Pride Passion Belief

Three Lions, Four Friends & English football…

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Kiev: Italy Vs England

Back to Kiev and accomdation sorted relatively easily considering it was the Quarter final and we got digs just round the corner from the stadium. With the Swedish fans all gone, Kiev wasn’t so lively as before, although there did seem to be an more English fans than a week ago which was encouraging. On the day of the game we accompanied the LondonEnglandFans on a river boat tour of the Dnipro river – a pleasant enough tour in the sunshine. There didnt seem to be too much in the way of team news flying around before the game so after the riverboat tour we headed straight to get our tickets and then to the fans park for a couple of pre-games beers.

 
Mafia Bar
Essential pre-match suppliments

Italian fans were spotted dotted aroudn Kiev but with no difinitive base, seeing as they had spent the group stages in Poland. Englandfans had decided to take over the now redundent ‘Swedish corner’ in the fans park and were doing their best to cover just about everyone in beer whilst dancing around to Madness, Wonderwall and whatever other tunes the DJ was spinning. I’m  never sure what to think of this sort of behaviour. I must atmit it is quite a laugh to jump around, be boistourious and be totally covered in beer. But from the outside it doesn’t exactly give Englandfans the best reputation and there always tends to be a minotity in a large group that will take it one step further whilst playing up to their mates / showing off to the wider audience. It only takes one or two people in this type of situation and then it is chairs rather then beer flying around the fan park. It only take one isolated incident for friendly banter with opposing fans to turn into something more aggressive; pushing, shoving or open confrontation.

 
England Vs Italy
 The knockout stage, what tournament football is all about…
 
On the whole the mood of the England fans was fairly confident. Everyone knows that Baloteli is a threat but he very much blows hot & cold and quite easily has the ability to get himself sent off with face with the right amount of goading. Looking back, I think the confidence of Englandfans perhaps came from Italian football being somewhat of an unknown quantity in the current era. We dont have Italian football on TV anymore, it has been ridden with scandel over recent years and the big clubs haven’t dominated the Champions League like they did in the early 1990s. Between us, I think we would have struggled to name half of the starting lineup. The likes likes of Gerrard, Rooney, Haart and Terry are often talked about amongst the worlds elite in our media and further afield, but I tend to think the football press is so often so focused on the Premiership (due to its entertainment value) that we overlook other leagues around Europe.

One Scotty Parker
One Scotty Parker, there’s only one Scotty Parket…. One Scotty Paaarrrrker
 
So to kick-off and England looked good for their money in the first ten minutes, especially when Glen Johnson should have converted after a fluent passing move down the left hand side. However, it was clear that a lot of the fans had underestimated the Italians as they very swiftly started to dominate possession, the play being orchestrated by Pirlo in the deep holding midfield role. From a fans point of view it seemed inconceivable that a manger of Hodgeson’s experience wouldn’t have made ‘doing a job’ of Pirlo one of his utmost priorities in preparation for the game. Starting with a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1 as some may see) against an experienced Italian midfield with the likes of Pirlo and Di Rossi is always going to leave Gerrard and the energetic Parker short on legs, especially when England struggle to retain possession. We could only assume it was Rooney, as our deep lying centre-forward, that had been ask to close Pirlo down. Either way, as a team, we just didnt do enough to prevent him time and space on the ball from which he can start to orchestrate a game with his precision passing. 

As the half wore on the Italians started to donmate further, both in terms of possession and attempts at goal. This creates a problem in that when your team doesn’t have the ball, you are always chasing the game, expending more energy than your opponents. In the latter stages of the game it gets harder and harder to close your opponents, giving them more time on the ball. It also makes it harder to retain the ball when you do have possession, as the first thing that goes when you are tired is the first touch. Until England learn to hold the ball better and support each other as a unit it will be quarter finals at best for us. At 0-0 it is still anyones game, althoght failing to address Pirlo problem at half time (with subs being make around 65 min mark and no marked change to formation or tatics) meant victory looked increasingly unlikely. The game remained tense until the end, the England defence were resolute, showing passion and determination to hold-out initially until the 90minute mark and then for extra time and penalities. The fans were great throughout – Roy Hodgeson’s barmy arm going throughout.

 
Roons' Pen
Spot the ball – Rooney smashes home his pen

Penalties: Rooney stepped up first and blasted his spot-kick into the bottom left hand corner – great to see him smash the ball home – would this finally be the time England shake off their penalty jinx? To be fair, I think if England had held on for their first penalty victory since beating Spain in Euro 96′ we would have suffered another embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Germans. It would have also been a thoroughly undeserved victory, the Italians having controlled the game, domination possession and  hitting the post twice. The saving grace was that we would be going home from the tournament unbeaten in open play and safe in the knowledge that the players had given a gritty, resolute, team performance. Unlike South Africa, there was a sense of togetherness, the players wanted to play for the team, for the manager and for each other. Lets remember there have been some inexperienced players in this team and we have shown relative strength in depth with the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlin, Defoe and Walcott all looking to make an impact from the bench. When you go out of a tournament, it’s difficult to mask the disappointment, but this time there is relative optimism that we can build this group of players into into potential semi-final contenders for the World Cup in two years. Next stop Rio De Janeiro…

Game Over
Joe Hart – fans favourite & along with Gerrand, Parker & Johnson, one of the better England perfomers

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Deepest Darkest Ukraine

We had four days before the quarter final in Kiev and decided to head down to the Black Sea for a bit of relaxation before the trip back to Kiev. We jumped on a train down to Maruipol and got lucky with a taxi driver who drove us half an hour down the coast to a ‘hotel’ – i.e. his relatives guesthouse. This was one of the best experiences of Ukraine – it was nice to get off the beaten track and visit a place where no other English people or football fans would be.

Melekyne Guesthouse
Pleasant surroundings of our guesthouse in Melekeyne

 The guesthouse owners took us in and looked after us like royalty. The area in SouthEast Ukraine is predominately Russian speaking and the little Ukrainian we had learned didn’t get us too far. I have to admit this area is hardly the most beautiful place we have ever visited on our travels. Mining is the main industry and as we got the train down we passed the hugest industrial buildings I have ever seen – blurting out open fire and smog into the already gray skyline. As result, the beach also wasnt the cleanist and the water was a pale brown at best. However, for what the general environment lacked, the local holiday resort of Melekeyne was pleasant and our guesthouse was amazing – haveing beautifal gardens and being two minutes from the beach.

Melekyne
Nedwards and I with some Russian kids who were also staying at the guesthouse

It was actually really good to get away from all the trains and travelling and relax on the beach, away from the tournament tension. The first evening out was an experience in itself, being invited to drink vodka with a Russian shop owner and his son. Strangely, despite being the closest we have ever been to Russian, the bar ownder Sergei Senior managed to pull out some ‘English Vodka’ from his collection which he proceeded to swig down in massive gulps. An interesting night ended up heading down the beach in the pitch black in search of a late night bar in the with a random Russian who Sergei described as ‘a drunks and dangerous mans’ just as we deperted in his company!!

Ukrainian snacks
Typical Ukrainian snack stall – no soft drinks here – refreshment is beer only

Prior to our departed in seach or the next beer, we spoke to Sergei junior. Russian speaking, fluent in Ukrainian and competent in English it was clear the education system in Ukraine was doing a good job. His aim was to apply to an English University when he was 18. I got the impression that the goal is to get out of the locality and earn decent money abroad – this isn’t a well-off area of the county and very differnt to the big cities like Kiev and Donetsk. The accomodation is all very basic, the roads are untarmacked and the place has a very provincial feel to it. However, the people all seem to get along just fine and we couldnt thank them enough for their hospitality and friendship. We were given free home cooked meals for the duration of our stay and our hosts just wouldnt accept any money from us – I feel terrible as we didn’t get an email address to say thank you so if our friends from Melekyne ever get to read this – thank you very much!!

Not sure what this is all about!!
Random car sticker – not quite sure what this is all about!

One of the benefits of following England away is that it presents the opportunity to travel to places which we wouldn’t usually visit – to explore a country that would otherwise be much lower down the priority list of places to visit. UEFA have decided that Euro 2020 will not be hosted by one country, but by a selection of host cities from all around Europe. This format means counties like Ukraine won’t have the opportunity to build up it’s infrastrucute towards a set date and look forward to hosting a tournament in which it can showcase itself to the world. It also misses the point that football fans from around the world will get the meet and explore the culture, bars and people of a single country together. A European-wide tournament will be held in all the big cities that people have visited before: Rome, London, Madrid, Barcelona…etc – the same cities that host massive Champions Leagues matches almost every month. It will miss out on the fun of visiting places like Kharkiv, somewhere I had never even heard of before the tournament. I’m not usually someone to bash an idea before it has even got out of the box – but on this one UEFA, please dont try and fix something that isn’t broke, especially without consulting the fans that make these tournaments what they are.

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Donetsk: Ukraine Vs England

The overnight train to Donetsk failed to produce any falling bears from the top bunk. However, there was a bit of a buzz on the train following the excitement of the Sweden game. A draw against Ukraine puts us through. If we better France’s result by a goal or more we go through top of the group and avoid facing Spain & probable elimination. We arrived in Donetsk a day before the game this time giving us a bit of time to relax on match day.

The crunch clash of Group D was preceded by the equally important ‘Fans Friendly’ match between the England and Ukrainian supports teams. The match was played at the Shaktar training ground located next to Shaktar’s old stadium. The game had been arranged with the Ukrainian state government and there was a good deal of interest with plenty of people and TV camera crews at the ready. The FA had contributed to the game by providing goody bags to be given to the Ukrainian players after the match.

 
England Fans Friendly
Photographers lineup to capture the ‘Fans Friendly’ between England & Ukraine

The start of the game was marred with controversy as the manager of the England team had agreed for the players to wear ‘Free Julia’ [Tymoshenko] T-shirts for the starting lineup and pictures. This didnt go down well with either the organisers, or the FA who had to remove any official association with the game in the view of being a-political. Whether a just cause or not, where possible, football should be aside from all politics. The news actually made the papers back home and caused a bit of a stir – a shame when the idea of the ‘Fans Friendly’ initiative is all about building bridges between fans and associations, making international friends and enjoying football.

The game itself was also a disappointment from an England point of view, a strong and well organisaed Ukrainian team outpassing their opponents across the pitch.  On a personal level, the game was even worse – being dropped from the starting lineup, (due to late arrival after being given incorrect information about the meeting point) my frustration was taken with me onto the pitch when being an early first halp sub. After a good season wth my club and confidence my fitness was better than the majority of the 30 somethings on the pitch, my pressing of the ball (aka chasing down the ball with a red mist over my eyes) lead me to twist my knee and feel that excruciating pain that I know only too well from tearing my cruciate ligament five years preivous. This time it was the left – note to self – never wear blades on plastic pitches. It takes a little while to sink in. At first its the disappointment of missing the game, then the realistation that I’ve it’s going to be a pain in the arse gettting to the match later on, followed finially by the misery and depression of missing the start of the new season and the probability that I’ll need another operation an might not be playing again for another 18 months. Bollox. Short term solution to problem: get drunk, (massively drunk) as this will  stop the pain in my knee and divert attention to the final group game

The match with Ukraine itself was a cagey encounter. England have never been good at ‘holding on’ for a result. Knowing they only needed a draw I think prohibits the team as we are not technically astute enough to ‘play for a draw’. The Premiership is all about high intensity, high pressure, go for the win / outscore the other team. As such, England looked nervous in front of the partisan home crowd and in all honesty were lucky to come away with the required result after Ukraine were wrongly disallowed a goal which looked to have crossed the line.

Ukraine Vs England
The Roon lambasts some slipshod England defending from a corner

The performance though is enough to get the required result so from that point of view England have done a profession job of negotiating the group stages, even if the performances haven’t exactly set the tournament alight. We will be back on the night train to Kiev safe in the knowledge there would be a buzz about the team and probably an influx of fans from home flying out for the quarter finals.

 

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Kiev: England vs Sweden

Arriving in Kyiv for the second time round the number of Swedish fans seemed to have multiplied tenfold. The centre of Kyiv has been dominated by an amazing fanzone, extending the whole length of the main street, Khreshchatyk – the equivilent of Regent street being pedestrian with 4 giant screens. Part of the zone has been turned into a Swedish area with two bars serving up beers & pizza. Like the Dutch, its hard not to be impressed by the organisation and number of Swedish supports. We watched Croatia vs Italy and then Ireland vs Spain – really good to actually catch some games after having missed much of the action whilst travelling on trains. We headed off with some locals to ‘club 44’ for a night on the pi$$, the club was perhaps the only place in Kiev that Englandfans outnumbered the Swedes. We woke up early doors on Match day II with a stinking hangover. We were meeting with London Englandfans for a tour of Kyiv organised by Mark Perryman. A local guide showed us round the city accompanied by local TV crew (link to hopefully follow). The tour was part of a fans initiative showing the good side of England fans. We’re not all aggressive drunks like the papers may like you to believe. Having said that, I must admit that we didn’t take in all the tour had to offer due to stinking hangover!

Swedish Corner
The Swedish dominated the Kiev fanzone, setting up their own party corner…

France Vs Ukraine was the early kick off so we headed into the fanzone only to find the match was suspended due to heavy rainfall after the first few minutes. We walked down to the stadium hoping to find a bar near the ground to catch the game. One thing I would say about Ukraine is that they still have a little way to go in terms of catching on to capitalism. Its not difficult to keep football fans happy: ensure a readily available supply of beer & food + throw some tunes on if no footy is on. It was actually impossible to buy a beer on the way to the stadium, bars had set up special street vendors, but any queue with more than 3 people is going to be a ten minute wait, the service is incredibly slow. We ended up in a nightclub which had opened early, happily paying London bar prices in order to get served.

England Tattoo
Total dedication: ouch – that has got to hurt!!

All the chat amongst the Englandfans was why only around 3000 supporters turned up. Was it the credit crunch, the panorama programme or the terrible showing in South Africa? I don’t think anyone who has been to a tournament would be put off by the usual negative media hype but it could possibly deter fans who haven’t travelled before. I think the low expectation of the team certainly has a part to play. I think a major point is that over the last 4/5 years actually watching England play is pretty boring in itself. The team don’t have a recognized style of play, we don’t play exciting football, despite some on the big names that set the Prem alight on a weekly basis. Watching England vs Wales in the qualifiers was a particularly dull occasion which did prompt me to think why we bother.sometimes! However, there is always the dream when a tournament comes round that the team will go all the way, enough to keep the regular supporters coming back for tournaments.

Some friendly taunts came from the Sweedes:

I’m an arsehole,
I’m an arsehole
I’m an arsehole, yes I am…
But I would rather be an arsehole than a fuck-king Englishman!

Exiting the bar enroute to stadium, we were stopped by the police to make way for the procession of Swedes who had embarked on an organised march from the fanzone to the stadium, an amazing sea of yellow and blue swept down the street in front of us.

Outnumbered
Outnumbered but not outsung: two of the best supported teams in the tournament = great game

Some pride was restored when settling in the England end of the ground. Although outnumbered, we were not outsung during one of the best games of the tournament so far. Ibrahimavich decided to turn up and today and impressed for the Swedes. England looked shaky for long periods but also looked dangerous in attack, Wellbeck again showing maturity to hold the ball up and link well with Carroll. RH certainly knows his football, having conceding two headed goals against Ukraine Carroll started for England and again punished the Swedes from the air to put England 1-0 up. After worrying defensive lapses that put Sweden 2-1 up, RH rolled the dice, sticking on Walcott who made an immediate impact, scoring (what on first impression to be a deflected goal) and then setting up Wellbeck for the winner after some great wingplay. The finish was sublime, sending Englandfans into a Wellbeck wonderland and off to the Kyiv clubs to party till sunrise.

Sweden Vs England
Seeing Ibrohimivic live finially made us realise he has the talent to match the hype.

The following time in Kyiv was spent visiting the larva (an underground monestry) and the Chernobyl museum. Then it was a trip to the station to board the night train to Donetsck for the crunch clash with our hosts….

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Kharkiv: Germany vs Holland

After an attempt to head out of Donetsck to an underground Salt mine in Soledar failed we decided to head straight up to Kharkiv for the Holland vs Germany game. We jumped on the new Electroskycho (fast train) to arrive around midnight. The fast trains were part of the upgrade of infrastructure for the tournament but were only ready 15 days prior to KO so it hasn’t been easy to pre-book. On the train we met Eric Herrmann the German. With typical efficiency, after some shared beers, he had called a contact in Kharkiv and organised accomodation and a taxi to pick us up from the station. The train station in Kharkiv is again something special, looking more like a museum with its oil-painted ceilings than a station. The square passengers spill out onto is equally impressive, pictures to follow. As the apartment we had only slept 3, I accompanied Eric out of town to stay in the apartment he had booked via a couch-surfing website. We got a 15 minute ride in a 30 year old Volga (old Russian car) taxi – how it has survived so long with the amount of potholes is beyond me. Outside the main town Kharkiv is hot, dusty place, a bit wild West, or at wild East should I say, being very close to the Russian boarder. It was interesting to stay in someone’s home, a very basic flat high up on the 15th floor of a Soviet housing block. Apart from a 6 hour lack of electricity, the flat was humble but livable. The communal areas of the block were less so, stinking of cat $h1t with wires pouring out of the concrete staircases in haphazard fashion! Apparently 35% of Ukrainians live below the poverty line and I couldn’t help wondering which side of the line residents of this block belonged to. Having said that, the owners of this apartment, Eric’s friend Tarim & his girlfriend drove a near new Toyota Camry and the flat did have an impressive widescreen tv.

Kharviv
The boys in front of Kharkiv station

As we walked to the Metro I learned that Eric grew up in East Germany (near Leipzig) where learning Russian was compulsory at school. Hearing about his experiences growing up with similar cars, transport systems and holidays to Ukrainian & Polish people it was a reminder of how East Germany was very much under the influence of Russia until the Berlin wall came down.

Armin van Buuren
Dutch get the party started with Armand Van Buren DJ set before the game

Russian is widely spoken in Ukraine and it was useful to have someone who could communicate with the locals. I asked Tarim what Ukrainians of Russia & his reply was that it was good to have two teams to support (Russia & Ukraine). This was a very different response to the answer I got when speaking to Tatiana, a hostel owner from Kiev. She believed Russian government behaves like it owns Ukraine, and as a result, visiting Russians speak down and are at times rude to Ukrainians. I believe this is a typical trend for those in the East to be more pro-Russian, the current government being formed by politicians mostly from Donetsck.

Germany Vs Holland
England Vs Germany – one of the biggest rivalries in world football

And so to the game…. A visit to the fanzone, located in what is the biggest city square in Europe, revealed the mass of Dutch supporters. Organised & as Orange as ever, they had completely taken over the square and were treated to a set from superstar DJ Armand Van Buren to get them fired up before kick off. Getting tickets for what is probably the biggest group game in the smallest stadium wasn’t too much of a problem. DBR & I got tickets for face value at 30 Euros. Whilst this is pretty cheap for a Euro / World Cup game we were told tickets to watch Shaktar play in the champions league were 50 Hynervias (about 5 Euros) making them overpriced for many of the locals.

The game itself was all about the Germans. They steamrolled the Dutch, looking powerful, quick on the counter and very rarely loosing the ball. The Germans always seem to have that clinical edge but today they looked extra sharp. When a Dutch front like including Van Persie, Van Der Vaart, Sneijder, Robin & Van Huntetlaar look completely devoid of ideas its time for the other teams to start worrying…

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Donetsk: England Vs France

Another two years have rolled by and its time for tournament football again. There has been a lot of hype around the tournament being staged in Ukraine & Poland. Aside from the Panarama documentary and Sky News special report the papers have been filled with the usual pre tournament scare stories. Hooligans, racism, high price hotels & flights genuinely seem to have put fans off travelling in the post crunch era.

We genuinely didn’t know what to expect about Ukraine. Information isn’t the easiest to come by as there is no tourist office in the UK. LondonEnglandFans forums & the lonely planet was enough to wet the appetite for a trip behind the Iron Curtain and flights for 145 bucks seemed more than reasonable.

After an 8 hour round trip via Vienna (wouldn’t bother going) and a costly balls-up with our flight booking we arrived in Kiev. First impressions: its hot, even hotter on the buses, and taxis don’t understand the English alphabet, or a map. Arrive at hostel 3am. Next impression, Ukrainians like to drink, straight out with our host to a German bar of all places. Final impression on first night, there are a shedload of Swedish fans here.

After a day of sightseeing in Kiev it on the overnight train to Donetsck. Train stations are immaculate and extremely ornate. The trains are less impressive but they run on time, they hot but full of footy fans so good craic on the way down.

SCUD Missile
Sightseeing in Kiev – military museum on the Dnipro river

It’s so good to get away. Sometimes life is tough; work can be hard, you are hurt by loosing people and things you love. It’s important to enjoy the small things in life that make you smile. Seeing a fully grown man drop like a dead weight from the top bunk of the overnight seeper train to Donetsck was one of those things! Both myself and (Joyce replacement) Lee Pendrey were lucky enough to witness the silhouette crumple to a heap on the carriage floor. Unable to assist as we were both doubled up with laughter, DBR jumped up to assist ‘the bear’ whom, half drunk, half asleep and probably mildly concussed proceeded to stumble to a resting place on the bunk below him, lieing straight on top of the unsuspecting gentleman below. Haha memories like this are a blessing and will stay with us forever.

Donbass Arena
Impressive Donbass Arena

So to Donetsck and match day… Arrive early doors and head to campsite. Check in takes two hours, poor girls on the desk look like they’ve never seen a computer before, one finger typing all the way. We’ve missed the Englandfans trip to the John Hughes (founder of Donetsck) brewery so straight to the fanzone. Beers & quick defeat of Russians on official fanzone joga (4on4) pitch, won on pens after 3-3 draw, could this be a omen? Jump on lè shuttle bus to game with some of the few French fans we’ve seen. Great atmosphere around the stadium, its been a while since experiencing to buzz of a tournament game, but a distinct lack of Englandfans compared to what were used to. Lots of Russians in the crowd all of whom seem eager to get pictures with us and other Englandfans with their trademark St Georges crosses (clubname embroidred across the middle with names in each quadrant).

Donbass Arena
Inside the Donbass

The Donbass arena is equally impressive inside as out, 55’000 capacity UEFA elite A stadium, able to host Champions League Finals and the like. Englandfans in good voice, with the chant of the day being:

‘We’ll do what we want,
We’ll do what we waa-aaa-nt,
F*ck off Sol Campbell,
We’ll do what we want’

Not quite sure what to think of this as there is definitely a lack of traveling black and Asian fans, no doubt influenced by the BBC Panarama programme aired prior to the tournament. Whilst their was definitely an agenda behind the editing of the documentary you can’t deny what was on camera, disgusting scenes of Asian fans being beaten up for no reason other than their colour. Sol Campbell’s comments were taken immediately after seeing the footage and you can understand his concerns in advising black & Asian fans not to travel despite the show focusing on Ukrainian club football which is a world away from spotlight an international tournament brings.

Anyhow from kick off its clear Roy Hodgeson has the team well drilled. England start the better team with Scotty Parker putting in a terrier like performance in midfield but also being more than useful with his distribution. The wide men disappoint, Milner giving the ball away too often and the Ox, whist looking lively, failing to get on possession. Glen Johnson stays on his feet well but gives Nasri a little too much respect, backing off when he could put a tackle in having Milner as cover. Wellbeck looks assured with some nice touches and hold up play. The England goal really gets the crowd going. ‘Roy Hodgeson’s barmy army’ are on march, memories of Arry are in the past and the fans are 100% with the manager. You have to trust someone with RHs experience. Too much respect given for the French goal, albeit a great strike from eventual man of the match Nasri who gets taunted throughout with chants of ‘wanker’ (v. imaginative!) every time he nears the England fans to take a corner. Rather than react he looks like he’s struggling not to laugh, always nice to see a smile and some humour on a football pitch.

England Vs France
Nasri holds off Ashley Cole

All in all, most of the fans wipll take the 1-1 result, the general mood being that the 3 Lions will be hard to beat, but may struggle to create, especially until the Roon is back from suspension. Either way its a night out in a pizza restaurant for us followed by a trip back to Kiev for match day two….