The official estimates had seemed inflated, deliberately aggrandized, exaggerated for dramatic effect, right up until the planes began landing and the streets began filling. Some 50,000 fans were making their strategy to Seville, Spain, within the midst of a blistering spring heat wave, from Germany. Twice that number were traveling from Scotland.
They got here every way they might imagine, by land and by air, by hook and by crook. Flights had sold out so quickly that dozens more were chartered; some 400 aircraft touched down in Seville on Tuesday alone.
Those that couldn’t make it directly got as close as possible — to Malaga, 150 miles south, or to Faro, across the border in Portugal — and continued their journey nonetheless they might. When those tickets disappeared as well, a handful of fans contacted a hot-air balloon company in Glasgow and asked in the event that they could float them to the south of Spain. The firm assumed it was a joke. It was not. No one desired to miss the Europa League final, not this time.
Ordinarily, the conclusion of European soccer’s secondary competition — the Champions League’s little sibling — is a comparatively sedate affair, contested between teams that see it either as a consolation prize or as a method to an end; victory, in spite of everything, means a likelihood to take part in club soccer’s essential event the following season.
For Eintracht Frankfurt and Rangers, though, it was different. Eintracht has long defined itself by its exploits in European soccer, particularly this tournament. It won the competition under its previous name, the plain old UEFA Cup, in 1980 — Eintracht’s last European final — and it has yearned to repeat the trick ever since.
In April, the club took so many fans to Barcelona for a quarterfinal match that the Spanish team launched an internal investigation into how quite so lots of them were in a position to acquire tickets. Xavi Hernández, Barcelona’s coach, complained afterward that the visiting fans’ presence had made the Camp Nou feel like enemy territory.
For Rangers, meanwhile, this was somewhere between an arrival and an ascension. For the reason that club last made the ultimate of this tournament — losing to Zenit St. Petersburg in Manchester, England, in 2008 — it has been, depending on whom you ask, either liquidated and reestablished or relegated and reformed.
Lower than a decade ago, Rangers was reduced to playing in Scotland’s semiprofessional fourth tier as a punishment for years of monetary mismanagement and chicanery. Only last season was it restored to the top of Scottish soccer, depriving its bitter rival Celtic of the country’s title for the primary time in 10 years. A spot in certainly one of Europe’s major finals on Wednesday night was the completion of that journey, proof that a team that claims to be probably the most garlanded in world soccer had finally, conclusively returned.
That prospect drew fans, by the tens of 1000’s, to what Police Scotland believed was to be the “biggest gathering” that tranquil, convivial Seville had ever seen. That was not without its risks, in fact: There have been some 5,000 cops on duty on Wednesday, and Rangers took the bizarre step of asking several of its most beloved alumni to plead with fans to act as “good ambassadors” for the club.
The result, contained in the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, was ear-splitting and attention-grabbing. At one end, where Eintracht’s fans gathered, a sea of white was wrapped within the fog of flares. The remaining of the stands were dominated by the blue of Rangers.
The stadium appeared to lift when Joe Aribo gave Rangers the lead. The roar when Rafael Borré equalized may need been heard in Frankfurt, where 50,000 more Eintracht fans had filled the club’s stadium to look at the sport live. It took penalties, in the long run, to separate the teams, to find out which set of fans would remember this journey as a vacation and which a calvary.
Aaron Ramsey, the experienced Rangers midfielder, missed. Borré, nerveless, sealed victory — 5-4 within the shootout after a 1-1 tie — for Eintracht.
The fans knew that may occur, in fact. They knew that somebody would go away Seville with nothing but regret. They made the journey anyway, nonetheless they might, carried along by the hope that it could not be them.