By Chris Rowland.
As endurance tests go, I couldn’t have devised a more testing one for myself.
The problem with European finals is that travel and accommodation prices just disappear into the stratosphere the minute your team qualifies from the semi -final, or they are simply no longer available. You really have to have all your plans already in place, just awaiting the touch of several buttons once the semi-final is over.
Of course that’s almost certainly before you know whether you’ll qualify for a match ticket or not. Wait until that’s known and it’s way too late for everything else, unless money is really no object to you. Irresponsible to travel without tickets? You’re practically forced to. You simply cannot afford to wait until your ticket’s sorted out before arranging travel and accommodation. Because there won’t be any left. I’m constantly aghast that the authorities can’t grasp this.
Playing the match in a small town like Basel, and a small stadium like St.Jakob Park, Basel with a 34,000 capacity for the final, only exacerbates the problem of unavailable or unaffordable accommodation. And it’s an expensive place anyway, almost Scandi-expensive. We’ve been there before, and we know. We know the place doesn’t really have the infrastructure to cope with a large influx of fans.
Given our miserable ticket allocation, I know there’s not much chance of getting one in advance of travelling. But here’s the point; you have to make the decision to go, or not, before the match ticket issue has even arisen. It’s great leaving home with a match ticket in your hand. But you can pick them up in all sorts of unlikely places, en route at airports and train stations, in bars, and of course in the destination itself. You don’t want to hear your mates all planning a trip you’re not involved in. So you ask to be counted in – and worry about the ticket later. Bottom line, is you’d rather watch the match in a bar in the city where the match is being played than in your own local or your own lounge.
You do your homework early, work out our travel options – all the time being prepared to scrap them and devise a new, ever more inventive, route as one option after another becomes unavailable or unaffordable.
You could wonder why you do all this, wonder how it could ever be worth it. Plenty of people will ask you that question. But you know the answer…
There’s a group of us who’ve been to nearly all our European finals. Too young for Dortmund at Hampden in 1966 and Moenchengladbach in 1973, we’ve been to nine together since.
For our tenth, we ruled out Basel as a destination to stay in for our trip, we opted to stay at Freiburg, a delightful old town near the German border. It’s less than an hour into Basel by train. Four of us still have no ticket.
But the planning was, as ever, very complicated. Some could take the whole week off, others couldn’t. Those who could would take the Eurostar to Brussels and stay there on Monday night, then train to Freiburg on Tuesday. And return on Friday. Some would fly into Stuttgart on Tuesday. But with that flight now costing about the same as the national debt, I have to find another way.
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