2018 UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE

FAN STORIES

190 clubs took part in the 2017/18 UEFA Europa League. In the official final programme, we asked fans what makes a European night under the lights so special.

This article was first published in the 2018 UEFA Europa League Final Programme. Buy your programme here.

FC VIKTORIA PLZEN

Katerina Simáková

I've had so many special moments supporting Viktoria. In 2008, I bought the Viktoria programme as I do before every game. My number was drawn during the break and I won a hot-air balloon ride from the stadium. It was brilliant, but I was sorry I missed the second half!

I went to my first Viktoria game with my father. I still have the ticket. It was in 2006/07 against České Budějovice and ended in a disappointing 2-2 draw. My dad thought I wouldn’t want to go again, but I couldn’t wait!

I fell in love with everything – the atmosphere, great football, events organised by the club ...I could go on. Viktoria is in my heart, and I go to every home game with my friends. As my favourite chant goes: “Na tribuně, nebo v hrobě, naše srdce, patří tobě!” (“In the stands or in the grave, our heart belongs to you.”)

I’ve never left early, even in the coldest weather. I enjoy the atmosphere, whatever the result. If you can see that the players have given everything, why should I be angry with them?

I always enjoy the games against clubs from abroad. It’s great to watch how they support their team and to hear their different chants. Against Napoli [in 2013], some of their fans came up to me and we talked in English and exchanged scarves. It was the same with Partizan fans [this season]. They were friendly and we took a group photo. The atmosphere during the game was amazing.

We were disappointed that we didn’t get through [against Sporting in the round of 16], but we gave the players a standing ovation. We fought hard and played very good football. We forced the game into extra time, which was very difficult after losing the first leg 2-0.

Pär Engström

ÖSTERSUNDS FK

Östersund were formed in 1996 and I actually moved down to the Stockholm area in that same year. It’s a 500km drive from my home now in Uppsala so I go mostly to away games. When I went to the Arsenal home match, it was a six-hour drive.

It’s a very small town, a small club and we feel like we get to know the players. There's a term in the north of Sweden, eljest, which means you do and see things a bit differently. You see that with the cultural events the players are involved in – there aren't many clubs where the players and the manager sing and dance and rap.

It's been a completely amazing journey in the Europa League. When we were in the fourth division, we could hardly imagine being in the top flight
– our goal was to be in the second division. My personal highlights were probably the qualifying rounds against Galatasaray and PAOK, because that made everything else possible. When we scored the goals against PAOK, the arena just lifted. It meant so much. People didn’t want to leave the stadium afterwards – we wanted to stay and enjoy the moment with the players.

There were three of us in the away end when I went to the match against Zorya in Lviv. There were other Swedes in the stadium but only three in the away section! I’d flown to Krakow and taken a bus from there and it was held at the border for several hours. In the end, it was six or seven hours on the bus to Lviv, so a long journey but worth it.

There were about 5,000 of us at Arsenal and when we marched from Highbury Fields to the stadium, I just looked back and saw this long trail of fans. I saw people standing in their doorways just wondering what was going on. Although we were 3-0 down from the first leg, when our two early goals went in, we believed we could turn it around and started chanting, “4-0, 4-0.”

ARSENAL FC

John Williamson

I’ve been to 125 away games with the first team in Europe. I've also done 18 with the women's team and about ten with the youth team in the UEFA Youth League. My first was in 1978 in the UEFA Cup against Lokomotive Leipzig in the old East Germany. In those days, it wasn't easy – we went by coach, which took 24 hours. It was uncomfortable, but exciting. I'd only done day trips to Calais or Boulogne before.

My most memorable trip was to Villarreal in the Champions League semi-finals in 2006. It was 0-0 and Jens Lehmann saved a penalty in the last minute, which meant we were actually in the Champions League final. Also, Real Madrid away, when we won 1-0 with a Thierry Henry goal, and 5-1 in the San Siro against Inter. I enjoyed the Cup Winners’ Cup game against Standard Liège in 1993, when we won 7-0 – our biggest ever European away win. And Parma in 1994 was great, seeing us win a European trophy. It would have been fantastic to win the Europa League this season, so that Arsène Wenger could have gone out on a real high.

I’ve been on all the European trips this season. 

I’ve really enjoyed them. It’s been a completely different experience, going to different  rounds and countries – Belarus was a new one for me. Östersund was beautiful, with thick snow, miles from anywhere, and they had banners out that said: “Welcome to Arsenal fans.” I had been to Moscow three times before, and I had a wonderful time. We’ve got a really good supporters’ club in Russia, and the Belarus Arsenal supporters’ club brought plenty of fans too. I’m an all-or-nothing person – especially when it comes to Arsenal.

Azat Alshinbayev

FC ASTANA

I like the rapid development of football in Kazakhstan. The clubs are becoming more and more competitive and Astana have proved that Kazakh football is on the rise. Our club is relatively young but with a lot of promise. Astana are not scared of anyone regardless of name or history.

The Europa League is special because there are no weak opponents. Every team hopes to go all the way. We are widening the geography of UEFA club competitions.

I went to eight away matches, including to support our team in Portugal and visit Lisbon. The final whistle against Slavia on matchday six was undoubtedly the best moment. That was when we knew we had qualified from the group and reached the knockout stage for the first time. It was a huge joy.

The Sporting fans had a 12-hour flight to get here , and provided incredible backing for their team, but Astana made us proud. That was our first ever knockout round game, and to then get a draw away from home with two goals in the final minutes was like a victory for us, even though we went out.

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