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Glenavon are battling a Europa League trip headache

By Stuart McKinley

Published 24/06/2015

All rise: Glenavon’s Kris Lindsay in action against FH Iceland in the Europa League last season
All rise: Glenavon’s Kris Lindsay in action against FH Iceland in the Europa League last season

Glenavon's Europa League draw has landed the club slap bang in the middle of a logistical nightmare.

The Lurgan Blues will face Shakhtyor Soligorsk from Belarus, but excitement at playing in the competition for the second season in succession has been quickly diluted around Mourneview Park after those responsible for making travel arrangements learned that there are no direct flights to the former Soviet state from any airport in the UK or Ireland.

And to add to the problems, Soligorsk only has one hotel, which is already full, meaning the players are facing a two-hour coach journey on match day (Thursday, July 16).

Fortunately, Glenavon are at home in the first leg next Thursday, giving them time to organise flights, accommodation and the visas which are necessary for travelling to Belarus, but they had to resist pressure from Shakhtyor officials, who claimed that it would take them over a fortnight to arrange their visas to enter the UK.

"We think that we are getting somewhere," said Glenavon secretary Leigh Livingstone.

"We have been working on our travel arrangements since the draw was made and we think we'll get away with only having to take two flights, flying from Dublin on the Tuesday and back on the Friday via Berlin.

"We did consider a charter, but it is just too expensive."

Although the hotel in Soligorsk is fully booked, it wouldn't have mattered as even Uefa admitted to Glenavon that it isn't up to standard.

"We found out that there is only one hotel in Soligorsk and then we found out that it's booked out," said Leigh.

"We spoke to a Uefa official and were told that it's a two-star hotel and that we wouldn't have wanted to stay there anyway.

"We're now going to have to stay in Minsk and then travel two hours by road on match day, which is another headache."

It isn't the only problem that Glenavon have before the game takes place. Visa requirements will almost certainly mean a journey to the Belarussian Embassy in London for Livingstone prior to the trip to Soligorsk.

"There is a two-page form that everyone will have to fill in and then we'll have to gather up passports for everyone who is travelling - around 30 people," she explained.

"They will have to be taken to London, which just adds to the organisation.

"It could have been worse. They tried to get the matches switched, saying that they would need 15 days to get visas processed, but we stood our ground."

All this comes 12 months after Glenavon's preparations for their away game with FH Iceland were seriously disrupted by a flight cancellation.

They were forced to spend the night in Birmingham after having their flight from Belfast cancelled, which caused them to miss their connection to Reykjavik.

Glenavon had been due to arrive in Iceland 48 hours before that match, but a 24-hour delay affected their build-up and they ended up losing the first leg 3-0.

Leigh believes situations like this could be helped if Uefa work with smaller clubs.

"When we went to the draw Uefa already had print-outs prepared with the pots. Surely we could have been given those in advance and then been able to start looking into how to get to the places we might have been going to," she said.

"Having 10 days to organise travel to the other side of Europe is alright if you're Manchester United and can charter to wherever you need to go to, but we're a part-time club who can't afford that and our staff are all volunteers."

Crusaders ensured they will have a straightforward trip to Estonia by taking a charter flight, which will also include fans, for £200 per head.

Linfield will also charter for their match in the Faroe Islands.

Glentoran, like Glenavon, are expected to travel from Dublin and they will also face a two-hour journey from Bratislava to the match venue in the city of Zilina.

e GLENTORAN have signed former Rangers trainee Kristian Gibson on a two-year contract.

LAST NIGHT'S FRIENDLY RESULTS: Glenavon 3 TNS 3, Linfield 1 St Johnstone 2.

TONIGHT'S FIXTURES (7.45pm): Glenavon v St Johnstone, Glentoran v TNS.

Belfast Telegraph

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