MADRID - Impatient, tired, and perhaps a little bit buzzed, everyone on this stretch of Madrid highway decided to walk. Liverpool owner John Henry and the great Ian Rush also abandoned their vehicles, joining the wanderers plodding along the curb. There was no relief from the scorching sun, but with less than two hours to go before the main event, sitting and waiting wasn't an option.
Cars and tour buses were at a complete standstill. Drivers honked, knowing full well that would achieve nothing. It all felt hopeless. So close, yet so far. The stadium was just over the adjacent hill, but you couldn't see it. Walking the highway was the only way to get there.
Then the sirens whizzed by, one after the other, and the team buses followed closely behind. The police escort had arrived. Traffic started to move. The 2019 Champions League final was just over an hour from kick-off.
No ticket, no problem
It felt like there was the potential for something bad to happen. Tens of thousands of ticketless Liverpool and Tottenham supporters flew to Madrid to soak in and contribute to the atmosphere. Many of them came with just the shirts on their backs and beers in hand, without accommodations or luggage in tow. Bookings were tough to come by - hostels were listed for as much as €1,000 a night - forcing many of the traveling contingents to fend for themselves.
Police had set up a pretty wide perimeter outside the Wanda Metropolitano to maintain some order, placing barricades all around the roads leading to the stadium. They patrolled the gates in riot gear and on horseback. One officer blew his whistle so many times he ditched his patience and swung his horse around to stop the flow of people, nearly bodychecking an unaware Englishman.
"What a beautiful horse," the fan said, dissipating the apparent tension.
Inside the barricades was littered with rubbish. The perimeter wasn't immune to anything. Former United States international Jimmy Conrad, who was live-streaming from outside the stadium, saw one fan whiz by with a stolen ticket in hand. "I don't think I've ever seen someone run that fast," Conrad told theScore. The culprit was eventually caught by someone in plain clothes. Liverpool Echo correspondent James Pearce had already warned on Twitter that people disguised as stewards were scamming ticket-goers.
But those were the exceptions. There were few arrests and no major problems. Most of the night went without incident. The Champions League final, unfortunately, followed suit.
Fans mean everything
There was little of substance to gather from the match. Liverpool and Tottenham defended well, making several last-ditch tackles to prevent scoring opportunities, but the panache that brought them to the final was nowhere to be seen. Liverpool didn't gamble much after scoring early through Mohamed Salah, and Tottenham, for all their magnificent buildup play, collapsed every time they entered the final third.
It was impossible to be entertained by what was happening, a real shame considering all the goals and dramatic moments the two clubs created in the previous round. It wasn't the final that this season's Champions League deserved.
But what was happening in the stands was impossible to ignore. All in red, the Liverpool fans in the south end of the stadium were one bouncing mass, breaking out into the famous "Allez! Allez! Allez!" chant that's sweeping across European football. Tottenham supporters tried to drown out the noise and sung loud even in defeat, but the sheer number of Liverpool fans dwarfed north London's best offering.
Tony Barrett, head of club and supporter liaison at Liverpool, revealed that most of the Kop - with their flags, banners, and flares - had made the trip. Resisting their influence proved futile.
The fans in the city center were just as loud and raucous. At the Plaza Felipe II, in the heart of Madrid, more than 70,000 supporters spent all Saturday singing their favorite songs and dancing to retro hits. BBC and DAZN presenter Colin Murray, who was spinning the tracks at the pre-match festivities, called it the best hour of his life.
And in the end, those efforts were vindicated. All the Liverpool supporters who traveled in a nightmare of ways - not knowing where to watch, where to stay, or what would happen - witnessed something special.
There were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and old-timers taking the piss out of each other. This was an all-ages affair, an education in being a Liverpool fan, and, for others, a reminder of why they became one. It was about drinking and having a good time, but it was also about the sense of togetherness and gregariousness they have as a collective.
"It's not just about the football, it's the occasion, just following your team," one fan told Liverpool TV before the match. "Being here on the day, it's just an amazing feeling."
Each of them will have their own story to tell because no one saw the final the same way. Some watched in bars, dodging flying beer; some from high in the stands; some up close and personal. But they all can say they were there when the Reds conquered the continent for a sixth time, breaking a tie with Barcelona and Bayern Munich for the third-most European Cups.
The players felt an obligation to share that history with them. It was the fans' trophy, too.
One image stands out among the rest. When the time had come to line up and collect the winners' medals, Trent Alexander-Arnold couldn't be pulled away. He stayed back a few extra seconds to revel with the makeshift Kop, running the width of the stand with fists and arms in the air, celebrating in the most feral manner. The 20-year-old, born and raised on Merseyside, wanted to give back to his people.
On and on it went. The synergy was palpable. It didn't seem like Liverpool were in any rush to leave the Wanda Metropolitano. They sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" arm in arm and blasted music in the bowels of the stadium. It was well close to 2 a.m. when they finally decided to move the party elsewhere.
The final itself was forgettable. But everything around it is impossible to forget.