On the “6-0-6” BBC Radio phone-in show, BBC football commentator and apparently self-styled “Voice Of The People” Alan Green stated that he thinks that, should two English teams make it to the final of this year’s European Cup final, it should be played at Wembley, rather than at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. On the surface, it seems like an enticing idea, but it is really a non-starter and, if anything, demonstrates the myopia of the English game quite effectively.
Over the last ten years or so, the Champions League has grown substantially in prestige. It is now, after the World Cup final, arguably football’s biggest match, and the right to host it is now keenly fought over. Moscow won this year’s nomination in no small part because such a grand match has never been hosted in Russia, and Russia is a country with footballing ambition. Their bid for the 2018 World Cup is one of those that England need to take seriously, and with good reason. The country’s natural resources are making it richer and more powerful than ever, and there can be little doubt that they would be quite capable of hosting a major football tournament. A lot of money has been poured into the Luzhniki in order to bring it up to date, and this would be money down the drain if UEFA were suddenly to decide that London was suddenly a more attractive venue for the final.
The argument in favour of moving it is one that tugs at the heartstrings. The logistics of more than 50,000 English supporters travelling to Moscow is one that may even lead to empty seats in the Luzhniki, and there is also a case to be made that they shouldn’t have to travel if they don’t need to. Getting to this year’s European Cup final could be, for many English football supporters, an expensive business. However, the likelihood is that ticket distribution for the final will be organised so that those that have already travelled around Europe will be the ones that have first refusal on buying tickets for the final, and UEFA will be very conscious of the fact that, for these people, the pan-European travel is no small part of the appeal of going in the first place. Without a final in an exotic, foreign city, this match becomes little more than another football match clogging up the end of the football season.
There is also the small point that tickets will already have been promised, and hotel rooms booked. The Champions League, despite the best efforts of the Premier League, remains a Europe-wide tournament, and Russia deserves the final this year. There will be a considerable number of people in Russia that won’t have seen a match of this stature before, and why should they miss out in order so that UEFA can effectively subsidise the travelling supporters of clubs from other countries. I’m all in favour of UEFA making the Champions League more accessible to fans (as I would be with any competition), but to switch the venue at the last minute actually undermines this ideal in several different ways.
There are, I feel many ways that UEFA should be challenged over ticketing arrangements for their biggest matches, but Alan Green has missed the target with this particular comment. There should probably be more than 17,000 tickets made available to the fans of the competing clubs and fewer going to corporate guests and sponsors, but I’d take a wild guess that it will be a cold day in hell before that happens. There is also a persuasive argument for saying that, with the massive amounts of money that UEFA gets from sponsorship to subsidise the cost of tickets for matches. However, to renege on an agreement with Russia to make life a bit easier for English football supporters is a disingenuous.
And, in spite of what you might have read in the press over the last few days, there’s no guarantee that it will be an all-English final yet.