Why Chelsea Fans Have Struggled to Warm to the Europa League
Chelsea advanced to the Europa League final with a comprehensive 5-2 aggregate win over FC Basel. The tie was sealed with a stunning strike from David Luiz, following earlier efforts from Fernando Torres and Victor Moses.
Those three goals came after Mohamed Salah had made Rafa Benitez's halftime team talk slightly more stressful, giving the Swiss side hope with an away goal.
The total attendance at Stamford Bridge for this European semifinal was 39,403. That is approximately 3,000 less than the ground's capacity, and with the away fans taking up most of their 2,500 tickets, there were a fair few Blues fans who failed to attend the match.
Many fans of clubs across the country would be astounded by this. Wigan Athletic took a lot of stick for failing to sell out their entire allocation for the FA Cup semifinal against Millwall at Wembley.
What a lot of their critics failed to grasp was that the 5:15 p.m. kickoff meant that fans of the club from the north-west of England would be unable to catch the last train home. It was not down to a lack of support for the club, but a logistical nightmare that would have cost individual fans hundreds of pounds each.
That has not been the case at Chelsea. Tickets for the home legs of their Europa League campaign have been priced at £30 for adults and £15 for concessions. 8 p.m. on a Thursday evening is not the most family-friendly time or day for a football match, but the supporters will doubtless fill the stadium for the Premier League tie against Tottenham Hotspur at 7:45 p.m.
The issue is with the competition itself. When Chelsea reached the semifinals of the Champions League this time last year they were playing Barcelona. Competing against one of the best teams in the world, the euphoria following that two-legged tie was unbelievable. The drama and intensity was at the very peak of what a supporter can endure, whereas this year feels more mundane.
Chelsea's opponents have been tough, and at times the European Champions have seemed to struggle. However, their Europa League campaign has failed to produce the high drama that the fans have become accustomed to in the past 10 years of Champions League football.
They have reached the final in a far more comfortable manner than the dogged drive to Munich last year, and there is still a sense that any silverware will be tainted by the events of November 2012.
However, there are positive aspects to reaching the Europa League final rather than chasing the Champions League again. It enables the club to become the first to win consecutive European competitions in reverse order, and rather than another Saturday at Wembley, the fans get a cheeky Wednesday in Amsterdam. Travelling through several countries on a coach is what European competition is all about, rather than just hopping on the Tube.
Whilst they have crashed to earth with a bump this year, the Blues' support will be out in force at the Amsterdam Arena on May 15, raising the blue flag from half mast back up high in the sky.
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