HARTE OF THE MATTER: With Liverpool fan Claire Neely

Can the Reds turn the tie against Barcelona?

Harte of the Matter

“You’ll never walk alone”. That song rings out in Anfield before every home game and it’s difficult not to be moved by its passion.

Liverpool FC Donegal Supporters Club treasurer Claire Neely got a chance to sing it in the Nou Camp last week as Liverpool took on Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.

Claire has been supporting Liverpool since 1994, influenced by her brother Kevin who used to keep newspaper clippings of all the matches. A trip to Oriel Park for a pre-season friendly with Dundalk was her first live encounter and she has been hooked ever since.

Claire even attended the famous Champions League final win over AC Milan in Istanbul. Ahead of tonight’s return leg I spoke with Claire about the trip to Barcelona and her clever trick of keeping the transport costs down. 

How did you get to the match from Donegal?

We flew from Belfast directly to Barcelona...at half-time in the second leg of the Porto Quarter Final, we took a gamble on the dates because flights were only €60 return. Twitter was confident Ajax's commitment in their domestic cup would determine the dates so it was worth the risk. Still, we had an anxious 12 hour wait until we found out our gamble paid off.

Did you see any of the crowd trouble beforehand?

I didn't see any trouble, quite the opposite. Though I think the incidents at the fountain were the day before the fixture. Unfortunately, a small number of 'fans' can damage the reputation of all travelling support. There were riot police at the stadium when we were exiting but I have found that standard enough on the continent. 

What was the atmosphere like in the Nou Camp? 

The positioning of the away support meant the atmosphere was somewhat duller than you would expect in these cauldrons, from our perspective anyways. There were big screens in front of the away support which drowned out a lot of the atmosphere. Other grounds might have the away support in one stand, over two tiers. The Nou Camp is in it's own league given the scale of it. It is an unbelievable spectacle. 

What was it like to watch Messi?

Ah he is sublime in fairness. I haven't had an opportunity to re-watch the match yet and it is probably still too raw! The fluidity of their movements and the sheer speed of their play was phenomenal to watch. 

What was the atmosphere like after the game among Liverpool fans?

The fans were possibly a bit bewildered and deflated after the third went in. After the final whistle, we were held in for maybe half an hour and the singing continued throughout. Given the season we are currently experiencing, the fans still mainly just enjoyed the occasion.

I think with Roma overturning the same deficit last season, they'll still give it their all on Tuesday night. We met a few friends from Liverpool in a bar afterwards and it was mesmerising to listen to their stories and perspective of the season and this era. One of them hadn't missed a Liverpool match home or away since 1978! 

What was the trip home like?

The trip home was definitely much quieter than the trip over! There were plenty of Reds dotted through the airport and possibly a bit worse for wear from the night before. Thankfully it wasn't too painful!

Do Liverpool have a chance after losing the first game 3-0 away?

They always have a chance. There's a never-say-die attitude with the team and they are relentless. Having one eye on next Sunday and injuries is a worry but European nights at Anfield are always something else.

Are you going to Anfield for the return leg?

I'm not hitting the home leg unfortunately. I had committed to Wolves on Sunday so couldn't do both. My husband and brother and a few other close friends are going. I believe I'm the only one missing out! 

Can you remember your first Liverpool match?

My first trip to Anfield was to see Liverpool take on Chelsea in March 1996. It was a birthday present and I only found out the week before. I still have the match ticket.

I remember every detail. It was a 2-0 win. Mark Wright and Robbie Fowler were on the score sheet. A bus load of us flew from Dublin on a Friday morning at 6am into Speke. We stayed until Monday and did a tour of Anfield on the Sunday.

The match was a traditional 3pm Saturday kick off, rare these days! We even got to take a trip to Melwood and watch the training. It wasn't the facility then that it is today mind you! 

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