Fanzones. That’s where UEFA want football fans. As far away as possible from the actual football where they might ruin the spectacle beamed around the world with their loutish, working-class behaviour.
Besides, those sorts of people aren’t prepared to pay a tenner for a warm pint, what use are they anyway?
Until Arsenal and Chelsea reached this year’s Europa League cup final, the ticket allocation had been relatively decent, if not ideal. In a game involving two teams, fans should get the bulk of the tickets. Not half or two-thirds, but the majority.
Still, the fifty or so per cent that was allocated prior to this year’s final in the absolute arsehole of nowhere that will take some £1,000 and days (plural) just to get to seems practically generous compared to the 17% that Arsenal and Chelsea fans get to share this year. As long as they have €140 for the ticket as well, of course.
That all sends a pretty strong message to football fans of exactly who UEFA want at the game.
They want people who can afford to splash £1,000 to travel to Azerbaijan in May or £2,700 for a hotel room in Madrid.
They want people who can take time off work without consideration for holiday allocations that might be needed to spend time with their families.
But they only want a very small number of them in case some actual football fans show dedication above and beyond the call to make the trip, ticket in hand.
There is only one way this is all heading and that’s to the total exclusion of football fans in order to bleed yet money from corporate sponsors and people so rich they can’t bear the thought of taking a piss next to someone like you or me.
When Arsenal reached the FA Cup final in 2014 they could have filled Wembley three times over. The club were given 25,000 tickets. 20,000 went to the football family (often then sold on at tout-worthy prices) and Club Wembley members, who got 17,000 tickets, almost as many as the fans of the teams playing.
Arsenal’s answer to this was to wheel massive jumbotrons into the middle of the Emirates pitch and charge fans £5 and £10 (with ‘free’ drink) to watch the final there instead of at home or Wembley if they couldn’t get a ticket.
I flew over from Belfast to watch it with my friends, hopeful to the last that I could get a ticket for Wembley itself. I couldn’t. But as I sat in the Emirates, filled on two sides but eerily empty on the others, I couldn’t help but feel I was looking at the future of football for us fans.
In 2017, the FA actually increased the fans’ allocation to 28,000, taking the extra 6,000 tickets from the football family. That’s how it stands for this year’s final between City and Watford. None came from the Club Wembley tickets, although they stopped mentioning those in their press releases.
UEFA show no such inclination. They certainly aren’t being subtle in their message to fans:
Club ticket allocations for Europa League finals (approx.):
2016 – Liverpool v Sevilla – 18,000 of 35,000 (51%)
2017 – Man United v Ajax – 19,000 of 50,000 (38%)
2018 – Atletico Madrid v Marseille – 23,000 of 59,186 (39%)
2019 – Arsenal v Chelsea – 12,000 of 68,700 (17%)
— Simon Collings (@sr_collings) May 10, 2019
The Champions League isn’t much better. In total, with four English teams in the finals of both European competitions, they will get 45,226 tickets between them from the 136,700 available.
That’s thirty-three per cent.
There were 38,239 fans at the first ever European Cup final that took place in 1956 at the Parc des Princes in Paris as Real Madrid beat Reims 4-3.
I wonder how many of them imagined a time when they wouldn’t be welcome in the stands…
“These decisions, they must be much more sensible,” Jurgen Klopp said. “It just looks irresponsible. I heard a room [in Madrid] that is normally £100 is now £2,700. Just crazy.
“Madrid is unbelievably expensive, but who decides Baku for a European final? Or Kiev? I don’t know what the people who decide these things have for breakfast.”
In a joint statement, Spirit of Shankly and the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust said: “Our joy at reaching the final is tempered by the prices of travel, accommodation and tickets, and the allocation of tickets.
“Prices of flights to Madrid and surrounding towns have rocketed by up to 840 per cent. Hotel rooms are over £1,000 a night and we are hearing stories of bookings being cancelled and resold at inflated rates.
“Ticket prices of in excess of £500 are also extortionate. There needs to be transparency in how tickets are priced and allocated. It is time to stop cashing in on fan loyalty.”
The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust described Uefa’s treatment of fans as “disgraceful,” while the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust said Baku was “one of the most inaccessible cities” and “must be about the worst location there is”.
UEFA have justified their decision by claiming the airport in Baku cannot handle more than 15,000 fans.
They didn’t explain how the other 53,700 non-fans would get in and out of the country.