Written by Tom Garry
Prior to the start of Euro 2012, much was written about the concerns regarding racism, violence, vast travel times and huge accommodation costs for supporters. Former England centre-back Sol Campbell went as far as to suggest that England fans, especially those from ethnic minorities, shouldn’t travel to the championships. This followed revelations by the BBC’s Panorama programme of racially-motivated violence in Ukrainian stadiums.
In reality, after two days in Ukraine, the locals have been nothing but friendly, helpful and welcoming. The most striking thing is the honesty of the people and the culture, exemplified by the public transport, on which money is passed forward to the driver by all passengers and then the change passed back again. This was certainly a shock to us as we stumbled onto what we hoped was the right bus, having just left the airport and being unable to correctly pronounce even the simplest of Ukrainian phrases.
What strikes you next is how cheap everything is in this county, the aforementioned bus fair coming to the equivalent of just 22p, whilst one journey to anywhere on the underground metro network costs less than 20p. More relevant to the England fans is the low cost of alcohol, the price of a pint of beer so far having ranged from just £1.85 to anywhere as low as 60p!
Football fans from all over Europe have based themselves here in the Ukrainian capital, with many thousands choosing to watch the evening’s matches on the big screens in the city’s Fan Zone, which offers a carnival atmosphere every day. The Fan Zones, an idea that came alive in the 2006 World Cup, encapsulate the unique atmosphere of a major international tournament, and the Kiev version is one of the biggest, with three huge screens and the capacity for up to 100,000 fans.
Kiev itself is a bustling, 24/7 city yet amidst all the noise are some beautiful attractions for tourists and some impressive communist-era architecture, with grand buildings attempting to emphasise wealth. Shevchenko is a national treasure, with a park and a University bearing his name – Taras Shevchenko that is, the Ukrainian Shakespeare. However, it is the former Chelsea striker Andriy who has got the locals chanting the famous surname this week, after his quick-fire double against Sweden.
In terms of accommodation, whilst it is true that many of the hotels in the city are charging in excess of £500 per night, personally we have had no such trouble. The four of us booked two tents at a campsite on an island in the Dnipro river, originally advertised as the official Uefa Euro 2012 camp for fans staying in Kiev. The price of £21 per person per night was appealing at first, but became even better value upon arrival as we were kindly offered a free upgrade to a 4-bed room in the owner’s farmhouse-turned-hostel. Despite our initial reaction to the state of the hostel being similar to a scene from The Inbetweeners Movie, the facilities are fine and the “Kiev Beach Club” across the road offers the nightlife. Our upgrade only came about because the many thousands of Sweden fans who had also booked tents on our site and have instead set up a very organised ‘Camp Sweden’ a few hundred yards closer to the city centre, leaving unexpected spare rooms at our site a little further along the road.
The Swedes are fortunate to be based in Kiev for the duration of the group stage, having been drawn to play all three of their matches in the Olympic Stadium. Although the banter is good natured, there is certainly something intimidating about having to walk past approximately 5,000 tents/caravans full of Swedish fans! Safe to say, we are not looking forward to the walk if England were to lose tonight!
However, like most of the England fans here, we are reasonably confident that England will deliver when they face Sweden tonight, following a heartening performance against the much-fancied French. Hodgson’s team appears to be well-organised and playing for each other, a stark contrast from the hapless side that turned-up in South Africa two years ago.
As for the rest of the teams, Germany and Spain have both shown why they were the pre-tournament favourites. In contrast, Ireland have been truly outclassed, lacking ideas going forward and letting in soft goals at the back, a surprise to many given their impressive run of 11 clean sheets in 14 games going into the tournament, which included two draws against their final group-stage opponents Italy.
When it rains it pours in Kiev and last night, as the floodgates opened in the Irish defence, down came the heaviest rain I have ever seen, the downpour so strong it temporarily cut the live satellite feed of the match from Gdansk. Spain’s attack was relentless and, whilst the streets here turned to rivers within a matter of seconds, it was Ireland’s Euro 2012 campaign that was washing away.
However, thanks to our unexpected accommodation upgrade, we were able to escape from the mud of the campsite, unlike the tens of thousands of Swedish fans nearby, their tents lying in mud that Glastonbury would be proud of. Here’s hoping that we will still be the more comfortable set of fans after tonight’s match.