European football is back on the menu this week, but for the Reds we’re merely interested spectators this season. But as they say, form is temporary……. Liverpool FC are, by a distance, the most successful club in European competition to emerge from these shores. While the boys in red have collected silverware and vanquished some of the continent’s finest in their own back yard, trips to the continent have given us fans some amazing memories. Here in no particular order are my favourite 10 European awaydays.
Barcelona – 2001:
If drama and incident are your thing, this is probably one of the least memorable games of football we’ve ever been involved in, but who cares! The Reds were re-emerging as a force in Europe and had already taken the prized scalps of Roma and Porto to make the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup and this was my first European away. And it was against Barcelona!
Growing up as a kid, I remember being mesmerised by Cruyff’s “dream team” of the early 90s and by the Nou Camp itself, this monumental cathedral of football, the likes of which didn’t exist in this country. Going there one day was up there on my bucket list, probably before the term “bucket list” was invented!
An organised day trip would probably be a last resort nowadays, but back in 2001 I’d never even flown abroad and getting on a plane bound for the Catalan capital was all that mattered! The Flight Options day trip from Speke did the trick.
A cracking day on Las Ramblas was followed by the realisation of that childhood dream as I set foot inside the home of FC Barcelona. But not before a failed attempt to get into the Liverpool end – then quickly realising refusal might led to getting our tickets confiscated – had me practising my GCSE French and pretending to be a lost tourist!
My mate Dan had sorted us tickets in the Barca end, and little did I (or he) know they weren’t together! While Dan managed to end up in the middle of one of the many pockets of Reds dotted around the ground, near one K Dalglish no less, I was in the lower tier behind the right hand goal as you look on the telly. I tried my best to look inconspicuous as the Catalans around me didn’t take too kindly to the travelling Kop reminding them that Luis Figo no longer played for them and now played for a club they didn’t like very much!
They also didn’t take too kindly to Gerard Houllier’s tactics as the Reds produced a fine defensive display to grind out a 0-0 draw. Johann Cruyff amongst others was scathing, but at a time English clubs regularly lost there by a cricket score, Houllier’s tactics were spot on. Barca had dropped out of the Champions League into the UEFA Cup, unthinkable these days, but even in their doomed CL campaign they’d thrashed Leeds 4-0. And there was no shortage of talent in that squad; the De Boers, Rivaldo, Kluivert (before he went shite) Overmars, Petit and 2 fellas who went on to have half decent managerial careers – one called Luis Enrique and a midfielder whose Barca career was nearing its end by the name of Guardiola.
I remember Robbie Fowler dragging a shot wide, but apart from that it’s hard to remember an incident of note. Jamie Carragher was outstanding and the result set us up perfectly for a raucous Anfield occasion a week later. Oh we love yer Barca pen………..
This happened to be Grand National weekend and on the Saturday, the call centre I was working in at the time had a contract with one of the bookies to take bets. All staff were given a free bet, so I put mine on a 66-1 outsider that eventually won the big race on a day Aintree turned into a mud bath. Its name? RED MARAUDER! And 24 hours later, the Reds marauded into the FA Cup final after beating Wycombe at Villa Park!
Borussia Dortmund – 2016 (This story also involves the Grand National!):
I didn’t have a season ticket in 2001 so my memories of our historic treble include celebrating 3 cup final wins in the pub! This was long before the days of competition-specific loyalty, so getting a cup final ticket without a season ticket was a tall order. The FA Cup Final was even harder as, due to the smaller allocation, season ticket holders only qualified if their serial number (NOT seat number!) ended in certain digits!
While I made my peace with missing out on the League Cup and FA Cup finals, hearing stories of Alaves returning half of their allocation and tickets being readily available on the day made me kick myself for not chancing my arm and making the trip to Dortmund. To this day, not going to the 2001 UEFA Cup Final is my biggest regret as a Red. While a certain night in Turkey 4 years later made up for it with more interest than you’d pay on a Wonga loan, getting to the Westfalenstadion one day had always been high on the agenda! That became a reality when the Reds were paired with Borussia Dortmund in the last 8 of the Europa League, a tie given extra spice by Jürgen Klopp returning to the place where he’s a legend.
The trip out involved a flight to Amsterdam then 2 changes of train in Utrecht and Duisburg. My fellow Reds who I was meeting out there were sending me stories of how the square and the pubs were already bouncing, but sadly Dortmund isn’t New York and most places were shut by the time I arrived at about 11pm the night before the game.
The next day more than made up for it though as we split the day between a cracking little place next to the ground and the main square – Erik Meijer in 2001 and all that! There seemed to be thousands and thousands of Liverpool fans here and there was a party atmosphere. For the natives, the return of Jürgen Klopp was a massive deal. Then it was off to the match and let’s just say my memories of the train journey to the ground are a little bit hazy!
Signal Iduna Park as it’s now called, is simply breathtaking. It isn’t quite up there with the likes of the Bernabeu or San Siro capacity wise, but Borussia Dortmund have built themselves an amazing modern ground, the type of home I hope we aspire to turn Anfield into (hurry up FSG and get started on that Anny Rd end!) The travelling Reds were housed in one corner at the opposite end to the famous “yellow wall”, which looked spectacular with its multitude of flags and banners. I can only imagine what it must be like for a league game when it’s standing and there’s twice as many fans in there.
The pre match YNWA was something else. I know the fact our anthem is now sung throughout Europe isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I see it as a huge compliment.
I was lucky (or unlucky!) enough to go to an Old Firm at Celtic Park a few years ago and that’s the only other time I’ve experienced someone else doing OUR anthem in the flesh. That night under the lights in Glasgow was something else, but this was even better as 65,000 Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool fans belted out those famous word as Dortmund’s far moodier version of the song played over the tannoy.
The mood of the travelling Kop was further enhanced as Divock Origi gave us a deserved half time lead as the Reds got to grips with the occasion far better than their hosts. This was a Dortmund side who had obliterated teams for fun at home all season and who had made light work of Tottenham in the previous round, yet they Reds went there and bossed them.
Predictably, Dortmund rallied after the break and Bayern Munich bound Mats Hummels equalised. Still, the Reds held firm for a result none of us would have turned our noses up at prior to kick off! It was half time in the tie, but in terms of what was to come a week later, this game hadn’t even scratched the surface drama-wise!
There was one slight issue when I booked this trip – I was going to Aintree on the Friday so had to be back in Liverpool mid-morning the day after the game! The trouble is no such route from Dortmund or anywhere near Dortmund existed! So I booked the 9am flight from Amsterdam, which presented another problem – getting back to Amsterdam straight after the game!
The idea of hiring a car was toyed with, but after thinking it through and realising 1) driving through the night, having never driven abroad before, and by myself, wasn’t the best idea, and 2) I wouldn’t be able to have a bevy, that idea was quickly scrapped! After scouring the Internet, an overnight trip via a train ride to Düsseldorf and a coach to Amsterdam was mapped out, with sleep an afterthought!
After boarding a train in Dortmund in the wee small hours (standing room only, at 2am!) I had a whole 5 minutes to get from Düsseldorf train station to my coach thanks to said train being a very un-German like half an hour late! Wandering frantically around a foreign city looking lost at 3am isn’t recommended, that’s for sure! Thankfully, a fellow equally-lost red asked was I waiting for the Amsterdam coach and the right bus stop was found just as the coach arrived and some much needed kip was gotten! I managed to make it to (and stay awake during) Aintree, but unlike 2001 I didn’t win a thing!
Funnily enough, I’m back an Aintree this weekend to run the Liverpool 10k. After April’s escapades, Saturday’s 5am start for Swansea away should be a doddle!
Udinese – 2012:
A late Young Boys equaliser at Anfield two weeks earlier meant the Reds needed a win in North East Italy to guarantee progress to the knockout stages of the Europa League in Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge.
Being the final group game, the Reds travelled to the home of Italy’s less-heralded “black and whites” in early December and there are worse places you could spend a few days in the run up to Christmas! After flying to Verona, it was a train ride to Mestre, just outside Venice, before heading upto Italy’s most north easterly city the following day, with the Alps and the Slovenian border both within spitting distance.
Around 1000 Reds made the trip, and on a freezing cold night, we were open to the elements in what can only be described as a Soviet style concrete bowl with no roof and plenty of broken seats! This place hosted games in Italia 90, as had Verona’s ground which I had a nosey at the previous day, but both had seen better days (Verona’s still had Italia 90 signage on its outside walls!) Thankfully, the Stadio Friuli had been rebuilt on 3 sides since, and its athletics track is no more (something I’d make a law for ALL football grounds if I could!)
My sketchy memory tells me Udinese could have still finished level on points with at least 2 other teams if they’d won but, for reasons I still don’t fully understand to this day, they were already out. That meant the ground was barely a quarter full, a rarity for the Reds who are used to playing in front of packed houses, but perfect circumstances for a game we needed to win!
This of course was Luis Suarez’s first away game in Europe for us, and Jordan Henderson’s first half strike made sure it wouldn’t be his last! The prolific Antonio Di Natale missed a golden late opportunity to end our European campaign before 2013 kicked in, but thankfully we held on.
Some respite was finally gained from the elements as we were let straight out after the game – a rarity in Italy – onto waiting free busses. The rest of the night was spent in a city centre boozer in Udine with what seemed like half of our travelling support as all the old Kop classics and quite a few Beatles ones got a good airing!
Next day it was off to the stunning city of Venice for some sightseeing, lots of walking and expensive Guinness with my travelling companions Linda and John, 2 died in the wool Kopites who have seen the lot, before heading back to the equally pleasing-on-the-eye Verona on the Saturday to fly home. By this point, what seemed like the whole of Northern Italy was covered in half a foot of snow, but unlike over here the country doesn’t come to a standstill and I was relieved to find out things like trains, buses and planes still tend to run on time!
Sadly, our European run came to a standstill in the next round against Zenit St Petersburg.
Written by @Pilnick_Jimmy