'The joy, the hope, the journey, the despair. The Reds. We go again'
Liverpool fan Jackie Cahill chronicles the hope and the despair he experienced in Kiev - and reveals how the world got it wrong about how Loris Karius was treated by his team-mates
"We've conquered all of Europe, We're never gonna stop. From Paris down to Turkey, We've won the f***ing lot. Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly, The Fields of Anfield Road. We are loyal supporters, And we come from Liverpool. Allez Allez Allez!"
"Stay with Paul, don't get separated. Watch your back and don't wear colours." I'm on the phone to my brother Andrew a few days before the Champions League final in Kiev.
He's travelling via Minsk on Friday, before flying into the Ukrainian capital on the Saturday morning. Paul is his new work colleague, 6ft 8in tall.
My travel itinerary is a little different.
Dublin to Munich on a red-eye flight on the Saturday morning, and Munich to Kiev, arriving into Kiev at 4pm local time, less than six hours before Liverpool kick off against Real Madrid.
I was in Athens in 2007 and the memories of that trip come flooding back: €700 on the black market for a ticket. Andrew paid a hefty fee too and didn't even get into the ground.
Liverpool lost 2-1 to AC Milan and it was a thoroughly forgettable experience.
This time feels different. The feel-good factor is through the roof. It feels like our name's on the trophy.
In Munich, I'm killing time. I grab a coffee and touch base with Andrew in Kiev.
The hostel is grim, he says. "You won't like it." But we might not be spending much time there, all going to plan.
I call Iver, a life-long friend and fellow Liverpool nut. "Good feeling about this, hang on a sec, I'll ring you back."
There he is, David Moyes. "David, can I grab a picture?" "No problem." "Are you heading to Kiev?" "I am."
Small talk. Nice guy.
The trip's going too well. No delays. I grab a quick beer and try to relax. Stomach's churning with nerves. I check my watch (still on Irish time) and it's 11am, plenty of time before boarding the 12.30pm flight. A glance at the iPhone and it's 12pm. "What the f**k?"
Thankfully the gate's not too far away. Sweating, I board and take my seat. Plenty of reds on board.
It's a smooth flight and we touch down in Kiev pretty much on time.
Shuttle buses are outside, marked Real Madrid and Liverpool - 45 minutes later and we're dropped off outside Shevchenko Park. Fans disembark and the strains of 'Allez Allez Allez' drift across the bushes.
Inside, it's heaven. Flags, banners, pyro. A Sean Cox banner is in among them. A sea of red. Kiev, Liverpool are here.
Beer and a burger. Traditional match-day fare. Still feeling good. There have been some epic trips with Liverpool across Europe through the years.
The Bernabéu in 2009 is fondly recalled. More than 3,000 Liverpool fans in the upper tier as Yossi Benayoun heads home a first-leg winner against Real.
A week later, we're back at Anfield for a 4-0 romp. They are 'Los Blancos' but they're not invincible. History tells us that.
The ticket collection point at the north end of the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium is running smoothly. Documents produced, ticket in hand.
Time for another beer or two. We find a small bar not far from the turnstiles. It's relatively empty when we arrive but soon heaving with Liverpool fans. 'Allez Allez Allez' 'Mo Salah, running down the wing' 'Luis Garcia, he drinks sangria'…
We could have stayed there longer but we're anxious to get inside and sample the pre-match atmosphere. The stadium is superb, bowl-like and holding in the noise. 'Allez Allez Allez' - the anthem that's bounced around Europe has reached Kiev.
I'm confident but wary. This is Real Madrid, after all. They know how to get things done, how to win matches even if they're not playing particularly well.
The big screens play highlights packages and cut to shots of the team buses entering the stadium. Liverpool's is greeted with a roar from the north end of the stadium.
There might have been fewer than 17,000 tickets sent officially to the club but there are far more Liverpool fans than that here. "We'll see things they'll never see." There's a growing sense of anticipation as kick-off draws closer.
In one pre-match discussion, the prospect of Sergio Ramos dragging down Salah in a one-on-one and receiving a red card is raised. They'll be two main protagonists, that much is sure.
Liverpool start well. Good tempo and Madrid are making errors. We're well in this game but Salah going off after that tangle with Ramos is like taking the air out of a balloon.
From our vantage point, it looked like a stonewall free-kick but the sight of Salah writhing in agony feels like one of the game's early death-knells. He comes back on but is soon sitting on the ground again and calling for treatment.
Game over. Madrid start to control possession. Modric and Kroos in midfield are pulling strings, Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum battle gamely but, in truth, they're being schooled here. And yet we get to half-time at 0-0.
On the concourse, the travelling Reds are wearing worried expressions. In my mind, there's a feeling of inevitability about this one. We'll need another Istanbul-like miracle to win ol' Big Ears again.
Karius. F'n hell. It has happened, just like many predicted it would. It was one of those time-stands-still moments. Surely that didn't just happen, did it?
You're hoping and praying for intervention from the officials but Benzema's done him. 1-0 down, this is grim. Mané equalises and the rush is incredible. Back in it but then Bale comes on and picks out an absolute worldie.
When the dust settles, our end, to a man, woman and child it seems, stands and applauds. It's a brilliant, brilliant goal, no denying that. And this time, when they go ahead, there's no way back. Karius.
F'n hell. "Let's get out of here."
But we stay and watch Madrid lift the cup. The Liverpool players make their way towards our end and are applauded.
There's Karius, apologising but, to be honest, it's not washing with some. Once is bad enough, twice is downright awful. It's a sporting meltdown perhaps only comparable to Jean van de Velde's collapse at Carnoustie in 1999.
The popular narrative to emerge after the game was that Karius walked alone. Nonsense. In the minutes after full-time, the other Liverpool players tried to process what had just happened. Within minutes, they were consoling Karius, obviously footage not caught on camera, or chosen not to be broadcast.
Into the night and away we go. This one hurts, really hurts. Klopp's record in finals had me worried before kick-off but some day, he'll get it right and it will be glorious.
We eventually find somewhere that's open and order pizza. It takes an hour to arrive and it's like eating cardboard. Back to the hostel for 2am and it's my first glimpse of the place. Grim, alright.
Morning breaks and Roman, our driver, is outside at 9am, as he promised he would be. We're making an 800km trip to Warsaw in his van. It's a long, long trip and made even longer by a two-hour wait at the Ukraine-Poland border.
Numerous passport checks later and we're through and we get to the airport with an hour to spare. Thankfully, the flight is smooth. We touch down in Dublin at 1.30am. At 3am, my head touches the pillow. Lisa nods knowingly.
Jack and Conor, my two boys, are fast asleep. Happily oblivious to it all but, some day, maybe they'll experience something like this too. The joy, the hope, the journey, the despair. The Reds. We go again.