UEFA’s farcical handling of the Europa League final has drawn much criticism from fans, media and even clubs themselves.
In a stadium which has a capacity of 68,000 the fact that Arsenal and Chelsea were only offered 6,000 tickets each is, in itself a sad indication of where football, the game created by the poor and now stolen by the rich has gone. However this shift towards prawn sandwiches and cooperate money has been a long time in the making and now we are only seeing the real effects for fans who just want to watch their team play in a European final.
Firstly the location is a bizarre choice. Baku, a rejuvenated city after mass investment known for its controversial building craze, oil and gas boom, and now Euro vision 2012. The Azerbaijan capital is at best a nightmare to get to, with fans having to embark on 6 – hour flights at a cost of up to £1000. On top of this, there are no direct flights from London to Baku, meaning supporters will have to endure on a 2,500 – mile trip spread out over several days to get there. This will not only be more time consuming but will also mean fans having to take days off work in order to get to the game. That is of course if you have a visa to gain entry into the country with British nationals travelling to Azerbaijan usually required to get a visa in advance.
Secondly the allocations mentioned earlier of just a measly 6,000 for each club has caused much controversy amongst supporters. With just 12,000 tickets being allocated to fans of each finalist, this leaves 56,000 seats spare for UEFA and its sponsors’ cooperate money makers to indulge in, selling at ridiculously high prices to maximise profit. As a result of this Arsenal have sent back 2,300 tickets with Chelsea handing back 4,000. UEFA’s reasoning for this is that the city’s infrastructure and facilities cannot deal with anymore than that, which begs the question, why on earth is the final being played over there? The answer? Football at the top level is no longer about the game or the fans’ enjoyment of the game. It’s about cold, hard cash and nothing else.
Despite this, the most chilling, cynical and cold aspect of UEFA’s cash cow final is the disgraceful treatment of Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The 30 year old Armenian winger won’t be travelling with the Gunners to the final due to safety concerns as a consequence of ongoing political tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. A statement from Arsenal read
‘We have thoroughly explored all the options for Micki to be part of the squad but after discussing this with Micki and his family we have collectively agreed he will not be in our travelling party.
We have written to UEFA expressing our deep concerns about this situation. Micki has been a key player in our run to the final so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective.
We’re also very sad that a player will miss out on a major European final in circumstances such as this, as it is something that comes along very rarely in a footballer’s career.’
On top of this Arsenal will reportedly be stopped from paying tribute or acknowledging the absence of one of their teammates.
So with this game being another breakthrough for the oil rich in football, fans can only dream of an ounce of consideration being given to them by UEFA when making these decisions which drive the real fans away from the game. As Jock Stein once said ‘ Without fans who pay at the turnstile, football is nothing’.
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