Waleed Aly: I've Seen Nothing Like The Liverpool Fan Park In Madrid On The Weekend
We’ve conquered all of Europe... We’re never gonna stop... From Paris down to Turkey... We’ve won the f@&$ing lot!
And didn’t they half sing that? There’s probably no song that better sums up Liverpool at the moment.
This mighty, tragic club, tormented by a three-decade drought in England’s Premier League, but defiant and now glorious as the kings of Europe. Again.
This was its sixth triumph in Europe’s Champions League -- more than all other Premier League clubs combined. It is here, in what for mine is the greatest sporting competition in the world (where all the greatest teams from different countries play each other) that Liverpool really comes into its own.
"Reds voted Remain because we love being in Europe" screamed one banner I saw at the fan park in Madrid. And I have seen nothing like that fan park.
What, maybe 30,000 Reds fans, gathered together in one place singing songs for seven hours? Maybe 50,000 once you factor in comings and goings.
Whatever, they drove 20 hours from the UK, they flew in via three countries when direct flights were fully booked or cancelled, and in several cases they flew in from Sydney or, according to one banner, “Queensland Australia”.
Most of them didn’t have tickets, or even the faintest hope of one. There wasn’t even a public screening of the match. But they just wanted to be there, needed to be there.
And so they all baked in the sun and they sang. Occasionally they were accompanied by someone on stage playing an acoustic guitar, which has become a recent post-match tradition in Liverpool. Sometimes they would divert into Beatles songs in honour of what -- for this weekend -- is the second greatest thing Liverpool has produced. Sometimes a DJ would play pop songs that had been re-purposed into Liverpool songs over the years and the fans would know which version to sing.
They waved their scarves over their heads and let off flares. They climbed on balconies and sat on top of porta-loos. At one point, a guy near me crashed through the roof of one and found it hilarious. Nothing could ruin this.
And yet, every description seems somehow to flatten the experience. The best I can do is to say it was Glastonbury in red with a singular, magnificent focus. But even that doesn’t capture the scale. It doesn’t capture how the singing broke out spontaneously into the narrow streets of central Madrid; how you’d turn a corner and hear the faintest, most distant sound of a crowd roaring in song, then follow your ears until you were part of the throng; how groups of friends and families dressed in red eating dinner would lock eyes with another group and start singing and shouting at them in recognition; how a football match turned into a pilgrimage, then a festival, then a party.
Yes it was a privilege to be at the game itself -- a miracle, almost certainly never to be repeated, to get a ticket. But it’s the fan culture I’ll most truly remember.
These are not things that can be manufactured by official bodies planning official celebrations of official sporting events. They don’t even come from the massive, global fan bases these clubs attract. They come from the people who turn up every week in the same way their grandparents did and who hand down and on a living history even as they keep evolving it, then lend it to those around the world to buy into.
That’s why it works. It’s global in scale, but local in its heart and its cultural thickness. The world was in raptures, but the city of Liverpool was taking the lead. This was a union of those who wrote the songs and sing them every week, and those who never get to. And it evolves so seamlessly because those evolving this culture are so steeped in it.
And just as well because the songs will need to be updated now! Sure, they’ve still won the f...ing lot, but Turkey (where Liverpool last won the Champions League in 2005) is no longer the book end. “From Paris to Espana”, maybe? “We’ve won it five times” will obviously become six. New ones will be written telling new stories of new heroes and connecting them to old ones.
And one day, say 15 years from now, in some unspecified European city, we’ll come together to do it all again, tickets or not.