Albion’s European Tour

Tim Carder, membership secretary of the Supporters’ Club, takes a look at what lies ahead and answers a few questions on Europe.

Albion in Europe! Who’d have thought it? We’ve never even come close before.

Not so. On 21 May 1983 we came within one goalkeeper’s leg of qualifying for the old European Cup Winners’ Cup. Only a good save by Manchester United’s Gary Bailey, in the last minute of extra time at the end of the FA Cup final, prevented Gordon Smith from securing a place in Albion history. Actually, come to think of it, he did do that but for the wrong reason.

By coincidence, exactly 40 years later to the day – and with Smith and some of his ’83 colleagues present at the Amex Stadium – Albion qualified for Europe when they beat Southampton. Having finished sixth in the Premier League, they will take part in the 2023/24 Europa League.

What is the Europa League?

It’s Uefa’s secondary competition for clubs, sitting in prestige below the Champions’ League but above the relatively new Europa Conference League. It even has its own anthem, played before every match.

The Europa League has three stages:

  1. A qualifying stage for clubs from “lesser” nations, played in August.
  2. A group stage, comprising 12 clubs (including Albion) given automatic entry, and 20 clubs emerging from qualification rounds of both the Europa League and the Champions’ League.
  3. A knockout stage for those progressing from the groups, plus clubs finishing third in Champions’ League groups.

The qualifying and knockout stages are played over two legs, except for the final which is a one-off game. Away goals, by the way, are no longer used to decide a level tie – it’s extra time and penalties.

The group stage sees 32 clubs divided into eight groups. The four clubs in each group play each other home and away – so three home games and three away. Places are decided on points, but if two or more clubs are level then the next deciding factors are points gained (then goal difference, then goals scored) in matches between those clubs rather than the whole group.

Who qualifies for the Europa League group stage?

Well, it’s all pretty complicated!

Qualification largely depends on the status of national associations within Uefa, according to the progress and success of clubs from each nation in European competition over a five-year period. This measurement generates a “Uefa country coefficient” – a number – that’s used to rank them.

It’s worth remembering that every success in Europe by an English team helps maintain or improve our national coefficient. That’s in the interests of all our clubs that might qualify for Europe, so we should cheer each other on.

At the current time, England is the highest-ranked nation. That give us four automatic places in the group stage of the Champions’ League, and two in the Europa League.

Our two Europa League representatives are the FA Cup winners and the fifth-placed club in the Premier League. However, as the cup winners this season, Manchester City, have qualified for the Champions’ League, that Europa League place is awarded instead to the club finishing sixth: Brighton & Hove Albion.

Other teams that go straight into the group stage will be the cup winners and next-best-placed teams (after Champion’s League places) from highly-rated nations. The winners of the 2022/23 Europa Conference League will also play in the 2023/24 Europa League group stage.

That makes twelve teams automatically qualifying. Another ten clubs from lesser nations come through the qualifying rounds. And then there’s another ten knocked out from the last stages of Champions’ League qualification.

So 32 clubs in total in the group stage.

Gosh, that is complex! What sort of clubs can we expect then, in the group stage?

These clubs have earned an automatic place in the group stage:

  • England: Brighton & Hove Albion, Liverpool, West Ham United.
  • France: Rennes, Toulouse.
  • Italy: Atalanta, Roma.
  • Germany: Bayer Leverkusen, Freiburg.
  • Portugal: Sporting Lisbon.
  • Spain: Real Betis, Villareal.

By the end of August we will know the other 20 clubs either coming through Europa League qualification or dropping out of Champions’ League qualification – and it’s likely to be a mixed bag. In 2022/23, for instance, they included teams from Austria, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine (playing in Poland).

Azerbaijan? That’s miles away!

Yep – about 2500 as the seagull flies. Kazakhstan’s even further but also a member of Uefa. The Kazakh capital, Astana, is 3000 miles from Brighton. Could be worth 10 loyalty points though!

On the other hand, it is possible we could play The New Saints from Wales – except they actually play in Oswestry, Shropshire, England.

So could we be in the same group as Liverpool or West Ham?

No. Clubs from the same country cannot be drawn against each other until the quarter-final stage.

The group draw’s rigged then?

No, not rigged. “Managed” is a better word.

As well as keeping clubs from the same country apart, the draw also works on the basis of seeding. Many teams will have their own “Uefa club coefficient”, reflecting past success. The best – and worst – teams by this measure are placed in the same pot in the group stage draw to ensure they’re kept apart.

Well, that’s fine for them, but what about the Albion? Have they got a Uefa coefficient?

No. Having never played in a Uefa competition, Albion don’t have a club coefficient. Instead they are given 20 percent of the English national coefficient. If that had applied in 2022/23, Albion would have been graded 18th of the 32 group stage clubs, so they would have gone into pot no. 3 for the draw.

If the same happened for 2023/24 then we would be drawn against two relatively successful teams – one from pot 1 and one from pot 2 – and one lesser team from pot 4.

Ooh, it all sounds quite exciting! When is the group stage draw?

Friday, 01 September, in Monaco.

What happens after the group stage?

This is where it gets complex again. It all depends on where a team finishes in their group.

The eight teams ending up top of their groups advance to the knockout phase, to the “Round of 16”.

The eight second-placed teams enter a preliminary knockout round, pairing them against teams finishing third in the Champions’ League groups. The winners of these two-legged ties then advance to the Round of 16 to join the group winners.

Third-placed teams from the eight groups are eliminated from the Europa League, but are given a second chance by moving to the Europa Conference League – just as the third-placed teams from Champions’ League groups come into the Europa League.

For the bottom club of each group, however, it’s so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!

More complication then! So Albion could start in the Europa League and end up in the Europa Conference League?

Yes. If they finish third in their group they’ll go into the preliminary knockout round of the Europa Conference League, to play a team that finished third in a Europa Conference League group. The winner over two legs would advance to the Round of 16 of the Europa Conference League.

How many matches will Albion play then?

It could be anything from six – three group stage matches at home, three away – if they finish bottom of their group, to fifteen. The latter would occur if they finish second or third in their group and go on to reach the final of either the Europa League or the Europa Conference League.

When are the dates for all these games?

Matches in the Europa League (and the Europa Conference League) are played on Thursday nights. (Other days are permitted only in exceptional circumstances.)

The group stage dates are:

  • 21 September
  • 05 October
  • 26 October
  • 09 November
  • 30 November
  • 14 December

Draws for the knockout stages of Uefa competitions are scheduled for 18 December, 23 February and 15 March. The knockout stage matches are scheduled thus:

  • Preliminary knockout round: 15/22 February
  • Round of 16: 07/14 March
  • Quarter-finals: 11/18 April
  • Semi-finals: 02/09 May

The Europa League final is scheduled for Wednesday, 22 May 2024, at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. The winners, by the way, are guaranteed a place in the following season’s Champions’ League.

Note that Europa Conference League dates are the same, but the final will be on Wednesday, 29 May 2024, at a venue yet to be decided.

Is there anything in it for the Albion financially?

Certainly. If you think there’s too much money in football, look away now.

In 2022/23, those clubs reaching the Europa League group stage received around £3.1m. There were further payments for progressing through the competition. A club progressing all the way from the group stage to win the final could receive around £19.6m.

Not bad, eh? But the big money is in the senior competition. The winners of the Champions’ League, Manchester City, will pocket more than £60m.

Where does all the money come from? Ultimately from people who like watching football and are prepared to pay for that pleasure. Or perhaps from spending money with Uefa’s “partner” companies..

What’s the likely ticket allocation?

Uefa regulations specify a minimum of five percent of the home club’s ground capacity for away fans (plus, of course, many seats for VIPs) unless mutually agreed between the two clubs involved. (The norm in the Premier League is ten percent or 3,000, whichever is the smaller figure.)

In 2022/23 the group stage capacities ranged from 76,000 at Manchester United and 72,698 at the Stadio Olimpico (Lazio/Roma, Italy), to 8,300 at Bodø/Glimt (Norway). Five percent of 8,300 is just 415.

Uefa specify a maximum ticket price of 45 euros for away fans in the Europa League (about £39–40) and 35 euros (£30–31) in the Europa Conference League.

Away cup games are usually subject to Albion’s loyalty points scheme, so we would assume the same for Europe. Paul Barber has said that those with “a lot of loyalty points will obviously be in the box seat.” (Argus 01 June.)

Will the Supporters’ Club be running transport to away games?

It’s very unlikely – unless it’s Shropshire and The New Saints! Any other trip is likely to involve hotel booking and mountains of paperwork – and that may well be beyond what the Supporters’ Club’s acting travel organiser is prepared to do.

However, Seagull Travel, Albion’s official transport provider, are on the case. It may be possible for Supporters’ Club regulars to travel together in one of their vehicles. We’ll see nearer the time. But coach travel is likely only to include north-western Europe: France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany – and, I suppose, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

There may be packages available elsewhere. Indeed, it could be that match tickets are sold only as part of a package trip for security reasons.

We await announcements in due course, but all depends on that draw on Friday, 01 September, with the first matches due just under three weeks later.

Can I watch games on TV?

BT Sport (soon to be re-branded as TNT Sports) has the rights to Uefa games, so you would need a subscription with them to watch the matches legally. Or go to the pub.

What about the games at the Amex Stadium?

Presumably they’ll be treated like other cup games, with season-ticket holders given first option to book their regular seats, but again we await announcements, probably following the group stage draw on 01 September.

What’s the implication for Albion’s domestic football?

With up to 15 extra games there are obvious implications for the strength of the playing squad, but from a fan’s perspective the Thursday night games mean that the following Premier League matches will move to the Sunday at the earliest. So be prepared for many more Thursdays and Sundays.

Qualification for Europe also means Albion will enter the EFL’s Carabao Cup at the third-round stage instead of the second.

Thank you. What a great experience it will be.

Yes, it certainly should be – a unique season for the Albion and its supporters.

Once upon a time European football meant an occasional trip to a pre-season tournament in Belgium or the Netherlands, or a friendly in Le Havre (France). Now we really will be in with (at least some of) the big boys of Europe.

Who knows where we might end up? It’s very exciting – but let’s hope it’s just the start of an ongoing adventure.

(Sources: Wikipedia,