Roving Report - Chelsea vs Bayern Munich
In April 2005 I went to the Olympic Stadium in Munich to see Chelsea make it through to the semi-finals of the Champions League. On the way to the stadium I saw the shell of a building being constructed to host FIFA World Cup matches in 2006. This was later to become the Allianz Arena, home of FC Bayern Munich.
A few years ago I received a text message from one of my PA's Perry to say he was in Munich on a stag weekend and was inside the Allianz arena having a guided tour. It said that the tour guide had said that wheelchair users had the best view in the stadium. In October last year I found out where the Champions League Final was being played and informed Perry. We both just smiled and rolled our eyes. Chelsea were struggling to qualify from their Champions League Group at the time.
Seven months later, our dream came true after a remarkable 3-2 aggregate victory over Barcelona in the semi-finals. I chose to travel on a day trip with Thomas Cook Sport (TCS) to avoid having to find a hotel that could cater for my needs.
5.50 am was our allocated flight time from Gatwick airport which meant being at Gatwick for 3.50 so leaving my home at 2.50. Perry talked me in to leaving at 2.30 as he thought 2.50 was leaving things a bit tight. Missing the boarding time was the last thing we wanted to do so Perry agreed to get to my house at 2.30 and true to his word he was bang on time.
Being a wheelchair user in an airport is never a pleasant experience because once you book in you lose your freedom and you are told where to go and at what time. Then when you get there (I'm talking specifically about the 'assistance desk' in departures) at the correct time you just wait and wait. No wheelchair user can use a toilet on an aeroplane so knowing I cant use one for at least 4 hours I like to delay my last use of one 'till as near boarding time as possible. I remember being told to be back at the assistance desk at 5 am so I duly used the toilet at 4.50 and we got there at the exact time they stated. It amused me somewhat that they handed us a buzzer when they told us to report back at 5. Maybe they assume disabled people cant tell the time! This buzzer went off just as we were approaching the desk.
We then waited and waited and waited. It was 5.25 when we began the long walk [I use the term walk but obviously Perry is pushing me in my chair] to the departure gate. Being no Jetway to board the plane we were lead directly outside the airport to a waiting wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) which was a converted minibus. My wheelchair was not tied down to the floor of the vehicle which is against health & safety guidelines. Again I found it amusing how the driver insisted that all the able bodied passengers fasten their seatbelts while the vehicle is moving. So if the driver had had an accident on the way to the aeroplane the able bodied passengers would all have been fine but the 3 wheelchair users would all have been hurled in their wheelchairs through the windscreen of the bus! Still, there was no accident to we all arrived safely at the ambilift.
The wheelchair users amongst the party of us in the ambilift were transferred, strapped in, wheeled to the aircraft seat, un strapped and lifted into their seats and the others sat in their seats. This all happened after all the other passengers had boarded due to the earlier 25 minute delay. The airline company was jet2.com and the aircraft was a 737. Unlike other 737's I have been on the seats were very hard and didn't recline. It was thus very difficult to sleep at all on our flight to Franz Josef Strauss airport.
This airport that serves Munich lies 18 miles north-east from the centre of Munich. We had been with Keith and Tracy Tanner until now and we also found ourselves on the same bus being driven straight from the airport to the Allianz Arena. This was another WAV (converted minibus - see pictures below). This WAV was perfect in every way. It was large with plenty of room for wheelchairs and seats for our PA's. It had tie down tracks on the floor with perfect straints which locked my chair down to the floor at each corner, and a very good, secure seatbelt round my waist and shoulder. My chair nor me did not move one inch on our 30 minute journey - you cant argue with that!
The Allianz Arena is about 8 miles north of the centre of Munich and there is a railway station close by which we used (free of charge to anyone with a match ticket) to get there. The station was an over ground one but the train went underground within the first minute of our journey. The trains were all level access. 'Hop on, hop off' was as easy for wheelchair users as it was for the able bodied. I really think it is about time that disabled people in the UK were offered similar freedom when it comes to train travel.
TCS were responsible for about 11,000 of the 17,500 official Chelsea ticket holders. That is a lot of flights in one day. Dominic who sits by me at Stamford Bridge chose to drive to Munich stopping overnight and Brian who also sits by me elected to fly from Manchester thus avoiding the extortionate price hike the airlines had introduced from the London airports. Their tickets were amongst the 6,500 non TCS ones. In order to get their tickets they had to collect them in person from the club showing confirmation of travel arrangements. We left on one of the earliest flights and were given our tickets when we arrived at the stadium. We were in the centre of Munich by 11.30 in the morning and so had more than 8 hours to enjoy the party atmosphere.
The streets and pubs in Munich were packed when we arrived. It was extremely noisy and colourful. We did well to find a spare table outside and when we did we were able to enjoy the buzz of excitement chatting with Keith, Tracy and others that had gathered round our table. No alcohol was allowed to be consumed on the Streets so we just had some fruit juice and bottles of coke before moving on to a large indoor pub/restaurant.
Beers and food were readily available inside the pub and we each eat a meal and drank for a few hours. It must have been 3 O'Clock when we decided that the sun was shining too brightly outside to remain in a pub so after a brief stop at an outdoor cafe opposite the pub we slowly made our way through the packed streets and back to the railway station.
The atmosphere was still electric in the city centre. The noise was deafening and I remember feeling a sense of relief as we entered a glass lift and the doors shut automatically behind us shutting the noise out. Both sets of fans were in great spirits and I lost count of the number of fans in red that shook my hand and wished me and my team all the best. There were hundreds of fans (both blue and red) boarding the train with us. We waited for two trains to fill before we attempted to get on the third. We still had four hours 'till kick-off but I must say I was glad we hadn't left it much later.
I was feeling very tired at this time and really felt like I needed a power knapp for half an hour to re-charge my batteries. Regretfully our minibus was all locked up and we could not even find a bench or anything on which to achieve my aim. We decided instead to progress to the stadium itself. Some weeks before the trip I had read in a glossy document on the Chelsea website that the Allianz Arena offered the best facilities for disabled supporters. These included carpeted suites with armchairs, tables and flat screen tv's. I was hopeful that once inside I may find an armchair on which to get my much needed 'head down' moment.
From the station area just south of the arena, we approached the stadium through a park that was designed to guide us to the entrance. An esplanade rises gradually from ground level at the station entrance, to the entrance level of the stadium. This is where the picture of me and Perry was taken from (below left). There was a block of black metal turnstiles about a hundred yards from the stadium. These, in my view were rather unsightly but I guess they achieved their aim by letting only ticket holders beyond them. Unable to gain access through a turnstile we were lead though a close by gate.
Our ticket simply read Block: Wheelchair West, Seat 78. This sounded simple enough we thought. Alas, not so. There was no useful signage so we knew where to go and none of the many stewards could help us. We ended up doing a complete lap round the outside of the stadium yet still had no idea where our space was. Perry finally decided to just enter the stadium and ask. Keith, Tracy and me just waited outside. After five minutes Perry emerged and just shrugged his shoulders.
Perry decided we should just go in and walk around the inside of the arena. My hopes of finding these carpeted suites with armchairs disappeared as it occurred to me that these rooms will almost certainly be being used by the Uefa hierarchy. As we went round the inside of the arena, every steward we showed our ticket to just pointed to the other side of the stadium and said 'around the other side'. That included the stewards who were round the other side who just pointed to where we had just come from.
This all distracted me slightly from taking in what, it has to be said was a breathtakingly impressive stadium. Our access floor, the entrance floor or ground floor if you like was in effect the second level of the arena. Meaning the whole of the tier beneath us must have been under ground level ie: it must all have been dug out when the stadium was constructed. This makes it a wheelchair users dream because the access floor all gives fantastic sightlines to the pitch. No lifts, ramps or steps to get to a higher place are required. This whole level was dedicated to the media (tv cameras, reporters etc) and the disabled. I counted 11 wheelchair balconies, 4 of which were used by Chelsea fans. I thought it was supposed to be a 50/50 split Uefa?
After finally working out that 'Seat 78' did mean exactly that and bore no relation to the numbers painted on each wheelchair bay and after forcing our way past the useless stewards to find this out we settled into our seat and space. We had an hour and a half 'till kick off. Yes, it had taken us two and a half hours from leaving our locked up mini-bus to getting to our seat. I used the disabled toilet in the Stadium and then looked through the programme which we had bought from one of the many programme sales kiosks on the esplanade outside the stadium. The programme was €10 and I only really buy one to read on the day and then add to my 'neutral ground' collection.
The tension and excitement in the stadium before the game kicks off was unbelievable. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. I had only ever witnessed a similar atmosphere once before and that was at the Champions League Final in 2008 in Moscow.
In the rain in Moscow Chelsea were the better team in the second half and throughout extra time but still lost the match on penalties. This time I would say Chelsea were second best for the entire 120 minutes. Maybe it is a built in 'shielding from disappointment' mechanism I have but when it comes to big games I cant help but expect to be disappointed. When you expect to lose, then when you actually do, it doesn't quite feel as bad. Of course the closer you get to winning, the bigger the disappointment when you lose. Hence my biggest ever disappointment was in the rain in Moscow when Chelsea were one penalty kick from winning.
So as to avoid some of the emotional pain of a defeat in the biggest Club football match on the planet then, I expected Chelsea to lose. Chelsea (referred to as 'we' from here on in) were, after all, playing this final as an away match with no home leg to follow. By half time, and with no goals in the game at that point, I just felt so emotionally drained which, on top of my already 'extremely tired' physical condition (I had been awake for 20 consecutive hours at this point) I had no alternative but to rest my head on the railing in front of me and I'm sure I fell asleep immediately.
I was woken up a short time after by my nephew and his dad Lee who got tickets and flights from an unofficial source as they are not season ticket holders. The last time I had seen Lee of any note was 4 years ago at the Moscow final. 'Lets hope our next meeting will be at the 2013 final at Wembley or failing that, be in Lisbon at the 2014 final' I thought.
To go 1-0 down then with just 8 minutes remaining I began preparing for all those 'where's your black armband?' comments when I got home. Then Drogba scores his wonderful power header to square things up. Utter delirium ensues before 'Mr conscious' kicks in saying 'It will only hurt more when you lose'. Then we concede a penalty in extra time. 'Oh well, we did well to get it to extra time' Mr conscience says. Cech saves. Delirium again then Mr conscience 'This will hurt so much when we lose'
My emotions went like this as the match entered a penalty shoot out. Lampard loses the ends toss 'We've lost now' my conscience says. Lampard loses the first taker toss 'It's a long way to come to be this disappointed'. Mata misses our first kick 'told you we'd lose'. But then Cech saves their 4th kick. Then Cole scores our 4th. It's all level. Cech then touches their 5th kick onto the post. At this point, and for the first time since September last year I actually thought we have a chance to win this. Drogba steps up. 'This happened in 2008 and you still lost'. He buries it.
After painful exits in 2000 (qf v Barcelona), 2004 (s/f v Monaco) , 2005 (s/f v Liverpool), 2007 (s/f v Liverpool on pens), 2008 (v Man Utd on pens), 2009 (s/f v Barcelona on away goals in the last minute) we had finally won the big eared trophy and no one could say after all those disappointments that we didn't0 deserve it.
We stayed for about an hour after the game celebrating with the team from the stands. The journey back by WAV, plane then my car went without a problem. Although to be quite honest, I couldn't have cared less because I had just witnessed my team winning the Champions League for the first time. This was an experience that will stay etched on my mind for ever. Perry dropped me home at 5.20 and I was in bed by 5.45.
Many thanks to Matthew Law for this report.