Europhile: Strange way to say welcome

Euro 96 dairy
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The Independent Online
This column's street cred is in danger of disappearing before it has even earned any, but what the heck. Sometimes you have to wear your heart on your sleeve. Visiting Wembley midweek to secure accreditation for the tournament was a pleasure. Efficient staff smiled and answered questions, making painless what is usually a frustrating experience.

Moreover, a funny thing happened on the way round the North Circular as those colourful banners tied to the lamp posts fluttered in the breeze. This veteran of foreign football fields experienced an uplifting sense of pride that this country was finally hosting, rather than missing or messing up, a major competition.

We do not wish to spoil the mood but are duty-bound to report that not all have been so fortunate. A Danish photographer mistakenly went out through the "in" door of the media centre to the annoyance of a steward, who tried to call him in thro- ugh the "in" door so that he cou- ld go back out through the "out" door - on pain of being excluded from the tournament if he did not. "A country that takes no action against people who booze and smash up aeroplanes but wants to ban journalists has its priorities wrong," was the censored gist of the Dane's reply as he made good his escape.

Ease of travel is clearly a factor for any event, and we road ragers who ply our trade first-gearing round the M25 or on the M6 stretch between Birmingham and the North-west do have our doubts. Not to mention the Swiss coach, Artur Jorge, who turned down a training session at Wembley during the Friday rush hour, saying, "We know all about your traffic." At least, praise be, Leeds has had the right idea, suspending all road works around the city for the duration.

With matches conveniently ta-

king place in the dwindling number of places served by railway stations, a comfy Railtrack train in which the privatised buffet will, of course, always be open and well-stocked seems the best mode of transport. Conveniently, too, there is a telephone line with recorded information on how to reach the venues. Fourteen languages on offer, we were told. After a couple of expensive minutes touching keys on command, this columnist was unable to locate anything other than English, French and German in which to be reassured that "trains run between London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly".

Personally , we prefer those hotlines (why are they called that?) dealing with tickets. You get canned music while you wait the three hours or so it takes to be dealt with. To defuse any anger that might be experienced when an operator finally does come on the line in the middle of "Ode to Joy" or whatever, we suggest the following: "Excuse me, but I was listening to that."

England and Scotland have not yet caught the mood, offering only a couple of players for interviews, unlike the Dutch 22 who seem to have little to hide. But it could be worse: Wales might have qualified. After their 5-0 win in San Marino last weekend, an auspicious start to their 1998 World Cup campaign, their manager, Bobby Gould, was reluctant to speak to the press. It seems the normally friendly Gould had learned from some of the gaffes in the immediacy of post-match from Graham Taylor.

The tournament's official supporters' guide is an invaluable little booklet detailing the attrac- tions of the eight host cities. It even names famous people hailing from them. Leeds, though, has been remiss, listing only Sir Jimmy Saville, Alan Bennett, Peter O'Toole, Adrian Moorhouse and Liz Dawn (well-known at those European Fererro-Rocher soirees, of course, as mine hostess of the Rovers' Return). Fran- kie Vaughan deserved better.

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