That wasn’t your typical London derby…
Baku was the setting for what has been described as the weirdest European final in memory.
And I was one of the fortunate 3,000 Chelsea and Arsenal fans who made the 5,500 mile round trip to the Olympic Stadium in Azerbaijan.
Planes Trains and Automobiles
Us football fans like to brag about the long trips up the M1 to the far reaches of England’s green and pleasant lands.
Service station rendez vous and lukewarm Stellas en route to Sunderland or down to Southampton have become part and parcel of any club’s hardcore following.
It isn’t often you require four three-hour flights, one 13-hour train journey and a seven-hour taxi ride to support the club you love.
But the powers that be at UEFA placed the final between Chelsea and Arsenal – who are separated by just six miles – on the far side of the continent.
Our journey began at Heathrow terminal four and spirits were high.
A painless flight to Moscow followed by a slightly more painful flight to Georgia was just the beginning…
There were sporadic groups of Arsenal and Chelsea fans in the wonderful city of Tblisi which showed we weren’t the only ones trying to do the trip for less than £1,000.
There was a buzz in the air as 70p beers were being swigged during the first hour of the overnight train from Tblisi to Baku.
The sense of rivalry went out the window as both sets of fans realised they were in it together.
The beer soon ran dry and the atmosphere died a nasty death as we waited for two hours at the boarder crossing while the Azerbaijani police dissected our bags and stamped passports.
Following three hours of debatable ‘sleep’, Baku was finally in sight after what seemed like an eternity of empty countryside.
The city was primed, the fan zones were pumping and the fans were gathering momentum before the 11pm kick-off.
More like a pre-season friendly
The English contingent were diluted out by the hoards of locals and fans from far reaches of the globe.
While you can’t blame the less passionate international football fans for turning up to the game in the absence of the 9,000 unsold Chelsea and Arsenal tickets, you have to draw the line at men in full Spurs kits in the ground.
You can imagine the reception the individual was greeted with by the travelling fans.
The toothless nature of the crowd was reflected in a tame first 45 minutes which won’t live long in the memory.
It took ex-Arsenal man Olivier Giroud’s 11th Europa League goal to set the game alight.
The Frenchman, along with Pedro and the departing Eden Hazard, had too much fire power for the Gunners and Chelsea got on their jet home with their third European Cup in seven seasons.
There was no jet for the fans who faced the same gruelling journey home.
Rather than getting back on the 13-hour train, we decided a taxi from Baku back to Tblisi was far more appealing.
How foolish we were.
Our taxi driver’s English was extremely limited so when he pulled over at a dodgy petrol station in the arse-end of nowhere, our imaginations ran away with all sorts of sinister theories.
He had been gone for over 15 minutes when we decided to hunt our man down.
The truth was, our taxi driver, who we had already paid £200, had gone off for a three-course lunch with his mates and left us by the car not knowing if he was gone for minutes, hours or days.
I’ll never moan if my Uber is late again. Promise.
After all that expense, all that time and all the controversy surrounding the ‘weirdest European final’ the ultimate question is – was it worth it?
Well, as a Chelsea fan, yes, yes it was.
I’m not so sure the two Arsenal fans I travelled with would say the same.
But that’s football folks.
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