Champions League ticket prices and hotel fiasco a headache for supporters
"It's a massive adventure for five of us -- five days, coming and going, it is just crazy, absolutely crazy, but well, we're going," says Sergio, a Real Madrid fan attending Saturday's Champions League final against Liverpool in Kiev.
Sergio does not want to give his real name, for reasons which will become clear later.
"We're flying to Istanbul, then to Odessa, renting a car to get to Kiev, watching the game, then back to Odessa, Istanbul and back to Madrid," he says. "Odessa is part of Ukraine, so we do not have to cross any borders. It's the only place in Ukraine we could fly and rent a car. It's all sorted."
The scramble for viable ways to get from Madrid to Kiev for the game began well before Zinedine Zidane's side knocked out Bayern Munich in the semifinals, explains Jaime Valero, spokesperson for the Asociacion de Socios del Real Madrid (Real Madrid club members' association).
"The logistics for a final are very difficult, but if people want to get there, they find a way," he told ESPN FC.
"Some buy tickets and reserve rooms at the start of the season, others as the team progress in the competition, and others when they have made the final.
"For this final it is all crazy -- we have two socios (club members) who are flying from Madrid to Vilnius. From there three hours crossing the border, needing a visa to do so, to get to Minsk. Then flying Minsk to Kiev. The return the same. Incredible."
Fans are going to such lengths due to the costs and difficulties of flying direct, and finding an affordable hotel room for the night of the game. The cheapest way to travel straight between Madrid and Kiev are charter flights costing around €1,000 return, while serious political and social issues in Ukraine make travel arrangements more complex than when Madrid supporters were travelling to Lisbon in 2014, Milan in 2016 or Cardiff in 2017.
Meanwhile, the few available beds on Saturday night in Kiev have been advertised online for €2,000 with many supporters who thought they had booked in advance having seen their reservations unexpectedly cancelled.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told Italian newspaper La Stampa last week the Ukranian capital did not have the hotel infrastructure for such a high-demand fixture.
A spokesperson for the governing body told ESPN FC: "It is expected the preferred option for the majority of travelling fans will be charter flights arriving and leaving on the same day as the final."
There is also an issue around the allocation of tickets. For the game at the 63,000-seater NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, both clubs got around 17,000 each, while 6,700 tickets were previously sold via UEFA.com.
That leaves 22,300 for the "UEFA family" of local organising committee, national associations, corporate partners, broadcasters and other insiders.
"We do not believe that the host venue for the final is chosen thinking about the fans," Valero says.
"Fans now come behind customers, for both UEFA and, unfortunately, for Real Madrid too."
"Each year, more than half of the tickets go to the finalists and their supporters," UEFA told ESPN FC in response to these complaints. "This year's allocation is approximately the same percentage as for the 2016 final in Milan and 2017 final in Cardiff."
Madrid say they received 16,626 tickets in total -- 2,660 of these were shared between the club's players and staff, 994 went to official supporters clubs and 12,802 (77 percent) were allocated via a lottery televised on RMTV. The Bernabeu hierarchy are also reportedly subsidising some of the costs for 500 members of the "Grada Fans," a club controlled supporters' group who provide much of the noise and colour in home games.
This system is not the fairest way of deciding which fans deserve to go, Valero argues.
"SRM have for some time now been asking for a standard system giving priority to socios who have travelled before, loyalty points etc," he says. "That way everything is agreed in advance, and all the socios understand. But the club do not want to do it that way, which generates doubts for us."
Intrepid traveller Sergio says he and his friends missed out in the lottery, but were able to use personal contacts to secure tickets.
"We got the final tickets through a friend who could not go," he says.
"There are a lot of people who wanted to go, but with the costs of the flights, it's pretty much impossible for them."
Both UEFA and the clubs say that any transferring or reselling of tickets is not allowed, however Sergio says he is not concerned about getting turned away at the stadium gates.
"Nobody has checked before, and we've been to five Champions League finals," he says.
Reports in Spain say that over 2,000 Madrid fans who did have luck in the lottery have since returned their tickets, with the club passing these on to other socios instead.
Sergio says some who are not travelling have instead sold theirs to Liverpool fans over the internet, which could lead to complications at the stadium in Kiev.
"I'm a bit concerned as a lot of Real Madrid fans have sold their tickets on the internet, and maybe there will be Liverpool fans in that section of the stadium," he says. "The people who pay the most are the British fans."
The hope is there are no problems on the night, and that both sets of supporters can get to the game and cheer on their teams.
For some of those travelling, the extra difficulties and challenges only make the experience even more worthwhile. However, as even UEFA chief Ceferin has made clear, the choice of Kiev for this year's final looks to have been one adventure too far.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan