Euro 2012 – Day Three … another brick in the wall

A piece of the Berlin Wall at Potsdam Platz

Putting a massive telly in front of the Brandenburg Gate to watch the football on is a great idea. There’s just one slight flaw in the plan. If you do that, you can’t see much of the Brandenburg Gate (at least from the western side).

A big telly, yesterday. In the background is the Brandenburg Gate
It’s not the most respectable approach to a venerable monument that was obscured and cut off by a hideous structure for much of the 20th Century. And it really wasn’t helped by the fact that they didn’t even bother to turn it on for what promised to be one of the early highlights of the tournament – Sunday’s showdown between Italy and Spain. That’s why, after a healthy walk across the length of the Tiergarten, the vast and slightly wild urban park at the heart of Berlin, I joined a young crowd of Italians and Spaniards huddled around a television no bigger than the one in my living room.
The crowd in the fan park
The atmosphere in the Hyundai Fan Park was great, the beer overpriced and I went and sat down in a nearby bar for the second half. So nice idea Berlin and the sponsors – but think it through next time.
A better view of the Brandenburg Gate from the east, with actors mugging as Russian and American guards in front of it

Spain in pain?
The Spanish certainly didn’t look like a side who’d lost their appetite, but maybe they have lost their way a little. My dad reckons the state of the pitch in Gdansk didn’t help their passing game. Italy fielded what must be the first all-certifiable strike partnership in the history of international football, and it was no surprise to see Mario Balotelli withdrawn before he could get himself sent off – while Antonio Cassano wasn’t much better. It was no surprise that they went ahead and no coincidence that the goal came the first time Andrea Pirlo – the king of the 2006 World Cup – got on the ball and drove forward. He’s knocking on a bit, but if Pirlo is on form, don’t rule Italy out of this competition.

Dire Eire
Found a very nice Irish bar (with a very nice Irish waitress) in the basement of the famous Europa Centre, near Zoo Station. That was the highlight of the evening, as the inadequacies of some of the Irish players – especially Keith Andrews and Stephen Ward – were painfully exposed by the Croatian master technicians. No doubt it won’t stop the Irish fans having fun, but with Italy and Spain to come, their prospects look dire.

Croat on the town

Party time for Berlin’s Croatians

One thing that Berlin wasn’t short of last night was pissed up Croats. They were a sight to behold, although it was a bit alarming that they were driving up and down the famous Kurfürstendamm shopping street flying their flags and sounding their horns, in everything from scooters to rather posh cars. A big green police van’s sirens added to the cacophony, and there was a touch of the Keystone Cops about the way the Croats made sharp U-turns and headed back up the street, foxing their pursuers. I have video of this, but no facility to edit it at the moment!

There must be more to life …
Not wishing to perpetuate any national stereotypes but … firstly, I’ve eaten more sausages in the last three days than I have in the last three years. Fortunately Berlin seems to have plenty of ethnic eating options, which will have to be explored in the next few days. Secondly, the Deutsche Bahn is incredibly efficient, whizzing from Hamburg to Berlin in a little more than an hour and a half. Spacious seats, clean carriages, helpful staff … Britain’s railways have improved hugely, but they’re still frighteningly far behind.

The Bundestag is surrounded by some remarkable modern architecture
The Germans have also done a marvelous job of recreating the heart of their city, with modern architecture sitting comfortably alongside the rejuvenated Bundestag building.

A mystery … solved
In my first blog post, I bemoaned the fact that everyone (from the toilet attendant and the beggars upwards) pinned me as an English speaker instantly. Strangely, with the glasses on, the opposite is true. Random strangers attempt to start conversations in German … to which I reply ‘ist gut, ja’ and grin inanely, hoping against hope that they’re not telling me my flies are undone. Pictorial evidence below.

English yobbo
Sophisticated continental type

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Euro 2012 – Day Two

So, German match night in Hamburg – a bit of an uncomfortable situation for an Englishman to be in. But an experience not to be forgotten. The atmosphere was building all day, especially in the party area of St Pauli. Even early in the afternoon, the atmosphere was building. An area at the centre of the Reeperbahn was set out with kiosk bars and food stalls, all with their own televisions, while the park around the stadium of FC St Pauli – Hamburg’s famously anarchic second club, whose skull and crossbones logo is everywhere – was designated as a fan park. As it happens, jetlag, five hours of walking around the city and concern about being recognised as an Englishman forced me to reconsider a plan to return there in the evening and settle for a seat in the hotel bar. As it happens, I don’t think the nationality issue would’ve been a problem – a noisy group of Dutch fans marched towards the Reeperbahn in full colours and shouting Hup Holland Hup with nobody challenging them. Speaking of the Dutch …

Who are you and what’ve you done with Robin van Persie?
The Dutch bottled it. Simple as. Twice, Robin van Persie is presented with the ball with a sight of goal, twice he ‘controls’ it further than some people can pass it. What is going on with the Arsenal striker, normally technically perfect? The rest of the Dutch side huffed and puffed without actually creating very much. The Danes took their chance well and looked assured in possession, without ever being particularly threatening. The fact Dennis Rommedahl is still in their team – and still as painfully average as he was in his Charlton days – is telling. But a draw against Portugal may yet be enough to see them out of the ‘Group of Death’ while Holland must get results – and at least one win – from their tough games against Germany and Portugal.

Riding their luck – again
This was supposed to be a different kind f German side – with flair, rather than efficiency, the watchword. Yet they rode their luck just as their predecessors have done at so many major tournaments (see the incredibly mediocre outfit propelled to the 2002 World Cup final by the brilliance of Oliver Kahn and Michael Ballack). The Germans created little, while Portugal often looked dangerous on the break. Mario Gomez was unfortunate to see his goal chalked off but there were plenty of anxious faces around the bar before Sami Khedira’s cross took a wicked deflection to fall perfectly for the Brazilian-born frontman to head home. The cheers were a sign of relief as much as anything.

Hamburg’s cultural melting pot

The anarchist spirit lives on in St Pauli

A quick stroll around the hotel yields restaurants offering cuisine from Vietnam, Thailand, India, Italy, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan and no fewer than three Portugese restaurants – all, strangely, called Vasco da Gama. In fact the Portugese flag was a fairly common sight through the day, often sold alongside the German flag. Besides that, the St Georg district is also the heart of Hamburg’s gay community and has a plethora of churches and mosques.
‘Thug Life’ with the famous skull badge associated with the St Pauli area and St Pauli FC in particular

Meanwhile St Pauli, the heart of the anarchist community in the 1970s, feels like a place that’s trying to fight off gentrification and, on the whole, winning. The graffiti and street art give the place a very unique ambiance. While the Reeperbahn is best known for being the heart of the red light district (some nearby sidestreets are shielded by barriers, covered in signs barring entry to men aged under 18 and to women – except, presumably, those who are ‘working’) it’s also the place where the Beatles made their name and honed their skills. While it undoubtedly has its seedy corners, the Reeperbahn yesterday was full of families, out either for the football or to attend one of the many theatres that line the road.
Anarcho-communist art in St Pauli. The sign in the background reads ‘do not piss here’. The smell says it is widely ignored

Now, on to Berlin ….
Voting is still open in the ‘who will win’ poll on yesterday’s post

Euro 2012 – Day One reflections

Hamburg’s Rathaus, or town hall

Guten tag from the beautiful city of Hamburg, for the first blog of a person Euro 2012 journey that will take in three cities, two countries, a couple of live matches, a bit of culture and (undoubtedly) a lot of beer. And probably not all that many blog posts.

Day One of Euro 2012 was observed through the smog of jetlag, so please take this into account!

The Russians are coming
Undoubtedly the day belonged to Russia, who tore to pieces a Czech Republic side not known for being flakey in major tournaments. Their passing and movement was a joy to behold and it’s not too hard to believe that they could win this tournament – or certainly be the best ever team to come out of Russia (remember that the Soviet Union’s Euro 88 finalists were almost all Ukrainians). Certainly the many who tipped Alan Dzagoev to be the breakout star of the tournament can afford to feel a little smug this morning.

Poles apart
A successful home nation (or two) is handy for any tournament, and the way Poland started their opening game gave plenty of cause for optimism. They really got at the Greeks, with wingers targeting the area between the full back and central defender in a manner somewhat reminiscent of England. Their dominance in the first half was absolute, but there was a nagging doubt that the one goal would be enough, and so it proved as the Greeks scored a fortuitous equaliser and would have had a somewhat undeserved victory had it not been for Przemyslaw Tyton’s penalty save after Wojciech Szczesny was sent off. Poland rallied late on, but you couldn’t help but feel that what they really needed was two versions of the superb Robert Lewandowski – one to make the chances, the other to finish ’em off.

Aren’t Germans nice?

This is how to tastefully integrate old buildings and modern shops. Take note HK!

Coming from the cool, keep-your-distance world of Hong Kong, the warmth of the German people is a joy to behold – as is the fact that they manage to install shops in old buildings tastefully and manage to preserve their heritage without sacrificing their old buildings. One thing I’m wondering is – why does every German greet me in English? Do I give off a vibe of Englishness? If so, how do I make it stop?

Purely for Lolz, here’s a quick poll

IOC’s choice poses questions for Fifa

It comes to something when the International Olympic Committee, long the watchword for corruption in international sport, shows more sense than Fifa.

While football was happy to pocket the oil money and give Qatar the 2022 World Cup, the IOC has taken the city out of the running for the 2020 Olympic Games.

Now, by any sensible measure, hosting the Olympics is a far more straightforward than a World Cup. Venues can be concentrated within a relatively small area, many sports take place inside, there are, as a rule, fewer fans to accommodate. Most importantly, that timing is flexible – the Sydney games took place in late September, rather than the usual July/August dates.

So why the snub? Apparently, it’s down to … exactly that reason. The IOC doesn’t want the October games that Doha preferred.

But haven’t the Qataris been telling us all along that they can air condition a World Cup? If they can’t keep Olympians cool at the end of September, how are they going to manage it for footballers in June and July? Fifa – and indeed – the Qataris owe us an explanation.

As an aside, the other city rejected by the IOC is Baku, host to this weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest. While that particular campfest will never rank alongside the Olympics or the World Cup, and the selection procedure is simpler – give it to last year’s winner – wouldn’t it be nice to imagine that the focus on forced evictions and other human rights violations might focus the minds of those taking part in Saturday’s telephone vote?

Nice, but probably unrealistic…

I can’t fix the Euro 2012 draw (and it wouldn’t help England much anyway)

So, flushed by the success of a not-too-far-from perfect guess at the World Cup draw (and let’s … erm … draw a veil over how it actually turned out). Here’s a look at what tomorrow night’s Euro 2012 draw might throw up.

I said about 10 minutes after Poland/Ukraine got the event that England would end up in the deepest coal mine in the eastern Ukraine. Looking at the event map, that would seem to mean Donetsk and Group D alongside Ukraine, probably in slot D3.

Let’s assume also that Uefa don’t like the idea of the Germans going to Poland or Russia going to Ukraine or playing Poland, so Germany take the second seeded place in Group B and Russia go to Group C. That leaves Italy in Group A. They’re not going to fancy a Germany/Holland clash, at least so early in the competition, so Spain go into Group B as top seeds and Holland in Group C.

The bottom half of the draw is less obviously tempting for the fix-minded. But let’s assume that the Uefa wallahs don’t fancy both of the host nations going out early, so fast-emerging France go into one of the other pools – for the sake of argument, Group B. They’ll want to avoid an England-Ireland game so let’s have Ireland in Group A. If the rest of the draw is random, the final pools might look something like this:

  • Group A: Poland, Italy, Croatia, IRELAND
  • Group B: Spain, Germany, Greece, France
  • Group C: Netherlands, Russia, Portugal, Czech Republic
  • Group D: Ukraine, ENGLAND, Sweden Denmark

So, assuming it goes according to Fifa rankings (as it surely won’t), that would give us these quarter finals:

Croatia vs Germany

Netherland vs Denmark

Spain vs Italy

England vs Portugal

So another defeat to Ronaldo’s lot, realistically, or a stuffing by Spain in the semi-finals. Either way, we’ll have fun hopefully in Gdansk, where I’m planning to be for the early part of the finals!

Fracking hell – the PR machine is rolling

A flood of PR pieces in the ‘serious’ press this morning about Blackpool’s prospect of becoming the Dallas of the North care of fracking – the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock by injecting chemicals and fracturing it (fracking). You can find them in the Torygraph (probably the worst example), the Indy, the Guardian (probably the most balanced effort) and even the WSJ.

While there’s much talk of prosperity and the Aberdeen effect – and God knows the town needs it – what Blackpool doesn’t need is drinking water that goes up in flames, or another round of earthquakes. While jobs are welcome – invaluable, indeed – they can’t come ay any price. This kind of high-profile PR offensive shouldn’t be allowed to gloss over the risks of fracking. Until some of the questions are answered, Blackpool needs to keep the door ajar – if not quite closed – on fracking.

One final point; the gas fields in Morecambe Bay have been pumping out their produce since the mid-80s. Just when does Morecambe get its Aberdeen effect?

Here come the new seats (same as the old seats)

Details have emerged (care of Guido Fawkes – see, he ain’t all bad, even if he has blocked me on Twitter) of the boundaries review which follows the coalition’s decision to get rid of 50 mps.

There’s a midnight media embargo on it, but it’s midnight where I am, so here’s an early look at how it lines up in Lancashire.

In Blackpool, it’s a case of back to the future – Blackpool South and Blackpool North and Fleetwood will be pretty much as they were from 1997 to 2010.

Fylde gets Poulton-le-Fylde, which strengthens its Tory credentials even further, while Lancaster inhertits much of rural Wyre – again, just as it did before the last review, as well as a few Trough of Bowland towns, including Chipping and Ribchester, which have about as much in common with Lancaster as Fleetwood did. Morecambe and Lunesdale stays much as it ever did, with a bit more Lune Valley added in for good measure.

Chorley, South Ribble and West Lancashire stay much as they were before 2010.

In east Lancs, it all starts getting a bit more bizarre and unfamiliar. While Blackburn stays largely the same, Rossendale and Darwen is squeezed into Darwen and Haslingden, with Rochdale North and Rawtenstall taking the rest (and knocking a few grand off property values in the leafy Rossendale valley, no doubt).

Burnley is split down the middle, with half of it joining with Accrington and the other merging with Pendle. The fag end of Pendle becomes part of a Ribble Valley mega-seat, stretching from the Yorkshire border to the edge of Preston.

But even that doesn’t compare to the megaseat of Penrith and Kendal which stretches, in the commission’s own words, ‘From the outskirts of Carlisle to the Lancashire border.’

The consultation excercise will continue until 2013, after which you’ll see an epic bunfight between existing Tory MPs, not many of whom are ready for the knackers yard just yet, for the choicest morsels.