‘The atmosphere in Dublin is unbelievable’: Europa League final excitement builds in the capital

Bayer Leverkusen and Atalanta match will see bigger police presence than St Patrick’s Day as hospitality sector welcomes midweek boost

More than 24 hours before a ball is kicked, Noel Anderson, co-owner of The Bridge 1859 pub in Ballsbridge, could see the early signs of the Europa League final.

On Tuesday evening, as Italian and German club fans began spilling into the capital and toward Dublin’s Aviva Stadium to watch prematch training, the football machine was gearing up.

A solid garda presence was already conspicuous about the place, Anderson said. Signage was appearing, and his early customers were lanyard-wearing officials looking for food and water.

“There’s 2,300 police being brought in for this, one of the biggest policing events in the history of the State,” he said. “We attended a meeting about it with the guards last week and a guard tole me there is a bigger policing presence for this than there is on St Patrick’s Day.”


Such is the scale of the Europa League final – the second biggest European football match of the year next to the Champions League – and the logistical and economic effects it is set to have on the capital.

Almost 50,000 fans cheering for either Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen or Italy’s Atalanta will cram in for the 8pm kick-off. Unknown thousands of pints will be sold as they descend on the Aviva, amid closed roads and restricted Dart services.

Supporters draped in the blue and black of Atalanta will march from the RDS on Simmonscourt Road at approximately 5.30pm, along Merrion Road, Pembroke Road and Lansdowne Road. Those for Leverkusen, in red and black, will set out from Shelbourne Park, along the South Lotts Road and Bath Avenue. Rolling road closures will affect each of the routes as they stream by in their thousands, wrapped in flags and singing.

“We’re not entirely sure what to expect,” said Anderson. “We have four security on and we’re going plastic glasses. [We’ll] keep it just kind of fun and carnival atmosphere, and supporters will feed off of that.”

Gardaí are aiming for minimum traffic disruption but a widespread operation will affect the South Dublin area with diversions, widespread parking restrictions and rolling closures along several roads.

On Thursday, Dublin Airport management said it was gearing up for the arrival of 20,000 club fans to arrive over the 48-hour period, plus another 10,000 attendees from more than 20 countries around the world. Free transport into the city centre is being provided to supporters.

Planes are not for everyone though. Daniel Ortmann arrived from Germany with his friends Michaela Schmidt and Christian Vallo via ferry from France, as part of a 3,000km round-trip taking in two Leverkusen games.

On Thursday afternoon, they wandered towards the prematch training, planning their post-final – hopefully victory – party before heading back to the boat.

“The atmosphere in Dublin is unbelievable,” Ortmann said. “So many people calling [out] ‘good luck!’, ‘go on Leverkusen!’, many people know Xabi Alonso who is our manager. Fantastic. Great people here in Dublin.”

It is a while to go before kick-off but many people in Irish officialdom will be hoping for similar, blanket fan experiences of the city.

“Hopefully we’ll see two huge parades coming in from Shelbourne Park and from the RDS, the two different sets of fans. We’re on the world stage here,” said the Lord Mayor of Dublin Daithí de Róiste who opened the official fan zone at Dublin Castle, a melody of football-flavoured entertainment and activity for those swarming around the city on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I expect to see fun, I expect to see craic, I expect before the game a wonderful atmosphere, after the game you’d hope that [fans] are going to come in and they’re going to enjoy everything that our city has to offer.”

By the looks of things, anyone happening upon an eleventh hour match ticket would not be stuck for accommodation either. A scan of availability on Wednesday night threw up sub-€100 single rooms on Gardener Street in the north inner city or in Temple Bar across the river Liffey. There were dorm rooms for less than €90, or if you felt up to it, a variety of city hotels for €200 plus.

As a midweek event, the cup final will be a big opportunity for Dublin’s famous hospitality. “It’s a very welcome opportunity to showcase the city,” said Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) which represents the trade in the capital. “We hope plenty of the Atalanta and Leverkusen fans will get the chance to sample some pubs across the capital and to enjoy our world renowned pub culture first hand.”

Although the city’s higher-end eateries are less likely to benefit, the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) also sees the potential offered by such a marquee event.

“It’s good for the city, it has to be positive in terms of the international perspective to it. And it just shows that we can put on major international events,” said its chief executive Adrian Cummins.

“What I’ve heard is that it’s the biggest policing operation in the history of the State. Which is some mean feat when you look at the queen’s visit and the US presidents coming to Dublin as well. If it’s bigger than that, it must be some operation.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times