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JLA to Athens - the countdown begins

May 21 2007

by Tony Barrett, Liverpool Echo

Liverpool fly out to Athens showing their support for Madeleine McCann

THE Liverpool squad today jetted off for Athens as the mass exodus of fans began.

A relaxed Rafa Benitez led the first team squad into John Lennon airport early this morning for their 10am flight to Greece.

The tracksuited players arrived together on the team bus clutching their ECHO Athens special editions.

They were taken through departures by airport security staff after stopping and signing autographs for fans.

After the four-hour flight, the Liverpool party were being taken to their hotel in a secret location on the outskirts of Athens.

The squad arrived at JLA alongside hundreds of fans, with the first supporters’ plane taking off for Athens at 9.30am.

The Boeing 747 jumbo, carrying 580 fans, was the first of 57 flights leaving the airport in what will be the airport’s busiest 48 hours.

JLA expect to move 13,500 of the 30,000 Reds expected to decamp to Athens between now and the match on Wednesday.

About 8,000 fans will leave Liverpool on the day of the match itself, with 37 charter flights scheduled.

In a bid to reduce disruption to other passengers, marquees have been erected alongside 20 extra check-in desks as part of the so-called Operation Zorba.

Extra buses have been laid on to transfer passengers to and from aircraft, and additional security systems have been put in place.

The John Lennon statue at the airport even joined in the pre-match atmosphere, decked out in a hat and scarf.

Liverpool fan Sean O'Donnell from Everton was among those on the first Athens flight out of JLA this morning.

He said: "I'm just looking forward to getting to Athens because I believe there are already thousands of Reds over there.

"If it's anything like Istanbul it should be some trip.

"The main thing is that the lads come back with the cup though."

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