Fans of the four English clubs to have made it to Europe’s two main football finals have joined forces to criticise Uefa’s disregard for the “extortionate costs” facing supporters trying to attend the games.
In the same week as a row erupted over the high prices facing Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur fans travelling to Madrid for the Champions League final, supporters of Chelsea and Arsenal will now have to pay similarly inflated travel costs after qualifying for the Europa League final in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
The London clubs’ fans will also face ticket and flight restrictions, plus they need a visa to get into Azerbaijan.
Arsenal and Chelsea have been given an allocation of 6,000 tickets each for the final in a stadium that seats 68,000 people. Then there is the 5,700-mile round trip, with no direct scheduled flights to Baku.
It usually costs fans less than £5 on the tube across London to watch an Arsenal-Chelsea match, but to see the final on 29 May they will need to pay at least £1,000 if they are lucky enough to get on limited flights chartered by the clubs.
Prices on indirect scheduled flights from UK airports to Baku have more than doubled since Thursday’s semi-finals, according to the money-saving website Codes.
Supporters’ groups claim the complicated journey to Baku underlines the extent to which fans are ignored by Uefa. “Is Baku really the best destination for a European final between Arsenal and Chelsea?” asked Kevin Miles, the chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Federation.
“We can understand Uefa’s desire to share events around member associations, but this is a clear example of absurdities it can generate: two very well-supported clubs, both from the same city, are having to go thousands of miles away at the same time. That puts enormous pressure on what’s available, and because of the prevalence of market forces, there’s a huge pressure on price as well.”
The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust said the ticketing and travel arrangements to Baku were terrible and it joined other groups to lobby Uefa for better treatment.
It backed a joint statement by fans of Liverpool and Spurs, their rivals from north London, urging both Uefa and the clubs to “stop cashing in on fan loyalty”.
The trust tweeted: “We are working with them and all supporters’ groups to fight the disgraceful way that Uefa treats supporters.”
Arsenal said it was in talks with Uefa about trying to secure its fans more tickets for the final. “The disappointing allocation presents us with extreme difficulties in how we allocate tickets to our loyal supporters,” the club said in a statement.
The Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, echoed fans’ concerns about the exploitation of supporters by the travel industry, but he also questioned the way Uefa selected the venues.
He told reporters: ““Madrid is unbelievably expensive but who decides Baku for a European final? Or Kyiv? I don’t know what the people who decide these things have for breakfast.”
Speaking from Uefa’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, Miles said: “If matches are to be held in far-flung corners of the world they need to ensure that does not negatively impact on the ability of supporters to go to the games. That’s got to be a consideration that is much higher up the agenda.”
One group of fans is trying to make a virtue of the difficulty of reaching Baku. Fred Nathan, a Leyton Orient supporter, is travelling to the final with two Chelsea-supporting mates. They are going to Kyiv, then taking a sleeper train trip from Tbilisi, and returning via Odessa in a round trip that involves five flights.
He said: “Part of the appeal of it was whole round-the-houses element of it and seeing places like Tbilisi and Odessa. We’ve been planning it for months and there were five or six different routes we could have chosen.”
The group planned the trip before the semi-finals, so it will cost them each about £750, but Nathan said he was concerned for fans facing much higher prices.
“It does seem a baffling place to hold a European final and I do feel sorry for other fans. We’ve saved up for this and can afford it, but lots of people can’t. People are being massively priced out. And the clubs are only eight miles apart. It could have been played at Wembley.”