The fans slowly dodged from La Cartuja stadium in Seville, without exchanging a single word.
Heads in the hands and arms rounded shoulders. There are more than a few tears.
Judging by the number of riot cars in the vicinity of the stadium, the Spanish police feared a sort of riot – instead, they were met with paws and sighs of despair now and then.
Football has a somewhat unique position in the entertainment industry, where fans will happily put their lives on hold and their bank balance under pressure knowing it could end like this, a pit of desperation rather than the top of the world.
Up until this point, it was the festival atmosphere for an estimated 100,000 Rangers fans who made the trip to the capital of Andalusia.
In the days leading up to the game, the constant arrival of Gers fans drip turned into a blue tide, and their presence felt nowhere in town.
They come here, there and everywhere by plane, train and car. They come from Canada, they come from Dubai, and of course they come from Glasgow.
Read more: Meet the Rangers fan who ended up on a road trip with a stranger to attend the Europa League Final
A group of fans exchange stories on Avenue de la Constitucion on Tuesday. There’s something Monty Python Yorkshiremen draws about it, but when a fan says he heard an anecdote about someone borrowing his father’s boat to sail from Scotland, it’s not entirely clear if he’s joking.
There is a completely relaxed atmosphere in spite of the pre-match concerns. Pre-match nerves are not yet starting to show for most players, as Rangers and Frankfurt fans exchange scarves and sip beer in the sun.
And what a heat. Someone wonders aloud if Seville is going to dry out from beer or factor 50 sun cream first.
With a replica of the Europa League trophy, fans pose for selfies with the trophy they hope will return to Ibrox with the team on Thursday.
Tam Airsherman shows off his Davy Cooper tattoo and admits to paying so much for his flights that he’ll be released when the bank statement comes. He seems to think it’s a price worth paying.
This is a far cry from a fun boy outing. In the arena, dad and mom kick a volleyball with their little son in his T-shirt named Alfredo Morelos.
Fortunately, he has the sense not to emulate his hero’s kneeling celebration on the unforgiving cobblestones of Seville.
For all the laughs done with Rangers warning fans to “Remember who you stand for.” A group sitting in the shade of one of Seville’s stunning purple trees talks earnestly about the atmosphere that shows a “different side of Rangers”.
By early evening, large gatherings of fans are monitored by the Spanish police, but apart from the strange falling glass or a smashed bottle, the humor remains good – a little louder.
Read more: A Rangers fan becomes a celebrity in Seville in the Europa League final
Night falls over the city, but it fails to put an end to the scorching heat. Glasgow will definitely be the sunburn capital of the world by the end of the week.
Somewhere to the west, a siren goes off in the air. Then another. Then one in a different tone. It’s supposed to be an ambulance.
There is something indescribable about watching thousands of people have the same perception simultaneously, and collective breathing can be easily heard through those siren sounds.
We will learn later that a group of hardcore Frankfurt fans ambushed some Scottish fans, with five of them being arrested for the disorder.
It is a situation of gunpowder but there are no reprisals and no fierce street battles as the local authorities clearly fear. There is a change though. The songs become more aggressive, more fans gather, and the police seem tense. Others retire to sleep while the cheer moves to the other side of town.
However, by morning, everything is calm. News of the attack spread but it must be said that the vast majority of Rangers and Frankfurt fans behaved in an exemplary manner.
The two groups of fans mingle happily in the official UEFA fan zone, with groups of Germans lining up for their photo shoot first with the trophy, then with a Rangers fan who braved Hyland’s full dress in the blazing sun.
Read more: The cool Rangers jokes about a Seville trip that could cost his marriage
They’ll have to wait their turn, because some Bolivians are desperate to meet Jimmy.
The clocks are counting down to the start of the match and the fans are still praying. Jet chartered planes from Glasgow land every hour and, sipping vodka and Coke, a fan tells, Glasgow Times His tale about driving from Valencia.
The rally point before the match seemed to be the Alameda de Hercules, which rammed blue and orange jerseys from side to side. Christmas is coming early for the bar owners, who are selling pints as fast as they can pour it.
While it’s loud, it’s probably not the noise you might expect – pre-match nerves now straining.
With only 9,500 tickets awarded to Rangers fans for the final – although many got away with sponsor tickets – many are from La Cartuja to watch the match.
The screens are erected in a 60,000-seat concrete bowl, but unlike the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, where the match will be played, they are not comfortable.
Stuck in a science and technology park in the north of the city, on the island of Mesopotamia, the logistics of getting there is proving a bit of a challenge.
“I wish I had thought about that,” one fan grumbled upon seeing a pair of teens pedaling on the rented electric scooters available around town.
His wife asks if we should be in Calle Marie Curie or Calle Leonardo da Vinci. Nobody seems sure. The road named Amerigo Vespucci seems to be the most convenient – searching for La Cartuja is like searching for a new world.
When the concrete bowl is finally shown, there are already rows at least 10 deep, with local police on horseback letting the crowd pass in drips and drops.
Rangers supporters take turns giving horses a chance to rub their noses – although it’s not clear the animals themselves are too keen on that arrangement.
To make matters worse, entry to the stadium is hopelessly unregulated.
A large group approaches Gate 12 to take their seats. You can tell it’s Gate 12 because the huge red letters above it read “Gate 12”.
but not. A fan at the front of the queue points to his ticket.
“No, no no,” a host told him.
“On match day, this is gate number 12. But not all gates are open today, so this is gate number 10.”
This fact is announced by a single sheet of A4 paper on a column next to the tray.
Things are not so brilliantly organized inside either, fans wait up to 20 minutes for the privilege of paying €13 for a big beer. This is not a typo.
But that won’t dampen the enthusiasm, as the stadium appears to be nearly half-full at kickoff – roughly 30,000 in a stadium hundreds of miles from home where no team is even playing.
The noise is deafening as the teams enter the stadium, the stadium blasting Belinda Carlisle and urging fans to declare John Lundstram “the best on earth”.
The organizers didn’t bother to allocate seats, so many on an epic expedition returned to find themselves undaunted but no one seemed to care much.
In fact, the only refreshment on this occasion is the football on screen. The phrase “not classic” could have been invented in the first half, and the excitement soon gave way to the nerves.
Then, 10 minutes into the second half, it happens. The Frankfurt defense missed a harmless header from Conor Goldson. Suddenly Joe Aribo hits the goal. The defender slips, it is up to him and the goalkeeper. You could hear a pin drop, then La Cartuja explode as the Nigeria international quietly moved home.
For five minutes it’s time to party in the stands, but then the weight of that goal goes home. The Rangers were not expected to arrive here. They had nothing to lose during most of this round. Now they are just over half an hour away from eternity.
The suffering only increases when the Frankfurt package contains a tie. A fan in front takes off his bucket hat and hits it on the railing in frustration.
The rest of the match plus extra time is a form of collective torture. It seems like a pitch DJ isn’t recommended to get a first-half sing-along in the extended period. I was met with indifference.
The torture boils down to two minutes remaining. Alternative Kemar Roofe works on slot and yards. The stadium rises as one, the air is positively rising with energy about to take off. Ryan Kent runs towards him, feet sideways and…no. Goalkeeper Kevin Trapp somehow advances towards him. Follow-up veered. Everyone knows where this is going.
The flight leads here. Not just the twisty roads to Seville, but the decade-long path from the fourth division to the Europa League final. This is what a decade and a glorious and unexpected European race has come to be. Five kicks from 12 yards.
There is hope that legendary goalkeeper Alan McGregor, often champion on a European night, may have one last miracle. He does his best but Eintracht’s five kicks are perfect. As well as four Rangers. One kick from 12 yards decides it.
Tears flow, feet roll towards the exit.
In time, memories of a great run will come to the fore. From going to Borussia Dortmund and speculating the Bundesliga giants. From Ibrox swaying to his foundations as Red Star, Braga and Leipzig were blown away by a blue sea of sound and fury. For a week in Seville where they danced and sang and proved that they would really go everywhere and anywhere.
Not tonight though. The blue shirts disappear one by one into the warm darkness in almost complete silence.