Wednesday’s Europa League final between Chelsea and Arsenal in Baku will, sadly, largely be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
UEFA’s decision to hold the final in Azerbaijan’s capital city predictably backfired.
Because of the number of empty seats inside the Olympic Stadium, the game felt more like a pre-season friendly than a major European final.
Chelsea and Arsenal, who were unable to name Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan in their squad due to concerns over his safety, both returned half of the 6,000 tickets that each club had been allocated to sell to fans.
Only 5,500 supporters made the trip for their team’s biggest game of the season due to a combination of cost, distance and difficulty getting to and from Baku.
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Many fans paid over £1000 in flights alone. Add in other travel costs, plus accommodation and tickets, and the vast majority of supporters simply couldn’t afford to attend.
The number of empty seats resulted in a rather lacklustre atmosphere and this came across on television. It wasn’t a good look for UEFA.
It was also embarrassing for the authorities in Azerbaijan who, according to The Times, reacted by opening the turnstiles during the first half and allowing local fans to enter the stadium for free in order to fill some of the empty seats.
After about half an hour of the final, many of the empty seats were suddenly filled.
And it’s been revealed that authorises in Baku went against UEFA’s wishes by opening the turnstiles for free, in order to generate a better atmosphere.
One Arsenal fan told The Times: “We were in the Arsenal corner and there were a lot of empty seats and suddenly after about 30 minutes lots of local people arrived, including some kids, and they had been given Arsenal flags to wave.”
Supporters who shelled out between £26 and £121 for tickets will be perturbed to hear that locals were allowed into the stadium free of charge.
Meanwhile, it’s another embarrassing story for UEFA, who will want to avoid a repeat scenario during next season’s European Championships.
Baku’s Olympic Stadium will host four matches in Euro 2020 next summer, including one of the quarter-finals.News Now - Sport News