Fulham will today embark on a 24-hour road trip to Hamburg for the biggest game in the club's history after Uefa ruled that their Europa League semi-final tie must go ahead despite the cloud of volcanic dust that has caused travel chaos.
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson had asked for the match to be postponed but Uefa decided yesterday morning that the London side would have to travel.
Fulham are to make the 450-mile trip to Hamburg on a coach via the Channel tunnel, and will include an overnight stop on the Continent before driving on to Germany to arrive in the city at lunchtime tomorrow. The journey will include frequent rest stops for the players to prevent them getting stiff and picking up injuries. If the flight ban continues, the players will face a long return drive back on Friday before travelling up to play Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday afternoon. They had planned to fly on a private jet to Germany on Wednesday morning.
The club are also hoping to compensate in full their 2,000 supporters in the event that they are unable to fly to Hamburg for the game. Fulham have laid on several flights, both on Wednesday and Thursday, for supporters who will have to wait to hear if aviation authorities lift the flight ban in time. The plans are up in the air, even if the team is not.
A club statement said: "At this stage the club still cannot confirm whether the planes scheduled to depart on Wednesday and Thursday to transport fans and media will be able to travel, and is in regular dialogue with the aviation authorities to enable it to inform all parties at the earliest opportunity when a decision is made."
Fulham are not taking any chances with the team, however, and even if the ban is lifted today they will go ahead with their plan to drive to Germany, in case flights are subsequently suspended again. It was also confirmed yesterday that Sunday's game at Everton will go ahead, as there are no alternative dates available to reschedule the game before the end of the season.
Fulham were yesterday tipped to win the inaugural Europa League, despite their travel nightmare, by the man who led Shakhtar Donetsk to the Uefa Cup, Mircea Lucescu.
The Romanian, whose side lost to the Londoners in the first knock-out stage, said: "Fulham can do it because they have improved their game from one match to the next. They are much more powerful than at the beginning. They are a good, very organised team and have a very good coach. They can easily change the way they are playing. In the first leg against them, they played one kind of game, then in the second leg they played very well in defence. They were so well organised that it was impossible to score."