Champions League final night has always been an exciting time for me. I used to describe it as being better than Christmas, a position I would probably still maintain had it not been for the uninterestingness of the last few year’s games. The move of the final to the weekend is controversial but does have its benefits. I, and the rest of the Good Feet For A Big Man editorial staff, decided to take advantage this year and take on a full Champions League weekend extravaganza.
First point of call was the women’s final beween Olympique Lyonnais and 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam to be played on Thursday at Craven Cottage; I believe a fitting location for the culmination of the Champions League. Fulham have always enjoyed European competition and unlike some of their more illustrious competitors treated playing in Europe with the respect it deserves. They will be a welcome addition again to the Europa League next year.
After dodging (unsuccessfully at times) the errant May hail storms and imbibing a swift pint in a predictably overpriced local, we made our way to the Cottage. The atmosphere inside the ground was a breath of fresh air. A far cry from the usual macho steam expunging, families and youth football clubs were actively encouraged (even more so by the attractively priced £5 tickets) to attend and large groups huddled excitedly in the stands. Behind us sat a girls team from Surrey who were keen to contribute as loudly as possible to proceedings.
I even learnt a number of chants from my exuberant young compatriots including the simple but rather catchy “Oooh… It’s a corner” repeated over and over and over and the family friendly version of the terrace’s classic “The referee is a… tomato”.
The first half was a cut and thrust affair. Lyon controlled the midfield well with the magnificent Amandine Henry sweeping up excellently in front of her back four and the sparky Elodie Thomas causing difficulties on the right. The best chance of the opening stages, however, fell to Potsdam when, in an innocuous situation, Renard managed to put in a studs-up challenge on her own team-mate, freeing Kemme down the left. Her cross fell to Bajramaj, who brought a good low save from goal-keeper Sarah Bouhaddi.
The referee did not help matters. Although she tried to let play run, a certain lack of mobility and reluctance to leave the centre circle meant obvious free-kick offences were missed. This led to an escalation of dangerous tackles. This was compounded by a hesitancy to issue any cards whatsoever.
Just as I was beginning to look forward to giving my ear drums a rest from another shrill version of “Allez Lyonnais” – admittedly impressive language skills for 12-year-old English girls – a goal arrived. A corner was swung across and the remarkably coiffured Renard scrambled in from a yard out.
The second half went a lot in the same vain with Lyon threatening but again the best chance falling to Potsdam with Mittag failing to pull the trigger, 4 yards out from goal. Lyon’s second goal was the stand-out moment of the game though. With four minutes left, Dickenmann took down a cross deftly in the left side of the area before burying a shot across the goal-keeper high into the top corner.
The night finished as enjoyably as it had started watching Lyon’s joy at lifting the cup and smirking at the plastic MJ with a group of rather bemused looking Germans.
Saturday saw the arrival of the Scottish based contingent of The Big Man on a pilgrimage south for the Guardian’s Football Extra showing of the Champions League final and live recording of their podcast.
Heading to the Emirates was a difficult one to explain to those not in the know. Visiting a stadium to watch a game happening 5 miles across the city seems counter-intuitive but the prospect of being in the company of Richardson et al. was one that could not be passed up.
As we walked up to the Royal Oak suite at Club level, one of our group mentioned that they weren’t sure what to expect and joked that it may be a bit like a wedding with awkward small talk having to be made with semi-interesting randoms. This was closer to the truth than we had imagined. Copious round, white covered tables were set up facing a head table with people nervously grouped together conspiratorially discussing the team news – surely Berbatov is to be sold?
Organised entertainment ensued with a pre-game quiz testing everyone’s powers of stadium and trophy identification. One particular argument raged on our table over whether one picture of a cup was that which Ramos bundled over the side of the bus and whether the sea next to one particular stadium was far too blue for it to be in Liverpool.
Having queued impatiently at the hugely understaffed bar, I arrived back at my seat in time to hear the compère for the evening announce that before we were to reach the main event we had the small matter of a football game first. This joke turned out to be ill-placed as the huge projector screen stubbornly refused to flicker into action and the speakers remained deathly silent. With the prospect of missing the biggest game of the year, the up-till-now mild mannered 500 assembled football fans suddenly turned mob-like. James Richardson was wheeled out to subdue the crowd and just in the nick of time, Messi and Xavi arrived in all their technicolour glory.
The game has been reported heavily elsewhere so I will be brief but it was fair to say although the split of United to Barca fans was pretty even, by the time the third goal went in, save for a few disgruntled Mancunians, there was almost unanimous applause around the room. They were fantastic.
With the game done and dusted the evenings protagonists walked out. The panel, led by Richardson, included Barry Glendinning, Amy Lawrence and always our favourite Barney Ronay.
Unfortunately, several unthinking egotists in the audience wanted to play a larger part in proceeding than was bought through their ticket and continually yelled, quipped and heckled throughout the show. The unlikely mob, now acting for the forces of good, took swift action and the individuals were quickly dispatched back to their seats in a volley of abuse.
Both Lawrence and Ronay offered their usual insightful comments and entertained along with Glendinning’s added wit, although his voice did betray that he seemed to have gained somewhat better access to the bar than most of us in the room!
In a live podcast twist, the floor was opened up to questions for the final third. The quality of interrogation, however, was of distinctly low quality and finished with the panel being asked whether they agreed with the decision of Opal Fruits being changed to Starburst, to much tutting from our table.
An excellent evening and we, at Good Feet For a Big Man, look forward to both the return of the podcast and a repeat occasion next season.