For a football tournament to be truly defined, it cannot survive on football alone. The games may be of a mesmerising nature, but to wholly capture a tournament’s legacy, it has to be wrapped up in the context of the individual. I am convinced this is why, for a generation of football fans, Euro 96 was magical.
Euro 2008 was an intriguing hangover from the highly successful 2006 World Cup. At times it seemed like a footballing hangover, with the tournament being played out in German speaking Austria and Switzerland. On the pitch, whereas the 2006 World Cup enriched from the start, Euro 2008 took time to fully come to life. The opening games were nervous affairs. In Geneva, where I was for Switzerland’s defeat to the Czech Republic, the host nation was stunned. Unlike in Austria, expectations were high, but this 1-0 reverse was a jolt from which they never truly recovered.
It was during this weekend where flaws began to creep into the highly acclaimed ‘fan-fest’ idea. I was highly fortunate to be in Berlin for the greatest example of a successful fan event at a major championships, but the juggernaut ground to an abrupt halt. Having only Berlin as a comparison, Geneva seemed flat, like a bunch of tired revellers desperately trying to impress by continuing the party. That’s not to dismiss it too much, because the atmosphere for the Germany v Poland match was lively without being volatile, and the even mix of supporters was a great antithesis to the partisan German crowd I had witnessed two years previous.
In Geneva, German supporters even wanted their pictures taken with myself and my three friends, simply unable to comprehend four people with English accents actively supporting their nation. As with Germany 2006, friendships were formed, usually over litres of Carlsberg, and this caused one of the first problems.
Not having a wide choice of beer is not, in comparison to life’s complexities, a terrible occurrence. However, within an enclosed space (nowhere near a mile like it was in Berlin) that is promoted as being supporter friendly, archaic sanctions only serve to suck up to the mass corporations, swallowing individuality and freedom of choice along the way. In Germany, locals rebelled against Budweiser, the official beer, being the only choice, and so for the fan-mile, the delectable Berliner Beer was the local alternative. In Geneva, it was Carlsberg or sobriety.
This attitude is prevalent within stadiums. Across England, whilst following Coventry City, the same companies have been utilised by a plethora of football clubs, each offering processed mush. The vegetarian options usually consist of a chocolate bar. However, Euro 2008’s fan-fests, away from the horrifying thought that somebody may be seen on TV with a rival brand, still had to conform to a generic, mass produced world of greed. If you wanted to pay by card, it was MasterCard only, as they were the official sponsors, along with McDonalds, Coca-Cola and the aforementioned Carlsberg. With the prices in the fan-fest, a credit card was also preferable.
Leaving the fan-fest before the Germany v Poland game, we stumbled into a tiny bar that was showing French Open tennis. Deserted, it offered a cheaper, less expensive liquid lunch. Had fans been caught up in the Uefa bubble, happily accepting that they were being ostracised from a fan event, let alone the stadia? Whereas in Germany 2006, the camp site was independent, in Geneva, the Euro 2008 organisers had a monopoly. Everything was slick, and it lost its spontaneous, free-spirited nature. A good thing soon gets destroyed.
Away from Switzerland, my own context of Euro 2008 was of a lifestyle I would soon exit. Most games were watched in the happy haze of a drunken hour. The miserable nature occurred not long after the tournament’s end, starting a long road to recovery. Footballing wise, it was a wonderful display of attacking football, with the eventual winners Spain possessing a far more pleasing style than the one that bored their way to glory in Johannesburg two years later.
Perhaps England’s absence relegated the tournament to mere background noise, but in Leicester, where I watched most of the games, the crowds were small yet passionate. My friend and I even managed to spend three five German games clad in the shirt of die nationalmannschaft without a war-obsessed individual trying to cause trouble. The Germany games against Portugal and Turkey epitomised the intense nature of knock-out football. The Croatia v Turkey game, despite offering nothing for 119 minutes, morphed into one of the most compelling chapters of the tournament.
Euro 2012 promises to be a fine festival of football, but the backdrop of this must be compatible with the mind-set of the individual. A supporter being ripped off for accommodation in Donetsk will have a wildly different thought process than the supporter who is happily integrating in a bar, somewhere in the world. The football can provide the soundtrack of a summer, and on the eve of the tournament, the music is ready.