This was originally posted in May 2007 and has been rescued from the archive of the old version of CraicOn.

AC Milan Win

AC Milan beat Liverpool 2-1 in the Champions League – but that was only a small part of my Champions League Final Experience.

I took my son Robbie to his second ever football match.

Early Morning Flight

The best we could get at short notice was a flight which left Belfast at 5:30am on Wednesday morning and arrived in Athens at 11:30. Buses would be there to take us to the ground where the final would take place at 9:45pm.

The return plane would leave at 2:55am on the Thursday morning and arrive in Belfast International airport at 5:05am.

Sleep Limited

Opportunities for sleep would be limited.

I decided to buy one of those lightweight tents. At the same time my brother-in-law decided to get one for me too. I chose his to take as mine was a beach tent and his a proper one.

I ordered a taxi from Moville’s only 24-hour service (if booked in advance), at my namesake Gerry McLaughlin’s First Cabs for 1:45am. I asked him to call me at 1am just to make sure which he did and he duly arrived at 1:45am.

Checking In

We got to Belfast International at 3:20am for the 5:30 flight and checked in.

We had already been told that there was no alcohol on the plane.

When we got to the airport with the other Liverpool fans the cafe was open but the bar was shut.

Being Prepared

Like the Ten Wise Virgins I had prepared for this by bringing a couple of cans of lager with me which I drunk with my breakfast bap (don’t take this anomaly too literally. The Ten Wise Virgins didn’t constantly have cans of lager about their person).

At about 4:40am I decided that Robbie and I should go through to Departures.

Loud Beep

As my bag went through it made a loud beep.

They searched the bag and made me open the tent. I hadn’t had a look at it before but there was no mention of any metals on the box.

However the poles and tent pegs were metal and looked a little dangerous I may say.

Back Downstairs

However, Baggage Control wouldn’t handle it and they said I had to go back downstairs and check the bag in again.

“Can I leave Robbie here?” I asked.

“No” they said. “There will be someone on the faraway desk” they said.

Of course there wasn’t and I had to do a lot of scrambling to get down and get it booked in and get on the flight on time.

Hand Luggage Only

It had said on the info that the flight was hand baggage only so I wondered about that.

Of course when we got off in Athens there was no non-handbaggage facility. We were all herded through to our buses and that was the last I saw of the tent.

If only it was just the tent I lost.

In and Out

They took us in a bus out to the ground.

Robbie and I then went into the centre of Athens at Omonia and had a Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was indoors, it had a toilet and it was really belting down with rain outside.

Athens is good though in that there are balconies on most apartment buildings so you can walk about the centre without getting very wet.

We were to meet some friends at Omonia at 3pm but they didn’t show (they had their own problems).


Robbie and I decided that we would go to see the Acropolis.

I must say that the modern day Athenians vary between the ‘entrepreneurs’ who are ‘on you’ as soon as you even look at their stall or cafe, or the workers in shops and train stations who are short tempered with any questions you ask them.

Strange Guy

As we were going up the escalators of the Acropolis station, this Greek guy just behind was acting strangely. He seemed to want to get close to me, bumping against me once and even motioned Robbie to get out the road.

I immediately decided (from my experiences of living London) that this guy was a pickpocket and moved away from him.
Outside the station this guy seemed to want to follow us so I went in the wrong direction and he followed us.

Escaping the Pickpocket

I stopped walking and he went past us.

I then started walking towards the Acropolis and he changed direction too.

I stopped so that he had to walk past me and I watched him go past. He stopped at the top of the street and I kept watching him till he went.

Checked Pockets

I checked the money in my pocket and it was all there.


I was too smart for the likes of him.

Good Afternoon

We had a good afternoon at the Acropolis even though it was very steep to climb in the afternoon in the muggy weather.

We saw the Parthenon and Temple of Athena as well as the big Amphitheatre of Dionysis.

“Wow” said Robbie impressed as he looked down into it. “Is that where they let the lions in?”

He was very disappointed to hear it was a place where they put on plays.

Needed Pictures

I thought I’d better take some pictures on my digital camera which I use for

It would be pretty silly to come all this way and not take some pictures.

I had to carry around my bag all day as we weren’t staying in a hotel.

As it was hot I had my jacket above my bag kept in place by the straps.

Where’s The Camera?

In the coat pocket was my digital camera – or rather it wasn’t.

“I must have left it at home” I thought. “How silly of me”.

But I was sure I had packed it.

As I discovered this morning when I got home, I had indeed packed it.

I just can’t sem to work out what happened to it.

Do any of you have any ideas, children?

Nap at the Acropolis

I had an often-interrupted light nap on a bench at the Acropolis for an hour or so whilst Robbie played in the garden.

“Look Dad. These look almost like bananas” he said showing me these skinny yellow things that he had picked off small trees”.

“I think they would have been” I replied.

Acropolis Rock

He also found a couple of pieces of rock that he said were from the Acropolis and was washing them off at a tap.

I was pretty sure that he couldn’t take them home especially as my bag would have to be searched as I went into the stadium.

It wouldn’t be wise if I had a couple of rocks in there, especially as children tend to pipe up and say where exactly these things come from at the most inconvenient time.

Ate and Slept

I let Robbie sleep for about an hour and a half on the bench on my lap as I did the SU Doku puzzle in The Times that I had paid €3.75 at Omonia. In fact I insisted on it.

We had something to eat and the cafe owner told me I could get a taxi round the corner to the stadium.

I though that was wise as Robbie had fallen asleep with his head on the cafe table as soon as we arrived and was still asleep.

Found a Cab

We walked around the corner and found just one taxi cab there.

I asked the driver how much it would be to the stadium.

“Lots of traffic for the match he said. I would have to charge you 60 Euros”.

Ripped Off

I realised that I was being ripped off but Robbie was very sleepy and going on two separate crowded metro trains to the match wouldn’t have been good so I said yes.

I had a good chat to the cab driver as we drove there but there seemed little traffic on this route at all which I mentioned to him.

Lucky for Him

“We were very lucky we came early. It would have been difficult later on” he said without offering a fare reduction.

It only took us 15 minutes to get there – or rather to the motorway from where you could see the stadium. He said he wouldn’t be able to get close because of the crowds and said I’d be better to walk the rest of the way.

I did. It didn’t look far but must have been three quarters of a mile with a sleepy boy in tow.

Little Traffic

I also saw very little traffic and only a trickle of supporters going that way to the stadium.

I got there and found that it wasn’t my entrance. I was entrance A which was a little down the road according to the police who encircled the ground.

Keep Going

I walked to entrance A and was told I had to go to entrance C which was a good way down the road.

It was the same at every entrance A, B, C, D and E. They had police and riot police blocking the way and telling you to go down the road.

As I discovered, the strategy was to have only one entrance for the Milan fans and one for the Liverpool fans – at the opposite behind-the-goal entrances.

Not Normal

The trouble was that the stadium is not like normal stadiums.

It is part of a large dockside complex where you get entrance to the dockside complex and then have to head back to the stadium.

I must have walked, with Robbie, about one and a half miles to get to the ‘Liverpool entrance’. Then I would have to walk back again.

Riot Police

As I went up to the entrance I saw lots of Liverpool fans with riot police stopping them.

They were only letting people in in dribs and drabs and it was a bit crushed.

The Liverpool fans were very good though and looked after Robbie.

This was with half an hour to go to the match start.

Let The Kid In

Some of the fans said to the riot police “Can you let the kid in?” – and they did – with his dad squeezing his way in too.

“Great! We’re in”, I thought, only to encounter a second line of riot police about 50 yards away.

The same thing happened there where we were jammed in a crowd. I didn’t see many people getting through.

Same Again

“Let the little lad through” the fans were saying to the police – and they did again – with his Dad too.

The same thing happened about another 100 yards away.

“At least let the kid through” the Liverpool fans said – and they did – with his Dad too.

Long Walk

At last were through but we had about three quarters of a mile to walk inside the complex.

As we got close we could hear the crowd singing.

“We’ll soon be in” I said to Robbie. “We’ll soon be in”.

We were just close to the stadium.

Line of Police

Then I saw a line of riot police vans with riot police blocking the gaps.

“How do we get in?” I asked one girl.

“They’re not going to let anyone else in” she said “even if they have tickets”.

A Blow

What a blow. We’d got all this way and we were going to be stopped at the last hurdle.

It was true as well.

No one else was going to get in – and there was just 5 minutes to kick off.

Not Pleased

Needless to say the Liverpool fans were not too pleased.

They were saying that the stadium was full and no one else could get in with or without tickets.

Good Gog!


It was shameless of me.

The previous times I hadn’t pulled Robbie forward.

The Liverpool fans were instinctive about it in getting ‘the kid’ through.

Come On Robbie

However, this time I said “Robbie come on” and dragged him through a few people to the front of the throng.

I wasn’t brazen enough to say to the riot police “Can you let the kid through?” but within minutes a woman and a couple of guys were asking the riot police “Would you let the kid through?”

Last Line

“Would they?” I wondered. Was this last line of riot police, the crack troops, the hardest of the hard, the Praetorian Guard?

Their lines parted and we were through.

Glory, Glory we were going to see the Champions League final.

I felt very sorry for the fans who had helped us get through and who wouldn’t get to see the match.

Tear Gas

As we got through the lines I cast my eye over my shoulder and saw a canister of tear gas being thrown into where I had just been standing. those that had demanded Robbie got through must have got it full pelt

The other riot police dragged the guy who did it away and in behind the vans where a dozen of them were having strong words with the perpetrator before swiftly recreating the line.


And into the stadium we went.

We went up the stairs to our section ready to take our seats.

We immediately saw that it was standing room only and that the aisles were full.

Standing Room Only

“You won’t get down there” said one Liverpool fan. “There’s been a load of forged tickets”.

I stood in the aisle but as everyone was standing I managed to get Robbie a spot standing on a seat just between two guys who were standing.

It seemed very dodgy and wondered what would have happened and Liverpool had scored. There would have been a surge down the stairs.

No Checking

One guy said to me “It’s a joke. I got in earlier on and no one even checked my ticket. Anybody could have got in”.

As there were 40,000 Liverpool fans over with just 17,000 of them having tickets, my best guess was that incompetence by UEFA and the stadium authorities that were the cause of the problem causing them to prevent real ticket holders from getting in and using riot police to ‘handle them’.

They were making their own customers pay for their own cock-up.

Bump from Behind

I had my bag behind me but as more and more people got in and it got more crowded I decided to take my bag and put it on a seat beside Robbie to make more room.

Soon after I felt a bump from the guy behind me and I nearly went forward.

About a minute later I felt another bump from the same guy with the same effect.

Let’s Go

I looked round at him. He said to a friend “Let’s go down the front”.

I thought that perhaps my look at him had had the desired effect.

With about 10 minutes to halftime I put my hand in my pocket.

All my money had gone.

Safe Than Sorry

I had had it in two wads in my pocket.

I had wanted to be safer than sorry. I didn’t want to be stuck in Athens with no money or not able to afford a flight out and a few days in a hotel if things went wrong.

Happened Before

It had happened to me before at the Oktoberfest in Munich when because of the high prices I couldn’t afford a substitute plane out till 5 days later.

I was determined that this would never happen again. I won’t have a card for another week so I had to take cash with me.

I had to take enough for all eventualities and there was Robbie as well.

Two Wads

So, I took €3,500 out of the bank and had most of it in my pocket when the pickpocket struck.

You could say I was disappointed.

It was difficult to concentrate on the match.

No Money

All I had was change in my pocket. There would be a bus to take us to the airport and I had a flight home.

If anything went wrong I had a 9-year-old boy in Greece and only change in my pocket.

Consolation Coming?

I was just thinking that if at least Liverpool win then a few years down the line I could have a laugh about it all and say that I was there when Liverpool won their 6th European Cup – when AC Milan scored with a deflected free kick.

Up went the AC Milan fans in unison at the opposite end and GOAL was posted on the huge screen.

There would be no consolation.


After the match was a bit of a shambles.

There was one Thomas Cook rep to handle the bus allocation for all Liverpool supporters.

We were supposed to get on the buses designated for the colour of our wristbands (mine was yellow) but we eventually got on one of the buses for the pinks and greens wristbands as everybody else was doing it.


At the airport it was complete pandemonium with crushes to try to get through Passport Control.

They let people through in batches so there was long waits with people wondering if they would catch their planes – and it was very hot and sweaty.

It was even worse for Robbie as he couldn’t see anything in the crowd.


We eventually got outside where the airport buses would arrive to take you to the plane.

As there was no info and thousands of people milling around there was a mad rush for each bus that came in.

The people were going to Liverpool were told that their plane was cancelled until 1am the following morning. They had nowhere to go and no one appeared to be around to help them.

Got the Plane

Eventually we got our plane and arrived at Belfast International at 6:40am instead of 5:05am.

Would our taxi driver Gerry McLaughlin still be there, wondered a very weary Robbie, as he had been booked for 5:05am?

Of course he was. He was standing just outside the main door – and he didn’t even charge us any extra in the end.

Mighty Pleased

We were mighty pleased to see him.

As it was a bit later Gerry said that it would be best to take the Ferry route to Greencastle rather than hit Derry’s early morning traffic.

Coming or Going?

We got there at 7:25am.

We saw, as we approached, the Ferry either just arriving or just departing.

Gerry wasn’t sure which it was.

After the day I had had I knew exactly.

It was just departing.

Back Home

However, 40 minutes later we were back home and Robbie fell asleep immediately on the couch.

I’m sure in a few months time this will be a great anecdote.

But if you see me in town be careful of saying “I hear you lost over €3,000 Euros to a pickpocket”.

Abiding Memory

The reporter from the Derry Journal asked me what would be my abiding memory of it all.

I said that the chaos and the waiting would loom large as the memories of the missing camera and cash receded but that the real abiding memory would be the separate groups of Liverpool supporters who demanded and insisted that little Robbie should get through the riot police lines and into the match – and also of four different sets of Greek riot police who immediately ushered him through as soon as his dilemma was pointed out to them.

Lump in Throat

I must say I feel a little lump in my throat to think that probably all of those Liverpool supporters didn’t get to the see the Champions Cup final and didn’t even get to see it on screen – after paying €140 Euros each for the tickets and for planes and hotel rooms as well.

But they ensured and insisted that my little boy got in to see it.

Without them Robbie and myself would have missed the whole thing too.

That’s what my abiding memory will be.

The Longest Day

And all of the above took place in less than 29 hours.

Tickets were selling for up to €2,500 apiece before the match and Robbie and I had two of them.

Do I wish that I had sold them and sat at home watching the match on TV?

Not at all.

Longlasting Memory

In 50 years time, when I’m long gone, Robbie will be telling his grandchildren about the time he went to Athens for the Champions League final.

Those are the days you remember.

It’s too easy to sit at home and have loads of days that will drift easily from your memory.

Liverpool got to the Champions League final – and my son Robbie and I were there.

All that’s left is to tell the wife about the missing €3,500 🙂