“HOW do we get there? I don’t know. How do we get there? I don’t care.” Perhaps mercifully for Rangers fans, their early season chant about making it to Baku proved a little optimistic.

“F*** off UEFA, is this what you want?” was the rather more pessimistic slant that Chelsea supporters put on the experience as their side triumphed over Arsenal in the Europa League Final. At least, I think it was, but with only 2500 of them there, it was difficult to make them out.

Getting to a major final should be the pinnacle for fans. It’s what makes all the heartache, the long journeys and the eye-popping expense worthwhile. But by plumping for Baku in Azerbaijan to host this year’s Europa League final, UEFA finally stretched the logic-defying loyalty of the football fan to breaking point.

With scores of empty seats and all the atmosphere of a Betfred Cup group stage game at the Hope CBD Stadium, the Europa League final was a monument to the ‘supporters last’ thinking that seemingly pollutes the game’s authorities.

Having two clubs from the same city some 3000-odd miles away from Baku’s Olympic Stadium make the final didn’t help, and neither did the fact the stands seemed a similar distance away from the pitch. Come back Hampden, all is forgiven.

No matter what teams made it there though - and given the way that the majority of revenue has essentially been carved up between the five major leagues, there weren’t too many candidates - accessibility and affordability was always going to be an issue for fans wanting to see the game in the flesh.

Ironically, UEFA will probably now feel justified - and frighteningly enough, emboldened when it comes to future ticketing decisions - by their routine selling out to corporate interests in offering just 12,000 briefs to Arsenal and Chelsea fans, given it outstripped demand by about 50 percent. If the match had been held in almost any other major capital on the continent, there would have been uproar about demand outstripping supply.

For the vast majority of fans who were forced to watch from home, it wasn’t only the remoteness of the location that lent a sense of detachment to the whole soulless experience, but also that the cameras beaming the action around the world seemed to be perched on the outside of the International Space Station. Even up there, there would have been more of an atmosphere.

If you had tuned in unaware of the significance of the event, you could have been forgiven for thinking you had stumbled upon one of those pre-season tournaments that English clubs play to hawk their gawdy product around Asia, as indifferent Chinese fans shrug their way through West Ham against Wolves or some such.

“There are people who live there who love football,” said Aleksander Ceferin, president of UEFA, as he defended Baku as a choice of venue.

“The human rights situation is a problem, but it is also a problem in other European states. Does that mean the fans in Baku do not deserve live football?”

Well, frankly, yes it does if their wants are being prioritised over those of the genuine fans of either club who were unable to meet the ridiculous lengths it took to get there. And the shrugging off of the human rights ‘situation’ as a mere piffling ‘problem’ is rather underselling the fact that an actual Arsenal player couldn’t travel to the country for fear of his own safety.

“If football allows itself to be stopped by such tensions, then we will not be able to organise anything in the future,” said Ceferin. Well, again, yes Alex, not in countries where such problems exist. That is rather the point.

As soon as it was clear that Henrik Mkhitaryan wouldn’t be able to play in the game due to the simple fact he was Armenian, the plug should have been pulled. But just like FIFA with their awarding of the World Cup to Qatar, UEFA have their fingers in their ears when it comes to advice from the likes of Amnesty International, who warned that “Azerbaijan is in the grip of a sinister human rights crackdown, with journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders being ruthlessly targeted. Unfair trials and smear campaigns remain commonplace. LGBTI people have been arrested, and even people fleeing the country have been harassed and pressured to return.”

How did we get here? I don’t know. And UEFA, simply, don’t care.


AFTER the tepid warm-up act in Baku comes the main event of the Champions League in red-hot Madrid on Saturday night, and how good it is to have a Scot at the centre of it all who isn't a referee.

Captain of the national team, Andy Robertson, will play in the continent's showpiece occasion for the second season in a row, and yet again, he won't look at all out of place.

It was fascinating reading his piece on The Players' Tribune website during the week, detailing how his rise to the top from part-time football hasn't been down to dumb luck, but - in his own words - through "working his b******s off".

It reminded me of a point he made when speaking to the press after Scotland's win over Albania last September at Hampden. As he dutifully made his way down the line in the mixed zone after the game, he broke off from his rehearsed answers to questions about Queen's Park to admit that it was starting to grate a little when people always spoke about where he had come from, rather than where he had got to.

“It can be a wee bit annoying, of course it can," Robertson said. "It is a past I’m proud of, but it gets brought up every time I do anything.

“I’m always one to look forward, never behind. For me it is about the next five years, not the last five years."

It is that ambition, work ethic and single-mindedness that should be held up as an exemplar to all Scottish kids.