The Long Way Back – John Gibbons’ Champions League final diary

After heartbreak in Kiev, John Gibbons and The Anfield Wrap crew make their way back to Liverpool...


And so begins the final leg of our epic journey. Prague to Liverpool on Monday and no doubt into Tuesday. Everyone is shattered, our ankles look like hooves and the air conditioning still doesn’t work.

There is talk on the bus of becoming institutionalised. When we arrived in Prague last night the bright lights, stag dos and men on the street offering me drugs and strippers was disorienting.

Bus life is all we know and everything else is confusing.

When I’m struggling on the bus with heat, exhaustion or lack of places to put my massive inflated legs I think back to Shevchenko Square on Saturday afternoon where everything was brilliant and the whole thing made sense.

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We had finally pulled into Kiev and Shevchenko Square at 1.50pm on Saturday. Over 24 hours after leaving Berlin and 10 minutes before we were due on stage at the LFC Fan Park. It could have been even worse had our driver not managed to bunk the queue at the Ukranian border by insisting he was carrying the “international press for the football” in the back. Much to the dismay of the hundreds of vehicles behind us.

Once there our driver again managed to blag his way past some confused guards by shouting the same words at them repeatedly and we became the only vehicle parked right outside the fan park two minutes from the stage. We quickly unpacked the laptop and decks and legged it.

Liverpool FC had done a great job organising entertainment for the thousands of Liverpool fans filling the park. Our hour was Neil Atkinson, main host of The Anfield Wrap talking about the amazing run to the final in between me playing Scouse anthems. When I dropped “Show Me Love” everyone decided to set off all their flares at once and I honestly felt like David Guetta. Although I doubt Guetta travels to gigs by bus.

The rest of the day was a glorious blur of friends, beers, red and Allez Allez Allez. I wanted the inject the feeling straight into my veins. A wonderful celebration of Liverpool and scouseness with seemingly everyone you knew from the match nearly 2,000 miles from home. Say what you want about Kyiv as a venue but that afternoon was just about perfect.

And then it was time for the football.

Atmospheres in finals can be a bit strange.There is no Kop to look to, just groups of lads dotted about a bowl all starting different songs at different times. At least Dua Lipa got everyone signing from the same hymn sheet for a while in scenes that took many by surprise at the level of scally following the singer has. Including probably herself.

But once Salah went off injured it all went strangely subdued. Maybe it’s nerves. Maybe it’s tiredness from various epic journeys. Maybe it’s the manner of the goals we conceded. But a club that has got where it has by never accepting defeat, all suddenly did. It just all felt like one hurdle too far.

But what a race it’s been. Our bus was obviously subdued as we left, but after some sleep, reflection and a lot of lager it was soon a group of lads and a girl talking about memories and singing songs for new heroes.

I love the club just that little bit more after this season. The footballers who play for it and the people who follow it. It’s been that sort of year where bonds are strengthened through laughter, tears and disbelief.

Yes the next stage is to win trophies. Yes that is harder than ever. But we know what we need to. And I’d back these lads plus a few additions to achieve it.

They’ve already surprised you all, haven’t they?

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