AC Milan's victory in last night's Champions League semi-final brought a huge sigh of relief for many as worries of trouble in Athens decreased substantially. Manchester United had been expected to go through, resulting in an all-English final against some of the biggest rivals in the English game.
More than once this season the Manchester United supporters have been involved in highly-publicised incidents of violence, which have so far gone unpunished. There were fears that there would be more incidents, with two sets of English fans using the same sources for flights, accomodation and (black market) tickets. Those fears have now all but gone thanks to the 3-0 win for Milan – when Liverpool played Milan in Turkey two years ago there was no trouble at all. That said, there are still concerns about a planned strike by local police on the day of the final.
The press in England were convinced the final would be between Chelsea and Manchester United, then when Liverpool beat Chelsea they expected our opponents to be Manchester United. The travel agencies and touts were convinced of this too, and their prices yesterday for flights and tickets were predictably off the scale.
The Olympic Stadium in Athens has a capacity of 63,800, with just 34,000 tickets being shared equally between the two finalists. Another 9,000 tickets went to neutral fans who applied through a UEFA.com lottery. The remaining 20,800 go to the UEFA "football family". This generally means sponsors, football associations and UEFA's guests. And most of these generally find their way into the hands of touts, with very little done by UEFA to put a stop to it.
The face value of tickets is £54, £95 or £136. According to the Guardian, they were quoted £1437 and £1929 for these tickets from ticketing agencies yesterday. These agencies are generally speaking just touts in a suit – and they always manage to find a way to get hold of tickets.
Sky Sports investigated flight costs, and found that travelling two days before the final would cost £851 from Heathrow, £939 from Manchester. The day before the match the costs had rocketed to £1117 from Heathrow and £1339 from Manchester. On the day of the final itself the cost from Manchester dropped to £1282, with Heathrow at £1233. All the flights included return travel the day after the final, and the Heathrow flights were not direct. However these are likely to be scheduled flights, and before the final there will be arrangements made for charter flights, from Manchester and of course from John Lennon Airport in Liverpool.
The club haven't yet announced details of their own arrangements, but it's expected they will offer a package of travel and accomodation alongside tickets. Priority is being given to fans who attended earlier games in the tournament.
Many supporters are looking at the idea of booking a week's holiday elsewhere in Greece – or elsewhere in Europe – and then travelling to Athens for the game either by hire car, train, coach or ferry. Accomodation in Athens itself is likely to be near impossible to find, and expensive when you do find it.
The cost of going to watch this match looks set to be astronomical – but Liverpool fans always find a way.