EURO 2004 DIARY WEEK 1
FIRST PUBLISHED: Football First newspaper, June 13, 2004
TUESDAY JUNE 8
With the news dominated by a stepping up of the war on hooliganism, it seems that the police are the frontline soldiers in the campaign to prevent ‘troublemakers’ from leaving the country. With more uniformed officers on airport ‘hooli-watch’ than I’ve ever noticed combatting the war on terror, it seems that their tactics are quite sophisticated: they target men of a certain age and type, largely white, largely short-haired, and largely large.
It’s the classic stop-and-search approach, perfected in Brixton and adapted for UK airports in advance of a major football championship. If you look like ‘one of the lads’, then your face doesn’t fit and you’ll more than likely get a tap on the shoulder from the boys in blue who’ll say something like, “excuse me sir, could I a look at your passport”.
Taking it into a small security room for a few minutes, it will later be returned without a word. That is unless, like the lad behind me, your record shows that you have a public order offence listed from some dim and distant scuffle in another lifetime, and then you’ll be invited to join your passport in the small security room to have your photograph taken – just for the record.
So the advice to any hooligans wanting to slip through to the departure lounge un-accosted by the police: grow your hair, bring a bird, and wear no Burberry!
WEDNESDAY JUNE 9
It is said that most England fans will be situated in the Algarve for the tournament, cunningly disguising themselves as holidaymakers. The disguise must be working well, as it’s not yet obvious that there’s a football tournament about to take place. Even the locals seem far too relaxed to give the game away. There’s no buzz yet, no excitement – but this tournament will explode with life just before the opening game in three days.
For the moment it’s the ex-pats – mostly German, English and Dutch émigrés who have settled for life in the sun – who are the most obvious in their debates about the football. The locals, meanwhile, are tentatively beginning to raise the Portuguese flag in bars and cafes. It’s a slow-burning brand of patriotism – but hey, when you live in a country as hot and as beautiful as this, why get excited about something until you have to!
Southern Portugal is the least affluent part of the country, short of any major industry bar tourism, and deprived of consistent top-flight football. In recent years FC Farense, the local team in Faro, came close to promotion to the top division, but local rumours suggest that the club threw the final deciding game of the season rather than face the crippling financial implications of competing with the big boys of Portuguese football. Despite all this, the Portuguese FA have opted to give the region its own purpose-built stadium for the tournament – although, when you ask the locals what it will be used for afterwards, they shrug with unconcerned uncertainty.
As with every Euro 2004 venue, the Estádio Algarve stadium at Faro-Loulé is surrounded by security fences and uniformed guards. Outside a handful of England fans – a family on holiday and a bloke dragging along his girlfriend – wander wistfully around the perimeter fence unable to get any nearer. But for the most part, a distant glimpse of one of the tournament’s participating stadiums is all there is to look at until the competition gets underway.
THURSDAY JUNE 10
Three hours further north in Lisbon, you will find the tell-tale signs of a major football tournament approaching. Portuguese car flag are becoming a more regular sight, but not to the degree that we have become accustomed in England. There are also the tourists who look suspiciously like off-duty football fans. They might not yet be wearing the colours of their country – but there’s a certain look that sets them apart.
In Japan in 2002 the England fans took over an area called Roppongi and made that their watering hole. I suspect in Lisbon that Docas might be the place. Situated immediately below the Ponte 25 de Abril, a breathtakingly huge two-tier suspension bridge that spans the Rio Tejo opposite the imposing Christo Rei statue, Docas is a small harbour overlooked by a row of bars and restaurants, all stylish converted from the old dockland buildings. With two Irish pubs among the row of drinking establishments, this area will be a magnet for football fans.
In one of the Irish Pubs – Celtos & Iberos – I meet a Huddersfield lad that I had first encounter at the airport on the way out. Although this is his first tournament, he travelled up from the Algarve with two friends who are England veterans, having “done” Italia 90 and Japan/Korea 2002. Finding the Algarve “a bit too much like a tourist place”, they are basing themselves at a campsite in Lisbon – “at least until England get knocked out, maybe longer”.
He speaks of the fantastic atmosphere and camaraderie on the campsite, but fans have yet to take over this city, to soak it in the distinctive noise, smell and colour that is part and parcel of a championship coming to town. But as we speak, overhead there is a constant buzz of cars and trains bringing fans over the suspension bridge and into the city. The sound of descending aircraft is becoming more frequent too, as planes from every direction ferry the fans of Europe into Portugal for the big kick-off.
FRIDAY JUNE 11
Portuguese TV seems to have woken up to the tournament and the channels are flooded with programmes devoted to competition. There are outside broadcasts from different areas of the country, with fans dancing in the street. David Beckham’s face regularly flashes onto the screen, footage from today’s training session at the National Stadium complex in Jamor. A suburb of Lisbon just a few kilometres up the Rio Tejo from the Ponte 25 de Abril, there are a handful of England fans outside hoping to get a glimpse of the action, but they have no chance of getting within half a mile of the training pitch. With the National Stadium situated in the midst of a forest, there is nothing to be seen but the trees and the European-style floodlights poking into the sky. The security surrounding the team is ruthless. Even badge-wearers with permission to enter are subjected to rigorous bag and car searches before admission is granted.
Back in the centre of Lisbon, the football bug has still to take hold – but in the bars of Docas, England fans are slowly starting to find their voice, their loud and bizarre songs bemusing the locals. A lady insists on having a picture taken hugging a gang of shaven-headed beer-boys who are letting rip with a song about how the Luftwaffe were defeated “by the RAF from Eng-ger-lund”. Thankfully Bomber Harris is given a night off. There’s no trouble, but excitement levels are starting to build.
SATURDAY JUNE 12
Up at Lisbon’s Fan Park, a football-themed extravaganza for kids, Jurgen Klinsmann and Eusebio are wandering around like ambassadors of European football. After the opening game Klinsmann has to fly back to his home in America, where he will watch the rest of tournament on US pay-per-view television, but he will be back in Portugal in time for the final. Worryingly for England, he is one of the many who currently see Thierry Henry as the world’s best striker and the key danger to the team’s chances in this tournament. “Henry is the complete striker,” the former German legend explained. “He is a hard worker for his team but he also has an incredible instinct about where to go and how to score.”
Klinsmann might have his mind on the Frenchman, but for the moment the fans of England seem more intent of getting their bearings in this new city. There are now Beckham shirts popping up on every street corner and it’s starting to feel like something big is about to happen. There will be a heavy session of drinking this evening – and plenty of singing. As the tournament’s opening game kicks off, England fans will be thinking of starting their campaign in the toughest way possible – against the favourites. So open the floodgates, here come the England fans, by planes, trains and automobiles, by all means necessary. Tomorrow Lisbon will really understand what Euro 2004 is all about
© Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007