Tall tales of car journeys from London to Baku via Baghdad were in the air as Azerbaijan’s capital geared up to host the Europa League final.
Supporters milled around Baku’s fan park on the picturesque shores of the Caspian Sea, with fans of both clubs flocking in from all around the globe.
A lack of direct flights from the UK left many Chelsea and Arsenal supporters to give up the ghost, but those hardy souls who did travel had to dig deep for both money and time.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) May 28, 2019
Russia-born Dubai resident Dmitriy Mironov had a relatively easy direct flight to Baku, but explained how a group of friends from the UK were aiming to drive via Iraq.
“It wasn’t so hard because I caught a direct flight, it wasn’t much hassle,” said Mironov.
“But I actually have some mates coming from the UK, who are driving.
“There are some borders they can’t cross, so they are driving via Baghdad before coming here.
“I think that was going to take them a week.
“I came here for the game against Qarabag in October, because I’ve supported Arsenal since I was seven.
“Everything was perfect, the security the stadium, and I’m really looking forward to this too.”
European bosses UEFA had selected Baku to host this final almost two years ago, and circumstances have quickly conspired in the last month to send two London clubs into the final.
Many Chelsea and Arsenal fans felt priced out of attending, with no direct flights and tricky travel routes to Baku.
Arsenal season ticket holders Harkirat Bhambra and Gary Sandhu spent more than £900 each on flights, making two stops en route to Baku.
“We started trying to find flights two or three weeks ago,” said Bhambra.
“We’ve gone via Turkey with two stops.
“And now we’re here we’re really enjoying it.
“It wasn’t cheap but we felt it was worth it.
“There’s a few people here from New Zealand who had to take three or four flights, and some people have been taking trains from Georgia, Tbilisi.
“Overall I think we’re happy with the cost, relatively, but it was still expensive.”
Chelsea fans Kevin Cobb and Jake Ralph spent a week on their Baku Odyssey, flying to Istanbul then Ankara, before taking the train to Kars near the border with Armenia, heading onwards by rail to Tbilisi, and then finally on to Baku.
“We took a 24-hour train called the Dogu Express to Kars, then from there we got a cab to the border with Georgia,” said Ralph.
“From there we carried on to Tbilisi, then caught the overnight train from Tbilisi, and we arrived in Baku on Monday morning.
“It’s been an incredible experience, even being delayed by cows on the train tracks that the driver then had to shoo away.
“We’ve had a fantastic welcome from the Azerbaijan tourist board, who took us out for breakfast and then gave us a tour of the stadium.
“It’s a real shame that more of our friends couldn’t make it.”