“Do you have any spare tickets please?”
Elliot May, 14, has this message on the placard he has been holding up for close to three hours as he ambles round the city centre in Madrid. This wasn’t how the young Liverpool fan pictured the Champions League final when he and his father, Teddy, floated the idea of a trip to Spain.
Teddy, though, is upbeat. “This isn’t a struggle,” the 44-year-old says. “We used to live a quarter of a mile away from Anfield. My lad was seven when he first saw a match there. I was four. Liverpool is practically family. This is a pilgrimage.”
The Mays are among the 50,000-plus ‘pilgrims’ — that includes the London faithful from this season’s gatecrashers Tottenham Hotspur – who’ve convened at Spain’s Ground Zero, Puerta del Sol.
Like the Mays, a man in his twenties from Turkey has flown down in the hope that he, too, can lay his hands on one of those prized tickets. His spirits lifted when a tout claiming to be from London promises to ‘arrange’ a ticket in a day. The rate? “Just 8,000 pounds (approximately Rs 7.5 lakh), mate. Special rate only for you.” Others making a killing are the hotels. Mundo Deportivo, a sports daily, reported that prices at the 300-odd hotels in Madrid have hiked their tariff between 200% to 2,000%. In some cases, they have increased by 5,000 per cent.
At Canillejas, the suburb closest to Metropolitano, sleeping on a mattress for one night can cost anything between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. The cheapest room at a five star, which could be rented for Rs 30,000 a week ago, is now priced at the Rs 4.6 lakh. For 90,000 euros or Rs 70 lakh, you can get a presidential suite at a hotel in the city centre, two match tickets, a massage service, guided tours and dinner at a two-star Michelin restaurant.
Madrilenos are hoping economic benefit of Saturday’s final will be in the range of 60 million euros. But there’s also an underlying fear. The reputation of English fans precedes them prompting a leading sports daily to splash a front-page cover this week that simply reads ‘Miedo’. Fear.
Notorious for getting drunk and instigating violence, the travelling English fans have been handed out strict warnings.
More than 4,500 national guards are protecting Madrid, a drone will be deployed on match day and both sets of fans have been segregated and been restricted to zones in different parts of the city so that they do not face each other immediately after the match when emotions are still high.
The public screenings at fans parks in Sol have been called off while some bars are considering shutting shop during and after Saturday’s match. “There was a basketball match earlier and we had a lot of problems because of some Serbian fans,” says a bar manager. “This time, the number of fans is much higher.” Pass that message onto May, whose hunt for tickets has entered the third day, and he laughs. There were similar warnings in Kiev, too, last year.
Kiev 2018 has been invoked multiple times this week. The scars from the 3-1 defeat against Real Madrid are still fresh in the minds of the Reds. The Egyptian has urged the Liverpudlians to ‘bring Anfield to Madrid.’ His words are the reason the Mays are here, without tickets. And they aren’t walking (or foraging) alone.
(The writer is in Madrid on the invitation of Gazprom)
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