UEFA’s decision to hold the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan proved a fairly controversial one, to say the least, even as Chelsea’s 4-1 win over Arsenal proved redemptive for many of those involved, and it certainly brought back some of the badly missing good vibes around the team.
The biggest issue was that neither Chelsea nor Arsenal were able to sell out their already meagre allocation of tickets to the cavernous stadium — the location turned out to be nigh inaccessible for the majority, with travel prohibitively long and expensive, especially for a Wednesday night match — and while UEFA billed it as a celebration of football for that region, the organizers had to throw open the doors at half-time (which was almost midnight, local time!) just to fill some of the glaring emptiness in the stadium. Incidentally, that decision, to let in people for free, was the only issue that drew UEFA’s concern afterwards — you mean these people didn’t PAY?! — while everything else was dismissed as typical “whining” from English teams. Here’s to our continued loving and productive relationship with UEFA!
Then again, we shouldn’t expect any better from UEFA. But we should expect better from the club. Chelsea were basically silent on any of these concerns leading up to the event, even as Arsenal were at least making the right noises (not that they made much difference). Eventually, Chelsea did release a token belated statement after Chelsea Supporters’ Trust called them out, but there was nothing actually actionable forthcoming from the club.
While obviously Chelsea were not responsible for selecting the venue, the club were criticized for failing our own fans, especially in not providing subsidies or other help with travel arrangements, but also for just a general lack of concern and attention, not to mention just an opportunity to engender some good will from the fanbase (a club-organized beam-back would’ve surely gone down well, for example).
Chelsea clearly could’ve done better. For what it’s worth — we won’t know until the next time! — apparently we just might.
Yesterday, Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck sent a “personal” note to fans who did manage to attend the match despite all the difficulties, thanking them for their commitment and promising that the necessarily (though unspecified) lessons will be learned.
Not sure why only those fans who journeyed to Baku needed this reassurance, but it’s a start, I suppose.
To the Chelsea fans who travelled to Baku:
I wish to reassure you that since the Europa League final in Azerbaijan, the club has been taking time to carefully consider any lessons to be learned from the experiences of our supporters who attended the match.
We have been and we will continue to discuss internally if there was more we could have done to help you get to and from Baku. This is also a matter we will raise with the Fans’ Forum and other supporter groups. We are always learning.
I also want to make sure all of you know our players and management, and indeed Chelsea fans everywhere, truly appreciated the extraordinary effort you put into attending the final.
We know it was not an easy journey, with fans taking a variety of innovative routes through Moscow, Dubai, Budapest, Frankfurt, Tbilisi and elsewhere using a combination of airplanes, minivans, trains, and even a bit of hitchhiking.
Your commitment to the cause must be commended. You are true Blues who travel over land and sea to support your beloved Chelsea.
Of course, you returned home with some great memories: another major trophy for the club’s trophy cabinet; seeing Mr Abramovich beaming proudly at the medal awards ceremony; and saying goodbye to Eden Hazard, one of the greatest to ever play in the Premier League.
Again, thank you for your incredible support. Keep the blue flag flying high.
Chelsea FC Chairman