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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
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

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower