LIVERPOOL – Over 35 Southampton fans were still in Southampton just over an hour before their team kicked off at Anfield on Wednesday.
Around an hour later they were stood in the Anfield Road end watching their team in the huge EFL Cup semifinal second leg clash.
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Southampton beat Liverpool 1-0 and sealed their spot in the EFL Cup final for just the second time in club history and a group of fans who feared they’d miss the landmark moment have an incredible story to tell.
UK airline Flybe have dubbed their incredible efforts on Wednesday as a “rescue operation” as a miraculous operation from their staff, and airport staff in Southampton and Liverpool, ensured that Saints fans and club officials witnessed one of the greatest nights in Saints’ history first-hand.
How did it all play out?
With a technical fault delaying the 3:20pm flight from Southampton to Manchester on Wednesday – Manchester Airport is the closest airport to Liverpool you can fly to from Southampton on a scheduled service – fans, Southampton’s Chief Executive Officer Gareth Rogers and club ambassador Kelvin Davis were all stranded over 235 miles from Anfield less than two hours before kick off.
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Compounding their misery was the fact that several other flights had been delayed or canceled at Southampton Airport in previous days due to freezing fog, meaning other flights were fully-booked and plenty of aircraft were displaced due to cancellations.
A four and a half hour drive in rush hour meant they would have reached Liverpool around an hour or so after full time, as would the best available train journey.
That seemed to be it. Their hopes of making the game were over. Or so they thought…
As some fans left the airport in Southampton and gave up hope of making the game, a plane was miraculously made ready after being flown in from Edinburgh to fly the fans directly to Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport instead, an airport you can’t fly to on a scheduled service from Southampton. After a quick charter flight put on by Flybe the fans then landed before the scheduled arrival time of 7:40pm local time and a bus was arranged to pick them up at the airport and take them straight to Anfield, 10 miles away, for the game which kicked off at 8pm.
The mastermind of this mission was Flybe’s Chief Operating Officer Luke Farajallah as he and his staff noticed the unfolding situation via social media and frantically made all of the arrangements to first find a plane, then a crew and arrange priority clearance at Liverpool Airport for the aircraft to land.
After all of Farajallah’s work, the fans only missed the opening few minutes of the match and with their luggage alongside them they were celebrating a famous win in the away end by the end of normal time.
This journey was far from normal. But boy, was it worth it for the Saints fans.
Recalling the craziness after the famous win at Anfield, Saints fans in Liverpool told Pro Soccer Talk about the incredible effort from Flybe to get them to the game and were overwhelmed they made it to the match.
Some Liverpool fans were also on board and Liverpool supporter Katie Stockwell was grateful for the effort Flybe made, despite seeing her team lose.
“When it was announced our flight would not be taking off until 8pm and we would miss the game, one guy was so upset and had his head in his hands. We were pretty gutted and were told we could get our money back for the flight but then it was announced we were flying to Liverpool, somewhere they don’t usually fly to, so it was really good for the fans,” Stockwell said. “It was a really nice thing for Flybe to do and they didn’t have to do it but it was much appreciated by everyone. It was mostly Saints fans on the plane and bus but some Liverpool supporters to and everyone was in really good spirits heading to the game on the bus after all the drama. In the end it didn’t matter who you supported because we all got there to enjoy the game.”
Flybe released the following statement late on Wednesday to reveal exactly what happened behind-the-scenes.
“Flybe regrets that the flight was delayed due to a technical fault with the aircraft and the subsequent anxiety this caused the many Southampton football supporters relying on this service to travel to Liverpool for this evening’s key EFL Cup semi-final.
“We can however now confirm that a replacement aircraft has been flown to Southampton to fly the supporters direct to Liverpool where it will be given priority landing at the airport. Flybe has also organised a coach to meet the aircraft and transport the fans immediately to Anfield. The aircraft departed Southampton at 1840 and Flybe is taking all possible steps to ensure that the supporters reach the ground as quickly as possible.
“Flybe sincerely regrets the inconvenience and hopes that the alternative arrangements it has put in place will ensure that Southampton supporters can watch the majority of this important match.”
The fact that Saints ended up winning the game 1-0 and secured a 2-0 aggregate victory over Liverpool to reach the final at Wembley on Feb. 26 made all of this effort even more worthwhile.
For most Saints fans, their win at Anfield is one they’ll never forget. For the 35 who were whisked from Southampton to Anfield in the space of an hour by Flybe, this VIP trip made it even more memorable.
Well done to the airline, airports and individuals involved as they all came together to make a seemingly impossible journey possible.