A football match that had devastating consequences
On 11 March 2020, Liverpool exited the Champions League at the round of 16 stage after losing 3-2 to Atletico Madrid at Anfield, and 4-2 on aggregate, but the match is remembered more for what is caused rather than the result.
The decision to allow 3,000 Spanish fans to travel to Liverpool, despite lockdowns in their own country due to the (at the time) ever growing threat of the coronavirus pandemic, is one that has frustrated and angered people for the past 18 months.
The government has been criticised for failing to take action as virus rates grew, as a number of major events were still allowed to take place in March, with a report last week finding that 37 people died unnecessarily because of the decision to stage the match.
The two sides face each other again tonight, at a time when coronavirus rates in the United Kingdom are rising by close to 50,000 each day.
Once again, the possibility of a lockdown is being floated. Once again, people are pretending that everything is fine.
Days before Madrid went into lockdown, Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid was allowed to go ahead.
A new study has found this delay 'caused increased suffering and death'. pic.twitter.com/NMvt3lpMtB
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) May 27, 2020
Nearly 18 months on from that night, we know that the game should never have gone ahead. Atletico fans should never have been allowed to enter the country.
Disgracefully, though, it did - and people paid the price for it.
This is the story of the football match that drastically increased virus rates in England, told by the fans who were there to witness it.
"In hindsight, it’s terrifying to think that the game was allowed to take place"
It’ll be a rather surreal experience when Liverpool welcome Atletico Madrid to Anfield next month, 18 months after the infamous Anfield encounter marked the end of life as we knew it.
In hindsight, it’s terrifying to think that the game was allowed to take place, let alone with travelling supporters from Madrid.
I, like many others, had been in Madrid just weeks prior for the first leg, where in the days upon returning to England it became apparent just how bad the Spanish capital’s Covid situation was.
Though, that didn’t deter me from attending fixtures for the next few weeks.
However, the penultimate week of sport with spectators in attendance, which saw Liverpool face Bournemouth at Anfield, is when rumours and rumblings of just how serious the situation was began to circulate.
On the eve of Atletico’s trip to Merseyside, it became apparent that something wasn’t right. Borussia Dortmund fans who had travelled to Paris for their tie with PSG were being told they would be unable to attend the fixture, while as thousands of Spaniards descended on Merseyside, there was silence from all those with authority.
As with any football match, where it seems that your worries escape you for 90 minutes, this fixture felt no different.
Though it very quickly became clear that this would be the last time we would be packed inside Anfield, for a very long time.
The devastating impact that the game had on the city and the community of Liverpool is something that should, and will, never be forgotten. Accountability is needed.
Personally speaking, it was only during the weeks and months that were spent reflecting during the lockdowns that the guilt and realisation of the situation started to set in as the casualty rate began to hike uncontrollably.
Even 18 months later there is still burning anger amongst many as to why the game was sanctioned.
"We never imagined that it would be our last game at Anfield for so long"
The day or two leading up to the game there was a lot of uncertainty as to what was happening.
I had made arrangements with my friends to meet for dinner and drinks and we were all debating about whether or not the game should have gone ahead, so we were all feeling a little apprehensive.
There was definitely a strange atmosphere once we were in the ground and I think the players also felt something.
We never imagined that it would be our last game at Anfield for so long.
There was not really any separation with the Atletico fans, especially in the city centre.
"It was one of those things that you looked at and thought, should I be doing the same?"
Looking back now, it was nothing short of embarrassing that the powers that be allowed such a large population of people to congregate in one place, at one time from several different countries. With everything we’ve learnt in the aftermath, it was probably the worst possible thing they could have done.
Hindsight is a brilliant thing and truth be told, being in the ground that night, something felt massively off. I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended hundreds of Liverpool games over the years, but the Atletico game didn’t feel like a normal Anfield matchday.
I saw a few, and I must stress, only a few, people wearing masks. It was one of those things that you looked at and thought, should I be doing the same?
It’s hard to not mix the build-up and match itself from the aftermath. At the end of the day, Liverpool lost. As with any loss, there’s excuses and being in the presser after the game, I picked up on Klopp noting the whole experiencing feeling weird, but the cynic within me is saying ‘would he have said it if Liverpool won?’ Emotions would have been different and maybe the initial thoughts post-match would have been performance-centred as opposed to the impending global pandemic.
I guess we’ll never know what would have happened, but it didn’t feel normal and rightly so. The preliminary findings concluded 37 people died because the game was staged. I whole heartedly believe they should be remembered by the club because it was their love for their football team that saw them travel to the ground that day, despite the obvious scare of COVID-related articles flooding through social media prior to kick-off.
"It didn’t feel particularly crowded until the Atletico fans were passing in procession"
That night I was putting together a piece, ‘The Long Wait', about Liverpool waiting 30 years to win the league. I was at the ground before kick-off but didn’t have a ticket so I left at about 8pm. The plan was to film presenter links, GVs and vox pops on the night.
The atmosphere was electric as you’d expect for a European night, it felt like the fans were more focused at the time on winning the title finally than anything else. Reality hadn’t set in for anyone I don’t think.
There was an advert running on the big screen in front of the stadium advising people to wash their hands etc. but that was about it in terms of a visible Covid presence. I was mindful to make sure I was as mobile as possible so I was carrying just the camera and monopod so I could easily maintain distance when filming. I would do that anyway to be fair, but was particularly mindful of it. The presenter had a boom mic which I wiped down before and after shooting.
It didn’t feel particularly crowded until the Atletico fans were passing in procession and they were singing, Liverpool fans were singing back, police were in between. It wasn’t particularly rowdy, but there was the usual tension between the two sets of fans.
It was also the first time I remember being actually conscious of the fact that there were a lot of people around, which was never something I ever really thought about at a game before. As people heading in started to thin out, I started getting detail GV shots, including filming along the handrail as people were going past.
Truth be told I didn’t get that shot thinking of Covid at the time, it was just because I’d got everything on the shot list and was just standing next to it and liked the framing of the shot.
I'm glad I got it in hindsight because it ended up being a useful shot to have later.
"The risks, in this case, certainly outweighed the rewards"
Nobody knew the severity of allowing floods of fans to attend such a high-profile game, just as the pandemic was beginning.Yet, caution should have prevailed. The risks, in this case, certainly outweighed the rewards.
Every cough from the stands was potentially hazardous and still fans were told it was safe to travel and watch our team play. This ambiguous messaging from the government and the media was, borderline, dangerous and has possibly since caused more Covid related deaths that were otherwise preventable.
Anxiety and tension were palpable within Anfield. Perhaps due to the difficulty of the fixture, or perhaps due to the COVID risks. In reality, it was a combination of the two and it made for an uncomfortable fan experience.
Ultimately, however, fan experience seldom matters to the money men in football. That was the main reason this game was played in spite of the clear, covid relate, issues. Ensure UEFA’s pockets are lined and worry about the aftermath later. Unfortunately, this attitude towards fans has been clear for some time and UEFA aren’t the only guilty party.
Thankfully, although Liverpool lost, the fans in attendance were treated to a great game of football. A silver lining on an event marred with covid confusion and controversy.
Daniel Brown (me)
"It is a football match that will never be remembered for what happened on the pitch"
It was the first time that I had attended a Champions League match at Anfield as a journalist, so without even thinking about the wider picture, it was a big moment for me personally when I was informed that I would be attending.
After a short period of excitement, I was quickly reminded of the global pandemic that had just started to impact thousands of people around the world as my girlfriend said, "Are you sure it's safe to go?" The answer, thinking back now, should have always have been no.
It's certainly not an excuse, but I think as football fans, the love we have for our team sometimes takes over and we ignore 'real life'.
Evidently, by me writing this, I did choose to attend the match and arriving at Anfield, the atmosphere was certainly strange. It was like everyone know that the game shouldn't be taking place, but because it was, the powers that be must have been confident that was actually safe to do so.
Very few people were wearing face masks and you really did look at those who were doing and wonder if you were doing something wrong by not doing so. Looking back now, there is so much that, on a personal note, I would've done differently.
Yet, I would be lying if I said that for the duration of the match, I was thinking about the Covid situation. It was a thrilling Champions League tie that had everyone in the stadium sat on the edge of their seats.
I walked away from Anfield bitterly disappointed that the Reds had exited the Champions League, how ridiculous is that? It's ridiculous on reflection, anyway.
It sounds obvious but it was a shocking decision to allow the game to take place, let alone with travelling supporters from Atletico Madrid.
In everything that we’ve learnt in the aftermath of the tie, it was a terrible decision to allow the game to go ahead - with preliminary findings concluding that 37 people died because of the fixture.
Football truly becomes meaningless when you consider the consequences of the match.
Around 18 months later, as Liverpool travel to Madrid to face Atletico for the first time since that night, there is still understandable anger that the game went ahead.
I really don't know who sanctioned the game, but I'm sure there are a lot of people to blame. It is a football match that will be remembered for the consequences it had, rather than what happened on the pitch.