LIVERPOOL: Liverpool was a city in despair on Saturday night after dreams of Champions League glory were dashed as blunders from Reds goalkeeper Loris Karius handed Real Madrid a 3-1 final victory.
When the final whistle blew in Kiev, one of the 30,000 fans assembled to watch the match live at Liverpool's Anfield stadium released a balloon in the shape of the trophy of Europe's elite competition.
As it flew away into the sky, symbolising the end of Liverpool's bid for a sixth European Cup, Reds fan Dave Birkett waved it goodbye.
"Disappointed. Massively, massively disappointed," he told AFP. "That was a shocking display."
Spectators left the stadium before the final whistle blew, and confetti canons prepared by Anfield staff before fans arrived went unused.
Meanwhile Real took to the podium 1,400 miles (2,300 kilometres) east of Liverpool to celebrate their 13th Champions League success in a match that saw Liverpool's star striker Mohamed Salah leave the field in tears after just 31 minutes with a suspected dislocated shoulder.
Crowds at Anfield were deflated in the second half with the absence of Salah, and were plunged deeper into disbelieving misery when Karius's sloppy throw allowed Karim Benzema to cheekily prod in the opening goal.
In the 55th minute Sadio Mane gave the home side hope by finding the net -- prompting a rousing chorus of "Allez, allez, allez" around the stadium.
It is the title of the season's favourite fan chant that goes "We've conquered all of Europe, We're never going to stop".
But a spectacular overhead kick from Gareth Bale put Real back in the lead -- followed later by another fumble from Karius which handed Bale a second.
"He's Real Madrid's man of the match," one Liverpool staff member said after the game.
"To make two mistakes in a final like that, that's not good enough really," said James Hockey, who travelled from South Wales to see the match at Anfield.
"I'm proud of them to get that far but to get that far and then lose is devastating, it's hard to take," he said as he left the stadium.
The disappointment ends a week dominated by the frustration of Liverpool supporters who were unable to travel to the Ukraine for the final.
Two travel companies axed flights, leaving diehard fans scrambling to find a way to travel to Kiev.
Those who couldn't make it to eastern Europe made a pilgrimage to Liverpool, where shops and streets were decked out in red banners, scarves and posters.
In the morning, packed trains arrived at Lime Street station, spilling chanting fans onto platforms.
- 'I didn't expect this at the beginning of the season' -
The centre of the city -- already busy during the British bank holiday weekend -- was a sea of red football strips.
Salah's number 11 shirt was a favourite among the crowd -- and at the official Liverpool merchandise store where stocks were dented by keen shoppers.
"We were much better in the first half but maybe the experience was just lacking," said Dutch fan Karim Elbachraoui, one of the few to stay behind and clap the team as they took their runners-up medals.
"It still feels good, I'm quite proud of this. I didn't expect this at the beginning of the season."
Outside the stadium the chants faded and the crowds dispersed quickly, with fans retiring to pubs to drown their sorrows.