City where England plan to get engaged
Players will come out of isolation at Euro 2012. Robin Scott-Elliot takes a tour round the Krakow hotel and ground the squad will use
Tuesday 08 November 2011
The number 15 tram rattles eastwards from the centre of Krakow, Poland's second city, past a cigarette factory and into the satellite town of Nowa Huta, which grew up around the vast Vladimir Lenin steelworks. Eventually it stops outside the Suche Stawy stadium, the modest home of Hutnik, the city's third-biggest club.
A string of poplar trees shields the ground from the main road. They do not hide much, a clubhouse, two small covered stands linked by a low bank of terracing lined with plastic bucket seats. It is the home of a club down on their luck; Hutnik collapsed last year and have been re-formed. A group of the club's female fans even stripped off to pose for a 2011 calendar to raise deperately needed money. It was not a photo-shoot fit for the Women's Institute.
Around that time last summer – they now play in the Polish regional leagues – the first representatives from the Football Association arrived and all of a sudden the club had a somewhat less threadbare route to survival.
England will use the ground and its neighbouring leisure centre for as long as they remain at Euro 2012 next summer (it's booked up to the final). The FA will foot part of the bill, along with the local authority and the tournament organisers, to produce a pitch of international standards – installed by the company that did the same job for the last two World Cups – spruce up the surrounds, currently a mottled swathe of concrete, and refresh the dressing rooms. Unsurprisingly "Come on, England" shone on the scoreboard in red letters yesterday morning.
It has become an English tradition. Qualify in (relative) comfort, bag the best base in the host nation. Get knocked out, come home from the island/castle/isolated five-star resort amid mutterings of discontent while Italy/Brazil/Spain emerge from the local B&B to win the tournament. Next year it will be different, off the pitch at least.
In the wake of the disaster that was South Africa, the FA and Fabio Capello decided on a different approach. From the purpose-built isolation of Rustenburg to "engaging and embracing" Krakow, Poland and Euro 2012. And if the FA needed any comforting over its switch of tack and choice of city – which will not host any matches – then it comes with the presence of the Netherlands and probably Italy also basing themselves here. The Dutch were city-based in South Africa, where they reached the final, while Italy thrived in Germany 2006 when also based in the middle of a city.
The Netherlands have secured one of the city's major stadiums for their training base, but the FA, Capello, Sir Trevor Brooking, Ray Clemence – who may have been informed that Krakow's most famous former resident was also a goalkeeper, although Karol Wojtyla was possibly better known for being Pope John Paul II – and others who have made the two-hour flight to the south of Poland are more than happy with the venue they have chosen. It is similar to the set-up England used in France '98.
A 20-minute drive – at least it is 20 minutes when assisted by police outriders as England will be – into the centre of Krakow is the team's hotel, the Hotel Stary with its €220 (£189)-a-night rooms in a building that dates back to the 15th century. Next door is a nightclub, but it will stay shut while England are in residence. A minute's walk away is the city's scenic main square, the largest in Europe, with horse-drawn carriages lining up for tourists.
It could not be more of a contrast to the pampered isolation of the last World Cup, with a chunk of the city's 1,000 bars and restaurants, swarms of tourists – football and non-football – all but on the doorstep. Capello wants a "relaxed approach" and is happy to see the players spending free time taking in the city's sights, and wearing their own clothes as opposed to branded England gear, rather than remaining cooped up inside the hotel, which has only a roof-top terrace as outside space. The players have been consulted about the choice of training venue and hotel.
"We had strong views coming back from South Africa," said Adrian Bevington, the managing director of Club England. "We want to fully embrace the tournament and be part of it. We are going to be doing things very, very differently. We want to be good ambassadors for the sport and for the country."
As ever with England it is not just about the team. The mayor of Krakow, Jacek Majchrowski, was given a signed England shirt and then suggested that the WAGs would enjoy the city because "there are lots of nightclubs, restaurants and shops" and that "if they wanted to buy a beautiful fur coat" this was the place to come. A return to an urban base raises the prospect of another Baden-Baden circus, as Rio Ferdinand called it, coming to town. Not so, says the FA; because this is a city rather than a small town and because there will be no "official" WAGs hotel. Partners will be allowed to stay at the team hotel the night after matches.
"It's a big city," said Bevington. "From what Fabio has said he won't have a problem with the players meeting up with their families. We can all refer back to 2006. I would like to think we're not walking into another situation of that nature. We're in a bigger city. Krakow is very different to Baden-Baden. There are a thousand cafes and bars. That means there's plenty of space here for the players to intermingle."
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