In his latest blog for the official Chelsea website, Stephen Rea - our American blogger - gives his view on playing the Europa League in Baku and how that compares to contests in the States.
The expense and travel difficulties faced by Chelsea fans headed to Baku for the Europa League final on Wednesday have been in the news this week.
It’s a trek, with a return trip of almost 5,000 miles to watch a game of football tests the loyalty of even the most committed supporters.
I understand the objections. I’ve followed the Blues for more than four decades, and when I lived in Northern Ireland I had to get on a plane every time I wanted to watch them play, even at their home ground. Using geography as your determining factor, Azerbaijan is more like an Asian country than a European one. It’s a reasonable argument that a continental competition should stage its showpiece event in a more accessible location.
But as far as international football goes, both for clubs and national teams, we don’t use topology to define Europe. UEFA is the regional governing body, and it is normal that the climax of the tournament is rotated through the confederation’s members. Chelsea reaching the final in the year it is in the Caucasus is just one of those things.
Here in the States, the venue of the American football season decider - the Superbowl - is scheduled five years in advance (it’s in my hometown New Orleans in 2024). It is possible that the stadium picked will end up being the home filed of a finalist, although it hasn’t happened yet in 53 seasons.
If it did, I guarantee that the NFL would not switch the contest. How could they? The National Football Conference and the American Football Conference hold their championship games only two weeks before the showdown. They are effectively the semi-finals, with the winners meeting in the SuperBowl (to find out who is crowned “World Champions” - don’t get me started).
Consider the amount of planning and logistical equations that go into hosting the USA’s single biggest annual sporting event. You think they could move it to another city in 14 days? Let five years of preparation go down the tubes?
It’s not a conspiracy against London sides, it’s not a grudge against English fans, it’s the luck of the draw. The Champions’ League final is at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, a cauldron I visited in October 2017 to see the Blues’ fabulous last-gasp win against Atletico Madrid.
So it can always be worse: Imagine if this year’s Europa League final had been scheduled for the Emirates...