“THERE are places I remember all my life”.
Rottach Egern will forever be one of those for me and my lad Charlie.
His first trip to Europe to watch The Reds brought us to the beautiful town on the banks of Lake Tegernsee some 35 miles south of Munich.
Having arrived in Munich from Stuttgart the night before we had an 8am train to catch in the hope of being able to watch Liverpool training prior ahead of a big night at the Allianz Arena. Charlie had his Liverpool kit laid out ready for the early start. At 7am the phone alarm broke the silence and Charlie sprung up and was in his kit in seconds, unlike a school day where I am constantly asking him to get his uniform on.
Thanks to the wonders of Twitter (one of the few wonders, maybe) I knew where Liverpool were training and that you could watch training from outside but also that they had held open training where fans got close to the players so it was worth a shot. To get there we had to take an hour-long train journey to Tegernsee and then a 20 minutes bus ride to the town. Due to my appalling German and the need to get breakfast, the 30 minutes I had left to sort everything out resulted in us making the train with 30 seconds to spare as the officious conductor wouldn’t allow us on “his” regional train without a ticket.
I was the frazzled dad, sweating profusely and breathing heavily, guzzling water down his neck slumped into his seat, Charlie was alright though oblivious to the pressure I was under not to ruin his day he was tucking into his chocolate croissant that was dripping on to his chin due to the already intense heat, I was desperately trying to keep his kit clean, you can’t meet the boys covered in chocolate.
After an hour Lake Tegernsee came into view and the train trundled through the edges of the town, it was stunning, a beautiful blue lake surrounded by stunning Alpine-style houses. The town is seemingly where the affluent folk of Munich like to spend the summer. As we jumped off the train we stopped for more water as the temperature was already over 30 degrees and we just about made the departing bus for Rottach Egern, much to the frustration of the miserable bus driver who had already closed the door. There was no way he was going to tell me where or when to get off so I had to guess.
There are three bus stops in town so being clever I picked the middle one and, as luck would have it, our bus stopped just outside the tourist information office.
We approached the girl behind the counter and said “sprechen sie Englisch”, it had worked a treat in Munich, not here though, the blank face said it all. So I reverted to the universal language of talking loudly and slowly in English. “Liverpool. Football. Training at FC Rottach Egern.” This time a flicker of recognition and a little smile followed by “nein public”. Yeah right, just draw it on the map love I’ll see if it’s “nein public”.
With a neatly highlighted route on the map, Charlie and I headed back out into the sun and started trekking towards the club’s base, it was baking and the forecast of 37 degrees had become reality, even the mountains and lake hadn’t cooled this place down. As we headed back inland towards the river we were stopped by a driver who recognised the Liverpool kit, my hat or maybe even my Shanks T-shirt, he too told us he had tried to get in the car park to watch but it was not open to the public. There was no way we were turning round, what sort of dad would I be?
I knew from the clips of training last week that if we got to the river we would find the training pitch and so it transpired, a 15-minute walk and there it was. But there was nobody on the footpath between the river and the training ground, and there were very few people in the training ground itself certainly no players or staff. The one glimmer of hope was on the far side of the pitch where we could see two coaches, one of which was red and emblazoned with Liverpool livery. There was a chance.
We headed round towards the entrance of the training ground past a builders merchants and opposite a wood yard to a security point on the single-track road leading to the grounds. The German woman on security once again spoke little English and I confused her enough for her to call her boss. By the time he came I had already found out that when the players trained they came by bike (thanks to Twitter once again) and came from the road to the right past the wood yard and they would train at 10.30am. Her boss came speaking much better English, he told me only three players were training today, just those with slight problems, no-one else. Yeah right!
I thanked him for his time and headed off up to the right past the wood yard out of sight with a very disappointed Charlie in tow. He was already resigned to not seeing his heroes. This was supposed to be the best day of his life, I was trying to manage the expectations in case it all fell flat, which was just as likely an outcome as it was to be brilliant, I had taken a real punt coming here and I was desperate for it to work, this could make or break his first trip to Europe.
At which point John Achterberg flew past on his bike. I tried to reason with Charlie that if he was here more than three would be training. Sitting out of the sun in a cooler shade I promised him we would see some players and if it was only three that would still be great, he didn’t believe me, even though he had tried hard not to get his hopes up it was tough and he was on the verge of tears.
After a long 15 minutes looking up the road in hope the first sign that things might turn out just fine, more coaches in grey then the first sign of the boys in red, coming at a fair pace down the hill on their mountain bikes. Emre Can followed by Jürgen Klopp, Simon Mignolet with a special hello and waves from Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Mo Salah, he shouted to them all and got some lovely responses. The result was the most excited little boy ever, I was over the moon and couldn’t contain his excitement. Those two minutes made the trip worthwhile.
We headed back to the tow path to watch them train, still it was pretty much just me and Charlie with a space by the fence the team were only 20 yards away from us as they were put through their paces by a surprisingly, to me at least, hands on Jürgen Klopp. Training was light and fun but they were playing in just under nine hours time at the Allianz Arena. They were working on corners and they never scored one, but then again they never conceded one either. Within an hour more people had come to watch, a variety of Scouse lads and German Reds, some Romanians and ordinary families just biking down the footpath who stopped for a nose.
Liverpool had their own stewards with them and I asked whether there was any chance to get to meet the players after training, unfortunately not was the response but we were told that sometimes some would stop and Sadio Mane was one who would sign a kit. Good job Charlie had Mane on his back on the blood red new kit and a toxic thunder kit in his bag with Mane on too, so he had a chance no matter how slight. As the players completed their warm down we headed back to the security barriers and within minutes the players were flying up the hill on the bikes. Charlie with his toxic thunder shirt on show shouted excitedly to Mane “Sadio can you sign my shirt, please?” Even though he was on the way up the hill he stopped and turned back for Charlie.
The next minute will stay with me and Charlie for the rest of our lives, as Sadio signed his shirt for him and patiently waited for Charlie to get his phone ready to take the prized selfie. All I have to say is what a lovely, lovely man he is who made a little boy’s day, trip, year and probably his life. That simple act makes such a difference. As Sadio took to the saddle and wheeled away Charlie grasped his shirt to his chest and stood in disbelief and then gave me a massive bear hug and said “best dad in the world”. All of a sudden it got a bit dusty on the road in southern Germany as my eyes moistened.
Oh yeah and Charlie’s new mate slotted against the mighty Bayern Munich that night in the Allianz. Class on the pitch and class off it.
Worth the train journey for best moment of his life. Sadio Mane us a brilliant fella. pic.twitter.com/BbXSLozAb0
— Keith Salmon (@keith_salmon) 1 August 2017