How will England keep boredom at bay?
Throbbing city of Krakow will give England's players plenty of distractions in between matches at the Euros
Saturday 02 June 2012
James Milner is taking Alcatraz as his box-set of choice to fill the long, empty hours between training and playing in Poland and Ukraine over the next few weeks. How to make sure the players have something to occupy them over the coming weeks – their Krakow base has been optimistically booked all the way to the final – is something that has exercised the best minds within the Football Association and they have come up with a solution that ensures that this time Milner and his squad mates will not be locked up in an isolated fortress, albeit a gilded one.
The gilt will still be there. The Hotel Stary, where England are staying, does not lack for stars and all the usual accruements of a top-end hotel, from expensive wine list – there's a Château Lafite Rothschild 1991 for £900 – to celebrity names in the guest book, hello Calvin Klein and Leona Lewis (the minibars, though, have been removed). But it also sits bang in the middle of the city, a Unesco world heritage site, and the aim is, according to the FA, to be "good tourists". The watchwords are to "engage" and "embrace", although presumably Roy Hodgson would prefer embracing kept for post-match.
In complete contrast to England's isolated World Cup base two years ago – "Breakfast, train, lunch, dinner, bed," was how Wayne Rooney described a typical day – there should be ample entertainment on offer to keep Rooney busy and John Terry from plotting one-man mutinies.
How will the set-up differ from the World Cup in 2010?
It could not be more different. In South Africa, England lived and trained out of sight, and going out of their minds, in the sprawling Royal Bafokeng Sports Centre. England's home from Wednesday is much more compact and the 53-room hotel is located within a Stewart Downing sliced cross of Rynek Glowny, the huge square that marks the centre of Krakow with its expanse of bars, shops and tourist attractions.
England will train at the Suche Stawy stadium, the modest home of Hutnik, the city's third team, and a neighbouring leisure centre. It's on the No 15 tram route – when you spot the cigarette factory you're nearly there – but England will make the trip with a police escort, which should reduce the journey time to around 20 minutes.
Just having to make a daily journey to and from the training ground immediately breaks up the day for players such as Rooney who have a low boredom threshold. The training ground is basic, although it now boasts a brand- new pitch and the FA people insist it's exactly what they want – the Netherlands and Italy are also based in Krakow and have taken over the city's two leading club grounds.
So what's the hotel like?
For a romantic weekend away, it's absolutely perfect – a pleasant, shadowy boutique retreat. For Terry, Rooney, Ashley Cole and Co? It's a gamble. The Stary is a tight-knit hotel, with one entrance on to a pedestrianised street and apart from a roof terrace, which is overlooked by neighbouring buildings, there is no significant outside space.
The players have a games room, with the usual pool, darts et cetera on offer, and there is a small pool in the basement – "No running, smoking or disturbing the peace" says a sign on the walls. But, and this feels like a big but, it is compact; beautifully compact but compact nonetheless. If events on the pitch don't go well it may not take much for a siege mentality to take grip, especially as it will not be possible to slip unnoticed out of the hotel. The FA's notion of engaging with the tournament and the locals is admirable and deserves to work, but the reality may prove altogether different.
Players will be allowed to let their thoughts be known via social media as, unlike the Danes and the Spanish, there is no ban on Twitter. If they exhaust their appetite for that, box-sets, hiding Jordan Henderson's shorts and playing pool, there is always the hotel's library which includes among its selection of English books Visions for Mining, the perfect primer for a trip to Donetsk and its slag heaps and pitheads.
Will the dreaded Wags be there?
Not in the Hotel Stary, which should at least split the photographers, diverting a number to the Pod Roza hotel, all of four minutes' walk away. There is no official trip for wives and partners but again the FA is keen there is a "relaxed" attitude to when they can visit their other halves, although with Gary Neville, who has stated firmly he wants no repeat of the Baden-Baden circus from the 2006 World Cup, on guard in the lobby it will take a brave Wag to try to break any curfew.
The shopkeepers and bar owners of Krakow are looking forward to the Wags' arrival. "We will prepare a special programme for them," said Jacek Majchrowski, the city's mayor. "There are lots of restaurants and nightclubs and we do have shops. If they would like a beautiful fur there are plenty of shops to visit."
What is there for players to do away from the hotel?
There is a sports bar across the road and a nightclub next door, although it will be closed while England are in residence. Yards from the hotel entrance there are horse-drawn carriages for hire. Any recommendations further afield, Mr Mayor? "There is a beautiful and ancient forest and a castle." On the 14th-century cobbled street leading up to the castle there's the Literary Cafe, one for the manager perhaps, while on the same street Joe Hart, Rob Green and Jack Butland might like to stop off at the former residence of Karol Wojtyla, who was Krakow's most famous goalkeeper. After his footballing career he went on to become Pope John Paul II.
Players will be allowed to wear their own clothes for any personal excursions, which to some extent will stop them standing out in what is expected to be a crowded city – Dutch fans are being encouraged to base themselves there. There will be a fan-fest park capable of hosting 30,000 supporters and the city, despite not hosting any matches, is preparing for a sizeable influx.
In the second half of next week some of the England squad will visit Auschwitz, while others will be taken on a tour of Schindler's Factory, which lies in the city's old Jewish quarter.
Foodwise there is something for all tastes, from the McDonald's and Hard Rock Cafe on the main square to the Ambasadad Sledzia, where Polish tapas is on offer. Polish tapas is sandwiches, soup and herring in oil; an acquired taste perhaps.
What about golf – footballers can't do without golf?
Breathe easy, chaps – just outside Krakow is "one of the best courses in Poland", the Royal Krakow Golf & Country Club. It's built on the former hunting estates of the Jagiellonian kings, which raises a supplementary question – does Phil Jagielka, whose family originate from Poland, have a royal past to discover? Might we have a Phil the Pole to match Phil the Greek?
Why are England in Krakow anyway when all their games are in Ukraine?
Donetsk, where England play two of their three group games, is 940 miles from their Polish base, but it was Fabio Capello who insisted he wanted to be based in Krakow (only three finalists – the rest of England's group – are staying in Ukraine) and oversaw the selection of both hotel and training ground.
If it all goes wrong, with the players going stir crazy as they sit barricaded into the hotel by a platoon of paparazzi camped outside the entrance, at least the departed Italian offers a convenient scapegoat.
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