Hundreds of Liverpool fans have been left scrambling to reach Kiev for the Champions League final this weekend, after flights were cancelled in an issue which some have blamed on air authorities in the Ukrainian capital.
A number of flights with travel company Worldchoice Sports were cancelled on Thursday, with the agency saying it had been unable to secure landing spots at Boryspil Airport in Kiev. The dispute was reportedly over the size of the aircraft due to take the fans to Kiev.
That meant up to 1,000 fans, some of whom had paid up to £2,000 (US$ 2,670) for the flights, were left desperately trying to find alternative ways of reaching the city for Saturday’s Champions League final against Real Madrid.
Worldchoice Sports, which cancelled three outbound flights and three inbound flights in total, said in a statement on Thursday that it had done all it could to get Liverpool fans to Ukraine, but had been left frustrated by the Kiev flight authorities.
“We have had Liverpool football club, police, UEFA and everyone at the highest levels of authority trying to resolve this. We have exhausted all avenues to try and get landing slots,” the company said. “To reiterate this problem is with Kiev,” it added.
There had been efforts by Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson and his Kiev counterpart, former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, to resolve the issue.
The Liverpool mayor has pointed the finger at Worldchoice Sports over the issue, earlier saying that he had managed to secure two additional flights with Kiev, although a three-night trip is the only extra flight to have been confirmed.
The additional flight will reportedly allow around 300 fans to make the trip on Friday, but it is too little, too late for many others.
After the cancellations, fans vented their anger over the travel chaos. Lifelong Liverpool supporter Chris Bolland, who will now have to watch the game at home on TV, said he was “disgusted” by what had happened.
“I am gutted, to say the least,” he told the BBC. “I am absolutely disgusted and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Fellow Liverpool supporter Asif Badat was also left stranded, and said: “We were being given assurances about our tickets and then suddenly the flights were cancelled.”
As with many of the other fans affected, Badat is now frantically trying to find alternative routes to Kiev via land, sea and air.
“I’m now considering flying to Romania and driving 10 hours from there,” he told the BBC. Other fans took to social media to express their anger over the travel chaos.
UEFA has come under strong criticism from some quarters over its decision to hold the Champions League final – widely considered the biggest game in club football – in the Ukrainian capital.
Liverpool’s head of club and supporter liaison, Tony Barrett, said making travel and accommodation arrangements in Kiev had been a “nightmare” for many Liverpool fans.
“The decision to hold the final at a location which is so difficult and so extraordinarily expensive to get to is one that needs explaining by those who made it,” Barrett said last week.
“To every Liverpool fan who is having a nightmare – and I use the word nightmare deliberately, not loosely – arranging travel to Kiev I can only apologize.
“What should be one of the most exciting times of your lives is currently anything but and that, to me, is inexcusable.”
Liverpool fans already in the city ahead of tomorrow’s game were caught up in shocking scenes on Thursday night when they were attacked by a group of around 20 hooligans.
Liverpool fans were reportedly set upon by masked and hooded thugs at around 8:30pm in a restaurant near to Kiev’s Olimpiyskiy Stadium, where Saturday’s final will take place.
They were forced to shield themselves with tables and chairs, and two fans received injuries and local police made two arrests.