LIVERPOOL, England — Dejan Lovren needed no time to think about his answer to a question from a reporter after Liverpool’s victory in Porto back in February. Asked if Liverpool could win the Champions League, the defender, shrugging his shoulders, interrupted: “Why not? Of course.”
On the pitch in Portugal, Liverpool had just made a statement in their first Champions League knockout tie in nine years, winning 5-0 in the first leg of the round of 16. It provided the Reds with the belief that reaching May’s Kiev final was not an impossible dream.
Up at the top of the Estadio do Dragao, meanwhile, the 3,200 soaked travelling Liverpool supporters were busy fine-tuning what would become the club’s soundtrack to Ukraine.
“Porto was the first I heard the ‘Allez, Allez, Allez’ song,” says Liverpool supporter Phil Roose, 61, who has only missed one game — home and away — in the last six years.
“When we got into ground there was a load of the young lads signing it. That was the first time I’d heard it. I went to my first game in 1971 and this is one of the greatest songs we’ve ever had. It drowns the other supporters out.
“I’ll drive along and I’ll start filling up because you realise we’re in a Champions League final. It hits you now and again. All the lads I go with are saying exactly the same. I didn’t think we’d be in a Champions League final again in my lifetime.”
Anfield’s reputation is that it lives for European nights. Those occasions have returned this season — most notably when Premier League champions Manchester City arrived in the quarterfinals.
For some, away trips to follow Liverpool overseas aren’t possible. Jamie McQueen, a teacher unable to take time off in midweek, makes the seven-hour roundtrip from Edinburgh, Scotland, for home games.
The season ticket holder, along with 50,000 other supporters inside Anfield for Champions League nights, feels partly responsible for Liverpool’s spot in the final.
“When Mo Salah scored that goal against Man City, I’ve never heard a roar like it at Anfield,” he says. “When that ball hit the back of the net, it was just like an explosion.
“I just think Man City crumbled in the atmosphere and Liverpool thrived on it. It was 3-0 before anyone knew what was happening.
“Liverpool just get this energy that comes through the fans. It’s amazing because there’s bigger grounds and supports out there, I don’t know if it’s the layout of the ground, but they just seem to put that energy across to the players.”
But for those fans, though, getting to the final itself proving to be difficult in more ways than one. Firstly, obtaining a ticket for the game — ranging from £48 to £394 — is a task, with both clubs only receiving an allocation of 16,626 each in a stadium with a capacity of 63,000.
Then finding a place to stay in Kiev that won’t cost a fortune is proving to be near-impossible in some cases. Supporters have told countless tales of having their hotel reservations in Kiev cancelled at the last minute, with questionable reasons given, only for the same rooms to be immediately put back on sale for an eye-watering increased cost.
Transport to and from Kiev has also proved to be another logistical headache. Liverpool fan Matthew Johnson’s return journey back to the UK after the final involves a five-hour train from Kiev to Lviv followed by a flight to Dortmund, a bus to Cologne before then finally flying back into Manchester.
In an era where footballers are accused of being closed off from the average fan, Liverpool’s run to the final has been a pleasant reminder that multi-millionaire athletes can truly appreciate such sacrifices made by supporters.
After wins at City and Roma, the usual long-distance applause of gratitude from players would not suffice, with the entire Liverpool squad and staff choosing to celebrate a few feet in front of the away end.
“Sadio Mane breaking the line of stewards at the Stadio Olimpico to run towards the fans is just something I’ll never ever forget,” Johnson, 23, says. “It was unbelievable seeing Klopp and the players joining in and clapping along to the ‘Allez, Allez, Allez’ song.
“So often you hear how players that don’t connect with the fans, they have their social media accounts run by agents or family members, but this campaign has really brought out a special bond between the fans and the players of the club.”
Liverpool, five-time winners of the European Cup, feel they are back where they belong. This will be their first appearance in a Champions League final for 11 years. Klopp’s team are inspiring a generation that have been bombarded with tales from their parents and grandparents about the club’s former glories in Europe.
John Hopwood, from Liverpool, has been experiencing this Champions League run with his 12-year-old son, Daniel. Both will both be in Kiev on May 26, but only on an expensive day trip as a result of their hotel, booked in December, being cancelled after the semifinals.
“It’s unique because there isn’t a lot of kids [going to the games],” he says. “I know a couple of lads who take their kids and some get to the European away games, but they’re few and far between us.
“It’s a shame really because these youngsters are the future support of the club. There’s fellas like myself who are taking their kids to as many games as they can get to, but obviously the cost comes into it because you’re sort of paying for two people.
“It’s sort of showing them the way and they’re learning all the traditions to hopefully carry it all on. Daniel can’t get enough of it. He lives and breathes Liverpool. He’s absolutely obsessed.
“The cost for the final is insane; it’s crackers. I’m paying more for myself than what we we’d pay for three days on a normal European trip, where we’d have two nights in a hotel, flights, taxis, food, drinks and tickets.
“I wanted Daniel to be there for this though. I’ll be delirious if we win this trophy, but I’ll be so happy for Daniel that he’s there to see it. He’ll have a story forever, like we have stories from the past.”
Glenn is ESPN FC’s Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.