Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Romania v France (Euro 2008)

Adidas successfully enter their brand into our subconscious with this marvellous 'huddle' in the foyer of Zurich train station.

Me at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

At last! After 42 years an Englishman gets his mitts on the World Cup.

The Germans celebrate their win over the Polish at the Zurich fan zone with a well rehearsed conga.

The soon to be demolished Hardturm Stadion which was previously home to Grasshoppers of Zurich.

Romania v France at the Letzigrund Stadion - note if you will the thinness of the floodlights.

6,500 Romania fans and one happy empty club shop owner.

The goal in the centre of this picture was undisturbed during the filming of this game.

I walked up 212 steps to bring you this picture so you better chuffing well like it.

From left to right - Martin (PNE fan), Big Deaks (Brighton fan), Sergio (Grasshoppers of Zurich), My good self and Dominik (Grasshoppers of Zurich). This picture was taken at 3am hence slight redness in the faces and cheesy grins.

Romania 0-0 France (09:06:08)

This was my fourth European Championships in a row having previously attended games in England (Euro 96), Holland & Belgium (2000) and in Portugal (2004). I only had tickets for one match but was that going to stop me having a good time!? Was it 'eck as like. Euro 2008 - bring it on.

After a flying into Basel from Luton (£23 thanks very much) we got the train from there to Zurich. The 1 hour journey was free courtesy of our match tickets. Indeed we didn't pay for any travel on trains or trams during 2.5 days due a condition allowing free travel with every match ticket purchased.

Within 15 seconds of arriving in Zurich I had already caught Euro 2008 fever. This was due to the magnificent work of art Adidas had plonked into the foyer of Zurich train station (see above). The 17 metre high huddle of 11 giant footballers took 50 people over a year to complete. I like to think generally I'm not a victim of advertising - then I looked down at my Adidas trainers - doh - they win again.

Zurich had prepared excellently for this championships. There was a fan mile which ran down one side of the river in the City which ended up at the lake next to which the enormous fan zone was situated. It had three giant screens, one of which was situated on a floating stage on the actual lake. Furthermore and get this Manchester City Council, they all worked and there was no trouble whatsoever.

Contained within the fan mile were a plethora of mini fan zones with live music, hundreds of giant plasma screens and thousands of happy punters. Stories of £5 a pint were happily unfounded - the most we paid was £3 which I'd have taken before the start of play.

We watched the Austria v Croatia match in one of the mini fan zones. Before and after the match a gypsy punk band played to a receptive crowd and after quite a few beers my friends and I found ourselves swinging a fast shoe down the front. The music was in fact better than the football.

After that we headed down the main fan zone to find several thousand German fans in questionable head wear but all the same in good voice. We watched Germany ease past Poland with them, sang a few songs, exchanged some great banter and helped them celebrate long into the night.

I can speak a bit of Spanish but after a few beers I'm completely fluent. We met up with four lovely people from Zaragoza whom I chatted to at length, one of whom was an old chap who turned out to be the President of Real Zaragoza!

I'd read in When Saturday Comes that the Swiss have a reputation of being rather discreet, very withdrawn and reserved. The article also said don't talk to them because they won't be your friend and that includes the random bibulous Scot in a kilt who thinks he can travel the world and make anyone smile by wiggling his sporran and showing a clean pair of Highland cheeks.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Zurich was in full flow, fans of every nation were singing and dancing and enjoying themselves. All the Swiss we met were fabulous and incredibly I ended up getting dragged onto a stage in the small hours with a bunch of Scots in kilts for a rousing rendition of Flower of Scotland.

The next morning we decided to get a bit of culture into our system and try and find the 'real Zurich' before our match which was kicking off at 6pm. So first on the list was a trip to the new FIFA headquarters! Built at a cost of 99 million quid the building is actually very impressive. It has five underground levels, a fitness centre, meditation room, geographically themed parks and a full size pitch with fancy scoreboard.

After wondering into the generously sized foyer the first thing that took my notice was the World Cup sitting on stand. It would be rude not to be the first Englishman in 42 years to get my mitts on it so I helped myself to a photo. So far so good. Onwards we marched and I thought a meeting with old Joseph S. Blatter would be minutes away. An official looking lady then approached us and gave us a FIFA goodie bag containing badges, pennants, pens and all that sort of gubbins - nice. Sepp didn't agree to a meeting but we shook hands and with that we were off.

The Hardturn Stadion was next on our cultural agenda. It was previously home to Grasshoppers of Zurich but nowadays the stadium is no longer in use and is in fact due to be pulled down anytime soon. It was all boarded up and looked a pretty sad sight actually. We couldn't get inside but we did sneak a look through the fences to see an overgrown pitch, smashed up seating and some odd shaped stands.

Before setting of for the match we had dinner alongside the river back in the City centre before heading into and up 212 steps of the Grossmunster. This two towered Romanesque and Gothic cathedral provided a wonderful viewing platform over the City and if stain glass windows float your boat, it has a few of those as well. Dinner by the way consisted of a salad and a plate full of vegetables - license enough I thought to allow me to consume another tank full of ale after the game.

It was then time to head to our match. The tram took about 15 minutes from the town centre and we were met on our arrival by a large police presence. They were dressed to impress in green stormtropper outfits. As it was they weren't necessary and the only riot that day in the stadium was a riot of colours.

Big games in tournaments are quite good for spotting a celebrity of two. However, the best I can offer you on a quick walk around the stadium before the match was World Cup winning Frank Leboeuf. Sorry about that.

The stadium itself had of course been renovated for Euro 2008. Both FC Zurich and Grasshoppers of Zurich play their home games there. Normally it suffers the curse of having a running track surrounding the pitch. This however had been covered for the Euros with extra seating and some blue carpet. For this decision alone I award the organisers of the tournament five stars.

Four years ago, I was lucky to be at the Czech Republic v Holland game in Euro 2004 which was widely believed to be the best in the tournament. Fast forwards four years though and this match as you all know was an absolute stinker. Not only were there no goals but there wasn't even a single shot on goal. I had a good mind to nip back to the FIFA offices during the match a quickly pass a motion demanding bigger goals and no goalkeepers.

There was still plenty going on in the stands to look at during the game with the Romanian fans in great voice. I myself was whoring it up by singing with them and waving my Romanian flag (in figure of eight motion of course). Although the game itself was lifeless, bloodless and tedious the Romanian fans didn't give two hoots and they were delighted with the point. The French fans booed off their team (stop laughing at the back).

I had been looking forwards to seeing the much hyped Lyon striker Karim Benzema. He was bobbins though and on this performance alone I certainly won't be signing him. The only brief moments of excitement were provided by Franck Ribery. Not enough to justify 80 euros for the ticket though.

After the match we headed back into town to watch how football should be played in the form of Hollands victory over Italy. We then talked, sang and danced with French, Germans, Swiss, Dutch, Spanish and probably lots more at various fan zones and bars.

The night ended in a bar near to our hotel where we met Dominik and Sergio. Two Grasshoppers fans and members of Swiss band Bedlam. Two great lads and if you are reading this chaps - thanks for your company, the songs and the beers! It was a fitting end to a brilliant couple of days. I'd like to think we extended our hands across Europe. The tournament motto is 'Expect emotions' we certainly had a few - thanks Zurich.

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