IN MUNICH YESTERDAY, Ascension Day took on a rather different meaning.
Or, if you like, a very literal meaning.
The city expects.
There’s a firm belief that Philippe Lahm will lift Bayern’s first European Cup in 11 years and fifth overall. And, in truth, it’s difficult not to get taken up by the sense of excitement as you ramble around the city.
This type of event, after all — for all Chelsea and the general English media’s misgivings — is actually quite rare: a team playing such a massive global game, for one of the biggest prizes in sport, in their own city.
It has happened three times in the history of the European Cup (1957, 1965 and 1984) but, curiously, not so much in football at large over the last decade or so. What examples have there been of a team getting to take the final step towards their Holy Grail at home?
Of course, there was Manchester City last week. But that was a league so, obviously, it’s much more likely and common. Otherwise, there’s only been Portugal in Euro 2004 and Sporting Lisbon with the Uefa Cup in 2005.
And, interestingly — just like the 1984 European Cup final — both ended in defeats for the home side.
For the few of us that were in Munich last night ahead of today’s media activities, it gave rise to a discussion. Outside of the whole issues of home advantage (which can, evidently, prove a disadvantage given the associated pressure), would you rather your team play at home or abroad for such an occasion?
After all, part of the intrigue and glamour of such events is that they are played in exotic venues you mightn’t necessarily visit. Note all the stories about Celtic and Lisbon in 1967, Liverpool and Istanbul in 2005 and Manchester United and Moscow in 2008.
Also, what happens if you lose at home? The city will suddenly feel a very different place in the way it mightn’t have if the team lost away.
Not that anyone has been thinking along those lines in Munich. Indeed, it’s hard not to be taken up by the sense of excitement. Given that Ascension Day ensured a public holiday on the Thursday, it essentially served as an extra boozy build-up to the match. The beer halls and bars around Marianplatz were absolutely packed.
Hat, scarves and head bands
In general, around the city — as you would expect — there are flags everywhere. There is singing everywhere. There are good vibes everywhere.
Except, that is, in one place: the actual stadium. Or, at least, that’s the case on the eve of the final anyway. The night of it, of course, should be different. But, for the moment, the actual arena feels little more than an industrial estate — bar the growing presence of the international media — on the outskirts of town. And, essentially, that’s what it is.
It is the one pity of this otherwise magnificent, innovative arena and modern stadia in general. They’re detached from where the real energy and vibrancy are. Obviously, you can understand the logistics of it all. But something a bit more intangible has definitely been lost.
For example, this is my fourth successive Champions League final. And, obviously, it has been absolute privilege to attend every single one of them. But, in terms of the atmosphere and the overall experience — if not the actual match — my undoubted favourite is Madrid 2010.
It was supreme: a traditional walk to the stadium in brilliant sunshine, allowing you to take in all the atmosphere of the event; fans outside. There was a real sense something was happening. By contrast, Rome and Wembley were both in suburbs well outside of the city centre while the Munich Arena feels in a different place entirely.
To a certain extent, despite all of the press conferences taking place here, it feels — for the moment — like the “real” final is in the city itself.
That, of course, will all change tomorrow.
The city of Munich, however, hopes that its mood doesn’t.