Cardiff in Carnival mood for epic Champions League Final

Sergio Ramos lifts the Champions League trophy following Real Madrid's 4-1 win over Juventus in last Saturday's Final in Cardiff

Sergio Ramos lifts the Champions League trophy following Real Madrid's 4-1 win over Juventus in last Saturday's Final in Cardiff

Cardiff was truly en-fete for the Champions League Final last Saturday. It was truly a magnificent occasion, a brilliant match, a sunny afternoon.
Having secured a ticket fairly late, hotels were all full and flights so was a question of boat train and driving to Rosslare with the ferry time of 8am.
Arriving at 3.30pm, the Millennium Stadium is mere minutes away and so is the city centre, where fans from all over the world had gathered.
The stadium holds 75,000 seats and over 68,000 seats were pre-sold, we understand. Tickets were going for over £1000 on the street, the Juventus fans were everywhere desperate to see the game and sample the occasion in the city otherwise, locals joined in and bought the colours too. Police reckoned there was 200,000 people in the city of a regular population of 350,000.
Security was tight with armed officers and dogs in evidence body searches to get into the stadium were done efficiently, no bags allowed, food or liquids. The same happened going into hotels or bars with many extra doormen hired.
For the Welsh this was a time to become a Champions League Final fan for a day. Around the streets the Italians sang as did the Spanish, unlike a rugby international weekend, there weren’t too much ‘tired and emotional’ fans in evidence and those that were tended to be home-grown.
Spanish and Italians resident in the UK were very much part of the scene and was an occasion to celebrate and remember home with lots of colours bought over the weekend.
All remarked that Juventus fans way out numbered Real Madrid fans by two to one on the streets.
They covered all age groups, mums with kids, couples and older mature fans it was a great for
the people, who follow Juve, the old lady of Italian football from the city of Fiat cars, whose family have financed the club for a few generations.
They hit a rough period after a bribery scandal, were demoted, similarly to Glasgow Rangers but have come back so strongly into the top levels of football again and were aiming for a treble on Saturday night.
Cardiff’s hotels and bars put on great entertainment; we checked out the Brewery quarter pre-match where a nice former Brains brewery has been converted into a sophisticated leisure area of shops, restaurants, bars and apartments, as a local Cardiff man explained to us since we’ve not been here for a long time. The result has been outstanding.
Big matches provides a boom time for the city with some estimates reckoning that the match would bring in up to (Stg) £80 million to the city and surrounding areas.
Pricing though is a problem as prices are hiked up, one Irish man tried to book IBIS hotel, but the rate was £400. We tried Harvey Travel too and they said it was all sold out, with the only option a cancellation.
A Wexford man got a room for the day of the game for £200 through a cancellation secured by a Travel Counsellor in Wexford.
Many stayed up in London and travelled down, as trains ran till nearly 4am. One local joked with us and said there was a camping area, where you could buy a tent for £30 and was not full, the Continentals were not into camping in cool Wales!
At 11pm, we learned of the tragic events in London and were so glad that security arrangements were so good in Cardiff.
But news also broke about the crush in Turin where a fan zone of 50,000 people saw a panicked crowd run when they heard fire crackers.
Cardiff also had a fan zone. Should these be allowed in the future given the growing worries about crowds and terrorism attacks? We shall see – but they did work in France at Euro 2016.
The best advice we think if going to Cardiff for a big game in future is stay out of town or book very early, as they charge so much more than their equivalent in Dublin.
What a pity because otherwise the locals were really friendly and hospitable to match fans and visitors.
On Sunday, we took the first train out to connect with the ferry and savour a special moment at what had been a fantastic football between two footballing aristocrats teams that are far ahead of their equivalent UK sides.
Fans were also very well behaved, happy and out for a great occasion. There was little anger noticeable (a few scuffles were seen pre-match by one media man), but given the huge numbers it was truly a remarkable day.
We headed for the stadium an hour before the game and saw the police horses with women riders escort the Juventus team bus with cheering crowds waving flags.
The singing at the game was excellent by both sets of fans, the Juventus players looked up at the amazing colourful scenes and saluted their fans, where they have a great bond from all classes of society .
Later they would become very disconsolate as Madrid would over power them in the second half, as Cristiano Ronaldo notched another two goals to add to his astonishing record.
The Black Eyed Peas provided the brilliant pre-match song and dance with hits such as “I Gotta Feeling”, “Let’s Get It Started” were really appropriate for the night that was in it. Given what transpired in London, we were all glad to get to Ireland safely afterwards.
The football that followed was exceptionally good, possibly the best game of my life that I’ve attended, taking into account major World Cup matches. It was a quality match and a night to remember as Real lifted a 12th European Cup/Champions League. The stadium, the organisation, the match and the craic in Cardiff all lived up to the occasion.
There was great positivity afterwards as players brought their children and loved ones onto the pitch in an almost GAA-like style.
Man of the match Cristiano Ronaldo mentioned Real Madrid’s fantastic work ethic and how they got the better of Juventus during the second half to overcome the strong Juventus defence. His goal tally of 100 Champions league goals is breaking all records.
If I ever see a first half of such quality again, football as art, then I’ll be a very lucky football fan!

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