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Page last updated at 13:22 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 14:22 UK

Merseyside to Madrid - Liverpool's Europa League trek

Steven Gerrard and co face a 1200-mile journey to Madrid

By Ian Dennis
BBC Radio 5 live

Liverpool embarked on a 1200-mile trek from Merseyside to Madrid for the first leg of their Europa League semi-final clash with Atletico Madrid on Thursday.

It was a journey that would have presented few problems had it not been for the volcanic ash cloud that has grounded planes across northern Europe and caused travel chaos for millions.

I was with the squad every step of the way, along with BBC Radio 5 live pundit Kevin Gallacher, here is my blow by blow account. All times BST.

WEDNESDAY

1324: After that minor delay the Liverpool players are quickly through the airport and off to the hotel for a well-earned rest. Training at half past seven will give them the chance to stretch any aching muscles. It's been an adventure. Now I need to concentrate on my commentary notes for the match and hope we can fly home! Adios.

Rafael Benitez on the train in France
Benitez holds an unorthodox news conference whilst on the train

1245: Just to compound matters, there is a delay in disembarking the plane as we wait for the steps. The players are all standing in the aisle as they stretch their legs.

1240: Touchdown in Madrid at 1233. The air hostess said over the pa system, 'I hope you have had a pleasant trip!' I'm not sure pleasant is the word to describe the last 23 hours and 29 minutes!

1121: So close. Sat on plane ready for take off. The media are gathered at the back of the plane, it's a tight squeeze. The players are spread out as much as they can. Some tired faces. On the move. SPAIN HERE WE COME.

1042: Feeling a bit leggy at this stage but there's a welcome sight on the tarmac at Bordeaux... a plane! Feeling optimistic that we can fly home. Nobody fancies making the same epic journey back.

606: DEBATE
wantno19asap

0950: Arrived in Bordeaux. Glorious. Clear blue skies and sunshine. Transfer now to the airport where the plan is to catch the plane to Madrid.

0909: Mood much more buoyant after early start, lots of banter. French vocabulary is limited so enlisted the help of a pleasant girl called Yseline who informs us we are due to arrive in Bordeaux at half past 10. Much hilarity at my poor French, sounded like Del Boy. Mange tout Marlene!

Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses
The media pack with Liverpool do their best Del Boy impressions

0828: That was a unique experience. Rafa standing in a cramped buffet car speaking to the media. In excellent form, and very positive, he even joked about playing cards with the media to help pass the time. You will be able to hear his thoughts on BBC Radio 5 live and this website once I can file the interview - at the moment we are suffering with technical issues.

0752: We have a media briefing with Rafa at 9am local time in the buffet car of our train. I have to say it will be the first time I have ever conducted an interview in such a place. Talking informally with him yesterday he was certainly in an upbeat mood. Will let you know what he has to say later.

Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue
Deacon Blue's Ricky Ross once had the honour of singing with Kevin Gallacher

0725: After snubbing me for most of yesterday, Kevin (Gallacher) is much more talkative this morning. Just as I was thinking of a quick nap, he drops in that he has sang on stage with Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue. As a massive fan of the group, it's the most impressive thing he has mentioned on the trip so far!

0640: Second stage of the journey begins with bleary eyes after a 0430 wake-up call. Train departed at 0630 on a three-and-a-half-hour journey from the French capital to the southwest city of Bordeaux. From there we will catch a flight to Madrid. Enthusiasm has waned and there's plenty of red eyes around.

TUESDAY

1857: Arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris. There were plenty of TV crews and general media around to welcome them, lots of mingling with the general public too. The Liverpool players are still causing a stir wherever they go, with people asking for autographs and making the most of photo opportunities. It's back to the hotel now and an early start on Wednesday for the Paris to Bordeaux leg of the journey. Bonne nuit!

Steven Gerrard at Gare du Nord in Paris
Liverpool arrived at Gare du Nord train station in Paris on Tuesday

1837: Rafa strolled through into media carriage, Liverpool boss in good spirits smiling and chatting with journalists. Told me long journey not ideal but good for team building and morale. Sense Liverpool will be more than ready despite arduous trip and only halfway there!

1745: Emerged through the tunnel about 15 minutes ago. Kevin Gallacher well prepared for such a long journey. He has dispensed with his electronic games and is now watching a film! We are like a married couple!

1725: Press boys busy typing away for the morning's papers... others either reading or dozing. Soon to leave the blue skies and sunshine of Kent for France.

1652: We are underway on the second leg of the journey now, with the media in a carriage next to the players. Kevin pleaded with me to bring out the wine gums, which were soon snaffled up! As you can tell, it's very sedate. So far...

1544: The media representatives among us are transferred on to a very plush bus, with luxurious, grey leather seats. It turns out to be one of Arsenal's team coaches. We head to St Pancras, where we're now awaiting our Eurostar departure at 1630 BST. The players are in a lounge, while outside in the station, there are chaotic scenes with Eurostar workers in their luminous yellow bibs trying to assist the hundreds of people hoping to get on a train.

Liverpool players leave for Madrid

1501: We are at Euston and there are two luxury coaches that have come as close as they can to the platform and are waiting for the players to take them on the short trip to King's Cross [0.4 miles away]. There are a lot of people here wondering what all the fuss is about as they can see these are two very glitzy, silver coaches and there are two camera crews as well.

1432: Guard asked for "tickets please". She didn't believe we were all part of travelling media and said someone's credit card would take a pounding. Travel rep stepped in to sort it out.

1426: The train is about half an hour away from Euston.

1350: We are just outside Stafford, with another 24 hours to go, but at least we're under way.

Both England sides are at a major disadvantage for Thursday's first leg. Uefa were caught, they couldn't do anything else. There just isn't any room for manoeuvre at this stage of the season.

We are scheduled to arrive at 1330 in Madrid tomorrow afternoon so the players will still have time to recover ahead of Thursday evening.

Rafael Benitez
Benitez boards a train at Runcorn as Liverpool start their marathon trip

Former Blackburn and Scotland striker Kevin Gallacher's already playing tennis on his phone and refusing to talk to me. It's worth pointing out Liverpool's trip to Madrid is twice the distance Fulham are making to northern Germany.

1255: The players have arrived and went straight into the first-class lounge at the station. The camera crews and autograph hunters are packed along the platform, peering in through the windows. It's going to be a challenge boarding. The train is due off at 1304 BST.

1240: Ready to board a train from Runcorn to Euston but no sign of the Liverpool squad yet. A few photographers and autograph hunters here. The plan is to catch three trains in total to get to Bordeaux in southern France and then fly to the Spanish capital. That could all change, though.



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see also
Liverpool finish Madrid marathon
21 Apr 10 |  Europe
Europa semis get Uefa green light
19 Apr 10 |  Europe
Ash still causing sporting chaos
21 Apr 10 |  Sport Homepage


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