Monday 16 September 2019

The truth behind Liverpool fans' costly nightmare following their team to Kiev

Liverpool fans react at the fan zone in Kiev
Liverpool fans react at the fan zone in Kiev

Sam Wallace

One thousand stranded Liverpool fans’ hopes of reaching Saturday’s Champions League final in Kiev were unresolved on Thursday night after the city’s mayor Joe Anderson attempted to broker landing slots for two of the three supporters’ charter flights cancelled at the last minute.

Anderson tweeted that he and Kiev mayor Vitaly Klitschko, the brother of former heavyweight world champion Wladimir, and himself a former heavyweight champion, were “working closely” and “close to a solution” after a day of chaos for those who had booked charter flights.

By late Thursday night, Anderson tweeted that he had secured two fresh landing slots for the charter planes at Kiev’s Borispyl airport but that the operator in question, World Choice Sports, had chosen to take only one

Anderson challenged World Choice Sports to organise the planes to make use of the landing times he had negotiated saying he was “amazed it’s not been sorted”. Earlier in the day the club had confirmed that around 1,000 fans had been left without any way of reaching Saturday’s final against Real Madrid after the Widnes-based travel operator World Choice Sports said it was left with no option but to cancel flights.

In a statement, World Choice Sports said that it had been forced to cancel three charter flights into Kiev’s Borispyl airport after it failed to secure the landing slots, blaming the cancellations on the destination airport. In a statement of their own, Liverpool football club said that it was trying to work with “stakeholders” over resolving the problem.

Liverpool blamed a “dispute” between World Choice Sports and Borispyl airport “over the size of the aircraft” for the cancellation of the flights from Liverpool John Lennon airport. The club said that it had worked with the city council, Uefa and the authorities in Kiev, “endeavouring to resolve the issue since it first came to light and will continue to do so until all avenues have been exhausted.”

In Kiev, the first Liverpool supporters who had managed to make the final began arriving on Thursday. Jon Hemphill, 64, a retired pharmaceutical company director from Liverpool, said that he had booked his hotel last May, even before his team had made it through their qualifying tie with Hoffenheim to reach the group stages. He and friends had taken a flight from Stansted to Warsaw and then an overnight train journey to Kiev lasting 16 hours.

“The train could have been better, it was definitely Soviet era,” he said. “But it was on time, it came into the station bang on 11.02.” A veteran of Liverpool’s European Cup finals at Wembley in 1978, Paris in 1981 and Istanbul in 2005, as well as the Europa League final in 2016, he said that the flights and accommodation had cost between £600 and £700.

Sam Furniss, 31, from Liverpool, who works in logistics, had come on three flights from Manchester to Berlin to Vilnius in Lithuania and on to Kiev. He said that he believed Madrid reaching the final a day earlier than Liverpool had meant they were able to book the aircraft slots at the Kiev airports for planes flying in from Spain. “Why put it in a city that can’t cope?” he asked. 

Stuart Gee, 42, an engineer from Liverpool who lives in Perth, Western Australia, had spent around £3,600 on flying from Perth via Doha in Qatar, a cost that he conceded was “ridiculously expensive”. He said that his flight from Doha had been at least half occupied by Liverpool fans coming to the Ukrainian capital for the final. He said that the difficulty in getting to Kiev was frustrating but made the final, and being there in person, “something special”.

Gillis Green, 54, a lawyer from Baltimore in the United States had brought his son Russell, 22, to see the final in Kiev as a graduation present. Gillis said: “I am embarrassed to admit we paid about $7,000 [£5,220] for the tickets and another $1,000 [$750] for the Airbnb [accommodation] and I am not going to say how much we paid for the tickets.” The two of them had become Liverpool fans watching the team in the US Premier League coverage.

Andy Clifford, 49, from Scunthorpe, had travelled in a group of 11 from Birmingham to Warsaw, staying a night in Poland, and then on to Kiev. He and his friends had decided to book the flights after Liverpool’s first leg semi-final win over Roma at Anfield on April 25, hedging their position by also placing a bet on Roma to go through. They had since twice had Kiev accommodation cancelled and were staying in a hostel – “no stars, if anything it has minus stars” – that ordinarily cost £8 a night per person but had raised its rates to £50 per night.

Walking through the city’s botanical gardens, Christian Klein-Heinz and his three friends cut an unusual sight. All four were dressed in German lederhosen and Bayern Munich shirts. They had booked their trip to Kiev in December with a mixture of hope and belief that Bayern would be in the final.

“We do it every year,” said the 53-year-old IT company director. “We hope that Bayern make it and if we don’t we just go anyway and make a weekend of it. We have been to Milan and Cardiff as well in recent years. This time we are Liverpool fans. Jurgen Klopp is a good trainer. In the Bundesliga and in the final at Wembley in 2013 he always made it difficult for Bayern.”

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