Nobody stands to gain from the Europa League ticket debacle

Chelsea play in their second European final in as many years next Wednesday – and not that many of their fans will be there.

The small allocation going to the two teams in the Europa League final has been well documented since the semis and even led to a rare show of sympathy for Chelsea fans from the mainstream media.

That Chelsea and Benfica each have 9,800 tickets for a stadium holding 52,000 sounded ridiculous to anyone who heard the figures. Two thirds of the ground could be full of people who don’t care who wins.

But when the tickets went on sale and sold out in just a few hours on Tuesday it became all the more clear just how many committed Chelsea fans will not be able to see their team in this big showpiece occasion.

By the final league game against Everton I will have been to 32 games this season.

That has taken up a lot of time and money – but it’s actually less than half the games Chelsea have played this season. I was pretty sure once the allocation was official that I wouldn’t get a ticket and so it proved.

But the internet has been awash with plenty greater tales of woe than mine.

I have read of people who have been to far more games than I have this season who couldn’t get a ticket, or fans who have been to every previous Chelsea European final, right back to Athens in 1971, but will be missing out on this one, despite still having a season ticket.

The biggest and most obvious problem is the ridiculous allocation of tickets by Uefa.

To give the teams in the final fewer than 10,000 tickets each smacks of either not knowing how football supporting works, or not caring.

Chelsea fans in Munich
Many Chelsea fans who were in Munich will miss out this time.

Very few clubs in a European final would have trouble selling more tickets than that and so the policy is always going to leave many fans unhappy.

It creates other problems too.

The atmosphere will not be as good in a ground where more than 30,000 fans could be neutrals.

And the system gives touts the chance to have a field day. About 18,000 tickets were sold months ago in the Uefa ballot.

No doubt some of the people who bought them will be there but others will have sold theirs to touts, who in turn will sell the precious tickets to Chelsea and Benfica fans for even more inflated prices.

Who wins there? Uefa don’t make a bigger profit – the big money paid by fans desperate to see their team in a big game goes into the pockets of the touts.

How can Uefa let this occur, presumably year after year? What could be done differently?

The obvious thing would be to give more tickets to the teams in the final. Chelsea and Benfica could no doubt easily have sold at least twice as many tickets and there would still have been room for more than 10,000 neutrals too.

If 10,000 seats for neutral fans and sponsors is not enough, Uefa should use bigger stadiums. 52,000 is not huge. Why not insist European final stadiums have to hold at least 65,000 people? There are plenty of them in Europe.

If Uefa won’t because it wants the games shared around geographically it should not be the fans who suffer.

While the biggest problems stem from the small allocation some issues are closer to home. It is right Chelsea uses a loyalty system but the system is not perfect. The points allocated for some matches are very questionable.

The home cup ties against Manchester United and the attractive Champions League home match with Juventus were worth five points.

But every Europa League game was worth just one point. Those who made the trek out to all four away ties – in the Czech Republic, Romania, Russia and Switzerland – will have picked up four points for all that, one less than someone who paid £30 to come to Stamford Bridge for the United FA Cup replay on a sunny Easter Monday.

And while only selling to season ticket holders is a policy which has helped me in the past, I began to question it when I read of a member who had been to 49 games this season. Because he was only a member he could not get a ticket despite having 140 loyalty points.

At least Chelsea, unlike Uefa, pledged to re-examine its methods for next season.

I bought my flights and hotel for the final on the night Chelsea won the first leg in Basel, confident prices and availability would change dramatically if I left it until we won the second leg.

And so I will be out in Amsterdam without a ticket. Maybe I will be able to buy one out there, maybe not. I am sure there will be thousands of other fans of both clubs in the same position.

We’ll probably still have fun but you can’t help feeling it shouldn’t work like this. The system is flawed in many ways and needs to change. But I can’t imagine that happening any time soon.

James Clarke is the author of Moody Blues: Following the second-best team in Europe

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