Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Arsenal fans’ epic journey to final in Azerbaijan - three flights, an eight-hour stopover and a ‘wacky races’ bus ride...

Arsenal fan Ryan Kerr with dad Alastair in Baku with friends Jonathan Irwin and Alex Garrett from Ballymena and Davy Campbell and Neil Campbell from Carrickfergus
Arsenal fan Ryan Kerr with dad Alastair in Baku with friends Jonathan Irwin and Alex Garrett from Ballymena and Davy Campbell and Neil Campbell from Carrickfergus
Arsenal fan Ryan Kerr with his dad Alastair
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

There are some football matches you just have to be there for.

Six Arsenal fans from Northern Ireland have endured a two-day journey to eastern Europe to wake up in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku this morning with tickets in their hands for tonight's Europa League Final against London rivals Chelsea.

"I'm hoping it'll be worth it," 25-year-old Gooner Ryan Kerr from north Down told the Belfast Telegraph, admitting the trip had cost him and his mates around £1,000 each.

"And it will if we get to see Arsenal lift the trophy," he added.

Ryan, who works in a call centre in Bangor, set out from Conlig with his dad Alastair, with a drive to Dublin for the first leg of their marathon 3,700-mile journey around Europe.

Ballymena friends Jonathan Irwin and Alex Garrett and Carrickfergus-based fans Davy Campbell and Neil Campbell have also made the trip.

That was followed by three flights and a bus ride to finally arrive in Baku - with eight hours spent in Munich and a further eight hours "sleepwalking" around Tbilisi airport before Ryan and his five travelling companions made it to their destination.

"We were straight on the internet after the semi-final," he said.

"We were going and that was that. Sometimes you've just got to be there.

"We started out on Saturday with four of us driving down to Dublin and meeting the others," he said.

"From Dublin airport we flew to Munich and had eight hours to kill, so spent most of Sunday in Munich city centre getting a bite to eat and a few drinks.

"Then there was an overnight flight from Munich to Tbilisi in Georgia. The stay there was eight hours as well and we arrived at 4am.

"There were very few seats in the airport to have a bit of a sleep on, so we just had to walk around.

"We left Tbilisi at 11.50am and the flight into Baku was only an hour. The next bit was the easiest as we had a transfer booked to take us all to the hotel. It should have taken about 40 minutes but we got there in half the time. It was a bit like wacky races!

"But we're here, we're awake and we have tickets for the match bought directly from Arsenal FC so that's all we wanted.

"I think we'll win it 3-1 which will make it all worth the effort."

Ryan makes the shorter trip to London up to 15 times a season to cheer on the Gunners, and it's not the first time his love of football has taken him to Azerbaijan.

"I've been in Baku to support Northern Ireland," he said. "But it was easier to get there that time."

Planning the journey home this time posed further problems. "There were no commercial flights back out of Baku," he said. "They've cancelled them to make room for charter flights, so we're taking a seven-hour taxi ride back to Tbilisi before flying home. The cost isn't too bad actually, about £40 each."

Despite the Olympic Stadium in Baku which is hosting the final having a crowd capacity of 64,000, there were only 6,000 tickets allocated to each club - and Arsenal admitted they have been unable to sell their full allocation as some fans found it too difficult and costly to make the journey. Many fans making the trip, like Ryan and pals, have had to book multiple flights, with trips involving a change of plane at destinations such as Bahrain, Istanbul and Doha available for around £1,300.

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