God bless Thomas Cook! After a week of hoping, praying, playing down the significance, talking up Chelsea, remembering our God-Awful run in... I can stop. Breath. Sigh. We got the tickets in the ballot, we got the seats on the Thomas Cook flight, we are off to Baku! COYG... We are off to the Europa League Final on the 29th May in Baku, Azerbaijan!
Given I've never been to Baku, or Azerbaijan, or anywhere in the vicinity I think it's apt to record this voyage into the heart of the Caucasus region over coming days and weeks so those less fortunate (or Armenian) can get an insight into the experience. Let's rewind. Like everyone else once we hammered Valencia away, and secured our first European cup final in over a decade, I was sure I was going. I'd made the trip to London for the last 3 FA cup finals, so I sure as hell was going to this final, despite it being 'just' the Europa league final. Then I started to do some digging. Final, in Baku. Where the F#$K is Baku!?
Next morning, I got up early then checked flights. Fly in, landing 3 hours before kickoff, not ideal... fly out next morning... hmmmm. Long way to go not to experience any atmosphere or see any sights. Other flights were available, but it's a Wednesday match, and you can only take so many days off work... I wavered. Let's sort the match tickets first I thought! That afternoon my mate Dazza came up trumps and had sourced 5 tickets!! Sorted. He was going to bring his 2 sons, I would bring mine... COYG. Went back onto the flight websites, hmmmm... no more flights. And OMG the flights left were insanely expensive... Nevertheless, I took my credit card out, and starting to see what was the least bad option. Fly into Istanbul on the Tuesday. On to Baku. Back the Thursday after the game. Land in Istanbul at 2am. 11 hour layover. Home Friday lunch time. Cost, 5,000 GBP for 2 return tickets. Gulp... To hell with it I thought, once in a lifetime opportunity... let's max out this puppy... Then as if God intervened, my son walked in with his report card...
My son, who naturally, is a big Arsenal fan, had not been applying himself. And at that moment, my dream of being in Baku with him, seeing Kos lift the Europa cup vanished. In a rage I decided there was no way he could miss 4 days of school. I resigned myself to watching the game in a pub. Shut the browser window. Click... Dream shattered. The following days I kept saying I had made the right decision. The money and time off work, my son's education... anyway, our form was terrible, surely we were on for a hiding?? But I had thought the same when we played Chelsea off the wembley turf to win Wenger's last silverware not that long ago. I felt depressed.
Then, a miracle. My mate's sister and mother, bless their souls, had gotten tickets in the official club ballot! We had all applied being season ticket holders, but they were the lucky ones! So what you say!? Well, neither of them wanted to go for various reasons, so now we had official club allocated tickets. By the way, the 6k Arsenal allocation is a disgrace... this is a 69k seater stadium... UEFA just don't care! Now in possession of official club tickets we could apply for a flight on Thomas Cook special charter planes. With Passport details and credit card in hand we applied for those. Next we applied for a visa to enter Azerbaijan. By the way, right at the bottom of the application is a very odd sentence, which basically says have you been to Armenia? Are you Armenian? Are you Henrikh Mkhitaryan? (OK, it didn't ask the last question, but 'it' all suddenly made sense).
Today, 12 days before the final, we got the nod from Thomas Cook! We're in!!! No sons, just Dazza and myself, but I cannot wait to cheer on the mighty Ars at this final. Once we learned we had the trip sorted, I decided to commit to writing a few reports on Baku, the atmosphere, and the aftermath! Stay tuned for more Baku or Bust!! COYG