The 2017 Champions League Final has the perfect stage in Cardiff. What is now dreadfully difficult is the timing. Peterjon Cresswell visits the Welsh capital.
The setting is sublime, the match dream-ticket but tragically the timing has been thrown out of kilter by the horrific terrorist attack in Manchester on the eve of the recent Europa League final.
The Champions League final of 2017 had the ideal stage in the Millennium Stadium, a wonderful backdrop in the historic, pub-blessed city centre of Cardiff, and the perfect protagonists in Real Madrid and Juventus.
Now match night on Saturday June 3, and all the run-up events planned by the Welsh capital, will take place with security uppermost in mind.
It’s a great shame, as Cardiff has long been decked out in Champions League iconography, the castle lined with images of star players involved in this year’s surprisingly memorable campaign – pride of place going to Gareth Bale, of course, right opposite the Elevens sports bar he helped set up with prominent local brewers Brains.
For those with tickets – and the Millennium Stadium holds 74,500 – then access to the many pubs and bars should simply involve tighter security than usual. Right opposite the stadium, Bar 44 Cardiff, set up by the Iberophile Morgan brothers from Wales, is laying on its own Champions League night, the venue a showcase for prime Spanish wines, sherries and ciders, not to mention meat, seafood and cheeses.
Next door, Tiny Rebel is the main Cardiff outlet for the Newport brewery of the same name, urban and lively, with regular events nights.
Nearby, age-old pre-match favourites such as the traditional City Arms and The Gatekeeper, a vast Wetherspoons themed after Cardiff’s sporting tradition, should also be packed to the rafters.
What isn’t clear is how Champions League night will be for curious locals, and for the 100,000-plus without tickets, expected to come just to enjoy the occasion. Four days of events have been planned to take place on Roald Dahl Plass in Cardiff Bay, with DJs and various live acts performing on the Champions Main Stage – see http://www.faw.cymru/cardiff2017/ for details.
Back in town, the 1877 Chapel upscale bar & bistro has arranged for Liverpool legend Jan Mølby to tell a few football tales on June 1. Final night itself will involve a three-course meal and large-screen presentation of the game.
With next year’s final taking place at the NSC Olimpiyskiy in Kiev, and Baku bidding for 2019, Cardiff would seem the prime location for every fan to enjoy one of the game’s greatest occasions. Its superb national arena is right in town, a short walk from the train station. At least 20 hotels of decent standard (and above) are also within walking distance and ‘spoilt for choice’ doesn’t begin to describe the number of sport-focused pubs and bars.
Cardiff, of course, missed out on hosting Euro 2020, awarded to Glasgow and Dublin, among others. Let’s hope this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity isn’t ruined by any more inexcusable insanity.