June 3: Sneezing & sniffing away to the Champions League Final
I check out & make it to my bus terminal which is to take me to Cardiff.
India are to take on Pakistan in Birmingham tomorrow but that can wait for now. What cannot is the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Juventus.
I have no tickets to the Millenium Stadium. Had applied for the lottery and missed out, which is a shame given how close to the action I am.
And yet, here I am, in Cardiff. Wanting to absorb the atmosphere, imbibe the fan chants – which I do not understand given none of it is in English – and just soak up the feeling of being close to possibly the biggest football match on earth.
The bus ride is a smooth one with the driver, Stefan, having earlier told me he has Italian roots but is a huge supporter of Real Madrid.
A woman wants to get into our bus despite having tickets for the next one & her Real Madrid jersey does the trick for her. Stefan happily obliges.
The guy next to me is from Istanbul. Many such fans have made longer journeys to get to watch this.
He tells me he’s a Galatasaray fan but in this match, he will be rooting for Juventus because they are the underdogs. Well, that’s a good way of doing it.
That said I find it tough to support Bangladesh cricket. That’s a story for another time though.
Having been a cricket fan all my life, this can be expected to be a different experience.
Cardiff has a population of just over 300,000. I am from a city that can accommodate nearly 600 Cardiffs.
And yet, it doesn’t feel like that once I am there. The entire city and more are either out in the street or catering to those out in the streets.
And I am in a thin t-shirt & a pair of jeans.
People walking past me think I am a big show-off. Only I know how I would love to skim off one of their jackets and disappear forever.
I am hungry, having avoided a meal before taking the bus because of my very acute suffering of motion sickness. An Indian cafe is serving food on the street – chicken curry with steam rice for five quid.
As economical as it can get. Many a Spanish and Italian fans tuck away at the curry and rice. Might not satiate their taste buds too much but it’s the most reasonably-priced dish on the street.
The fans get more vocal as the afternoon metamorphoses into evening. Some are without tickets and have placards proclaiming their request to buy tickets.
One of them asks me if I have one. I say I wouldn’t mind one myself. He asks how much am I willing to pay.
Before I can think through and answer, he says he can pay a maximum of 300 quid.
I repeat, I have no tickets lest he thinks that’s my primary vocation.
There’s a Messi supporter on the street that’s filled with Real Madrid fans.
He needs protection from Real fans from getting spilled on the street by other Real fans.
Brave move. Stupid move. Thankfully he’s the only one to attempt those shenanigans.
Closer to the start of the game, I duck into a bar to not only set myself to watch the game but also keep myself warm. The bar, called the Goat Major, is a decent option.
It’s also so drenched in spilled beer that every step feels like I am walking on a tarred road surface. The shoes refuse to move.
The first half is an exciting effort from both teams, worthy of a final and both sets of fans in the pub have a chance to celebrate. I join both of them in their celebrations at various times but I am not the only ‘neutral’ around.
I meet a Scottish football fan. It takes a few minutes for me to realise the language he’s speaking is the same as mine. A Scottish accent isn’t the easiest to understand but a drunk Scottish accent is almost impossible.
He’s interested in knowing which team I support. Neither, I say.
He wants to know which team I support otherwise. None, is my answer.
And just when he thinks I am just another curious onlooker, I profess my love for all things Brendan Rodgers.
He is a transformed man & suddenly wants to know about my city, my sport, my WAGs and my cold.
Not really all of that, just be the case of a misunderstanding his accent. But yep, the transformation is dramatic.
By the time the game’s ended I am in a desperate need of some Eskimo clothes. Or strong cold and cough meds.
Or probably both.
I duck into a medical store recommended by a Cardiff cop, who uses his Google Maps to guide me there (!!) and dig into the strongest available med.
A quick dinner is followed by a bus-ride to a new city, Birmingham, where India are to play Pakistan.
This time, the man next to me is a Chinese guy working in San Francisco, in Cardiff to support Real Madrid. He seems quite chuffed with the win, and soon snores away.
I, on the other hand, am kept awake by the jerky bus ride. And my continuous sneezes.
It’s going to be a very, very cold night ahead.