The first whispers of the remarkable story in Madrid reached some 35,000 feet above France on Wednesday night.
With Liverpool supporters on board a delayed flight from Valencia to Manchester, having seen their team reach the Champions League final the night before at Villarreal, the desire to know the identity of their opposition in Paris was tangible.
And then somehow ingenuity took over and a barely believable score was shared throughout the Ryanair flight.
Real Madrid-Manchester City 3-1.
The whispers had turned to screams by the time they reached the rear of the plane. A fan, who had been watching the game on his phone until moments before the flight took off and was horrified that Riyad Mahrez would secure what looked like one last appearance for City, woke from his sleep to receive the important news.
“Fuck you boy, are you playing?” was the sleepy, stunned reply, one of many who feared they were at the end of an elaborate mid-air sale.
In fact, there were those who chose to ignore the greetings, the cheers, the songs and, yes, the dancing in the aisles by refusing to entertain the idea until they could see it with their own eyes.
It was the result that the almost one-man Reds crowd will have collectively wanted at full time of their own 3-2 victory over Unai Emery’s men on Tuesday.
After all, if Liverpool versus Manchester City is the Champions League final of your choice, you’re either neutral or sadistic.
But, so high above the skies of Europe, could this apparent result at the Santiago Bernabéu be genuine? The cheers from the dozens of fans on a plane that was apparently reserved almost exclusively for Liverpool supporters was enough to suggest that they were prepared to accept the rumor at face value.
“I’m getting full if this isn’t right, right?” joked one fan, whose ability to connect to 3G on his phone was the source of such mile-high vertigo. It is believed that he was joking, anyway.
Others ran up and down the plane for more confirmation that Pep Guardiola would not be waiting for them in Paris on May 28.
“Honestly boy!” this particular flyer protested. “Rodrygo scored in the 90th minute and scored again in the 91st. Madrid scored again in extra time”.
It seemed unlikely. Even because of the Champions League style for the theatrical and the love for the dramatic; this was too tall a story for some.
Not only the passengers were excited by the affairs of the Santiago Bernabéu. The plane’s crew could later be heard chatting on the bus back to the terminal.
“Can you believe that? I didn’t think they would,” one said to his colleague. “You could hear all the other drivers talking about it on the radio. One of them said ‘three one’ and I thought he must be kidding.”
During the flight, a graphic designer on board was tasked with evaluating a screenshot of the Google search result.
He honestly wondered if the image might have been manipulated in some way. It would have taken a brave, or foolish, prankster to attempt it.
“Just ask the pilot to radio Manchester Airport and double check,” another suggested. At no time was it thought that using aerial communications to find out the result of a football match could be considered frivolous.
With a Champions League final at stake, why should I?
The wheels hit the grass in Manchester as the clock struck midnight and the airplane modes quickly switched off. Phones instantly rang from all angles, lighting up the booth as the widest disbelief of the result was known.
“You play against Real Madrid in the Champions League final!” one supporter said. “You don’t play Manchester City in the biggest game in football. You just don’t.
“Really, there is no better way to have experienced that City result than to be on a delayed flight back from Valencia that took off 1-0 and gradually discover it through a series of dodgy rumors and screenshots from the phones of random guys.” he tweeted another on the flight.
“I’m not entirely sure how the rumors about the City result began to emanate 35,000ft somewhere over France on my Ryanair flight home from Valencia, but they did,” another tweet read. “Witty.”
And then, as matchgoers surveyed the hundreds upon hundreds of WhatsApp conversations awaiting their response, one follower blurted out a brief, frank assessment of the collective mood.
“Thanks for that!”
And before the plane disembarked, thoughts had already turned to Paris.
“We have to be careful with their midfield, you know,” said a Liverpool supporter, who followed up with “Modric and Kroos. Then there’s that Benzema. He’s got quality. And I was worried about that Vinicius against Trent.”
The shock and jubilation had already begun to subside. It is clear that nobody thinks that against Real Madrid it will be easier than it would have been against City…