Football: Euro show on road with 590 days to go: Publicity for Euro 96 has begun in earnest. Guy Hodgson reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The slogan being pushed was simple: Euro 96. It was on the posters, it was on badges. Old Trafford's press room must have had a thousand different references to it when the reams of paper were taken into account. But another little word kept intruding on the consciousness: why?

Why bother with seven simultaneous press conferences the length of England to publicise tickets for football's European Championships nearly two years before the event? Why would anyone buy tickets for matches in which the participants are unknown? Why, for that matter, did the spurious figure 590 seem to have so much significance in the minds of the Football Association?

'The countdown begins in earnest,' David Davies, the FA media supremo, said.

'There are only 590 days to go to the biggest sporting and cultural event to take place in England for 30 years.' Just to emphasise the point, a spinning 590 appeared on two screens soon afterwards.

Perhaps the figure had some mythical significance. Was it some reminder of a great English moment? A span of unbeaten matches? Or had someone been too late to book Old Trafford, Hillsborough, etc, in time for 600?

Still the turnout at Old Trafford yesterday ranked high in football's aristocracy. France's captain, Eric Cantona, was there and Paul Ince, who has worn the leader's armband for England before now, was also in attendance.

Inevitably, attention focused on Cantona, whose unpredictable mood swings made anything possible, but yesterday he was at his Cointreau advert English best. 'It ees very important for France to be een,' he whispered.

Indeed, he could conjure only one little nugget, and that was a joke. When Davies suggested Cantona's team might meet the hosts in an Old Trafford semi-final, he replied: 'I have discussed this with Eencey,' he said, 'and told him France would have more support than England.' At least we assumed it was a joke.

Davies did address himself to the question of why yesterday's eight (there had also been one in the morning in the capital) publicity vehicles had taken to the road. 'We want to show this is not a London event,' he said, 'but an England event. We're not having one London press conference but eight in one day. Euro 96 is something that shouldn't just trickle out into the public domain.'

And, yes, people have already booked seats, even though they may end up watching Azerbaijan versus Macedonia; 150,000 tickets, in fact.

(Graphic omitted)