AN alarm call at 3.30am is likely to result in — at best — a fumble for the snooze button and — at worst — said alarm being angrily launched across the room as an instant return to slumber is sought.
So when it instead sees you springing out of bed with a smile on your face like a kid on Christmas Day you know there’s something special to look forward to.
A trip abroad following Liverpool is always just that: special. While no two games of football can ever be the same, Anfield will have an obvious familiarity for a match-going regular and the same applies to the domestic away grounds, too.
A trip to another country though can offer something else — the unknown. A chance to sample something new, something different — to see how they do it all. From culture, to architecture, to the food and drink. And all that without even mentioning the football.
Liverpool’s heritage in Europe requires no introduction. And any fresh trip abroad offers the potential of new memories, tales to tell, a match to remember. It’s why we all do it. We crave the experience, to share moments of magic.
It was with all that then that an army of Reds from all over headed for Seville and Spain in hope and expectation of fun and thrills on and off the pitch.
As ever, itineraries ranged from the weird to the wonderful, some going to Malaga, to Madrid, to Barcelona, to Portugal, with transport comprising land, sea and air.
For a trio from The Anfield Wrap — Neil Atkinson, Craig Hannan and myself — a direct flight with Blue Air from Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport would take us to a sun-drenched Seville.
The Romanian company flies to Milan, Alicante, Rome, Bucharest and Transylvania from Liverpool and is relatively new to football flights, hoping to make flying Reds and Blues to European matches a regular thing. All the best with the second part of that plan…
Some familiar faces from journeys past climbed the steps in readiness for a 6.30am departure and once airborne the dark and dank Merseyside skies were soon swapped for the pink tinge of a rising sun over Europe.
Seville was new to all on the TAW trip and the descending plane cutting through swathes of sandy landscape offered few clues of what to expect. The sun that lit it however was enough.
First impressions were good ones. An old city with plenty to offer in terms of history, architecture, gardens and places of interest.
Many Reds had already bedded in — some sipping coffee to cure the night before, others opting for something stronger in sunlit early morning side streets packed with bars and restaurants.
Seville is undoubtedly a beautiful place and Instagram feeds told the story as Reds raced to tell of their trip, capturing the impressive cathedral, snapping the squares and getting the obligatory shot of the orange trees dotted around the city.
Throughout the day the mood was good. Not every city and its residents takes kindly to thousands of football supporters landing on its doorstep but Seville offered no hint of bother. You can only ever document your own experience and ours was a uniformly positive one.
Heading for Sevilla’s Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium and finally turning our attentions to what we were all here for, everyone was excited for a game that could seal Liverpool’s passage to the knockout phase of the Champions League.
After admiring the boldness of plastering the outside of your ground with your honours — Sevilla have some European heritage of their own to celebrate — we headed for the queue for section 10 with 20 minutes to spare.
It was then and only then that the aforementioned mood began to shift. When you’re policed by baton-wielding men wearing riot gear there is a clear dynamic. You are there to comply. To be ordered around. A problem to be dealt with and a voice to be silenced.
As we waited and waited and time ticked on, the Champions League music that preempts every game in the competition spilled from the stadium. Every fan knows it means the kick off is close.
If there was a problem we were not told. We just waited, corralled into formations by police on horseback. No information, no communication. Just move; stay still, stay silent — don’t ask questions.
The game kicked off and still no sign of progress. We heard the cheers from the away end as Roberto Firmino scored.
Chants of “let us in, let us in, let us in” went up as entry to section 10 remained at a standstill.
Eventually, we started to move. Passing first a cordon of police who checked tickets by hand.
I’d been filming all day for a video we were putting together and was doing so as I queued, it was after all a diary of the day’s events.
My phone was then slapped from my hand by a copper in riot gear, who can be heard to say “don’t film my face” on the video. Why?
Once inside, we lost Neil to a bag search which ultimately ended with him not getting inside the ground after he was informed he could wait for up to two hours to have it returned.
Craig had to give up his bag in exchange for a ticket. I had a bag and was allowed in without a search. Others had everything from phone chargers to caps to even a book about football taken from them.
True this. They took Simon Kuper’s Football Against The Enemy off me . Apt really as the Seville police definitely saw every football fan as the enemy… https://t.co/vMPMTDzAtl
— Brian Reade (@BrianReade) 22 November 2017
In general, if there is a nervousness around bags or certain objects at big events in the current climate that is understandable to an extent. But if bags or any other objects were banned, or to be surrendered, was the prior communication of that fact good enough at home or abroad?
Could the problems fans experienced have been anticipated by Liverpool, by Sevilla, by the police?
It was after all surely known to all parties that fans would be travelling a 2,200-mile round trip in the space of 24 hours. Travelling minus a bag, especially for those attending with children, could prove difficult.
Once inside the ground it was clear that fans had been directed to sit wherever with information printed on tickets counting for nothing. Not just any seat, but any tier. The potential for problems is not hard to work out.
Worrying in the aftermath is how many fans are prepared to write it off. “It’s always like that,” is not an acceptable reason for compromising safety.
Elsewhere, fans have detailed experiences far worse than ours, from being struck with batons, being punched to the floor, inappropriately searched, denied entry and more.
Spanish police are horrendous. Just been literally pushed out of the queue & not allowed in for asking to wait for my friends when they wouldn’t let me take my flag in. Disgrace
— Άννα Β (@Liver16bird) 21 November 2017
And all for 60 euros a ticket.
Later, we discovered that local TV reports had detailed the arrival of “Liverpool hooligans”. Yet all day there had been no vibe of trouble, no hint of a problem. Police in riot gear wielding batons obviously sets a different tone. A suggestion of managing a reputation, or a fear, rather than the reality.
Empty seats in the sold-out Liverpool end suggested plenty of fans didn’t get in to see the game. During the match, a distressed mum sent messages to The Anfield Wrap wondering what was happening. She heard there was trouble and couldn’t contact her son.
All of it, every bit, seems unnecessary. It’s 2017. These are just people attending a football match. Leicester City fans contacted us to say something similar had happened to them when they played in Seville in February last season. So are there no lessons to be learned? Knowledge to be shared between English clubs?
More, do the people of Seville want this? Do they want people arriving in their beautiful city, wondering at its riches, feasting on its food, only to leave bemoaning unacceptable treatment at the hands of police, stewards and the people managing the football ground?
Do Liverpool FC want fans who travel abroad at great expense discussing these events and describing them as “normal”?
In the past stewards employed by the club have been more evident and visible at away games such as these. When that’s happened they have provided a vital form of communication, they have kept the mood on a level on both sides, they have helped and informed.
LISTEN: "We climbed a load of stairs, we got to the top and it was just chaos. It was a go anywhere, sit anywhere, stand anywhere job"@robbohuyton told @MrMickCoyle of the problems #LFC fans had before with Sevilla police and ground staffhttps://t.co/qz5sFuo7dY pic.twitter.com/VTThfv2NRw
— Radio City Talk (@RadioCityTalk) November 22, 2017
A newspaper report today claims six stewards were there. Enough? The evidence of plenty suggests not. If problems were anticipated at the ground they were not well communicated in advance. And yet everyone knows where we are. At airports both in Liverpool and Seville. In the city centre singing songs. At the away end. It can’t be that hard to find fans on their travels and keep them informed of potential issues.
A Champions League game was played out among all of this — a dramatic game that swung from Liverpool winning 3-0 to Sevilla grabbing a draw at the last.
For many it will have paled into insignificance; dulled by an experience at the ground to forget, fading to grey in favour of being pushed by police, told to “fuck off” by stewards and worse.
Does this happen with such regularity at other sports? At other big events with big prices?
Football fans have it within their power to speak up, to report incidents, to discuss when standards have slipped in safety, stewarding and policing.
Statements so far from Sevilla FC, from the police, from UEFA, suggest a shrug of the shoulders. Fans should not regard it in the same way and neither should Liverpool FC.
As it is, for now, we can say this. Seville will give you a warm welcome in every sense of the word as a traveller, a tourist or a visitor. It is a fantastic city.
As an away fan visiting Sevilla FC though? If that is “normal” or “just the way things are” then it’s maybe best avoided. Unless of course they can tell us different instead of hoping it all just goes away.
– We flew to Seville with Blue Air. You can find out more about their flights from Liverpool John Lennon Airport at www.blueairweb.com
Click play above to listen to the latest in our FREE series of three podcasts about policing and stewarding in football — here are parts ONE and TWO.