Turks, kilts and Sicilian dancers

A week of football and seven days of Europe at play. A kaleidoscope of images will leave a lasting impression, says Glenn Moore
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The Independent Online
Coachloads of Czech supporters on the M6; Romanians watching beach volleyball in Newcastle; a Manchester City defender playing nightclub DJ to Germans. The first week of Euro 96 has been one of surreal images, occasionally sublime football and, in some places, a mounting sense of "event".

In others, notably London and elsewhere south of Birmingham, you would have been hard-pressed to realise Euro 96 was going on if it was not for the extensive media coverage.

As the tournament progresses, the capital is likely to discard its customary self-absorption but, for fans from Penzance to Dover, the only solution is to head north - a pity because, like most things, you get out of Euro 96 what you put into it.

Many people are getting a lot out of it, particularly foreign visitors. The message from the Football Supporters' Association, which has "fan embassies" in each host city, is generally positive. Apart from the constant problems with tickets - getting them and affording them - people are enjoying themselves.

The football has been fairly good, but until the Czechs beat Italy last night there had not been a match or performance to ignite the tournament. This afternoon's game could produce more drama, and it will also the biggest test of fan behaviour.

To date that has been the most encouraging feature of the tournament. In London last Saturday night, Swiss and English fans were drinking together in Leicester Square; in Birmingham on Monday Dutch and Scots were conga- ing around the city centre; in Nottingham on Tuesday local schoolchildren, having seen the Croats taking their shirts off during the game with Turkey, took theirs off too to mutual applause, all in pouring rain.

One week gone and rich memories are already being created. These are mine...

The opening game, and England start brightly but fade. And that's just the press who kick-off Umbro's media tournament with a 3-1 defeat to the Swiss. It was goalless at half-time, then Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, swapped from centre-forward to goalkeeper. Just a coincidence.

The main event is equally anti-climactic. Sitting at the tunnel end rather than the press box, I'm able to experience the full delight and despair of watching England. The opening ceremony is the perfect warm-up and the national anthem has not been sung more lustily since the Dutch visited during the Falklands War.

The joy fades as the game goes on but, despite poor segregation, the Swiss are left to celebrate in peace. Move on to Birmingham where be-kilted Scots are already in evidence.

Leave Birmingham, and so miss the bizarre sight of Kubilay Turkyilmaz in a kilt at Villa Park. Instead see Germany brush aside the Czech Republic at Old Trafford. Swathes of empty seats are the first indication that the FA's 95 per cent sell-out figure involves some creative accounting. Intrigued by the Czechs' Euro 96 song which sounds like a reworking of the old Chelsea favourite: "Blue is the Colour".

After the council discovered that foreigners associate Manchester with football and music, 20 local nightclubs have grouped together to attract visiting supporters. Visit South, where Liam (Gallagher)and Patsy (Kensit) are alleged to have first met, to find Kit Symons spinning the discs and exuberant German fans on the dance floor (not the team).

Manchester's pro-Europe campaign continues with a flag-throwing exhibition by a Sicilian dance troupe at a Catalan bar. Back to Birmingham afterwards by train to see Scotland/Netherlands. The local service from New Street to Aston appears to be running on alcohol fumes but the atmosphere is intoxicating in more ways than one. Scots and Dutch share pints and swap scarves outside Villa Park, applaud each others' anthems inside it.

After Swiss cow-bells and Gouda hats, the fashion notes are provided by the Dutch who sport bowler hats and police helmets moulded from orange plastic.

High praise from supporters for Birmingham council's campsite, designed with FSA input, and attracting 200-700 fans a day.

A morning of football culture. Manchester's Art Galleries have caught the mood with several exhibitions. One item features the Last Supper arranged in team formation. English 4-4-2 looks stronger than the continental sweeper system, which has Judas anchoring the midfield. Also a selection of possible team shirts: several candidates spring to mind for the strip decorated with lemons. A photograph exhibition at the Cornerhouse includes a marvellously evocative shot of Carlos Alberto with a gleaming Jules Rimet trophy.

Afternoon at Anfield where The Kop is decorated with a banner reading: "Peterborough Italians welcome the Azzurri". Media centre less chaotic than Villa Park but failure of close-circuit TV means press conference is unavailable. At the next desk, an Italian makes do by gleefully reporting the latest "England players in nightclub" scandal.

Afterwards watch Turkey v Croatia on television - the match proves the best advert so far for watching games in the flesh rather than on TV. The game is awful but, according to those there, the atmosphere made up for it.

This is due to the Turks who have besieged the ground since midday, driving around pumping car horns and grid-locking the city. There has been no chorus of anger, however, especially not from Nottingham's three Turkish restaurants.

Arrive at Bisham Abbey half-expecting to see "Traitor's Gate" daubed over the media entrance and Terry Venables stalking away with a paintbrush. Instead Bryan Robson gives such a passionate defence of the nightclub incident I begin to wish I'd prepared for the evening's England-Scotland press match with a drinking session instead of an early night. It is not hard to see why he was such an inspiring captain.

The Scots, who claim to have "been on the sauce" all week, win 3-2. Maybe Robbo was right. The English press are now desperate for an English win at Wembley.

Though office sweeps abound, the capital seems resistant to Euro 96 fever. A number of factors are blamed: the lack of foreign fans - it being England's base, the absence of a central governing body to put on events, its customary self-absorbtion and the many competing attractions.

An effort is being made on the South Bank with a Feast of Football exhibition. However, on visiting the Queen Elizabeth Hall find staff unaware of a video and photograph presentation in their own foyer. There is also a big screen (made of 25 standard TVs) at Coin Street but, arriving 20 minutes into the Swiss/Dutch match, find just 18 people and one policeman watching and the viewing gantry roped off as an "unsafe structure". Attendance, which doubles by the end, includes down-and-outs, office workers on the way home, and an American family whose football-playing son insists on watching it.

A call to the London FSA elicits another tale of ticket woe - with a happy ending. An Australian honeymoon couple of Dutch descent left home before their tickets arrived. The FA prove no help but Mastercard step in with two corporate tickets for the Swiss/Dutch match to show the human side of sponsorship. PR gimmick? Maybe, but the Aussies are not complaining.

Back at Bisham and an uneasy truce between players and press, united in a common cause. What the atmosphere will be like on Monday if Scotland win does not bear contemplation.

Quote of the week: Ian Wright, on seeing the dragon emerge breathing fire and smoke during the opening ceremony, said: "George Graham used to come into the dressing room like that".

Request of the week: From two Portuguese fans to the FSA office in Sheffield: "Where's the beach?"

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