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Champions League final means black markets, €3,000 hotel rooms and a four-day slog to Kiev for Liverpool’s most loyal

Supporters shelling out thousands of pounds as they face chaos and extortion to get to the Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev on May 26 for Real Madrid clash

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2018, 10:37am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 9:51am

Nick Kelly, 30, is not your typical Liverpool fan. For one, he was born, raised and lives in the fiercely rival city of Manchester, but rather than support local clubs United or City, he chose the team of his father, Stephen.

Nick’s father, born and bred in Liverpool, worked in the shipyards at Cammell Laird on the banks of the River Mersey, which gave the world many famous ships, but work took him east to Manchester. 

His son follows Liverpool everywhere and has watched football in 33 countries. He started this season among 100 travelling fans in Hong Kong last July on Liverpool’s preseason tour. The forthcoming Champions League final in Kiev will be the 62nd and final Liverpool game that he’s watched in person since then.

 

The Ukrainian capital is not easy to reach from England. For the intrepid Nick, he’ll take a train from Manchester to Sheffield, fly to Katowice in Poland, then back on a train to Lviv in Ukraine. 

From there he’ll travel the last stage of the journey to Kiev, 2,700 kilometres from Liverpool – or a 32-hour drive without a break. There are Liverpool fans driving all the way to Kiev for the game on Saturday.

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Nick will return via Kharkov in Ukraine, Istanbul, London and then Manchester. The total trip price is just under £400 (US$539.9) for flights and trains and will take four days, made possible by budget airlines, no visa restrictions and a great deal of self-confidence. Football supporting is about so much more than a game lasting 90 minutes.

There will be many more stories of dauntless Liverpool fans travelling to Kiev, just as there were Manchester United and Chelsea fans travelling east to Moscow a decade ago. It’s all part of the adventure, but not everyone is so inclined. 

Stephen, at 71, thinks the journey will be a bit much and will stay at home to watch the game, despite being a Liverpool season ticket holder.

Cost is another major issue. Liverpool’s travel partner announced a charter flight to Kiev for £750, which sold out instantly. A second, priced at £900 also sold out and other companies are charging similar amounts. You can fly to Sydney and back in late May for £780. Some Liverpool fans are going via Dubai because it’s cheaper.

Kiev’s airport expects its busiest ever day on May 26, just as the airports in Manchester and Barcelona had their busiest ever days when hosting the 2003 and 1999 Champions League finals. As one United writer put it: “Will the last person left in Manchester turn out the lights?” 

The Champions League final is big business, but it’s also a perennially chaotic affair, where rumours and conjecture always thrive amid the uncertainty. Liverpool fans, wrongly, thought fellow finalists Real Madrid had put flights on for their fans for 300 (US$354.7).

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While there are Liverpool fans with match tickets who can’t afford to get to Kiev, others have transport but are ticketless. 

All Kiev’s hotels are booked up and charging rates verging on extortion, while Airbnb bookings made months ago have been cancelled and re-listed at a higher price, as Nick has found to his cost. 

Hotels which normally charge 100 have upped prices to 3,000 per night and are requesting Western Union transfers to “guarantee” rooms. To counter such avarice, other Kiev residents are offering fans free beds.

Not everyone who deserves a ticket gets one, either those who support Liverpool or Real Madrid – both teams have received only 16,626 of the 63,999 tickets for the game at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium. 

Of Liverpool’s allocation, 63 per cent went to general supporters. The rest were earmarked for Liverpool fans with hospitality facilities, the club’s commercial partners and staff, which makes just over 10,000 tickets for normal fans.

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Those tickets are priced between £394 for a category one ticket (there is a restricted view option at £315) and £61 for cheaper tickets. 

Liverpool’s average home crowd is 54,049 and fans are understandably unhappy. Over a third of the stadium will be allocated to people who are not fans of either club, people who’ve never set foot in Anfield or the Bernabeu in their lives. 

One of the justifications from organisers Uefa is that tickets should be available to all football fans including local supporters who want to enjoy the spectacle in their city. 

The reality is many of the tickets end up on the black market at vastly inflated prices. Fans have also been warned about forged tickets.

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Real fans are also placed in seats most likely to be seen by the television cameras to create the spectacle that the sponsors want. 

It’s far better to have a backdrop of colour rather than four suited executives from a multinational company paying little attention to the game. 

While the suits enjoy their free day out, Nick and others like him will be pulling out all the stops to support their teams, unwittingly providing the genuine audience those millions watching on TV want to see.