Aubrey Bingham is a Northern Irish disabled football fan. He has sent in a roving report of his trip to Amsterdam for the UEFA Europa League Final.
Hi there fellow football fans. I’m a football fan from Northern Ireland and a few months ago I put an application into UEFA for tickets for the 2013 UEFA Europa League Final in Amsterdam. I had the opportunity to attend the Seville v Espanyol Final in Glasgow a few years back and really enjoyed the experience, so the opportunity to visit Amsterdam with a big match thrown in was very attractive. (I was hoping that my team –Newcastle Utd would get through to the final, but it wasn’t to be, alas, if only we had improved the squad last summer from a position of strength…)
Anyway, UEFA confirmed with me that we had been allocated 2 tickets for the Final, 1 wheelchair + 1 companion. My wife being a big football fan also, was thrilled. We decided that we wanted our trip be a combination of a City break with the big match as the highlight, so we went for 3 days. We travelled round the city via the metro system which worked really well as the stations, trains and platforms all have good access.
On the day of the game, we travelled into the city centre to get into the atmosphere, it was a lovely sunny day so there were lots of fans of both teams all over the city in cafes, bars, tourist areas etc. There was a real buzz about the place building up throughout the day.
A couple of hours before kick-off, we made our way out to the Amsterdam ArenA via the metro. There are 2 metro stations which serve the ArenA, depending on which part of the stadium you’re going to. The route from the Metro station to the stadium was easy going, as we approached the stadium through the fanzone, there were the usual queues, we asked a security person about our best way to gain access and he directed us past the main queues into an area under the stadium which houses the car park. From the car park, we took the lift up several floors and voila!, there we were - out behind one of the goals. We were situated at the back row of the lower tier with several other wheelchair users and ambulant disabled fans.
The match itself ebbed and flowed, with Benfica looking the stronger team, then Chelsea took the lead. Benfica hit back from the penalty spot, 1-1. We were in the end were the majority of the Benfica fans we housed - ‘SLB, SLB, SLB’ they chanted - the noise was incessant for the whole game. With the match at 1-1 with only a few mins to go, most fans were preparing for extra-time before a corner for Chelsea; Ivanovic sent a looping header over the Benfica goalkeeper. It seemed as if the stadium froze for a few seconds… and then the roar came from the Chelsea hordes at the other end, as the ball nestled into the Benfica net.
I must pay tribute to the Benfica fans, even though their team had just lost they stayed behind after the final whistle to give their heroes a final roar before making their way home, dreaming maybe of next year.
Overall, it was a fantastic experience – Amsterdam, a compact, interesting city. Cobblestoned streets and old buildings were a bit awkward to get about but our Hotel (CASA 400) had good wheelchair access. Metro was easy to use and accessible, Blue Boat Co has a wheelchair accessible boat for Canal trips and Amsterdam ArenA had reasonable wheelchair facilities although I would’ve liked to have more options for viewing.
Next football trip will probably be Israel for the Northern Ireland v Israel qualifier in Tel Aviv - hoping for sunshine, 3 points and a bit of craic with the ‘Green & White Army’.