These are the days, my friends: my top ten in a season of friendship

Posted: June 1, 2007 in Euro jaunts, Fan Culture, Supporters' football

An article written for the official Liverpool FC website in 2007, a wonderful season when I’d just been made redundant and so I could afford to go to most of Liverpool’s away matches in Europe !

The Top Ten of Friendship: Highlights of a Liverpool Supporter’s European Season 2006-07
                                                                      By Nigel Shaw

In the hour before the Champions League Final kicked off in Athens I didn’t witness the difficulties being faced by many of my fellow Reds as they tried to enter the stadium. I must admit I was on a high after a wonderful afternoon spent  with the Olympiakos fans at their stadium in Piraeus, but I don’t think that affected my sense of vision or reality and as I strolled happily from the metro to Gate One of the stadium, not seeing any trouble whatsoever. As a seasoned away traveller I could see the arrangements for ticket checking were woefully inadequate, and I don’t wish to minimise the problems – but I didn’t see any trouble, and only heard about it afterwards.  

I bumped into my mate John and we were comparing notes on the highlights of our trips to Athens. Both of us had spent a thoroughly enjoyable few days in the Greek capital, looking around the sights, sampling great food, swapping stories with Reds from all over the world and mingling happily with Milan fans. Both of us agreed that the matchday afternoon’s friendly meet-up with Olympiakos fans at their stadium in Piraeus was one of the highlights of a great season, and we thought it would be remembered for many years to come (see below for details), whatever the result that night. I shook his hand and off we went to enjoy the match from our different sections of the Liverpool end.

Afterwards John agreed that one of the most memorable things about that hour before kick-off, though, as we absorbed the atmosphere and took a hundred photographs of all the wonderful flags around us in our different sections of the ground, were the ‘good luck’ texts we received from supporters of other teams around Europe – probably more than from family and friends back home !  I got messages of goodwill from supporters we’d met up with at earlier rounds like Bordeaux and Barcelona – and John got one from the Galatasaray supporters’ club that he and his mates from Red all Over The Land met up with last December in Istanbul.

A couple of days later we debated our own personal ‘top ten’ highlights of another great season of in Europe. We couldn’t agree on the exact contents or order of our lists, but it was noticeable that all of the memories we chose had more to do with our unfailing ability to bond with our ‘opposing’ supporters from the ‘grass roots’ upwards, than with the results themselves. So, in reverse order, here are my personal Top Ten Euro memories of 2006-07:

10.  The brilliant atmosphere in Monastiraki Square, where Liverpool and Milan fans partied on the Thursday night in Athens. Coming out of the tube station at midnight 24 hours after our defeat I assumed it must be Rossoneri fans singing this unfamiliar tune, and sure enough the first fans I saw in the square were Milanese. But I soon realised that they were dancing and clapping along in admiration and amusement while hundreds of Reds sang the new ‘Best Midfield in the World’ song non-stop. They were awestruck, as a conga line of merry reds gave high-fives and handshakes to every Milan fan around. I heard them say in Italian ‘imagine what they’re like when they win’. This reminded me of taking a friend from Milan, a massive Inter fan, into the Albert pub  behind the Kop a couple of hours after the home defeat to Man United last March – he phoned his mates back home and let them listen to the songs, before using that exact same phrase in Italian ‘imagine what they’re like when they win’.

9.  Another great season for iLFC, our supporters’ team based at the Sandon pub, Anfield,which after organising friendly games with Juve and Inter fans in the previous two seasons, is now planning a major international supporters’ tournament in Liverpool next summer. Typical of the events we take part in was the excellent atmosphere at a friendly supporters’ tournament in Birkenhead in May, where Tranmere, Liverpool and Everton fans exchanged friendly banter and played matches with other supporters’ teams from Northern England and Scotland. Various other very successful ‘mini derbies’ have been organised throughout the season between teams from LFC & EFC websites.

8.  Teaching the ‘neutral’ Dynamo Kiev fans, together with numerous Russian and Ukrainian Reds, to sing our songs at the Maccabi away game last August. I am reliably informed that the local translation “we all dream of a team of Schevchenkoes” has now taken off at international matches in Kiev.

7.  Dancing to a Beatles tribute band in the Cavern Club with the Barca fans in March. It’s great to have an excuse to be a tourist in your own city every now and then, and the delight on their faces at being in the home of the Fab Four was unforgettable.

6.  Dancing until we dropped with the Bordeaux fans at Lloyds Bar in Concert Square last October. It’s great to use the excuse of ‘entertaining visitors’ to escape from the Mrs. every now and then !

5.  Galatasaray away. The only one on my list where I wasn’t there (and personally I’ll always be a  Beşiktaş man), but I’ve included this one for John from RAOTL. The meetings between Galatasaray’s Ultra Aslan group and our supporters started when we first played Gala in 2002 and the link is going strong, with wonderful hospitality, exchange of scarves, badges, shirts and songs the night before the CL group match.

4.  Arsenal home. OK, this wasn’t a European match, but with the way the Arsenal fans responded so positively to our leaflets telling them what the day was all about, their comments of support, the exchange of HJC scarves and badges with them, and the way Thierry Henry said it was the most remarkable atmosphere he’d ever experienced …this very English FA Cup match sure felt like a European night !

3.  Barca away. It was remarkable enough organising a supporters’ match over the internet, and a miracle that any of us ever found the pitch on the outskirts of Barcelona in the foothills of the mountains… but the most amazing thing is that this match was organised jointly on the Red and White Kop site by top Reds from Russia, Liverpool and New Delhi !! This was another wonderful friendly event, the sort of gesture which is changing football for the better every season,  which got good coverage in the Catalan press but none in the UK

2.   Bordeaux away. Unable to arrange a supporters’ match, the “Devils” group of Bordeaux Ultras certainly made up for it in hospitality. They didn’t live up to their sinister name at all, by plying us with all-night free beer, free scarves, banners, sweatshirts and badges. We made sure we returned the compliment in Liverpool a

fortnight later.

1.  Athens, May 23rd 2007.  I won’t remember the shambolic organisation at the stadium in the evening for half as long as I remember the friendship exchanged that afternoon. On previous visits to Anfield the Olympiakos Gate Seven supporters, 21 of whom were crushed to death at their old stadium in 1981, had laid tributes at the Hillsborough memorial. So on this occasion the gesture was returned with a ceremony at their memorial. Steve Wright and Murf from the HJC/RAOTL organised the presentation of a wreath and a banner saying ‘21 + 96 You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

Over a hundred Liverpool Reds were there that afternoon to show solidarity with their brothers & sisters from Piraeus, and hundreds more made pilgrimages on the following days, dozens of them leaving their LFC scarves tied on the 3 separate memorials, around the stadium and in the museum. The bond between the local  Gate 7 supporters and members of Red All Over the Land, many of whom personally knew the victims of the respective tragedies, was incredibly moving.  Afterwards we sat in their café exchanging scarves, badges and e-mail addresses, and made plans for exchange visits and a supporters’ match next season. We weren’t even allowed to pay for the beer and Kebabs we enjoyed in the stadium’s “Red Café” !  The Greek press was full of positive reaction to the afternoon’s events … but of course the English media ignored it, happy just to repeat the negatives and the UEFA smears over and over. After all, despite clearly being the world experts in grass roots football friendship, we’re suddenly ‘the worst fans in Europe’, aren’t we ?  [Oh no, by the time I’d finally posted this article, we’re not again. Make up your minds UEFA ! Who was it stole our ‘worst fans’ crown during the last week, anyway, Monsieur Gaillard ? Surely we deserve to be told ! ]

A lot has been written about that certain special something in the social culture of Merseyside that makes us perhaps that bit more willing and more able to break the ice and establish warm friendships wherever we go; it’s clear that it’s a cultural thing, nurture rather than nature, because adopted Reds from beyond the city  and across the globe have quickly picked up on these traditions too. Whether it be a simple shake of the hand, a spontaneous exchange of scarves or a meeting planned over the internet like the ones I’ve listed above, the vast majority of our supporters are a credit to our city and an example to follow throughout the European football community.

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