Posted: 5/31/2019


       UEFA in all their wisdom could not have chosen a more remote location for a London derby than the Olympic Stadium in Baku, a 5,000 mile round trip and further East than Baghdad.

       I have visited twice, first on Air Baltic from Riga to Tbilisi and a few nights in Georgia and then a one hour flight to Baku and its medium sized airport. The second time I had an all expenses paid flight via Istanbul and five star hotel and meals and chauffer to speak for 15 minutes at an AFFA federation confference on volunteering prior to the inaugual European Games. It had earlier gained fame by building a conference center and hotels for The European Song Contest.

          Finals for The Europa Cup and Champions League are awarded up to two years in advance but the poor fans have only a couple of weeks or so to make arrangements which are inconvenient and very expensive. Thomas Cook were offering a day trip without match tickets for about £980.00 round trip. Of course the finalists have private jets and so do the TV crews and UEFA big wigs.

         The 68,000 capacity stadium is more like the Melbourne Cricket Ground or the GAA Croke Park or the First of May Stadium in Pyongyang North Korea. Not just for football matches and poor sight lines.  Both clubs were only offered 6,000 tickets and half were returned. The General Secretary of AFFA blamed many thousands of empty seats on the fans of Eintracht Frankfurt. They bought the tickets early but got knocked out by Chelsea and neverr turned up.

         The atmosphere was eerie and the first half a bore. Then The Blues turned it on with 4 quick second half goals and a woeful Gunners team were denied a place in The Champions League once again. I guess that it could be even more remote, Nur-Sultan the newly named capital of Kazakhstan for example.    I think that these very big matches should be more conveniently sited for the fans of the clubs from England, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy etc that usually make it that far. Wembley with 5 nearby airports, Paris and MIlan with three, Munich, Amsterdam, Brussels, even Cardiff.  Not only are there many airlines serving them but also trains, buses and cars.

       There are many u17,u19s, U21s youth male and female tournaments that smaller nations such as Ireland, Armenia, Croatia, Hungary,,(until the new Puskas Arena is available), Lithuaniao share amongst the European federations.

       Baku will host 4 matches including a quarter final at next summer's European Finals with many matches including both semi-finals and finals at Wembley. These bigger venues also have many cities within an hours drive or rail with plenty of accommodation choices. Next years Europa final will be in Gdansk Poland which was a popular choice at the 2008 European Champonships.

    I really enjoyed both visits to Baku with its Fire Towers, awesome promenade and great food and hospitible locals., and one of my favourite outddor cafes in the world, Cafe Araz on Fountains Square

          The old national stadium was name changed post independence from Lenin Stadium to TOFIQ BAHRAMOV STADIUM afrer the famous 'Russian Linesman' of the 1966 World Cup final, . He was consulted by the German referee Gottfried Dienst, who couldn't speak Russian and Tofiq couldn't understand German. He nodded and the 3rd England goal was given.Even I realize that it did not cross the line. Fortunately Geoff Hurst scored a fourth and his hat-trick for a 4-2 overtime victory.

       In October 2004 when England visited the stadium in October 2004 Geoff Hurst was on hand to unveil the only statue dedicated to a referee. He had played in the old Soviet championships and then as a referee and later became General Secretary of the AFFA.  On my second visit the statue had been moved a hundred yaerds or so from in front of the then national stadium to outside his former office. I also paid a visit to the new AFFA HQ and had a chat and photo opp. with his grandson Tofiq Bahramov Jr who works there.

             The new  Olympic stadium is not usually used for local league matches, only internationals and Champions League home matches. With some friends we went to the Bahramov stadium to watch the champions play their final league match of the season QARABAG with free entry and free drinks from a sponsor,  there were at the most 1500 fans.  Qarabag is from a now ruined ghost town  of Agdam labelled The Hiroshima of Caucasus. They have not played there since 1993 due to the Nagorno-Karabakh war and 366 km south west of Baku. Very sad.