The focus of this post is a bit narrow: yesterday’s Euro Championship matches including the one I was fortunate enough to attend here in Kyiv. Let’s do this.
The first match was in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk between Ukraine and France. I’ve heard several times that Donetsk probably has the nicest stadium in Ukraine, which is not at all connected to the fact that one of the most powerful oligarchs owns the team there. Anywho, what this meant was that the fan zone in Kyiv was extremely crowded and they blocked the entrances before the match as it had reached capacity. Alas, superfan Roman & I were on the outside.
All was not lost as we found our way in! Perhaps Roman had read my earlier blog post and remembered that one of the best ways to travel in Ukraine is to disabuse traditional methods of crossing fences/rivers/etc. Thus, instead of going down the stairs to the metro, we followed 15-20 people making their way along the top of the wall that separated the stairwell descent from the sidewalk and from there hopped into the fan zone. We did this in front of 30 policemen who were quite content not to care.
Once we got into the fan zone, it started raining extremely hard in Donetsk and only a bit in Kyiv. In fact, it rained so hard in Donetsk that they delayed the match and even spoke of cancelling it. This pause only five minutes could have been a good time for the Ukrainian players to reflect that it was great chance for their country to advance to the quarterfinals with a win, put themselves in good position with a draw, or be put in a tough position with a loss. Perhaps they decided that, as is tradition in Ukrainian history, they favor a tough position and disappointingly lost 2 – 0. However, I optimistically reminded my friends they still have a chance to advance if they are able to beat England in their next match…Speaking of the Englanders…
The other match of the night was England-Sweden. Before I get to my personal recount of the excitement, let me explain again just how intense people are getting into this. Below is a picture first of English fans, and then of Swedish fans.
Now all looks fun and such but here are some little factoids. 1. They were maybe, MAYBE, 10 meters apart. 2. There was no security between them at all, just people walking back and forth. 3. I’d say the majority were either “drunk” or “really drunk.” 4. This was June 14…as in the day BEFORE the match.
Thankfully, even when one English guy climbed up to the Swedish corner and opened up the British flag, nothing really happened. Swedish people love peace (and ironically selling arms, but that’s for a different post) and I don’t think the English fans were looking for trouble-it seemed they were happy to throw their beer in the air and get showered in it themselves. Anyway, as this was over 24 hours before the match I knew this was going to be a good one.
On match day, I left the fan zone early during the Ukraine-France match to make sure I could meet 3 friends who were going to the England-Sweden match with me. I owe one former Fulbrighter a lot for pointing out that we could get cheap tickets (15 euros) that had recently gone on sale about 2 weeks ago after a lot of English people had sold them back….ooooo…stadiums of hate! (No comment on that). The problem is the seats were ‘obstructed’ but as we were walking to the stadium, nothing could dampen our spirits.
One unrelated note I’d like to make before continuing with note to the above photo: (Almost certainly barring a miracle call tomorrow from the stadium steward service) RIP my beautiful brown bag. May 2012 – June 2012. You were everything I ever wanted in a suave-looking shoulder-strap bag. Me leaving you in the stadium was not the end you & I deserved. I will always remember our times together, holding each other oh-so-close on the metro. I will hold you in my heart forever, just as you held my Ukrainian books I now have no way of getting back. Shit.
Moving on, I borrowed the Ukrainian scarf for the match which was probably for the better as I found it really difficult to root for either Sweden or England entirely. While as a child I loved Henrik Larsson and took great pride in whatever connection I had to the country, today I have many more connections to England through friends and interests. Since I was undecided who deserved louder cheers while watching the two teams, I ended up cheering for pretty much everything. I think this good mood was helped by the fact that our seats turned out to be quite wonderfully neutral and located.
That’s because we weren’t in the Swedish section…
or the English section…
but instead we were right here…
which meant this was our view…
There may be better tickets a little higher and in the middle of the pitch. I don’t know, from my vantage point I learned some things I definitely might not have otherwise. Thus the game takeaways from this novice football fan are as follows:
Zlatan Ibrahimovich is a freaking beast. Watching him assert his will-which he seemed to do when he felt it was necessary-was absolutely amazing. I don’t remember seeing an athlete in person make so many other people in the same game look so puerile in stature and, occasionally, talent. Even the loaf Andy Carroll looked small and pointless when walking by I Am Zlatan. The guy is a beast.
And yet, England won the match 3 -2 because of a great cross/header, a helluva shot, and an amazing pass and backside of the foot finish. The last two were on my end, straight ahead. I still think hockey is more exciting in person as it definitely moves faster, but watching those goals develop was definitely enjoyable (particularly England’s last goal off the Walcott pass).
All of that left me at the end of the match feeling like this:
So, overall great time. May not make it to another match, but this was definitely worthwhile for the experience. That’s all for now, Kamyanets – Podolski sooner or later.