“Happiness is a journey, not a destination”
Never has that quote been proved so right to me until the events of June 1st and 2nd in 2019. What is masked in the smiles of my #UCLFinal trip photoroll and social feed is actually the ultimate #FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). In fact no, not just FEAR… anger, sadness, disappointment, wonder, luck and bewilderment – but there’s not a hashtag for that.
Let me explain…. But first some context.
Think about how it feels to be a Spurs fan. We’ve never been in the European Cup final, EVER. Spurs, the club I’ve supported all my life, in the champions league FINAL. Over the last 35 years or so, we’ve lived (until recently) in the shadow of our neighbours, who built years of success seemingly beyond our reach. We watched with green eyes as they built a big new shiny house. We’ve had to put up with the jibes and jokes, the successive ‘St Totteringhams Days’, the Christian ‘the travelcard’ Gross years etc. This was success for us fans, progression. This was for the ones that endured, paid for their tickets and memberships, renewed season tickets year after year, followed the team around the Europa League, sung the names of Jose Dominguez and Nicola Berti, Sergei Rebrov and Roberto Soldado despite their failings. But also sung the legendary names of Lineker and Gascoigne, of Hoddle and Waddle, King, Klinsmann, Ginola, Bale, Rafa VdV, Modric with the same vigour and volume. Despite their individual Spurs greatness they never delivered us to what Poch and his team have this season. To say this was the biggest game in the history of Spurs would be an understatement.
This time last year as we watched Bale smash that crazy goal in the final. There’s no way any Spurs fan expected this years final to be on our calendar this month – with no signings, our new house build delayed no real confirmation on a date…. Staring at another stint at Wembley. Fast forward a few months and bolt on opening game UCL defeats to Inter and Barca and a draw against PSV. Our 2018-19 UCL campaign looked over. We’ll not see Champions League football at our new house after all (much to the delight of our rivals), because it wasn’t ready for the group stages, and we won’t make the knockouts. With a game 4 squeeze passed PSV and a game 5 squeeze by Inter we were suddenly in with a chance again. From nowhere. We can do this…. might ‘just’ need something at the Camp Nou. From 1 down and certain elimination comes a late goal from Lucas and a helping hand from @PSV. We made it to the promised land from nowhere. We. Made. It. The journey continues! Needless to say we celebrated long into the night in Barcelona.
Dortmund home and away we were immense…. I think we were still just happy to be there…. But we had to play City next.
Imagine the feeling of that last few minutes in the City and Ajax games for us. We we were out. Done. But. Wait. The journey continues. No. Really… we’re not just dining at the top table this season, we’re one of the happy couple. Unbelievable journey. The messages I got from friends and fans of other teams were incredible after both games. They knew how much this meant, to me, to us all. This is NOT normal. This is not Spursy.
Tickets booked, official travel booked. We’re going to the biggest game of our lives, our parents lives hell even of our grandparents lives. This is not just once in a lifetime, it’s once in generations. Arguably the biggest game in the history of Tottenham Hotspur Football club since it was formed in 1882. And yes, I pinched myself every day since that Ajax game until the kick off on Saturday.
Arriving at the airport for the final away trip this season with good time. Checked in with 2 hours to go before wheels up. The lunch meeting point with friends organised for 2pm local time in Madrid. Boarding gate 7 is announced… Let’s. Fucking. Go. Imagine our excitement. Imagine the thrill. Imagine the exhilarating feeling about this journey and what we were about to embark on. This is not just ‘another away day’. This is the ultimate away day. This is the one every football fan dreams of. In every league, in every country across Europe. This is THE one. The one that kills all the pain of what’s come before, more specifically in the life of being a long suffering Spurs fan. We’re going to the Champions League final. In a few hours we’ll be having a lunch on a rooftop in Madrid discussing team selections and dreaming of winning that trophy.
And then a 15 min delay in boarding. No big issue. Then a 30 min one due to a ‘random inspection’ by CAA. Then. Nothing. Hour gone. It was 10.30am Should have taken off 40 mins ago. Armed police show up at the gate. That’s weird right? In fact right then I said to my travelling buddy @pmwalshy that you only bring the OB over if there’s bad news. Right then I texted EN [a friend] who had chartered a jet to Madrid to see about sorting out a contingency plan in case the worse thing happened. This could get desperate. I really hate asking anyone for favours…. But needs must. Poetically, right after the message whooshed from my phone, we heard from the Thomas Cook operations manager for the first time: Another 1 hour ‘or so’ delay was announced. They finally came clean that the plane had in fact hit a bird on take off on it’s way to London. The pilot’s opinion was that the engine is fine, but they need to have that opinion ratified by an aircraft engineer. Fortunately Thomas Cook explained that they have a contingency plan in action to bring another aircraft in case the worst thing happens. We’re assured we’ll get there. We all looked at each other. Bewildered.
Turns out the airline in question don’t have an engineer on site, so they need to source one [basically agree a price]. Then get the opinion, paperwork, get us boarded, then apply for a new departure time slot, then get us on our way. All in an hours time. We wait around chatting to the armed Police. Most of them Spurs fans desperate to get us on our way. It’s now 12.30… this was serious. I’m staring out the gate window at the bird striken aircraft which now has 6 people in high vis vests inspecting it with their smartphones and scratching heads… I’m stood next to a customer service agent and overheard over her radio that our flight was permanently grounded…. and even worse, the contingency plan they did have in operation had been cancelled by the operations manager who believed that the problem was sorted. Anger. Pandemonium. Despair. Sadness. The realisation that after everything we’re not going to see our team at the Champions League final is setting in.
15 seconds later, staring defeat in the face, the last kick of the game – a call back from EN. He has sorted me and Walshy seats on his jet going out of the private terminal with our names on we have 30mins to get there. Lucky lucky lucky boys. Just gotta get out of the airport and get a cab round there. We ran. We ran like life depended on it. We were stopped 4 times by various security. We explained through breathless short sentences. We ran. We ran like men possessed. The flight leaves at 1.20pm… it’s 1pm by the time we make it landside back through various security checkpoints. We sprint to the cab rank, the cabbie drives round the entire perimeter of the airport at speed and we arrive with a few minutes to spare.
We’re going to Madrid. We’re the lucky ones. Our thoughts and conversation is immediately with those we left behind at gate 7. The 178 other Spurs fans who were not as lucky as us. There was a mixture of happiness for us and guilt for them as we explained the story to our new friends. The flight left and we enjoyed the company of a great bunch of people, had a few beers, some lunch and held our own in a great Spurs trivia quiz EN son Jack had designed to get us in the mood. We made it to Madrid. If the day could get more surreal…. We were even joined by Lord Sugar and his family on our way out of the airport from our respective planes…. @simonsugar and I have done some work together before so it was great to bump into him and catch up. Another random and somewhat crazy part of this journey.
The game was the game. We experienced it. Drunk in the atmosphere and voiced our choral encouragement. Our destination as it turns out was not to win the 2019 Champions League. But to be there.
The last part of this journey comes on the return leg. Despite the very kind offer of the same seats back on Sunday afternoon from EN, we decided we’d make the original return leg… and headed from the ground back to the airport to fly home. We caught up with some of the other passengers from our original flight on the bus, who’d told us what happened after we left or as they said ‘deserted them’. Another aircraft was commissioned from Manchester and was boarded by the fans at 4pm. It did not take off from Stansted until 5.30pm. It got so late that several fans got off as they thought they’d not make the game. Their flight landed at 8.30pm local time, 30 mins before the kick off of the biggest game in our history. Despite being rushed through the security, and on to a bus [which then went the wrong to the stadium], the day was effectively ruined for them. No time to soak up the pre match atmosphere, no time to celebrate being there, enjoy the stadium or grab pre match calming pint. By the time they got to their seats, they’d missed the first 20 mins of the game.
Of course the return flight was cancelled when we got to the airport.
We got moved from what was supposed to be a 2am flight to one at 5am, others were moved to 8am and more to 10.30am. Again we counted ourselves lucky. Walshy and I were one of the last to board the 5am flight. Got on, found a seat, popped the sunglasses on, and passed out cold, managing to sleep all the way home. Waking as we landed in London…. Sleepy eyed, and sleepy brained, I turn round from my row 10 seat and spot a familiar face right behind me. My sleepy state had me think it was one of my late fathers old friends…. My mouth however was too quick. Hey don’t I know y…. I’m Ricky Villa said the man almost cutting me off, holding his hand out for a shake. Of course you are…. Casting my eyes further afield the legends; Martin Chivers, Clive Allen, Justin Edinburgh, David Howells, Cliff Jones…. A bonkers end to this part of our journey.
This journey was about getting there and enjoying the experience of our first champions league final…. And the journey continues… Destination unknown.