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Bayer Leverkusen - and the meeting of Rafa

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Monday 7th March and it’s a early start for Sarah and I as we head to Manchester airport for our 11.30 am flight into Cologne – Liverpool would have been our preferred option (Keep Flights Scouse) but Easy Jet did their normal price inflation scam so Manchester it had to be.

By 2 pm we’re sipping cocktails in a nice local Spanish bar as we watch the world pass us by … what a nice relaxing way to start a Euro away trip because in my experience history proves these trips are anything but sedate, but this was my first day, I’d arrived with plenty of time and had planned all along to have an early night.  I would have a few drinks with Lee & Ali, wait for Brenda to arrive who was on a much later flight (just to be sociable like) and then go on my way ... you will all be shocked no doubt to hear that we were still in the hotel bar come 4am. I blame Brenda of course ... the barman did close the bar at 1am but after a few “what…..are you ‘avin a laff mate” the night porter duly obliged and kept the beer flowing.

Tuesday 8th March and after a few hours’ kip and a shower Sarah and I are ready for a big session. The eve of the game is always my favourite day when it comes to big games, it’s traditionally the day I enjoy most, strangely enough it also coincides with the day I drink an awful lot - how odd. The group (Me, Sarah, Lee, Ali, Brenda, Shazz, John, Russ) head into town for a search of some breakfast. We head to Jameson’s Irish bar – recommended by Lee as doing the best breakfasts in Cologne, he wasn’t wrong. A full English breakfast for Lee and I and after having a late night and plenty of beer the night before it was just what the doctor ordered. After a few pints (it would have been rude not to) we ask the barmaid would there be any football on in here later that night, I had money on Liverpool being the last English team left in the Champions League and I was determined to see Chelsea get stuffed by Barcelona. She told us how lots of pubs had made the decision to close half day, not because of the Liverpool fans but they traditionally (as people who attended the last Leverkusen game may recall) have problems keeping the FC Cologne fans in order. This bar however would be staying open, we made a mental note of that and it proved to be very worthwhile.

Off to Papa Joe's now where John G also joins us. I don’t even know where to start when trying to describe this place, but thankfully I got their web address - just lifted this from the site:

Experience the unmistakably original atmosphere of traditional jazz - live and free of charge. Jazz can be heard daily in Germany's oldest jazz venue. To accompany your food and beverages we offer a selection of live music, cabaret, piano playing and vaudeville. Experience this unique atmosphere of Cologne's pub scene.

The tall dummy with the red hair (no no no, not JAR) was one of the freakiest things I’ve ever seen. I swear if you took any of your kids into this place they would be left mentally scarred for life. It made no odds where you sat, the guy never took his eyes off you – and when they played “I’m too sexy” everyone in the place just fell about laughing, and when Morro stuck a nice little Spanish number on with the Beatles mixed in-between tracks it was a bloody good laugh. It was also a nice place and the barman (Nunez look a like) was very friendly, even let John behind the bar to get his picture taken with the “band”

And then on to another bar, with more of the same, only it was getting late now and this particular bar was closing early for the night. Where to go next? We all wanted to watch the football and no one wanted to be walking the streets when we had better things to do so let’s head back to Jameson’s for guaranteed football, guaranteed opening hours and decent priced beer. Again best call of the night.

Within twenty minutes Chelsea were three goals up and I was gutted, nothing to do with the money I had on them going out (honest). I had two options, go in the back bar and watch the Mancs go out (please god) or go for a little walk, just a stroll for five minutes to get some fresh air. I went for the latter, when I got back to the bar the Chelsea game was still on and as I really couldn’t be arsed I just stayed by the door. Jean-Paul came across at this point to tell me that Rafa had just walked in the bar ....

My reaction was much the same as everyone else’s that night “yeah right whatever” “no no he has says” said JP again. I just laugh, I was so dismissive that JP actually grabbed my arm and marched me over to Rafa who at this point was only at the door of the bar still relatively unseen and weighing up if he should stay or go. Oh my god it’s him ... I was amazed but remember I was also a little pissed so no hesitation, no holding back, I’m straight in there shaking his hand and, well, telling him his job.

It’s a really strange thing. I have no doubt if I had been sober I would have held a sensible conversation with him but hey ho, I shake his hand (keep hold of his hand).

Christine:  Rafa, you know Carragher should be our captain come summer don’t you?
Rafa: Maybe, he’s a very good defender
Christine: No Rafa, not maybe he HAS to be our captain, the lad is fantastic and I can’t say enough about him
Rafa: That’s a possibility
Christine: Look, you know it and I know it, that boy IS our captain

At this point Rafa is laughing out loud. I’m still holding his hand as he smiles and weighs up his options, he wisely decides he ain't going to win this one so an agreement may be needed….

Rafa: You like him a lot, you know I think you’re right – Carragher is fantastic

And that was it, my job was done, I didn’t talk football, I didn’t talk Liverpool, I didn’t even talk Leverkusen. I left him with a smile on my face and felt on top of the world. I rushed straight over to Brenda to tell her Rafa was here (by this point he’s at the bar) “yeah yeah whatever” was the expected response. “Brenda I know my manager come see” and so it goes on ... he even apologised because no one could watch the football with his arrival and all the commotion his arrival had caused as more and more fans realised he was in the bar. Brenda did two things that night that she should be really proud off…..

1. She told Rafa straight, we don’t care about Chelsea, we don’t care about any football on TV – we have travelled a long way to see you, to support you, to follow LFC. You couldn’t miss the smile on Rafa’s face and he truly looked delighted.

2. She pinned her HJC badge to his jacket – it’s great to see Rafa in his club tracksuit wearing our HJC badge.

He stayed for a good forty five minutes – his colleague/minder (Alex Miller I think) asked would he be ok to stay there (alone) as he went to find Pako who had got lost/separated from them or did he want to leave. Rafa smiled and without hesitation said “no no I’m ok here, you go”.

Everyone wanted to buy him a drink but he politely refused all offers while talking to everyone who wanted a chat and posing for pictures galore. Even the bar staff themselves had got cameras out and were offering him drinks without doubt this was a very very special moment and his PR has gone through the roof. I’m not cynical enough to think it was staged but it’s certainly added to his popularity and not just with those fans that were fortunate to meet him.

The famous Rafa Benitez went the pub to see the lads
The famous Rafa Benitez went the pub to see the lads...

Rafa eventually left but for us the party went on. Jameson’s was rocking till closing and I seem to recall swapping numbers with a Valencia fan and inviting him to stay in Liverpool. He was a good lad who was out with a group of West Ham fans and one Chelsea fan who I duly took the piss out of. They where having such a good time with us lot that when the party moved to the back room they all followed, they were loving it and even the Chelsea fan admitted to me that he’s never sampled an atmosphere like this and how us Liverpool fans always seem to do it best - I was really pleased with that.

After Jameson’s it's off to a club for a few hours, by this time the size the group had grown and loads of RAWK Euro away regulars have hit the nightclub. I remember BobK, IrishRed, Mark, Dave & Christine, John Hall, Kirsty, Terri, Blert, JP, Gareth, JasonR, Steve M, Roger & Dan, Roddy and many more all being there at some point that night, plus our original group. I think I eventually got back around 4.30am.

Wednesday 9th March and it's match day – into town for some breakfast/dinner and then to the pub, a good few beers later we jump taxis to the BayArena, one drink in the Havana bar and then it is into the ground. I was confident we wouldn’t lose tonight but in my mind I was expecting a draw and I would have taken it happily. There is something very special about big European games whether they be at Anfield or on the road and this one was no different. Right from the off the atmosphere was fantastic (maybe inspired by Rafa) but the football from the boys just had us all on cloud nine. The Carragher song could be heard loud and clear and it was to be sung constantly that night from the game onwards - come 5 am when we were all back in our now local nightclub that song was still being sung with special mention having to go to Ali J who embraced the song with as much gusto as me.

We all dream of a team of Carraghers
A team of Carraghers
A team of Carraghers

Number one is Carragher, number two is Carragher, number three is Carragher, number four is Carragher ...

We had a stripper (again) down at the front of the ground with his elephant thong, we had dancing in our seats and we had great football from the boys. This is what our dreams are made of, a quarter-final place on the back of two very good performances against Leverkusen. Winning with such ease leaves you with a very good feeling about the future. Inconsistent yes, but when you see them flashes you can't help but feel excited, you can't help but dream and start to think of what may be with a fit squad and Alonso in particular back. Then maybe, just maybe, we’re back in business. Time will tell and thankfully as we all know Rafa will be given time.

Status Quo hey ... I think you’re going to hear a lot more of this song in the coming months, this is going to be just like Ring of Fire. Anyone who did the Blackburn away cup game the other season will know exactly how this felt - we’re cruising, the game aint ever in doubt and the opposition score a late consolation goal. No big deal there, that is until they (the opposition club) play music to help celebrate the goal, the travelling Red’s paused for all of a split second and then start dancing where they stood, grown men playing air guitar, everyone singing along long after any music has finished playing, and the “classic” line changed to “Rafa’s all over the world”. There was even booing of Dudek when he made a save and chanting "we want two". It was mad and it was absolutely fantastic, this trip turned out to have many many classic moments and that was just another.

After the game it's straight off to the MOPS bar for a few beers with all the local fans (nice to meet you LAHS). I can’t say enough about their generous hospitality and how welcoming everyone was – you’re all a credit to your club, I wish your team plenty of luck for the future and I look forward to meeting up with you all again.

Then back to our nightclub and I’m starting to feel like a regular – a hello from the bar staff who are obviously also feeling like we’re locals and we party long and hard. Brenda asks the manager what time they close and he tells us 6 am, she then told him that was too early, he smiled and replied "ok sixish" ... what a bar. I was still there at 6am and I loved every minute – the DJ had all the Liverpool songs on the go, in-between every song he played was either Ring of Fire, a Beatles number or Status Quo and every time they came on the place was up again and one lad even got the bar man up dancing, it was so funny. Brenda, Richard, Blert and I eventually left the club around the promised time – the manager thanked us for our custom and told us we were welcome back anytime and he hoped we would be back soon.

Thursday 7th March and I’ve decided not to drink today. I didn't get to bed till 7.30am after seeing Brenda in a taxi to the airport. I’ve had a couple of hours sleep and I’m still drunk from the night before, so I’m not drinking today ... no way ... definitely not ... ok make mine a beer. Many beers later and before heading back to Papa Joe’s place for a few more. I ask Richard (IrishRed) if he’s gonna join us or stay at the hotel bar, no he says, he has a flight in a few hours and as the airport isn’t as local as ours he best not. Wise man you’re thinking.

A few hours later its back to Papa Joe’s place where Jim Price and dad join us for a few beers – Ron Yates (aka Jim’s dad) and John Hughes (Shazz’s husband) kept us thoroughly entertained for a good few hours. I never realised cavity wall insulation could be so interesting and who the hell this Greta Garbo woman?  We’ve time for one more round of beers in Papa Joe's and its Sarah who’s getting them in, only she’s lost her wallet, can’t find it anywhere and I know she had it a little earlier as I noticed it in her back jean pocket. I head down stairs to retrace her steps and check the toilets, checking all the cubicles and there it is, down the pan, literally, so unfortunately I have the honour of sticking my hand down the toilet on Sarah’s behalf and all I can say is it was a clean toilet, if you know what I mean. Sarah then had to dry the wallet out, Jim accused her of money laundering ...

Slowly the group starts to dwindle as the usual suspects all make their separate ways to the airport with various timed flights to catch. Oh and as for sensible Richard, you know the one who best not come to Papa with us as he as a flight to catch? Yes he missed the flight but we had some great text’s from him with this one just sums the whole thing up best…

Win the European Cup for me
Cause we are stuck in fuckin' Germany
We missed the plane and that’s a shame
But where’s the girls that are on the game
Oh win the European cup for me


I’m fortunate enough to have been to many great European away trips, some great because of the football and some more for the crack we have when away, this trip however was both. It’s like everything just fell into place and I know I’ll never forget it – it's possibly the best football trip I’ve ever been on. Thanks to everyone who made the trip so special, you’re all legends. Especially you Rafa.

© Christine 2005

brings a smile to your face does that. Superb Christine.

Top Stuff. Was waiting for two days for that. Amazing that Rafa is proudly now owning a HJC badge supplied by Brenda. Absolutely fantastic stuff.



fucking hell, i remember being on RAWK when the post came through "rafa's just come into the pub" and as the mods confirmed it (their various friends being in the pub sending texts and MMS') i found myself thinking- "what a guy".

cheers for that, seemed like you had a great few days, and it was great to read about it.

WOW! Terrific story!!!


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