Euro `96: While the Turks have as much chance as the Dog and Duck B team of reaching the final, their fans are truly world class

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The Independent Online
It was not the rows of empty seats at the City Ground on Tuesday that suggested Euro 96 might not have diverted the English football fan away from his annual summer work-out on his lethargy. It was a chant 10 minutes before the start of Turkey's match against Croatia.

While the Turks probably have as much chance as the Dog and Duck Sunday B team of reaching the final at Wembley on 30 June, their fans truly are world class. There were no more than 10,000 in Nottingham and frankly they would have out-shouted the Kop, the Stretford End or any of the great English citadels of support of the Sixties.

Stereotypes were hard to resist. "There'll not be a kebab house in north London open tonight," one colleague commented, then something happened to suggest that the queues for a large donner in Holloway and Wood Green might not be overlong after all.

A massive sound broke out from the Bridgford Stand which must have been similar to the industrial action mantra of "What do we want?" As one, the Turkish contingent in the opposite Trent Stand replied on the lines of: "Three goals."

It does not take a Wordsworth or a Keats to devise a ditty that will catch on quickly, but the choreography and the word perfection made it obvious that this chant was born in Istanbul. A large majority of the people clad in red and white were not Forest fans doing a foreigner or even immigrants based over here. They were from Turkey.

This was confirmed by a conversation in a nearby public house afterwards. An English Turk who, as luck would have it, happened to run a kebab house in the Potteries, said that Turkey's first appearance in an international finals since 1954 had dragged compatriots from all over Europe. "A lot are from England," he agreed, "but most aren't. Have a look. It's like Istanbul in the town centre."

One thing the City Ground had not been was a centre for impartiality. There were either Turks or Croats in the crowd. The number of English people there just to watch the "biggest sports event in this country for 30 years" was minimal. As it had been at Elland Road on Sunday and St James' Park on Monday.

Already it is apparent that Euro 96's "nearly sold out" notices posted before the tournament kicked off has been a statistic worth damning. As the Independent revealed yesterday, the on-paper mirage of full stadiums has been the result of shifting thousands of tickets on a "sale or no return" basis to foreign football associations, many of whom did not have an earthly of finding takers for them.

Each nation received 7,000 and if Croatia, for example, sold more than 700 for Tuesday's match then someone should have a serious look at the transport links around Nottingham because they did not make it to the ground. Instead there was the ludicrous sight of 4,000 Turks locked out of a half-full stadium. Thankfully, the organisers will be allowing ticket sales at the turnstiles when Turkey meet Portugal this afternoon.

Rather than seats being like gold-dust, a more pertinent image of Euro 96 in group matches not involving England and Scotland was at Old Trafford last Sunday. Germany are one of the great pulls of the tournament but touts found so little interest in their grubby trade that they were off- loading their bundles of tickets for pounds 5 apiece.

Which invites the question why the English fan has largely resisted the temptation to go to see the likes Rui Costa, Youri Djorkaeff etc. A very small and hugely unscientific straw poll seems to suggest interest is greatest the further south you go. In London, where the ethnic mix is more diverse and England matches are accessible, Euro 96 excitement is intense (which makes you wonder why Highbury did not host any group matches). In the northern cities, where our leading club sides come from, less so.

An official suggested that was due in part to the proximity of the tournament to the end of the domestic season. "Euro 96 seemed very unimportant," he said, "in places like Manchester where half the city was worried about relegation and the other about the destination of the championship." It is only a month, too, since Liverpool and Newcastle minds were being diverted towards club matters.

There is also the problem of cash. One friend took his son to watch Manchester United in the FA Cup final at Wembley and while he would love to extend his first born's knowledge of international football he simply cannot afford to fork out more. Not when he is quoted seat prices at pounds 45.

Like the FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford, there appears to have been a miscalculation as to what people are prepared to pay even for the highest profile of matches and that mistake might have implications for England's hopes of hosting the World Cup in 2006. If a tournament with 16 nations cannot sell out, what chance is there for one comprising 32?

A banner at St James' Park on Monday summed up the mood of some. "No Cantona, no Ginola" it read. "No supporters." It could have added: No World Cup either.