mr E. and H. propped against a bin, all seeming to be asleep. All over the station the scene was reminiscent of some major disaster. People slumped in heaps. Puddles of vomit. Discarded rubbish. Fifteen minutes later, the train arrived. There was a fearful scrum to board. We couldn’t locate our carriage. Mr E. and I became separated from the others. There were no seats to be had in the carriage we’d ended up in. People were occupying other peoples’ booked seats. I said to Mr E. that having already spent upwards of seven hours on my feet, I couldn’t stand for another two and a half, in line with my knee specialist’s mantra of no running, no kneeling and no standing for long periods. The decrepit joints were already making themselves known in no uncertain terms.
A gallant Chelsea fan kindly overheard and a seat was found for me. I slumped into it, exhausted. I rested my hot head against the cool window and waited for the clock to roll round to the departure hour of 03.25. I hoped to sleep, but failed. 03.25 arrived. The train appeared to be delayed. The minutes ticked by. Announcements were made in German. A fracas threatened to break out when a German passenger (who wasn’t a football fan) actually sat on a female passenger (not me) who was in his seat. It was firmly explained to him that none of us could get to our reserved seats. He was cordially invited to get off the lady or suffer the consequences. He desisted, but continued to verbally protest. Some passengers left the train. A friendly Bayern fan explained that under German law, a train cannot commence it’s journey if passengers were standing (good job that doesn’t happen in the UK…)
Finally, just before 04.00, an announcement to this effect was made in English, and passengers without seat reservations were requested to leave to enable others to take their correct seats. I got up and said to Mr E. ‘”let’s get out of here into our correct carriage, and if anyone’s in our seats, we boot them out”. He kindly hauled my holdall down from the shelf and we set off for the promised land of Wagon 25 where we did indeed locate our seats, with people already in them. The situation was explained, and they left without argument.
The carriage was comfortable and air-conditioned. We’d been sitting there for about 10 minutes, when Pick Six and H., having walked though the train, found us. The snacks and soft drinks bought the previous morning were shared out. Matt was last to arrive. Then, finally, an hour after the schedule departure time, the train rolled into life. “Wave bye bye to the Augustiner Keller” instructed Mr E. as the train left the station. Obediently, we waved wistfully. The dawn was already starting to break over Bavaria. The boys slept. I remained wakeful, not particularly wanting to fall asleep and end up in Dortmund, for where the train was eventually bound.
At Stuttgart I woke them and we staggered off. Breakfast was a burger from a well-known chain that isn’t McDonalds for the lads, with me eating some fruit, pastries and drinking Viennese coffee. We said goodbye to Matt as he wasn’t travelling back till the evening and fancied another crack at Zum Paulaner. We boarded the S-bahn back to the airport and arrived for our flight some four hours early. Pick Six and H. soon fell asleep in the departure lounge. I read and drank coffee, having declined the champagne that Mr E. had so kindly offered me. We blessed those reserved Germanwings seats and boarded, exhausted. Unusually for me, I fell asleep on the plane and twice woke up dribbling.
And that’s the end really. We bade each other farewell at Heathrow, me to head for the tube home, too exhausted to attend the parade, the boys waiting for a lift. And writing about the trip fills me with a certain melancholy because I know that whatever Chelsea achieve in future, be any trip never so uncomfortable as that to Munich was in parts, we will never again have what we had for those few days. A sense of living in epoch-making times, living history, not reliving it. So thanks to everyone involved in those magical few days, and thanks to our team, for making our dreams come true.