Every football fan dreams of attending a match of the most prestigious European club competition in person. What if I told you that I was able to experience that memorable experience for the first time?
They say the Champions League tournament is the best football club tournament in the world.
Every year, cities like Milan, Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Paris, London, and Manchester host thousands of fans to come and watch the very best of football’s superstars. Even fans of smaller clubs from small cities across Europe get a once in a lifetime chance to see their heroes in person. For them, the scoreline is not always the most important thing on their minds, instead it’s the memories they will carry on with them forever that matter.
For a fan like myself, I couldn’t get that opportunity growing up. Mexico and the United States have never hosted a Champions League game. The closest I could get to the stadiums was by turning on the television at 11:45 am or, even better, by secretly watching a game on my phone during classes thinking the teachers never had a clue. They did.
To this day, the near top of my bucket list is to watch at least 10 Champions League matches live. That’s not too delusional is it? Geographical distances and bad timing never allowed me to have such opportunities before. However, trying to pursue an MA in sports journalism in London has not only allowed me the opportunity to watch a game now, but also in the future as a football commentator. I know what you’re thinking. “Did you do it Louis? Did you go to a match? Will you get to the point?” To answer that question (yes I did) I need to explain how first.
A colleague of mine at Sports Gazette had received two free tickets for the match between Manchester City FC and FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Her connections with the Ukranian team got her great seats to the game and also an interview that can be found on the Sports Gazette site.
The second I saw her invitation to the staff group chat I typed as fast as I could to respond that I would gladly go with her. To me it did not matter who the two clubs were: As 1. I am a neutral fan between the two historic clubs (Hala Madrid!) 2. It was an excuse to explore the city of Manchester and 3. It’s the freaking Champions League man! So the plan was to leave London by bus on a Monday to arrive a full day prior to the game and come back on Wednesday. After finding a reasonable price on an Airbnb that was a stonesthrow away from the stadium and later a bus ticket, things were set.
Ayodeji was the man kind enough to let me stay in an extra room in his small home for two nights. We talked briefly of eachother’s lives and origins and what teams we supported. The poor lad is an Arsenal fan since the days of The Invincibles and is currently ‘Wenger In’.
Tuesday finally arrives and I meet my friend from the gazzete in the city centre where she was staying at a hotel. We explore the city for a bit and come to find that there is a Museum of Football. We of course check it out and find brilliant content on past and current players, trophies, referees, managers, and so much more. After the museum my friend had to quickly travel to Liverpool to interview a young Croatian player who had recently signed for Everton. She would go there and back and meet me just in time for the game. Before she left, the gave me my ticket. The beautiful slip of paper had my seat information: Entrance X, block 228, aisle 230, row B and seat 785 (pictured above). Probably my favorite detail of the ticket was the price: 0 pounds. After a quick bite and a recharge of the phone battery I was off to the game.
I decided to check out a local pub next to the stadium an hour before just to see what the atmosphere was like. Mary D’s bar did not dissapoint. People of all ages were in there supporting their hometown team with all sorts of Man. City jerseys and accessories. The walls were covered by pictures and paintings of team players and of lyrics speaking fondly of the City fans and club. The atmosphere was filled with excitement and good music. As matchtime got closer, people finished their pints and headed for the streets.
I followed suit and walked over to my entrance. My friend said she was going to be late and that she would meet me at our seats. I did not hesitate to follow directions since watching the pre match anthem was at the top of my priorities. If you are a proper football fan, then you know the magnitude of that anthem that plays before every Champions League match. The situation to get to my seat could not have taken more than 3 minutes. They were placed in the Shakhtar player’s box where friends and family sit so there never was a line to get in.
You know the feeling you get when you see the field of a stadium as you walk through the blocks? This felt like that and more…Champions League style. Already the centre cirlce was covered by the giant tarp of the Champions League ball. The real football was as shiny as ever ready to be picked up by the referee when the players walk onto the pitch. So finally the moment came. The players and referees had walked onto the pitch and began to face the crowd. 3..2..1…and there it was, the famous chant. You’re singing it in your head right now aren’t you? Chills is all I felt. After so many years of hearing that song through the television (or phone) speakers, I could hear it live in person. The fact that Man City fans were whistling the chant could not ruin the moment. Although I still don’t know why they would try to interrupt such a significant moment for players and fans.
The game itself was as entertaining. The Shakhtar fans around me that consisted of friends and family made it all the more exciting every time the visitors had an opportunity to score. The entire stadium of home fans couldn’t even stand the chance of quieting the handful of Shakhtar ultras that had made the trip themselves and sung their lungs out in the far corner.
My friend only missed the opening 10 minutes of the first half and we were able to enjoy every second of the match once she arrived. Watching these world class players perfect their craft was a real sight to see. Their passes, movements, touches, runs, and tackles looked like an art form. The star designed football was in the correct setting that night. The sight of Pep Guardiola’s iconic bald head made the night even more memorable. The fact that both goals by Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, and even Sergio Aguero’s penalty miss were all on our side of the pitch just added to the surreal experience. Oh and receiving an update that Real Madrid had won at Borussia Dortmund was the cherry on top of course.
The 2-0 scoreline in favor of the home team was a great way to watch my first ever Champions League match. It was all I imagined it could be and more. Nothing beats the experience of watching a football game live, especially a Champions League match. What more can I ask for now? Except for more of course. Now I cannot wait for the next opportunity. I will do everything I can to continue watching those games live, as a fan and as a professional journalist. A certain team named Real Madrid pay a visit to the city of London and will play Tottenham in the tournament later this year…
Featured Image: Higor Douglas