I am in New Orleans airport and thinking about two Chelsea games in places that begin with the letter B.
Yes, we went to Burnley and Bournemouth this season, but it is a pair of more exotic cities on opposite sides of the world which are the upcoming destinations for the Blues.
Arsenal and us, two London clubs situated only a few miles apart, are about to make a 5,000-mile round-trip for the Europa League showpiece in Baku. But we have been here before: When Chelsea reached our first Champions League final in 2008, the team and fans trekked to Moscow to face Manchester United, a side based 200 miles up the road.
I remember in 1995, when both us and the Gunners (again) were in the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. The final was scheduled for Paris, and I read reports that if it turned out to be an all-Premier League affair, the teams would lobby to have it switched to another B – Birmingham’s Villa Park. Unfortunately, we lost to Zaragoza – I attended both legs – so it was a moot point anyway.
Supporters lucky enough to be going to the Azerbaijani capital will be travelling even further over land and sea than most Stateside followers this month. Wednesday sees the Blues play in another B, as they visit Boston for the Final Whistle on Hate match against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium.
Goal of the Season – Ross Barkley v Man United
Usually it’s the other way around. We participate in European competitions nearly every year, and recent deep runs in both tournaments have meant fans racking up thousands of miles criss-crossing the continent. Their loyalty is impressive, unwavering and unquestionable, but at least UEFA is a relatively compact federation.
America is the third-largest country in the world by land mass, so of course distances are greater. For some supporters this week’s event meant a drive of a few hundred miles, but for many of us it was a much longer undertaking.
My journey was 1,400 miles, almost the equivalent of jetting from London to Istanbul for a (not quite) end-of-season friendly. The first fellow fans I will meet when I land have similar trips: 1,800 miles from Denver; 1,500 miles from Dallas; 1,200 miles from Kansas City; 1,100 miles from Iowa City.
But travel-wise, this time the UK-based die-hards heading to the Caucasus have us beat. Two adventures to two cities beginning with B. Let’s hope we turn both of them Blue.