A man in an orange shirt stumbled down a narrow street in the Alfalfa district of Seville. It was just before 11am, but the stench of booze preceded him. His eyes were half-closed and he looked as if he hadn’t slept for a couple of days. Over his shoulders he wore a placard bearing the message, in English and Spanish, that he was willing to pay €500 for a ticket for the Europa League final on Wednesday.
He staggered up to a pair of bemused French tourists. “I give you 500,” he said in a Glaswegian slur. “Cash. Dinero.” Seville police are anticipating as many as 100,000 fans from Scotland and 50,000 from Germany for the meeting of Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Given how the city went into meltdown in 2003 – a collapsed phone network, a dearth of taxis, streams of fans trudging back along the road from the Estadio Olimpico – when approximately 100,000 arrived for the Uefa Cup final between Celtic and Porto, that represents a daunting challenge. At least this time the final is being played in the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, although the benefits of it being in the centre of town are perhaps slightly offset by the fact capacity is about 15,000 smaller than the Olimpico.
“Even if 150,000 fans don’t come – if it’s half that number or less – we will have substantial issues,” said Seville’s commissioner for citizen security, Juan Carlos Castro. Underlying his concerns, although he was diplomatic, is the threat of violence.
Eintracht Frankfurt ultras have been involved in a number of incidents in their European adventure this season, and the two previous European finals Rangers reached, in Barcelona in 1972 and Manchester in 2008, culminated in widespread disorder. Add in the aggressive reputation of the Andalusian police and the potential for serious trouble is clear.
“It’s not about the number,” said the Rangers manager, Giovanni van Bronckhorst. “You can bring 50 people and it could give you chaos.”
The flip side of those concerns is that this is a Europa League final that has captured the imagination like few others. This is a reminder of the excitement European finals can provide when the clubs who reach them are not used to such achievements; Rangers and Frankfurt have won one major European trophy apiece, both more than 40 years ago.
There is an awareness this could be a once-in-a-lifetime event and that means fans want to be here, even if their chances of getting into the game are slim. “We’re the lucky ones who get to play in the final,” said the Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack. “There’s 100,000 would like to be in our positions.”
Both teams have generated memories that will be passed on through the generations and will sustain their clubs in bleaker times. There was the Frankfurt infiltration of Barcelona, when as many as perhaps 30,000 away fans were inside the Camp Nou to witness their 3-2 win in the quarter-final, while the atmosphere for Rangers’ 3-1 victory over RB Leipzig in the semi-final, as the stands shook with fervour, was one of the greatest in Ibrox’s history.
The legends are accumulating: the Römer, the city hall in Frankfurt, has had to cancel nine weddings in case the venue is required for celebrations; should Frankfurt win, you suspect in a decade or two there will be as many couples insisting they had to move their ceremonies as people who claim to have seen the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1976.
Even in 2022, there is something exotic about this great exodus from northern Europe to southern Spain, where temperatures this week have reached into the high 30s. “It’s different from Glasgow,” Van Bronckhorst said. He brought his squad to Seville a day earlier than Frankfurt and, after taking a walk at kick-off time on Monday, they trained in the late afternoon on Tuesday.
Conditions could influence what looks to be the key clash, that between the Rangers right wing-back, James Tavernier, the top scorer in the competition with seven goals, and the relentless Frankfurt left wing-back, Filip Kostic. “He’s a top player,” Tavernier said. “I’ve got to bring best version of myself and try to make him deal with me for the majority of the game.”
Beyond the tactics and conditions, what is most significant is that this feels like a huge event, far bigger than anything most players on either side has experienced. “It’s a big game, it comes with pressure,” said Van Bronckhorst. “If you play big games you get so much attention, but we have to make sure we concentrate on our game.”
That responsibility extends also to the fans whose enthusiasm helps create that sense of anticipation. “I know we have a lot travelling with us,” Van Bronckhorst said, echoing a number of pleas from club legends. “We have to enjoy the occasion, but make sure we are not causing any problems. Half the people will go home really happy and half will not, but we should respect the whole city and people working hard to accommodate us and not leave anything negative behind.”