Article by Sachin Nakrani
“Balotelli! He wears a welly! He likes jelly …. and ice cream!”
It was a giddy metro journey back from the Allianz Arena. And a joyous one. Actually, joyous doesn’t cover it. Wildly ecstatic may be closer to the mark. But more than anything – shock.
We did it. Victory at Bayern Munich. The slaying of a European giant and one, I’ll be honest, I didn’t see coming when I departed for Bavaria on Tuesday afternoon. I expected us to lose. Not by much, but by enough. We’re struggling for goals away from home and they’ve been flying since the turn of the year. There could only be one outcome. Defeat. Auf Wiedersehen, Reds.
But not this time. This time it was like 1981, but better. Three goals, a mature, clinical display and for those of us high up at the home of the Bundesliga champions, a night to remember. A night to never forget.
We sang. And we sang on the metro back into town. Line U6 from Fröttmaning to Marienplatz. All the classics were there – Poor Scouser Tommy, Fields of Anfield Road, Every Other Saturday, Luis Garcia, Maxi Rodriguez, Allez-Allez-Allez. And the Balotelli song.
Yes, the Balotelli song. What do you mean you’ve never heard it?
To be honest, neither had I until the guy by the window started singing it, and I’m pretty sure he made it up there and then.
It started with “Balotelli! He wears a welly!” No response from the rest of us in the carriage. So he tried again. “Balotelli! He wears a welly!” Nothing again.
He gave it another go, and this time there was a new line. “He likes jelly! … and ice cream!”
Cue laughter and a decision on my part to support the mad bastard.
“Balotelli!” I sang as he sang it again.
“He wears a welly!” I added as he added it again.
Cue more laughter and more of the same. It was ace and the only shame was it didn’t spread. But no fuss, no worry, it was good craic. Good fun. The sound of happiness.
These are the days, my friend. A reminder on a bitterly cold evening in southern Germany that there are few better things in life than following Liverpool in Europe. It’s not always cake and coffee – or indeed, jelly and ice cream – as our three group games this season have shown. But when it goes right, it’s utterly glorious. Backs are patted, songs are sung, memories are made.
For our group, especially. We all came out for this one and the hardcore ended up standing together. In Block 342. Behind the goal where Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane scored in the second half. And how we celebrated as the goals went in. Full bundles, a sense of collective joy. Friendship in action.
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We’ve been up and down the motorway since August, shared many highs but also some lows, not to mention frustration as Liverpool’s title bid has wobbled in recent weeks. It was especially flat for those of us who were in the car on the way back from the Etihad Stadium in early January, after the 2-1 defeat. But this is what we do, and on nights like this, every stress and strain of being a match-going Red feels utterly worth it.
For Savva and I there was added joy to take from this triumph; our very own reward for having been there for the defeats in Naples, Belgrade and Paris. All good trips, all more than worthwhile, but a trio of nut-kickings nevertheless. You want to leave those ground happy, head back into town with a smile on your face and in pursuit of a celebratory pint. Instead you’re downbeat, a bit fed up and ready to get home. That’s how we felt, anyway.
But not this time. This time we bounced out of the ground, part of a swarming group of Reds all singing the Bobby Firmino song as we headed into a Munich night. From there it was to the metro stop where it took a while to get on the train and, once we were on, a journey that was crowded and cramped to say the least. But nobody moaned after what we’d witnessed. Spirits were high and songs were sang. Oh, how we sang.
“Balotelli! He wears a welly! He likes jelly …. and ice cream!”
I landed in Munich around 2.30pm on Tuesday. A pleasant flight from Stanstead followed by a particularly pleasant train journey from the airport into town given it was shared with Jonathan Northcroft, the Sunday Times’ football correspondent and one of the nicest men in journalism. He had been on my plane and we spoke a lot as the German countryside flashed past our window. Topics ranged from vegan diets to the obsessive genius of Jonathan’s former colleague and the recently deceased Hugh McIllvaney.
Once in the centre of Munich, Jonathan and I went our separate ways, to our separate hotels. Mine was the Arthotel Munich, located on Paul-Heyse-Straße, a short walk from the central station and where Savva was waiting having been in Munich since the previous day.
We checked into our room and headed to Marienplatz, a spacious, picturesque square lined with shops, beers halls and restaurants. Savva and I had a couple of jugs – massive, heavy jugs – of dark beer in one gaff before going for dinner. Savva had picked up a ‘cool guide’ from the hotel, which listed ‘cool’ places to go in the city. Wanky it may sound but incredibly useful it proved.
Among its dinner options was Spezlwirtschaft, a restaurant located off the beaten track in what appeared to be an abandoned building until we got to the top floor. There we found a door and through it was a cracking little place to get some grub and ale. Dimly lit but also friendly, and where I got a lovely-if-not-heavy plate of cheesy noodles (a Munich specialty, apparently).
Dinner ate, Savva and I again consulted the cool guide. This time for a place to get a drink or two, and again we hit gold – The High, a shoebox-sized venue that is the epitome of hip. Dark, moody, a wall behind the bar filled with bottle of spirits and plants that, how can I put this … explains the bar’s name.
The barman was ace. Slim, bearded, all smiles and an 1860 Munich fan. He served Savva a glass of white wine, me a cocktail (can’t remember what was in it) and told us how much he really, really hoped Liverpool beat Bayern the following evening.
Savva and I loved it in there, especially having become fascinated by the two women sat to our right drinking Olympic-sized glasses of wine as well as by the group of people to our left who were eclectic to say the least.
We stayed in there for a while before deciding to head back. Walking through the central train station we bumped into the younger lads from our group who had landed a little while earlier and were now very much in the hunt for a good time. And they found it, arriving back at our hotel, where they were also staying, around 7am.
We met up later that morning at different stages of wear and headed into town for a drink, with Marienplatz again the destination of choice. A beer hall was found and, sat among fellow Reds, Nimit, the wild child of our group, slipped seamlessly into characteristically wild mood. In his Van Dijk t-shirt he flirted outrageously with the dirndl-clad waitress, who veered from furiously frustrated to feely-touchy at a whim. Truly, it was a sight to behold.
From there we moved to a restaurant filled with more Reds and, gradually, we split, with the younger lads (led by Nimit) hitting an Irish bar while Savva and I met up with the older gents in our group, who’d landed that morning and, as is always the case, decided upon a less boozy-buildup to the match.
Coffee and cake was had on what was an increasingly chilly day in Munich and before long it was time to get ready for the main event. Savva and I headed back to the hotel, got ready (which in my case included putting on an extra t-shirt) and headed out again in order to meet the older gents at their hotel around the corner. From there we got on the metro and headed to the ground.
It was a lengthy journey but very much worth it. Out of Fröttmaning and there it is – the Allianz Arena, lit up like a bright-red spaceship that has crashed on to Bavarian wasteland. In the middle of nowhere and truly one of Europe’s most stunning venues.
Security was fantastically relaxed and friendly – in complete contrast to Paris – and before we knew it we were inside. Cue more awe. A high-rising, curved super-dome of a stadium, exactly where a club as grand as Bayern Munich should play.
The only negative of the entire gaff is the process of buying food and drink, involving as it does the purchasing of an Arena Card. You find the booth, tell the woman behind the counter how much you want to put on it and pay via credit card. I asked for €10, which is €10 I’ll never see again given the difficulty of actually buying anything. One stall and, as such, incredibly lengthy queues. I tried twice to navigate it – before kick-off and at half-time – and on both cases gave up.
In normal circumstances that’s no big deal, but when you’ve already committed €10 to buying a German sausage and a glass of alcohol-free beer, well …. let’s just say I hate the Arena Card that is sat in my wallet and may be for some time with every fibre of my being.
But who cares when you’ve ended up seeing the Reds win. Against Bayern. At their place. In the Champions League. With your mates.
And now for Friday’s quarter-final draw. Who do I want? Easy: Ajax. Never seen us play them and never been to Amsterdam. Who do I reckon we’ll get? Easy: One of the Manchester clubs. An awful, stressful, terrifying prospect, especially if we end up with City. They’ll do us, I can feel it.
But, whatever happens I’ll always have Munich, where we came, saw and fucking conquered. And sang about Mario Balotelli.
Up the European Reds.
Article by Sachin Nakrani