A Ferry With The Faithful: watching the Eurovision Final from a ferry on the Mersey.

For me, Eurovision 2023 had a perfect ending. I spent it with my wife on a ferry on the Mersey, surrounded by some of the Eurovision faithful.

We sat at the stern, on the upper deck, watching the Grand Final live on one of many screens set up around the boat. Over the five hours of the show, a sunny evening turned into a clear dark night with a cool breeze coming up off the river. The gothic towers of the Three Graces, dramatically lit in blue and yellow in honour of Ukraine, loomed above the Pier Head where the screens in the Eurovision Village pulsed to the same show that we were watching.

It may not seem like the obvious venue to celebrate a thirty-fifth wedding anniversary but it worked for us. We both grew up on Merseyside and the ferries bring back memories of our childhoods when they were the main way of getting across to Liverpool from the Wirral. Back then there were lots of ferry terminals and lots of ferries. We knew them all by name. My favourite was the Royal Daffodil three decks high and beautiful in her own way. We travelled on the ferries, late at night, in our teens when we had just become a couple and catching the last ferry back was a rite of passage, as was finding a quiet place to be together on deck in the dark, with wind wrapping us in the scent of the river, diesel, wet metal and seasoned wood as we leant against bulkheads vibrating to the deep thud of the engines.

A lot has changed. There a fewer ferries, The remaining ferry terminals have been modernised. The ferries are now mainly for tourists, not people commuting daily to work in Cunard’s or the Liver Building. The boats were repainted in 2017 in a bizarre Dazzle pattern as part of aPeter Blake art exhibition at Tate Liverpool. But the smells and sounds of the ferries haven’t changed and being on the Mersey at night with my wife still has its own magic.

Even if we had been alone, with no show to watch, the evening would have been memorable but we had the Eurovision Grand Final in front of us and we were surrounded by people to whom that Final mattered.

Fandom comes in different forms but it seems to me that it always involves an act of faith by the fans. They commit themselves to something that they know many people will not understand. They make the object of their faith part of their identity and, when they come together to celebrate, they form a community that validates them and amplifies their pleasure.

On Saturday night, as we stood on the jetty in the sunlight, waiting for the ferry boat to arrive, the faithful gathered around us. Most of them were dressed for the occasion, some just wrapped in flags but many wearing custom outfits of glittery cloth, accented with wigs, glitter and broad smiles. These are people who follow Eurovision from country to country and who spent time comparing Liverpool’s whole-hearted, flamboyant embrace of Eurovision with Turin’s more retrained, elegant approach to the event. They knew all the songs and all the singers in the Final and from many previous competitions. They were there to support their favourites but they cheered for and danced to and sang along with any song that called to them. There were squeals of delight from a Swedish woman when Verka Serduchka made an unexpected appearance. When Loreen finally won, the whole group of Swedes were bouncing with joy. Meanwhile, one woman was in tears because Finland’s Cha Cha Cha didn’t win.

We were still on the water when the fireworks exploded above the Pier Head, signalling the end of something special and important to everyone who was on that boat.

We didn’t get back on shore until 01.30 on Sunday morning. As we walked back home along the river, I was struck again by how relaxed everyone was. Some were a little the worse for drink but they had others looking after them. The police were there but their presence was benign and reassuring rather the quietly menacing the way they can be in London.

All that remained was to have one last pot of tea and talk about who should have gotten more points and who shouldn’t have made it to the Final at all and to wonder how long it will be before the details of Eurovision 2024 are released so we can plan a trip to Stockholm.

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