Geneva- Saturday 7th June 2008 – Portugal v Turkey
I think you would be hard pressed to find two countries hated in such measures by England football fans than Portugal and Turkey. However, the reasons are so diverse. To lose to one team on penalties in the quarter final of a major competition is unlucky but to do it twice in two years takes some doing. Well Portugal managed to put one over us in Lisbon in 2002 and then two years later in Gelsenkirchen. Both games were charaterised by the eaarly exit of Wayne Rooney, although his broken metatarsel in Lisbon can hardly be compared with his petulant stamp in 2004. Turkey on the other hadn conjures up the return to the dark days of football violence for many, and the hatred still for some inexplicable reason still runs deep.
The opportunity to sample a tournament firstly as a Media representative, and secondly without having to worry what English player will be the next one to humiliate himself from the penalty spot was very enticing, and so as soon as my media details had been confirmed I was booking my travel left, right and centre.
Firstly, the good news. Flights were both cheap and easy to arrange to most games. A return on UnreliableJet to Geneva was a bargain £45 return – some £200 cheaper than when England visited in November 2005. The bad news was that hotels were impossible to come by – especially in Switzerland. However, all was not lost as thanks to the generousity of the Swiss and Austrians, 1st Class train travel was free for the duration of the tournament, so a couple of trips were planned with the concept of the moving hotel in the form of my 1st class recliner.
So trip one was to Geneva to watch Portugal v Turkey. For once a midday flight (late of course) got me to Geneva at 3.30pm, and I headed across the motorway (quite literally – after all would you risk a 5% chance of death on a major road and save a 30 minute walk?) and checked in at the hotel. Thirty minutes later I was at the Stade de Geneva, officially a member of the press corp. Most major organising committees give the media a free gift – but is hard to judge what it will be. Most give away nice bags for your laptop etc but there is always the risk that it will be a golf umbrella or something completely impractical. UEFA conformed to standard practice and handed us all a very nice bag, with lots of pockets to stuff as many free copies of the official tournament programme (normally 15CHF) which will of course soon appear on Ebay. With a few hours until kick off, the Media centre was a welcome home fo a few hours. Media centres sound very exciting but they are normally nothing more than a big marquee with rows of tables where nameless, faceless individuals make up stories to fill thousands of column inches. Geneva was no exception but I did see a few familiar faces from the Rugby World Cup that must mean I am becoming “accepted” at the top table.
The stadium in Geneva is really in the middle of nowhere. Sandwiched inbetween the railway line and a motorway, with a shopping centre at one end, it is not blessed with good public transport access. In fact the official guide recommends a 50 minute “fans” walk from the city centre, taking in many of the main sites of the city, passing the official Fans Village. These specially designated zones have become popular since the 2004 European Championships. The idea of cramming all fans into one area (essentially a compound) where toilet facilities are almost not existent, food and drink is overpriced and there is no shade from the sun or cover from the rain seems like fan hell, but they are very popular. The one in Lisbon in the old Expo site was brilliant. Not only did it have an arena constructed like a small stadium but it also had some excellent games such as “can you shoot as hard as Roberto Carlos” and the football equiviliant of Hole in One with a goal floating some 50 yards out into the harbour and you had to try and score three goals. In 2006 Germany took it one stage further by building mini stadiums in many cities just to watch the games. Many an unsuspecting person was fooled into buying a ticket to watch the world cup final in Berlin on Ebay with a seat at the 20,000 arena built by Adidas. Geneva’s version was no different, although as the first event here was the Swiss’s opening game versus the Czech Republic it was not suprising that the place was packed and hardly the most pleasant venue to watch the game so I instead headed past the stadium to a small French restaurant to meet Howard (and his Dad) who is one of a dozen or so England fans who has not missed a game (England that is) for over 20 years. He even travelled on a day trip to Tel Aviv last year just hours after his first child was born. He was without a ticket but had funds to enable him to negotiate so we had a decent meal, a couple of beers and then headed back to the stadium. With so many sellers, the market equilibrium was certainly in his favour and within minutes he had snared a face value ticket – so much for UEFA’s crackdown on the black market.
The stadium was a cauldron of noise and colour. The Swiss tried to introduce a few “wacky” games into the build up but it was not necessary. The dull looking stadium had been trasnformed red and maroon by the fans, and with the grey clouds staying over the mountains in the distance everyone waited for the start of the game. The earlier offering between the Czech’s and the Swiss had been disappointing, but this game started at a cracking pace with the Portuguese using Ronaldo wide on the right to attack the weaknesses in the Turkish backline. The first half was not without incident as theTurks played to form,diving around on the floor at every opportunity and with only 1 yellow card issued you could say that the German referee was turning a blind eye to most things. Pepe thought he had given the Portuguese the lead in the 19 minute but his header from a Deco corner was ruled out for a push. However, Pepe and the Portuguese bench appeared not to have noticed as they carried on celebrating for a good 30 seconds whilst play continued on around them. Ronaldo, sporting what can only be described as a baby mullet hit the post with a free kick late in the half – obviously he has been getting some tips on what the latest fashion trends are in Madrid from his “potential” new manager – the German Berndt Schuster.
The second half started much as the first half ended – with the referees whistle. Portugal continued to pump cross pitch balls to Ronaldo, and he continued to beat defenders with ease. The veteran Nuno Gomes hit the post in the 50th minute after the referee played advantage for a clear foul on Simao in the penalty area. The first goal eventually came on 60 minutes as Pepe got his score after a great one two with Deco. Whilst there was still 30 minutes to play, this goal essentially ended the spirit of the Turks, and apart from a couple of ludicrous penalty appeals they ran out of steam. It was left to substitute Raul Meireles to finish off the game in the 92nd minute after rounding the keeper, thanks to the brain and quick feet of Deco.
So 3 points for one of the tournament favourites, and game number one under my belt on the UEFA Gravy train. And with a strategically well located hotel I thought I was in for an easy journey back. Oh how wrong I was. I experienced the reason why Switzerland and Austria cannot host big events. I even waited in the media centre for an hour after the game to allow the crowds to dispurse. So leaving the stadium I headed north to Lancy and waited for a tram. And waited, and waited. After 20 minutes one turned up absolutely packed apart from the end carriage, where my fellow travellers and I boarded, only to be hit with the smell and site of vomit on most of the seats. This wasnt a “I feel a bit sick and cannot hold it in” type but a I am going to make sure I cover every inch of the tram with this baby…The tram took ages to crawl through the streets as the Portuguese fans in their cars were driving like maniacs, beeping their horns as if they had won the tournament as opposed to beating the 20th best team in the world (accoding to FIFA anyway). The tram eventually got into Cornivan station and I headed inside to get the train for the 5 minute journey to the airport. Except that the “extra trains laid on through the night for fans to get back to other towns and cities” actually meant that there was a train in 2 hours. So I had a difficult decision to make. Walk the 3 miles, wait in a very long line for a taxi or try and find the bus. After waiting for a taxi that was willing to go to such a local distance for over 30 minutes I gave up – as it was a sellers market the taxi drivers could be picky as to who they took and where. And then a miracle happened – a number 5 bus signed to Aeroport and Palexpo drew to a halt on the opposite side of the road. On boarding I confirmed it was indeed going my way and settled back – hopefully home by 1am and 4 hours sleep would have to do. After 20 minutes of driving around the northern suburbs of the city we arrived at the deserted Palexpo (basically like the NEC) where the driver told the dozen or so passengers that actually he was terminating here and we had to get out and another bus would come “in about an hour” to take us to the Airport. Wow – what a great and efficient transport service. So with the airport in site across the motorway I set off again on my dangerous hike, crossing crash barriers, hard shoulders and a chain link fence to get back to the hotel – 90 minutes after leaving the stadium. Good to see they have been talking to the organisers of Wembley to put in place their transportation policy!
A quick turnaround awaited me in the UK as I prepared for Salzburg – home of Mozart, Red Bull and chocolate salty marzipan balls – lovely!