It’s our second day in Baku and the sense that a football match is happening here is starting to build. The small travelling contingents are beginning to swell today with the bulk of Arsenal fans arriving during Tuesday. We even spied the first Chelsea fans from London that we have seen on this trip. Monday evening was spent in the Old Town where the majority of the nightlife takes place.
Plenty of local business erred by underestimating the ratio of Arsenal fans to Chelsea out here and many bars were deserted having planted Chelsea flags outside their premises. The Old Town was certainly dominated by Arsenal fans- a smattering of the people that you always see, but it was interesting talking to Arsenal fans who have travelled from pretty much everywhere to be here.
The lack of demand for tickets has devolved the make up of the crowd for this major final. I spoke to fans from Dublin, Copenhagen and even one from Australia. If you wanted a ticket, you could get one and plenty of supporters from continental supporters groups have taken their opportunity. The locals are clearly in the mood too, with lots of them peppered around Old Town in Arsenal and Chelsea kits, poking their camera phones into the various bars to savour the build up. As an occasion, it does still have more of the feel of a pre-season tour at the moment, but I am sure that will change a little as the match gets closer and the full compliment of fans arrive.
As a city, I get the preliminary sense that Baku has two identities. Parts of it are very Soviet in the feel, look and culture. But the centre feels much more like an Emirati suburb, with huge gold and black marble buildings and glass constructs that glint in the sun as it reflects off the Caspian Sea beginning to fill the horizon. I imagine that in twenty years’ time, Baku will look and feel more like Dubai. My sense is that the Emirati culture is supplanting the soviet identity.
In the centre of the town, it’s not just the bars and restaurants that drip with marble and gold. Even elementary conveniences like laundrettes are huge, gleaming spaces that nod to regality. The city certainly sounds a lot like Istanbul with car horns an absolutely constant sonic backdrop. It gets to the stage when the lack of the sound of car horns pierce your consciousness more than a short, sharp hoot.
Myself and Tim were randomly selected to pick our tickets up at a hotel in Baku as one of UEFA’s anti-touting measures. Obviously the way UEFA allocate tickets for their finals demonstrates huge concern about the prospect of tickets being sold on for profit. Still, they needn’t have worried for this game, there is barely a primary market let alone a secondary market. We picked our tickets up in what must be the world’s most bling Holiday Inn which was, thankfully, a painless experience. Hopefully Wednesday night will prove similarly painless. Until tomorrow.