Why England fans won't be cheering this summer at the European Championship

High prices and low expectations are ensuring that Ukraine will be spared an English invasion

Donetsk

As the clock ticks down on the start of the European Championship, England fans can be forgiven for a real sense of foreboding. No manager, no Wayne Rooney for the first two games, and no real hope of reaching the business end of the tournament.

If all that isn't enough to keep the flags firmly furled, England will play all three of their Euro 2012 group games in Ukraine, with two of them taking place in the grimy, eastern city of Donetsk.

Last December's draw spread confusion and disappointment among England fans. Instead of the cobbled squares and cheap Ryanair flights to Krakow or Poznan, there are the smokestacks of Donetsk and a logistical nightmare.

England play France in Donetsk on 11 June , then fly to Kiev to take on Sweden on 15 June and then it is back to Donetsk for the match against Ukraine on 19 June. With little information about the Ukrainian half of the Poland/Ukraine Euro 2012 tournament available online, most England fans saw the draw, did a bit of research and when confronted with a lack of hotels and exorbitant transport costs thought they might just be better off saving up for Brazil 2014 instead.

The most recent estimate suggests that of 30,000 tickets available to England fans, available through the FA, for the team's three group games, only 6,000 have been purchased.

I went to Donetsk to find out if things were really as chaotic as they seem, and two things became apparent. First, the organisation is a mess, for which Uefa and their assorted avaricious arms must bear as much responsibility as the Ukrainians. But it was also clear that Donetsk is a city passionate about football and desperate to put on a good show. England fans could end up having a fantastic football holiday.

A journalist friend who covered the Orange Revolution jokes that the city's slogan should be: "Donetsk – experience what it feels like to smoke 40 a day." Flashes of depression are everywhere, from the rusting mineshafts a few hundred metres from the town centre to the dilapidated tram trundling past with a dozen faces staring into the middle distance from the windows, expressions twisted into a grimace. But scratch the surface and another Donetsk appears, a city of people determined to make the most of their lot and eager to welcome outsiders. A city that is excited about the prospect of thousands of foreigners descending on them this summer, and a city that is mad about football, and is home to probably the most impressive stadium in Eastern Europe.

Many establishments in Donetskare apparently named in an attempt to make people forget that they are in the city – there is the Rio shopping centre, the Gaudi House, and the Liverpool Hotel (complete with a life-size sculpture of the Fab Four). One of the few buildings to bear a local name is the one that the England team will be seeing the most of, the Donbass Arena where they play their first game. It is a stunning stadium, a three-tiered bowl with a 51,000 capacity and state-of-the art features. The stadium is home to local side Shakhtar who won the Uefa Cup in 2009. But locals are particularly excited about the arrival of international football. The problem is the cost of accommodation, with complaints that people are asking hundreds of Euros a night for shabby apartments and hotels many miles away from the city.

Donetsk has been hamstrung by Uefa's tour agency block-reserving every hotel room in the city and vicinity without any guarantee that they will fill them. "We think that there are loads of spare rooms but Uefa's tour company won't tell us, we have to wait another month until they release the ones they don't need, then we can sell those to fans," said an official on the city's organising committee.

A new airport that can handle 3,100 passengers an hour instead of the current 500 will come online in May, but no direct flights from London to Donetsk are currently available and match tickets purchases should be made already.

"Maybe we'll set up direct flights," I was told by the airport's manager. Quite how they expect fans to shell out for tickets without knowing what flights will be available is unclear. England play Sweden in Kiev and there is the problem that when you attempt to book a Kiev-Donetsk return flight – they play Ukraine back in Donetsk – during the tournament it currently costs around £400. "Really?! Wow, that's expensive," the city's deputy mayor, Gennady Tkachenko, said.

What about trains? "The tracks will be suitable for fast trains, at least our bit of the track is ready, but I don't know if you'll be able to go fast all of the way."

As for the accommodation situation, the city insists that it will not be as expensive as people think. Thousands of rooms in student dormitories have been made available at £15 a night, which can be booked online – the authorities promise they will be clean and functional. Alternately, a tent city is planned for the outskirts of town where fans can either pitch their own tent or rent one of thousands that the city will provide. Prices are set at around £12 per night, or £30 for match nights.

For those unwilling to rough it, there is always the chance that hotel rooms will become available once Uefa's first-refusal time ends. Serviced apartments, which are currently bookable for farcical prices, are likely to come down nearer tournament time as locals realise that their exorbitant rates has scared everyone off and they might be lucky to fill them at all.

"Everyone thinks that only millionaires are coming, and they will be able to rent their rooms out for a 1,000 euros a night," said Tkachenko. "But of course nearer the time everything will become cheaper."

Everyone I met exhorted me to tell England fans that they should come to Donetsk and assure them that they would be made welcome.

"We love our football here, but there is never any violence," says Maxim, a Shakhtar fan. "In Kiev and other Ukrainian cities there is often violence, but in Donetsk I've never seen even a small fight."

There will be 1,000 stewards on duty for the England games, with the police waiting outside. The police have undergone "special training" for any hooliganism scenarios, say officials, but are adamant that it will not be required.

Spending a couple of days in the city certainly shows that the organisation ahead of the tournament could be better. Ukraine v England at the Donbass Arena may be the game of the group stages, if not in terms of the quality of football but certainly in terms of atmosphere. Pack a tent, or at least a preparedness for improvisation of travel and accommodation plans, and it could be a great holiday.

Though there's still the probability that the England team will conspire to ruin it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment