Tuesday 25 June 2019

John Aldridge: Liverpool fans are the biggest losers in UEFA's bad Kiev decision

Liverpool fans
Liverpool fans

John Aldridge

NOT for the first time in recent years, a major UEFA final has ended up in a location that is not equipped to host the showcase event and the biggest losers are the Liverpool fans scrambling to get tickets for the Champions League final in Kiev.

Liverpool have a real chance to be crowned as European champions for a sixth time in their illustrious history when they take on Real Madrid this Saturday, but the build-up to the game has thrown up a host of questions over why this game is being played in Ukraine.

I’m all for spreading the game around Europe and giving everyone a chance to host these big games, but only if they have an infrastructure capable of accommodating everything that goes with an event of this magnitude. There is a need for a combination of plenty of big hotels, lots of bars and restaurants, great transport links and a place that is easily accessible to the teams likely to be playing in the Champions League final.

It might seem harsh to suggest this game should be played in the big cities of England, Italy, Spain, Germany or even in Dublin every year, but at least those destinations have experience of welcoming the huge numbers of people who will flock into Ukraine this week. From what I am hearing, Kiev is struggling to deal with what is coming their way this weekend, with a lack of hotels and flights to Kiev ensuring a huge spike in prices that is pushing the budgets of Liverpool fans to the limit.

So many Reds fans are being ripped off in their attempts to get to the final, with some who booked up hotel rooms in Kiev several weeks ago being turfed out and their rooms have been resold for a massively inflated price. That cannot be right, but it is probably the inevitable outcome of staging a game in a city lacking rooms, with hotel owners keen to make as much money as they can out of visiting fans.

Airlines have bumped up prices and yet somehow, I would still expect to see as many as 50,000 Liverpool fans finding a way to get to Kiev this weekend in the hope of getting into the game one way or the other. When you consider that Liverpool have been given just 16,626 tickets for the game and a large proportion of the 63,000 crowd that will attend the game will be UEFA sponsors and dignitaries, there is clearly going to be a huge demand for tickets and touts will have a field day.

There will be plenty of local Kiev lads counting down the days until they get rich this weekend as locals who have got their hands on tickets will know they can ask for whatever they want from desperate Liverpool fans to hand over the golden pass to the biggest game of the season. It should not be like this as the fans should come first, but so often they are forgotten about when the behind-closed-doors deals are done to allocate these big games.

I’m heading out to Kiev for the final this weekend and have had my accommodation sorted for me by Liverpool FC, but many of the fans will not be so fortunate and yet that will not stop them going to Ukraine in the hope of finding a way into the ground. I was in Istanbul for Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League final win and saw a similar scenario unfolding, with the local touts the biggest winners as they hit the jackpot.

It would be fair to suggest Istanbul did not cope very well with the huge organisation required to stage a Champions League final and we saw thousands of Liverpool fans arriving in the city without tickets and paying ridiculous prices to try and get in. We had a similar problem when thousands of Liverpool fans turned up in Basel for the 2016 Europa League final, with a stadium that held just 34,429 deemed worthy of hosting the final of a major competition. How ridiculous was that!

So, while UEFA have experience of what can go wrong when you host these massive games in places that have not staged them before, they keep making these decisions for whatever reason and it continues to hurt the people who provide a heartbeat for the game. I also feel this summer’s World Cup in Russia will be a nightmare for fans, with huge distances between matches making this tournament a logistical nightmare for supporters, but do FIFA care about that? Clearly, they don’t.

Hopefully the Liverpool hordes who will arrive in Kiev in hope as much as expectation of getting into the game enjoy their trip and if Jurgen Klopp’s men turn their dreams into reality by beating Real Madrid, Kiev will be rocking like never before on Saturday night.

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