You may wonder why a trip to Northeastern Ukraine would feature as my favourite number one European away game. Quite simply, it was a trip that me and Dave, who I went with, will probably never experience again. We had to overcome one of two obstacles along the way but I sometimes feel this is what makes a European away game. It was, to put it mildly, a trip into the unknown. As this trip was over 13 years ago, some of the memories are a bit blurred!!
Kharkiv is the second-largest city in Ukraine, though when the draw was made, it was a place I, and probably most others had never heard of. There were no direct flights to Kharkiv, unless you went on the club's official day trip. As I say, I went with Dave, who managed to book flights and accommodation. Dave had "air miles" which he used for the pair of us; this helped bring the flight costs down.
Dave picked me up on the Wednesday morning and we drove to Manchester Airport. We were booked on a flight to Heathrow, then a flight to Kiev, where we were to spend Wednesday night, before catching a flight to Kharkiv on Thursday morning. We arrived at Manchester Airport and, for some unknown reason, we checked our hand luggage in. As we only had a sports bag each, it did seem pointless.
For anyone that doesn't know, when you have a connecting flight to catch, your luggage is automatically loaded onto your connecting flight... so, in effect, you only see your luggage again when you have to clear customs in whatever country you are travelling to. As our flight to Kharkiv was an internal flight, we needed to collect our bags in Kiev!
Our flight to Heathrow boarded on time but, whilst waiting to taxi away, we were informed by the captain of a slight delay. Had we left on time, if I remember, we had about 2 hours to wait at Heathrow before our flight to Kiev. The delay was about 40-45 minutes, plus with the flight to Heathrow, around 40 minutes, it looked like we would miss our connecting flight.
The captain even came on and announced over the radio that we had indeed been checked off our flight to Kiev. We eventually left Manchester and the flight to Heathrow was just over 30 minutes. After taxiing to the terminal, we reckon we had at least 20 minutes or so to get to the gate and hopefully check ourselves back in.
We got to the gate and amazingly we were able to check back onto the flight to Kiev, with barely minutes to spare. This flight, late morning, left on time to kiev. Happy days!! The flight to Kiev is around 3 hours so, with the time difference, I think we were due in Kiev about 4pm local time.
We landed, cleared passport control and made our way to collect our bags. We waited, and waited, and waited, until we came to the conclusion our bags were missing. It never crossed our minds for one minute that when we were "checked off" the flight to Kiev, so were our bags. Our bags were still at Heathrow!!!
As it turned out, there were about 10-12 other blues who had also been on our flghts, and all were in the same predicament. We all had to go to lost baggage to give all the necessary details, including where we were staying in Kharkiv. Then we were informed it could be two days before our bags arrived. You getting the picture yet?
After all this, we shared taxis to Kiev centre. Me and Dave found our hotel, checked in and went out. There was a bar right outside the hotel, where a few blues, including Jon, had already set up. However, no-one, except me and Dave, were flying up to Kharkiv. they were all, including Jon and some of his other mates, getting a train at midnight which took about 12 hours. After they had finally all left, me and Dave grabbed something to eat and had a couple more in the hotel bar before hitting the sack, as we had to be up early the following morning.
Thursday morning and, after some of the worst food at breakfast you are likely to encounter, we jumped a taxi to the airport – still in the same underwear that was now over 24 hours old!! It was a good job it was only a change of clothes and toiletries in our bags; everything else – money, match tickets, hotel confirmation vouchers etc – we had on us.
We checked in at Kiev airport and made our way to the departure gate. For any aviation experts out there, our plane was an Antonov An-24. An aircraft built in Ukraine and with a history of crashing!! This thing was a wreck. The armrests were broken, condensation was pouring through the windows, and the engines, twin-turbo propellers, were so loud you couldn't hear yourself think – and they looked like they were going to fall off!
The flight to Kharkiv was about an hour, the approach to landing was horrendous, and I've never been so relieved to get off a plane, and we had to get this thing back to Kiev! Luggage was taken off the plane and dumped next to it. Everyone on the plane then headed to a gate, bit like your back garden gate, and out of the airport! Unbelievable.
We jumped a taxi, showing the driver our hotel voucher with the name and address, and headed off. We arrived at the hotel and checked in. After checking in, we were then informed that there was no running water in the hotel for two days, due to some problems. We were provided with bottled water to brush our teeth, but we had no toothbrush or toothpaste which was still back in Heathrow!! You getting the picture about the underwear now?
We found a chemist and bought a toothbrush and paste. After a scrub of the mouth, it was time for food. We found somewhere which looked okay... but the difficulty was in understanding the menu, because we couldn't!
The next bit was like a scene from a comic strip, two Scousers, moving our hands, waving it in a fish motion, or holding our thumbs up against the side of our head, making a noise like a cow. We wanted either fish or steak! Unbelievably our actions worked and we had a nice piece of steak.
The square in Kharkiv was huge, and I mean huge. There was a concert by Queen (Minus Freddie obviously) there a year later and over 35,000 were in attendance (I Googled that bit). To one side was a park which had beer tents set up. This is where we had our pre-match pint. Bottled lager, must have been over a pint at least, cost 30p. Everything was dirt cheap, you couldn't spend your money!
I can't remember what time the game kicked off... might have been 8pm local time, but we gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the underground to take us to the stadium. A young Ukrainian couple very kindly tried to explain that we needed a token for the underground and showed us where to obtain one. I think they cost about 5p!! It was only two of three stops to the stadium, but we still had around 90 minutes before kick-off.
I'm sure somebody had said in the lead-up to this game, this was either their first home game in Europe, or no away fans had ever been seen at Metalist Kharkiv. I had an Everton top on (my clean one was still in Heathrow), so some local fans were very intrigued in us, to say the least, and wanted loads of photo's taken with them.
After the game, a brilliant 3-2 win, and 4-3 on aggregate, we decided to play safe and jump the underground straight back to our hotel. Didn't really fancy wandering off and getting lost! We arrived back at the hotel around 11:30 pm and grabbed a pint. At midnight, they stopped serving lager, and served vodka only. Okay – a few vodkas and coke it was!!
To this day, I don't know why we stayed on the Friday. By now, our undies and socks were walking on their own. We had a good look around Kharkiv (one of Dave's walking tours), before heading for something to eat. Later in the afternoon, we headed back to the park, and the beer tents. The lads who made the journey out with us were also there, and were also staying in the same hotel. We sat with them for a few drinks.
Around 6 or 7 pm, one of them headed back to the hotel to see if our bags had arrived? They had!! We went back to change and threw the minging underwear in the bin. Still couldn't get a wash or shower though.
After a couple more pints, we called it a day. Me and Dave were up at about 5 am Saturday morning to get a taxi to the airport. Unbelievably, around 3 am, this noise started coming from the radiators, knocking and thudding. The water had been turned back on!! I waited a while before getting a shower, however, the water was freezing cold and wasn't very powerful, but what the fuck, a wash was a wash. I met Dave downstairs and we got our taxi to the airport.
We got to the airport... and it was shut. Seriously, the doors were like the doors to the entrance at Liverpool Cathedral. Some security officer, wearing one of those mad ski jump caps, you know the ones, where the brim is about 12 inches long and points to the sky, opened the doors and showed us to the check-in desk.
After checking in, there he was again, at the security X-Ray machines to scan our bags. After clearing that, he showed us where to wait. By now, three other Blues had joined us. After a while, our man said to me, "Come this way, please". We went into this room and he asked to see my departure card and passport.
"You in big trouble," he said.
"Why?" I replied.
"You not put name of hotel where you stay, give me present and we'll forget about it."
"Fuck Off!" I shouted at him, grabbing my bag and stormed out. A few minutes later, I heard "Fuck Off!", and out came Dave. Three more "Fuck Off!"s were heard from the other Blues.
I don't think Kharkiv airport was particularly bothered about security. Whilst sitting in the departure lounge, we could see our plane, when the next minute some woman strolled past it walking a dog. A few minutes later, some bloke cycled past it. Unreal.
We boarded that wreck of a plane back to Kiev, relieved to land again. The only problem now was, we had about 8 hours before our flight back to Heathrow. We jumped a taxi to Kiev centre for a look around, not realising I'd be doing a proper walking tour of Kiev a few years later!!
We finally headed back to the airport, and boarded our flight to Heathrow. Our flight back to Manchester was around 8 pm Saturday evening, and we were accompanied by Phil Thompson who was flying home after doing the Sky Soccer Saturday programme.
We landed at Manchester and made our way to Dave's car. Job done, mission accomplished, we had conquered the far North-Eastern country of Ukraine! Dave dropped me home about 10:30 pm. Totally knackered, I went to bed for a few hours kip, because the next day, we were playing Newcastle away, and I was driving up!!
The joys of being an Evertonian eh, but fuck me, we love the club and couldn't do without them!!
Reader Comments (49)
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1 Posted 12/04/2021 at 14:39:51
There have been a number of interesting spin-offs to Rob's articles with TW'ers name checking their own favourite or indeed nightmare trips. Rotterdam and Nurnberg obviously feature prominently among the favourites, quite rightly, but my own favourite was the away semi-final tie in Munich against Bayern. I was with my father-in-law among all the Bayern fans and they genuinely thought their team would roll over an Everton team missing several regulars that night. 90 minutes later they were generous in their praise for a team that secured a 0-0 draw through being "a typically hard but fair English team." I remember saying that they'd see a different Everton in the second leg at Goodison!
I've endured a few less friendly trips and I agree that Lille and Fiorentina were amongst the worst. I was working in the security team for that game in Italy and there was all sorts going on behind the scenes. We'd arrived 36 hours before the game and at first Florence fulfilled all my expectations; open air cafes and beer terraces, smiling faces, beautiful architecture.
Having breakfast on the day of the game I sensed a sinister change in atmosphere. The local newspaper had a picture on its front page of a young lad (probably an old archive photo) lying drunk on a park bench draped in a Union Jack and a headline that warned that the English hooligans were on their way. Of course the vast majority of Everton fans were arriving on the day and they must have been disappointed to find that most of those open air cafes and terraces were firmly closed and friendly faces replaced with a large and distinctly unfriendly police presence. Chatting with some of the locals they were equally dismayed at the lost chance of good revenue, and certainly we had not been given notice of the police action. Evertonians are nothing if not creative and persuasive and more than a few bar owners were happy to have a lock-in.
The atmosphere inside the stadium was hostile. Our brief was to support the Fiorentina stewards in whatever ways we could but accepting that we had no actual jurisdiction. The stewards, unlike the carabinieri, were welcoming and glad of our presence in the Everton section. The weather that night was horrendous and this added to the sense of hostility.
Just before kick off, and to this day I don't know how it happened, a group of about 300 Everton fans were ushered into the section of "no-mans land" between our section and what seemed to be the hard core Fiorentina ultras. The volatile potential for major trouble did not take long to manifest itself as many young Italians, no doubt seeking "revenge" for Heysel, started to climb the fences into no-mans land. Many were clearly armed with quite lethal weapons such as clubs and chains and the police and their dogs were having difficulty keeping them at bay.
At this point we had to do something to help our 300 fans and many Everton fans in our section were ready to start jumping the barriers to go to their defence. There were now no police in our section, they were all busy with their own ultra nutcases, and while some of my team helped the Italian stewards to prevent our lot climbing over, the head steward asked me to go with him and bring a few of my team. Under the stands he showed us an emergency security gate that led to the section where the trouble was. It was not locked but it took a good few attempts to batter it open.
What happened then was unexpected: a few savvy Blues had suspected that we were going into the other section and as we got the gate open they ran at it from behind us and quite a few got in before we, Italian and Everton stewards, were able to secure it. We had about 40 stewards physically blocking the door while I and two others got through and went to the Evertonians, many of whom were women and children now terrified of the encroaching lunatics. We managed to get most of them to the under the stand door and then we had to battle to let them through while keeping back some enraged Evertonians anxious to join forces with those still there. One of our stewards, a very brave woman, was injured during this phase and endured a painful flight home later with broken ribs.
By now it was nearly half time and there were maybe 50 Evertonians refusing to move and seemingly unfazed by the ever nearing threat of thugs, police dogs or anything else. There was nothing I could do to get them to move and I thought I needed to save myself at least because during half time this is going to be carnage. At this point one of my team came striding over from the direction of the underground gate. Clearly he knew and was known to most of the lads still there, and equally clearly he and they were not averse to a set to with opposing fans if that's what they wanted. But all he said was, come on lads, the boss wants us out of here so let's go. And they followed him. That man will always have my utmost respect.
Half-time came and went and I thanked our Italian counterparts and I took my team out of the stadium. We watched the match on some big screen set up somewhat randomly on a nearby basketball court until 15 minutes before the end when we took up positions to assist and direct our fans to the correct buses out of there. I was glad to get to the airport.
2 Posted 13/04/2021 at 19:28:44
My trip to Kharkiv was considerably more straightforward than Rob's expedition. The club's day excursion meant I only needed to take two days off work. I remember the huge square, the cheap beer and a few hundred fans singing the anthems on a great afternoon. The win was our best in Europe since 1985. I heard Metalist went bust five years ago after the owner absconded. A new club was formed and the last I heard they were in the second tier in Ukraine.
3 Posted 14/04/2021 at 11:35:43
4 Posted 14/04/2021 at 18:50:40
5 Posted 14/04/2021 at 19:01:15
The lad who worked with you.
His name wasnt Mike by any chance?
The Fiorentina fans had a narrow escape if its who I am thinking of
6 Posted 14/04/2021 at 19:07:04
7 Posted 14/04/2021 at 19:13:42
Beard loads of tattoos.
A gentleman but very capable I believe
8 Posted 14/04/2021 at 19:36:28
9 Posted 14/04/2021 at 19:43:30
Used to chaperone the younger ones on nights out.
10 Posted 14/04/2021 at 19:48:17
11 Posted 14/04/2021 at 19:50:19
Scum at it again.
12 Posted 14/04/2021 at 19:53:51
13 Posted 14/04/2021 at 19:58:53
I wonder why, after what's happened previously (Man City) coach, there were no steps taken to prevent this happening again.
Surely not for the reason I immediately thought?
14 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:02:42
15 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:05:13
16 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:06:03
17 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:12:09
Liverpool have condemned the "unacceptable and shameful behaviour" of "a few individuals" after Real Madrid's team bus had a window smashed as it arrived at Anfield on Wednesday.
Hundreds of Reds fans packed on to Anfield Road before the Champions League quarter-final second leg.
The Real bus was booed as it passed, with several objects thrown.
One pane of a double-glazed window was smashed, with Liverpool staff seen cleaning up broken glass on the ground.
Follow Liverpool v Real Madrid live - radio & text
A Liverpool spokesperson said: "We condemn unequivocally the actions that led to Real Madrid's team bus being damaged during its arrival to Anfield this evening.
"It is totally unacceptable and shameful behaviour of a few individuals.
"We sincerely apologise to our visitors for any distress caused.
"We will work together with Merseyside Police to establish the facts and identify those responsible."
La Liga giants Real lead 3-1 on aggregate, with the winners of the tie to face Chelsea in the last four.
The match is being played behind closed doors because of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.
In 2018, cans, bottles and flares were thrown at Manchester City's team bus as a crowd gathered outside Anfield before Liverpool's 3-0 Champions League quarter-final first-leg win.
At the time, Liverpool apologised and called the behaviour "completely unacceptable". No players or staff were injured but two police officers were hurt and the coach was left unsafe to be driven.
They were fined 20,000 euros (£17,000) for the damage, plus 6,000 euros (£5,200) for setting off fireworks and throwing objects.
18 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:13:35
19 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:18:08
Absolutely no shame. I'm embarrassed for the city.
20 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:22:58
21 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:31:23
22 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:47:06
24 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:52:17
The RS Echo looks to have copied and pasted the same extract as BBC sport.
The UEFA authorities must come down hard this time.
25 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:57:15
26 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:57:57
27 Posted 14/04/2021 at 20:59:35
28 Posted 14/04/2021 at 21:00:38
We both know it wont happen though.
29 Posted 14/04/2021 at 21:04:01
They can't wait till the time some one is maimed or blinded, or worse.
Raises questions about the security arrangements..
30 Posted 14/04/2021 at 21:04:54
31 Posted 14/04/2021 at 21:08:55
Do our club have to anticipate this happening when next our coach makes its way there?
32 Posted 14/04/2021 at 21:10:50
Big Nevs testimonial in Drogheda, for VIP hospitality courtesy of Paddy and one long boozy weekend was one of the best.
33 Posted 14/04/2021 at 21:15:35
34 Posted 14/04/2021 at 22:40:32
35 Posted 14/04/2021 at 22:52:32
36 Posted 14/04/2021 at 23:39:31
They shouldn't be allowed to have the same name as the city. Make them change to FC Fuckwit or something.
37 Posted 15/04/2021 at 01:11:26
38 Posted 15/04/2021 at 10:01:27
Had this happened at the Etihad however, cue outrage and custodial sentences without trial.
39 Posted 15/04/2021 at 10:19:08
Remember failed ex RS David Thompson blamed Everton supporters for smashing up the City bus.
40 Posted 15/04/2021 at 10:26:36
41 Posted 15/04/2021 at 10:27:04
I will be interested to read any comments from Henry Winter, Oliver Holt, Chris Bascombe or Andy Dunne as to what they think should be the appropriate punishment, and not just to say it was a disgraceful incident, this is not a one off that can be dismissed. But they probably wont suggest any meaningful punishment as they wouldn't want to upset their fellow reds.
I think an appropriate punishment would be to make them play all their home legs at a neutral ground for the next 3 years that they qualify for Europe and ban their fans from attending any European games for the same period. That hits them financially and it sends a clear message to their fans who indulge in this kind of thing, do this again and you will face a complete ban on entering Europe for a period of time.
But We know nothing will happen, just a minimal fine as not to upset them.
42 Posted 15/04/2021 at 10:34:08
43 Posted 15/04/2021 at 10:42:00
Honestly, if it had been Milwall or West ham the press would be going mad but those lovable tossers have so many chums in the media that they sweep it under the carpet instantly. Just like MOTD never showed Mane and Salah's cheating dives in our win at Anfield. Had it been DCL or Richie and it would have had Murphy and Shearer giving us the third degree.
I wonder what the Spanish press are saying?
44 Posted 15/04/2021 at 10:54:26
45 Posted 15/04/2021 at 10:57:11
FC Fuckwit: spelt ar, ess; pronounced red shite.
46 Posted 15/04/2021 at 11:22:12
As a club they are bottom of the barrel as a measure of supporter they are like something on the bottom of your shoe which recently fell out of a dogs arse.
47 Posted 15/04/2021 at 11:22:54
48 Posted 15/04/2021 at 11:48:52
49 Posted 15/04/2021 at 11:56:13
Because it was people not associated with their club who they endangered they think that's ok.
Fucking complete scumbags!
50 Posted 18/04/2021 at 15:55:56
Agree with all the comments about the morons attacking the bus, but unless they're the victims it's not newsworthy. At Everton there was always very close liaison and monitoring of progress between us and the police as the away coach left the hotel and made its way to the ground. Does that not happen across the park? These scumbags need to be caught and if not enough is being done to identify them or the places they are likely to attack the bus then someone should be held to account.
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