Expert analysis of the events in Poland and Ukraine
FourFourTwo frontline correspondent Eliot Rothwell reports from a McCafe in Kiev...
Kharkiv was orange. Kiev was yellow. Travelling around these two Ukrainian cities, the former being the former capital and the latter being the current capital, the impression was of bright colours, even brighter personalities and the occasional dimming by some unhelpful staff.
The English were warned that Ukraine was rife with racism, violence and corruption, but it may only be the latter that affects this tournament and the country’s global image. The Guardian has reported that $4billion may have lost its way during the stadium building, infrastructure enhancing and UEFA face-lifting – but at least racism and violence have been all but absent. Having said, this reporter is yet to see any complexion but white on the public transport system, although that may be a strange coincidence.
Sadly for the tournament and its hosts, both Ukraine and Poland are now out – along with the two most vibrant sets of fans, the Dutch and the Swedish. At both the Netherlands and Sweden’s final games of the tournament, it was incredible to see and hear the full effect of their vivacious support; as Sebastian Larsson commented, "We wanted to show the amazing fans we’ve had that we are proud to wear the jersey". That they most certainly did.
What Ukraine can now offer in a plentiful stock of attractive women, speedy transport systems and beer-filled fan zones, it can't offer in terms of food, often lacking in what is designated on the menu and even delivering the wrong order to journalists with a commendable grasp of Russian. This, and the determination of taxi drivers and hotel staff to bump up the charge when they understand that you're not a local, may be a sign of corruption filtering down to everyday Ukrainian life, with people seemingly unwilling to help should something go wrong.
An Englishman (not your reporter) and friends in the Kiev fanzone
Where the tournament and the experience of travelling throughout Ukraine has also excelled itself, however, is with the help of UEFA, by now old hands at organising such a football festival. The atmosphere created in the organised fan zones, perhaps more impressively in Kharkiv than Kiev, has been cultivated on the city streets, with local brew Lvivske flowing well into the morning. Sometimes until 10am, to be precise.
The fan zones really give the tournament its festival feel, none more so than on match days, with Holland fans staging a group march from the Kharkiv fan zone to Metalist Stadium before their games. The Swedes were equally impressive, draped in yellow and packing out one Kiev bar well into the morning with songs of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrik Larsson and Thomas Brolin.
Michel Platini and his band of merry cohorts have also excelled in the services provided to journalists, with only actually being here impressing upon you how extremely large the task of organising a major tournament must be. There are accredited lanyards for players, staff, press officers, staff writers, correspondents, freelancers and the vast army of volunteers, headed by a Dutchman. The media centres offer a great outlet for writing, McCafe’s and free beer, as well as the detailed pre- and post-match statistic packs. The only negative, perhaps, being the annoyingly repetitive promotional music blasted out around the media centre ceremoniously every 25 minutes.
Whether the improvements made by the Ukrainian government and UEFA have any lasting legacy once the thousands of football tourists have left the country remains to be seen, with Ukrainian politics still stuck in a precarious position and the appetite for football in this country not as high as it could be.
What will remain however are the memories, tinted in orange and yellow.
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