Where language is no barrier for fans

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The Independent Online
Should a foreign supporter find himself lost round the streets of Nottingham or Newcastle over the next few weeks of the European Championship, he will have a point of salvation beyond the local police station, writes Guy Hodgson.

If he locates the information and advice centres based in every host city - and they are all centrally sited - he will find someone who can speak his own tongue, a guide book written in his language, and sympathetic directions. A pity then that neither the Football Association nor its satellite running Euro 96 will have much right to pat themselves on the back for the service.

This is not to say that the principal organisers of the biggest sporting event to hit these shores have not been in touch with the person charged with setting up these "embassies". They rang Steve Beauchampe once.

"It was in the aftermath of the Dublin riot," Beauchampe, the international officer of the Football Supporters' Association, said, "when there was a lot of talk about whether the championships could take place here. In the event I was out and I never found out what they wanted.

"It's just typical of the attitude at the FA. Some of the people at Euro 96 are very good, particularly at local level where I think our advice and opinions are appreciated, but there's still an attitude at Lancaster Gate that we're the wrong sort of fans."

However, the Football Trust has donated pounds 50,000 to the FSA to run the eight "embassies" in the host cities and there has been additional help from British Telecom and ICI. Some 200 people will be staffing the centres during the tournament and the vast majority of them will be unpaid volunteers.

The FSA's origins stem from the dark days of the 1980s, when English supporters had a poor reputation, and the group had a presence at the last championships and the 1990 World Cup. "My biggest worry is a really major problem like 10,000 people locked out of a ground," Beauchampe said.

"To an extent, we have to be prepared for anything and if something does go wrong the upshot will be a bit if extra work for all of us. We are one of the few public faces of the tournament. If you're in trouble, the FA won't have any offices to go to."