In theory, Baku is not that far away. It’s just few hours from Central Europe, as the crow flies. Or if you have the time and want to drive, you could traverse the entire north coast of Turkey, right along the Black Sea, which is surely wonderful. Both Chelsea and Arsenal have played there just in the last two seasons, in fact.
In reality, it’s not well connected at all — even if it didn’t end up hosting a final between two teams from the same city.
Direct flights from Budapest, for example, less than four hours of flying time away, happen twice a week, and leave just before midnight to arrive before before 6am local time. And that’s one of the better options — and thus quickly sold out on Wizz Air’s less than 200 passenger capacity A320 Airbuses. London has three direct, also red-eye flights per week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday), on fancy Azerbaijan Air Dreamliners, but the chances of snagging one of those seats for the 5.5-hour flight would be fairly low as well. And once the direct options are gone — as they have been for some time — travelers face at least a full day, if not two, of connecting airport dots in either direction. (Frankfurt, a major European hub, has direct flights on five days, but prices have been running about 4-5 times normal amounts.)
Combined with the decision to play the game on a Wednesday, thus requiring extra time off work for any fan willing to make the journey, it’s entirely unsurprising that neither Arsenal nor Chelsea are looking likely to sell out their 6000 ticket allocation each. In fact, the Mail reported yesterday that both teams will give about half the tickets back, and that’s after making charter options available (if not exactly cheap) through the likes of Thomas Cook.
So in a 67,000+ capacity Baku Olympic Stadium, less than 10 per cent of the fans in attendance will have a vested interest in the either one of the two participants of the 2019 Europa League final.
This shambolic situation prompted Arsenal to release a strongly worded statement this week criticizing UEFA’s decision to choose this venue for the final. Chelsea have stayed quiet on this issue, which is unfortunate, but perhaps we’re too busy dealing with other problems, like the transfer ban or players going down with major injuries at an alarming rate.
“...we are bitterly disappointed by the fact that due to transport limitations Uefa can only make a maximum of 6,000 tickets available to Arsenal for a stadium with a capacity of well over 60,000. Time will tell if it is even possible for 6,000 Arsenal fans to attend the match, given how extreme the travel challenges are.”
“Moving forward we would urge Uefa to ensure that supporter logistics and requirements are a key part of any future decisions for final venues as what has happened this season is unacceptable, and cannot be repeated. We would be happy to join any future discussions to avoid this situation happening again.”
-source: Arsenal FC
Of course, these complaints were never likely to fall on anything but deaf ears, and UEFA made it clear yesterday that they simply just d.g.a.f.
“An all-English final played by two London teams was not a very predictable event at the time of the appointment. This has added significant difficulties to the event logistics. We are really sorry for the problems that your (and Chelsea’s) fans are encountering trying to organise their journey to Baku. Our experts are keenly working on this matter with a view to help find cheaper solutions for travelling fans. We would welcome a joint effort with your club in this respect.”
“It is fair and due not only to give other fans the possibility of a unique live experience, but also to stage events which can boost the promotion of football in an entire region. That’s why UEFA would consider it unfair to exclude venues based on their decentralised geographical position.”
-Giorgio Marchetti, UEFA competitions director; source: Mail
They’re sorry. But also not really sorry.
When Chelsea played Qarabag in the 2017-18 Champions League group stages, about 1000 fans made the journey and were joined by supporters from the region, such as from Iran and Iraq. There will be more there this time, but still a far cry from how many should be. UEFA’s decision to allocate only 6000 each was roundly criticized. Turns out, even that was a little too optimistic.
So it goes.