England squad set to fly to Euro 2012

 

The England football squad flies to Poland tomorrow ahead of Euro 2012.

They will set off from Luton Airport for their base in the centre of Krakow.

Much has been made of the 5,000 miles the players will have to travel during the opening three games, which are all in Ukraine.

A few thousand supporters will also make the journey to eastern Europe, but after witnessing the World Cup failure in South Africa most are not optimistic that this will be their year.

Fears of racism have dominated the build-up to the tournament - which is co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland - causing the family of two black England players not to travel.

Former England international Sol Campbell warned fans to avoid Euro 2012 after BBC Panorama filmed football fans in Ukraine giving Nazi salutes and taunting black players with monkey noises.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises travellers of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent and anyone belonging to religious minorities to "take extra care".

The political situation in Kiev has caused European leaders to boycott the tournament.

The French and Dutch governments will not send ministers because of the treatment of imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The opposition leader said she has been beaten since her imprisonment last October on charges of abuse of office.

Her trial was condemned as politically motivated but president Viktor Yanukovych has resisted pressure to release her.

The UK Government has not announced whether it will also boycott the competition.

Amnesty International Ukraine campaigner Max Tucker said: "While Amnesty International doesn't take a position on political decisions such as the possible boycott, we do encourage ministers to look beyond the Tymoshenko case to the thousands of human rights abuses visited on ordinary Ukrainians every year.

"We urge UK ministers to raise the systemic problems in Ukraine that Tymoshenko failed to address while in power, particularly to press Ukraine's government to end the widespread use of torture by a corrupt and out of control police force."

The opening game of Euro 2012 will see Poland take on Greece in Warsaw on Friday, but England fans will make their way to Donetsk, the tournament's most easterly venue.

On Monday night they will play France at the 50,000-seater Donbass Arena - home of Shakhtar Donetsk - which cost Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, £255 million to build.

England then face Sweden in the capital Kiev on June 15, before returning to Donetsk for their final group match against Ukraine on June 19.

Mark Perryman, from the London England Fans supporters' group, said around 3,000 fans had bought tickets set aside for England, while an unknown amount had purchased them direct from Uefa.

"We'll be taking smaller numbers compared to previous tournaments," he admitted.

Mr Perryman said the distance from England to Ukraine and the "pitiful" display in South Africa would diminish the travelling support.

On the pitch, he said it was difficult to predict how the team would compete with the best in Europe.

"I think they could go out at the group stage, but they could make the semi-final."

He warned that if the team fail to make it out of Group D, and struggle at the next World Cup in Brazil, then lower expectations of future success could lead to a permanent reduction in the number of fans prepared to follow England abroad.

PA

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