Euro 2012 Travel Forum: No worries for fans in Ukraine
As England fans gear up for what we hope to be a successful European Championships campaign the LondonEnglandFans group held their first fans travel forum in the run-up to the tournament to discuss a variety of topics from fan safety to Ukrainian beer.
Report: Joshua Drake
The group LondonEnglandFans, had its first pre-Euro 2012 travel forum last Thursday.
The forum took place in the Queens Head on Denman Street, and covered tournament organisation, security issues, and what to expect in Ukraine come the summer. Guest-speakers included Harpreet Grewal (FA’s head of EnglandFans), Lee Davidson ( Head of the Football Section in the Public order Unit at the Home Office), and Yuriy Shpek (a Ukrainian football fan who resides in London).
There have been a number of reports in the media of Ukrainian hooliganism and some fans expressed concern about these. But Shpek, a Dynamo Kiev fan, who has lived in the UK for six and a half years, was keen to dispel the tales: “Anywhere you go you’re going to find an idiot, who will say something stupid, or do something stupid.”
Lee Davidson added “From a security perspective it is very important that everybody is aware of any risk of trouble but I think there is less to be worried about for both sides.”
Lee Davidson, who is the Head of the Football section at the Home Office, explained to all in attendance that there are plans in motion to send a delegation of English police over to Kiev and Donetsk. Both of these cities will play host to England’s group stage matches, the latter of the three will be against the hosts.
She went on to explain: “Our interest in the football is around the safety and security of England fans, and this is the responsibility of the Home Secretary. Whenever we deploy a police delegation overseas it’s done under the Home Secretary’s authority.”
As to the Ukraine, “Our police have found that the policing culture at football matches is very different over there than it is here. They have more police within the stadia, unlike the majority stewarding that we do here.”
However, she explained that UEFA as well as other countries are not used to having so many police units within the stadiums, and that UEFA are working closely with Ukraine to adapt these tactics for the upcoming tournament.
“What we have seen is that the Ukrainian police are very willing to learn from our way of policing football. Our past experiences with them has been very positive,” said Davidson.
Should England make it to the semi-finals there is a chance that England fans could be heading over to Poland, and Lee assured everyone in the room that they at the Home Office are ready for this. She also made assurances that our “problem fans” would not be going anywhere near the tournament with banning orders in place and checks at all points of departure and arrival.
Lee also revealed that senior police officials would be visiting the Ukrainian authorities next month to discuss international police cooperation. She said that the point will be driven home that our fans “should be judged on their behaviour [at the tournament], and not on any perceived negative reputation.”
By the beginning of March, UEFA will announce whether they believe there are any high risk matches within the group stages, in which extra policing would be provided for. Though, none of England’s matches against Ukraine, France or Sweden are expected to be flagged up.
When prompted on the availability of tickets, Harpreet Grewal, FA’s Head of EnglandFans, gave assurances that there was unlikely to be any shortage for those who apply via the supporters club.
“If the amount of applications were to be doubled, we’d still have plenty of tickets.”
She added: “There has been a really low intake of tickets for quarter finals and semi finals, It will be similar to South Africa and Japan numbers-wise.”
When asked whether the FA were concerned about any potential lack of support Harpreet replied: “I think if we were in Poland it would be completely different because it’s a lot easier to get into Poland and get back. It’s also cheaper.”
A major put-off appears to have been the location of the first and third England games, both being in Donetsk, which you cannot fly direct to. Harpreet continued: “We don’t believe support for the national team is dropping; we just understand Ukraine is quite a hard place to get to.”
Refusing to guarantee anything, Grewal did concede that it wouldn’t be hard for EnglandFans members to get their hands on tickets for what could potentially be all six games for England.
One member did point out that a large contingent from England will purchase tickets from UEFA, which has also happened before with FIFA. Therefore, the FA’s sales are not a true representative of how many England fans will be travelling to Ukraine.
Harpreet was also keen to point out that people won’t need to pay more for the most expensive Category 1 tickets to be assured of being successful as at the moment there are plenty of the lower priced tickets still available. You can amend your application online before the deadline if you have already applied for tickets and wish to change the category.
Travel and infrastructure
There are numerous projects ongoing in the Ukraine to make travelling easier for fans from abroad. These are as small as changing signposts to English and as large as the installation of a high speed railway link between Kiev and Donetsk.
Yuriy gave the forum an update on the status of the high speed trains: “They are planning to start running these trains in March, the latest April. So, they’ll hopefully have it all running smoothly for the tournament. UEFA will be monitoring the situation very closely so they should have any updates you need, as not just England, but all over Europe, fans will be interested in that to make their lives a bit easier.”
When asked how long these trains would take, he announced that the journey between the two cities would take roughly 5 and a half hours compared to 12 hours on a standard train.
Apparently asking for directions shouldn’t be too hard either, as the majority of children in Ukraine are taught English as early as six or seven years of age. Metro system maps are also being modified with numbers and names using Latin characters.
What to do
Harpreet revealed plans for collaboration events, involving the FA’s two partners Thompson and Vauxhall, for England fans to turn up to and have activities on-going, like mini fan-zones: “We’re trying to formulate some plans at this moment in time, as we’re not sure what venues would be available in Donetsk and Kiev. Any events secured will be announced in May. I know that around the major cities UEFA are going to be setting up a number of large screens as well as fan-zones for fans to enjoy themselves.”
When asked on which Ukrainian beer to drink, Yuriy was full of praise for his homeland’s breweries.
“We are a big beer drinking nation. There is plenty of good Ukrainian beers, lager mainly, but a bit of dark beer too. What I will say is when you go to the pubs and order your lager; say ‘can I have one large beer?’, because not many people think of beer as in a pint.”
“The key beer to try is Obolon, which is highly recommended. In Donetsk you have a local beer called Sarmat; it’s about five percent alcohol beer, which is very similar to the German pils.” Yuriy also recommended Lvivske and Slavutych (part of the Carlsberg group), and also Chernigivske which is a blonde beer.
Where to stay
It has been well documented that Donetsk in particular is limited in accommodation, and despite informing the forum that there are plans for a “Little England” campsite to be assembled in Donetsk somewhere, those in attendance were keen to know of other suitable alternative cities or towns to stay.
Yuriy ‘s recommendation was probably one few have considered so far: “I would say Odessa, enjoy a bit of the sunshine and the sea. There is a lot of heritage there. I would say to England fans, please forget the stereotypes of cold harsh winters, it is quite true, but summer is very very hot.”
When asked on how accommodating the more rural areas world be, Yuriy responded: “I think fans will be received very well in the small areas as I don’t think they will have as many people passing through and staying as in the bigger cities and towns. I think they will be appreciating the tourism a bit more.”
There are links to the recommended accommodation sites both on the EnglandFans and UEFA websites.
The next LondonEnglandFans Euro 2012 forum will be held on Thursday 23 February at 7pm at the Queen’s Head, 15 Denman Street, London, W1D 7HN. The topic will be ‘Travel and tourism’ and the speakers will include Kevin Miles, Euro 2012 Fans Embassy coordinator.
To keep informed of LondonEnglandFans forums and Euro 2012 news send an email to LondonEnglandFansfirstname.lastname@example.org