Two years after my World Cup trip and a lot of things have changed. I’ve made the biggest decision of my life to move to the other side of the world. I’ve sold my house in preparation, and without the demands of a mortgage I’ve quit my job and intend to go contracting till I emigrate. That’s for later though, first there’s a summer of football to enjoy at Euro 2008.
It’s not just things with me that have changed, Scotland are now good! Having been drawn in the same qualifying group as both World Cup finalists it was expected we would just give up and focus on the 2010 World Cup, but we actually got bloody close to qualifying. We beat France in Glasgow, which wasn’t a fluke as we went and did it in Paris as well. When we fell right at the last hurdle, in the last minute of the last game, it hurt in a way that a Scotland defeat hadn’t hurt for years. Our world ranking was almost level-pegging with England at one point, and they didn’t qualify either, which was met by the Scots with the expected good grace.
So in spite of neither of our countries qualifying, myself and an English mate decided we would go over to Austria and Switzerland for the tournament. I’ve got one World Cup behind me so I’m not as wet behind the ears as I was two years previously, but it will be his second Euros (as well as two World Cups). We haven’t any tickets, just a high-level plan of which games we want to go to, and we’ll sort out travel plans and tickets as we go.
Euro 2008 is being jointly-hosted by Austria and Switzerland, with four cities in each country hosting games. Our plan is to start in Austria, go into Switzerland, then back into Austria, taking in games in Innsbruck & Vienna, and Zurich & Basel. From a football fan’s point of view it’s no great loss to skip Salzburg, Klagenfurt and Geneva, though giving Berne a miss means we can’t visit the stadium that inspired one of the best football headlines ever.
Tuesday 10th June
Its an early start, I live near Stansted Airport now, so the first step of the itinerary is an Air Berlin flight to Munich. It’s an okay flight, we get a coffee and they show Mr Bean and Just For Laughs on the TVs, and we land on time. We toy with the idea of hiring a car to get us to Innsbruck, but then decide to get the train.
First train from the airport to Munich Hauptbahnhof, and then another to Innsbruck. On the first train the guy sitting opposite us alights at a few stops before us and leaves his phone behind (these are the days that are pre-smartphone, it was a Sony Ericsson from memory). I try to be a good citizen and go through the address book until I find a number starting +44, I call it and ask the woman that answers if there’s any way for her to get in contact with the owner of the phone and tell him that he can pick it up in the lost property office of the Hauptbahnhof. Must have done the trick as the owner calls back a couple of minutes later, by which time we’ve started chatting to a German lady now sitting opposite us, and she takes the call and sort things out. The train journey from Munich to Innsbruck is (at the time) the most spectacular journey to a football match I’ve ever done, up until then I thought the one along the Côte d’Azur from Nice to Monaco would take some beating, and it has been
We get to Innsbruck with just about enough time to find our hotel, before heading towards the stadium on the edge of town. Today’s game is Spain v Russia, kicking off at 6pm local time (an hour ahead of Britain). We get there about an hour before kickoff and the fans are already mingling outside, mostly Spanish but some Russian, all good natured and no aggro
Tickets are available from touts, but for silly money, like four or five hundred euros. The thing to do is hold your nerve sit tight, and wait till after kickoff. Because once the game has kicked off the touts are holding on to what are rapidly becoming worthless pieces of paper, and so the price drops. We finally pay about 220 euros each, and get in just before the first goal.
David Villa scores it, it’s at our end, and we have an excellent view of it. We’re about a dozen rows back, right at the corner flag. Its mainly Spanish fans we’re in among (the ticket was originally part of the Spanish FA’s allocation before it ended up on the black market) and unlike eight years later there’s no trouble from the Russian fans. Villa scores his second just before halftime, and completes his hat-trick in the second half. Russia get a late consolation before Cesc Fabregas (on as a sub) makes it 4-1 with the last kick of the game, giving The Guardian another reason to fawn over him.
What’s immediately apparent is that Spain are good. Russia weren’t great, but four goals at this level is special. They’ve always been seen as underachievers and this tournament may well turn out to be the same. But there’s just feels to be something different about them this time. Not saying that they’re going to win it, right now my favourites are the Dutch who absolutely battered Italy 3-0 the previous evening. But from now on Spain are worth keeping an eye on.
Another thing that’s apparent is that the Carlsberg they sell at the bars in the ground is alcohol-free! And whatever they charged (four euros for half a litre I think) included 50 cents deposit for a Euro 2008 plastic cup. Most fans don’t realise this and just drop their cup on the floor under their seat as they leave, so at the end we wait until most of the fans are gone and go round collecting them. I think I got about 22, which is eleven euros, which pays for the “beer” in the first place (you can take the boy out of Scotland but you can’t take Scotland out of the boy). Then we go into town to find some proper beer
Wednesday 11th June
Up early-ish with a couple of fuzzy heads, and a long train journey to Zurich ahead of us. Another spectacular train journey, or rather journeys, as we have to change three times. One of the trains goes through Liechtenstein for a few minutes, and I’m happy to claim that as another country that I’ve visited. On the first train of the day an elderly couple are sitting opposite us and he starts bellyaching to her about “dreißig Millionen Euros für drei Spielen” (€30m for three games) which obviously refers to the upgrade of the stadium. Good to know what some of the locals are thinking.
We’re planning to have three nights in Zurich, on our first day (today) we’ll go to Basel for Switzerland v Turkey, and on Friday we’ll go to Italy v Romania at the Letzigrund in Zurich, which is only five minutes walk from our hotel.
The train to Basel takes an hour, and the town is literally on the border with France (at times my UK phone connects to a French mobile phone tower). Odd then that it’s very much German that they speak here, which is good for me as I’m slightly better in German than French. At the fan park we get a couple of beers and a couple of hot dogs (which I ask for in German, and get told – in English – “you said that in perfect German” which I was chuffed about) and then make tracks for the stadium, which is about 20 minutes walk.
We get there and there are no tickets to be had at all. Not a sniff of one anywhere. We know what we’re looking for, and it’s clear what we’re after, but there just isn’t anything. We’ll occasionally see somebody that looks like they might be selling a ticket, and we’d move towards them, but nothing ever comes of it. It seems obvious now, Switzerland are playing in a major tournament, in a comparatively small stadium in a comparatively small town. Of course tickets are going to be like gold dust.
We’re just about to give up when two blokes with a video camera and boom mic come approach us. We just think they’re a local TV crew who have clocked the England fan and the Scotland fan together, and we might get to be on TV. The one carrying the mic asks what our story is, we say we’re looking for tickets, and he says “wait here” goes to his van, and comes back a minute or two later. He starts interviewing us on camera, tending to focus on me and asking how I felt when Scotland just fell short of qualifying in the last minute of their last game (credit where it’s due, he knows his football, he can’t have rehearsed this as five minutes ago he can’t have known he’d be meeting a Scotsman). I go off on my rant about how it was a disgrace, that was never a free kick, what was the ref thinking, etc. (seven months later it still hurt). The interviewer tried to calm me down, and told us that he’s from Carlsberg, and that as we’re such great football fans they’re going to give us two free tickets to the game! In truth I kinda guessed something like this was coming as soon as he came back from his van, but I tried to fake my surprise as much as possible as I thanked him, then looked down the lens of the camera and said “drink Carlsberg”. I searched for the interview on the Euro 2008 section of their website when I got back to the UK but it wasn’t there. Not that that matters. What matters is that we’re in!
There are dark clouds in the sky, it’s not raining when the game starts, but soon into the first half the heavens open. It’s absolutely biblical, I don’t think I’ve ever seen rain like it, and I’ve never seen a pitch become so waterlogged so quickly. We’re in row 8, along the touchline just about in line with the edge of the box, and even though we’re nominally under cover we’re getting absolutely soaked, and the stewards hand out clear plastic ponchos to those at the front of the stands. In spite of being cold and wet, it’s still fun!
On the pitch Switzerland need to win. They lost their opening game, and Portugal beat the Czech Republic while we were en route to this game. Meaning they top the group on six points, Czech Republic (who beat Switzerland in their first game) on three, with Turkey and Switzerland pointless. This means the loser tonight is out, even if they win their last game they can only be on three points, but one or both of the Czechs and the Turks are going to be on more than three points after they play each other in their final game.
In spite of the torrential rain, Switzerland manage to play some football and deservedly take the lead. I’m feeling really pleased for the Swiss fans, they’ve got to see their country play, and score, in a major finals. It’s almost impossible to play football on the deck, the ball just gets stuck in the water, and players are flying in to tackles without much control, and you really worry about a player getting a serious injury. Looking back on it, the ref would have been within his rights to stop the game, and indeed at half-time I get a text from a pal back in Britain saying that the BBC is reporting that the match might be abandoned.
Our seats are quite near the press box and at half-time we go to the bars to get some alcohol-free Carlsberg, and we spy Pierre van Hooijdonk, recently retired and formerly of Celtic, Forest, Benfica, and a clutch of Dutch clubs.
The rain has abated by the time the second half starts, but some needle starts to creep into the game. I didn’t know at the time but these sides have got previous. As the pitch dries out the challenges are getting to be quite tasty, these aren’t mis-controlled because of the conditions, these are deliberate. Turkey equalise midway through the second half and the gamesmanship and time-wasting is stepped up a notch. I’m really getting pissed off at them, and even though the only beer I’ve had in a past two hours has had no alcohol in it, I’m really letting rip. In English, but some words are universal y’know. The Swiss bloke in front of me turns round with a bemused smile on his face as I unload a truckload of effs at a player coming off a stretcher (turns out he was actually badly injured).
At the death Turkey score with a deflection (all the goals were up the other end of the ground from us). Switzerland are out.
This was the best game I went to. Which seems strange as it was hard to play football in these conditions, and I got to see the two finalists in the other games I went to see. But it was just much more fun to be at.
At the end of the game, Gordon Strachan was down on the touchline to do his piece to camera, talking to Gary Lineker (or whoever was presenting) back in London. Even though he clearly saw me – I’m wearing a Scotland shirt and draped in a saltire, and my pal and I were hollering “hey Gordon, over here” – he completely ignored me, not even a nod or anything. Cheeky chappie Gordon is actually a misery guts.
The train journey back to Zurich was the worst of the trip, we were crammed in the vestibule the whole way, it was like the tube at rush hour. The train should have left Basel at 23:45 and got to Zurich an hour later, but it hadn’t even left Basel by then. We go to a pub with a Scotland scarf on the wall when we get back.
Thursday 12th June
No football today, not to go to anyway.
On the telly Croatia beat Germany, and Austria drew with Poland in injury time In that group Croatia are on 6 points and have qualified as group winners, Germany are on 3 (but can’t finish above Croatia because of head-to-head), and Austria and Poland on one point each. Sets it up nicely for Monday, where we’re going to be in Vienna for Austria v Germany, and Austria have to win.
Zurich is a lovely city.
Friday 13th June
Italy v Romania this afternoon, and the fans are already in town.
We get along to the ground and once again there are no tickets to be had. There’s a bunch of other Brits outside we have a chat with, the police are pretty good natured when their vehicles are “decorated”.
After about half an hour we cut our losses and head back towards the city centre. Tonight’s game is Netherlands v France and we’re going to be watching it down by the lake.
We’re not the only ones with that idea, there are loads of people down here already. But there are also loads of bars, loads of seats, it’s really well planned. We end up on the end of a large picnic table and we haven’t been sat there long when probably the nicest thing of the whole holiday happened. A young lady came up behind us, she must have clocked the pair of blokes, one draped in a saltire and the other in a St George’s cross, and told us how wonderful it was that we were getting on, and that she really wished our countries could have qualified, it was a real shame, but it’s still wonderful to see us. What a lovely moment.
There are a lot of Dutch fans down here, but hardly any French, I think a lot of neutrals (and Swiss) are supporting the Dutch just because they were so damn good against Italy on Monday night. And they are again tonight, they are just phenomenal, they absolutely stuff France 4-1, and while they didn’t have a bad player on the park I was really impressed by Sneijder. The Dutch have now played both the World Cup finalists from just two years ago, and the aggregate score has been 7-1. Spain were impressive the other day, but I can’t see past the Netherlands right now.
After the game nobody goes home, it just becomes a party. We latch onto a group of locals who have decided to support the Netherlands, one of them tells me she’s going to Milan in the morning to go shopping, which must be about 3 or 4 hours each way on the train, but that’s what they do here. Bizarrely at one point I find myself chatting, very drunkenly, in German and being replied to in English, which seemed like the most natural thing in the world at the time. Later dozens of us are dancing on a picnic table until it collapses under our weight. Amazingly there are no ankle injuries, so we all just migrate to the next table and continue dancing on it.
This evening was definitely the best game of the tournament, and definitely the best night of the holiday.
Saturday 14th June
Today is a reverse of Wednesday’s journey, from Zurich to Innsbruck. Another spectacular train journey, shared with fans from Sweden and Spain (which is the game we plan to go to later this afternoon).
We’re staying in the same hotel as we did on Tuesday, and I’m surprised (in a nice way) to see that Football Focus is on BBC World. There’s no match footage, probably because of rights issues, but it’s still good to get the overall picture on what the tournament’s been like. I can’t recall if it was this episode specifically, but it was certainly this tournament that I really turned against Alan Hansen. I can remember when the Premier League started and he was a breath of fresh air, while we didn’t get MOTD in Scotland we still saw enough of him to know that he was night and day to the old days when you got the analysis of Jimmy Hill etc. But I remember one exchange between Hansen and Linker during Euro 2008: “who do you think will win it Alan?”, “well I think it will be Spain”, “why do you say that?”, “well look a the players they’ve got ….(pause)…. Torres, Fabregas ….(pause)…. I mean just look at the players”. He’s been phoning it in for years.
As soon as we get near the ground it’s obvious that it’s going to be much more difficult to get a ticket for today than it was for the Russia game on Tuesday. Both Spain and Sweden have brought a lot of fans with them, and it’s a Saturday afternoon so the locals don’t have to worry about skipping work or school.
We just cut our losses and go to the fan park in town, which is rammed.
It’s already 1-1 when we get there, and the game finishes 2-1 with David Villa follows up his hat-trick on Tuesday by scoring with the last kick of the game. Spain’s opening goal was scored by Fernando Torres, which presumably gives MOTD something to gush over back home.
The Spanish go nuts at full-time but it’s all good-natured.
All I can remember about that night in Innsbruck is that it was a long one (and I wasn’t the only one).
Sunday 15th June
This is the longest train journey of the holiday, Innsbruck to Vienna takes more than five hours. I like Vienna, though it has a very different feel to it than Innsbruck or Zurich. We arrive in good time to get checked in, then down to the fan park to see that night’s game, which is Turkey vs Czech Republic.
The Czechs were 2-0 up with 15 minutes to go, but Turkey won 3-2. There are a lot of Turkish fans in town to celebrate.
Monday 16th June
Last full day of the holiday, and we plan to spend it at Austria v Germany tonight. We start the day down at the stadium to see if we can pick up a ticket, but there’s no chance. There are a few Germans hanging around (maybe with the same idea as us) including one with a Scotland-Germany half-and-half scarf.
Back into town and we spend some time in the Prater amusement park (which is more interesting than it sounds).
The famous Giant Ferris Wheel in this historic Austrian park that dates back 250 years has been rebranded by a German sportswear firm, using the image of a Czech footballer who plays in England.
On the way to the park we overhear an English tout (and they’re almost always English) complaining loudly on the phone to his mate “every time I find somebody to buy a pair of tickets off, I have to go to the bank to get another fifteen hundred euros out”. So we know the going rate for one ticket today is 750 euros. And we know we won’t be paying that.
We’re back in the city centre by lunchtime and the whole place has been taken over by Germans (I’m not crass enough to say “invaded”, far less make any comment about an anschluss, so good job I haven’t).
There are obviously no tickets on the go here, or if there are we have no hope of getting to them first, so after as the afternoon becomes evening we head towards the stadium on the train, via a wander through the fan park.
There’s hardly a sniff of a ticket outside, till I spot something out the corner of my eye. It looks like a fan going up to another guy, asking a question, a conversation ensues and then the fan shakes his head and walks away. Does this bloke have a ticket?
I go over and speak to him, trying not to draw attention to myself, and yes he has two tickets and is willing to sell them for 300 euros each. From his tone of voice (he’s American) he’s pissed off, probably been unable to shift these all day and is taking a hit just to get rid of them. Thinking back to the mobile phone conversation I overheard at lunchtime I can understand why.
I tell the American guy I’ll be as quick as I can, I go grab my mate and we head for the cash machine at the train station (the stadium has its own stop) and pull out 300 euros each. The American guy hasn’t sold them in the last five minutes, so we’re in, and we haven’t even missed kickoff.
We’re in among the Austrian fans, in the top tier at one of the corners (in as much as a bowl stadium can have corners), the Germans have the other end.
In this group Croatia are already through with two wins, and a draw in this game means Germany will join them. If Austria win this game then they’re though, unless Poland defeat Croatia by a greater margin than Austria defeat Germany (head-to-head doesn’t matter as these teams drew 1-1).
Not a great first half if truth be told, Germany are attacking the goal at our end and are clearly the better side. Uniquely among all games in the tournament, the stadium announcements are in English and German (all the other games they’ve just been in English), and we also notice that the big screens in the stadium take the live TV feed, but don’t show any replays – when viewers at home are seeing replays we get random shots of spectators in the stadium. Very frequently that turns out to be Angela Merkel.
At the start of the second half Michael Ballack scores from a free kick (up the other end of the pitch dammit), and although we see a far bit of the ball at our end of the pitch (and Mad Jens going off his nut shouting at his defenders) you always know that Germany are going to win this.
Austria are out.
We hang around till the ground empties, then make our way back into town for the last night of our trip. I’m drawn to the Aussie bar in view of my upcoming emigration.
Tuesday 17th June
There’s free public transport with your match ticket until noon the day after the game, which includes the bus to the airport 🙂 So we get there with plenty of time to spare, and do one last bit of celebrity-spotting at the airport bar where we see (but before that we hear) Mark Pougatch from BBC Radio 5, sitting with Ian Rush and Mike Ingham. I presume they’re on the same flight as us, which is BA to Heathrow’s shiny new terminal five. Then I have the joys of the tube back across London, and then the BR out of Liverpool Street back home.
What happened next
Austria and Switzerland were eliminated at the group stages.
Turkey got to the semi-finals, where they were beaten by Germany in a great game (3-2, it was 1-1 with ten minutes to go).
Russia got to the semi-finals, where they were beaten by Spain (only 3-0 this time).
Spain and Germany contested a dour final which Spain won 1-0.
Spain went on to win the World Cup in 2010, and to successfully defend their European title in Euro 2012.
Germany went on to win World Cup 2014.
Scotland have gone backwards.