Liverpool will face Sevilla in the English club’s first European final since 2007, but there is controversy surrounding UEFA’s choice of venue for the occasion.
The Europa League finale will take place in Basel’s St Jakob Park, which will have a capacity of just 35,000 for the match, meaning Liverpool fans will be allocated just 10,000 tickets, of which it’s estimated only 5,000 are earmarked for ‘general’ supporter allocation.
Liverpool have 27,000 season ticket holders, easily filled an allocation of 32,000 fans at the League Cup final at Wembley in February, and boast average home attendances approaching 45,000, but the vast majority of their regular match-going support stand to miss out on seeing the Europa League final live.
UEFA made the decision to award Basel the 2016 final almost two years ago, in the process selecting what will be the second smallest stadium to host the competition’s showpiece since the UEFA Cup final switched to a one-off match in 1999.
European football’s governing body grades stadiums according to a list of criteria, and only venues awarded UEFA’s four star status are eligible to host a Europa or Champions League final.
While it’s not possible for UEFA to know far in advance which clubs will contest the finals, the Champions League denouement has usually been played in a ground with a capacity of at least 70,000, while the Europa League is understandably scheduled for slightly smaller venues.
But supporters group the Football Supporters’ Federation have previously written to the governing body urging them not to select stadiums with a capacity under 50,000 for the Europa League final, in order to lesson potential fan disappointment and security issues.
Unfortunately for Liverpool fans, the 2016 final will take place in a stadium ill-equipped to deal with the demand for tickets from Reds supporters, meaning thousands of loyal Kopites will miss out.
The club’s manager Jurgen Klopp has been forced to backtrack on his earlier appeal for ticketless fans to travel to Switzerland regardless, amid fears over Basel’s ability to cope with an influx of potentially 30-40,000 supporters from the UK alone.
“That was not too smart to be honest,” Klopp admitted. “Basel is a nice city but it is not ready for us and it was my mistake. I have to take back the invitation to Basel.”
While these are sensible words from the German, it remains a great pity that UEFA have apparently learned few lessons from the past in choosing a venue seemingly so unsuitable to host one of their showpiece finals.
Especially when you consider some of the alternative four star-rated arenas they could have chosen, as detailed in the slideshow above, all of which provide a sizeable increase on Basel’s capacity without being too large for a Europa League final.