This month we’ve been traveling through different countries in Europe each weekend. Our travels coincided with the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, more commonly referred to as Euro 2012. The “final” tournament features 16 European nations and was hosted jointly by Poland and Ukraine. Originally 51 countries vied for the 16 spots.
This year, the Euro 2012 tournament was played in eight venues scattered across the two host countries. Although we were unable to get to any of the game venues, the Euro 2012 tournament is a BIG part of June for the 16 qualifying countries. As the tournament began in the first week of June, everyone was excited!
How big is it? To get into the sixteen team group, you have to play your way in – and that qualifying process began in August 2010 and concluded in November 2011. (Poland and Ukraine as the host countries were given two slots, so this year only 14 were available. In the future, there will be 24 slots available). Once the “finals” started this June, the sixteen qualifying countries treated each game as a historic event. Each night, an estimated 116 million people watched the games – That’s the equivalent of a Super Bowl Audience every night the games are played during the month!
Denmark was in the final sixteen and so early on we were surrounded daily by red and white clad fans. Huge screens were erected in Copenhagen and fans gathered to jointly watch their team’s progression in the Euro 2012 tournament. Unfortunately, Denmark did not make it out of the first round…
In our travels we were exposed to the highs and lows of the fans from the participating countries. In Amsterdam we commiserated with the Dutch as there team was surprisingly bounced from the tournament. In Berlin, we saw preparations for the game at the “Fan Mile”, a 3 km artery leading from the Brandenburg Gate monument across the Tiergarten Park – see these pictures as the crowd gathers six hours BEFORE the game, Yes, tailgating exists all over the world!
Later that evening, an estimated 400,000 people gathered to watch the match on HUGE TV screens placed along the Tiergarten route. You can see in the background of the first photo, the top of the Brandenburg Gate. Everyone was dressed in the national colors of red, yellow and black and the crowd celebrated as Germany won their first match of the event. The crowds dispersed heading for the nearby Potsdamer Platz to party into the night, accompanied by honking car horns, flag waving supporters, and the sound of fireworks across the city.
Sunday evening we had to fly out of Berlin back to Copenhagen. Unfortunately, the new Berlin airport – which was supposed to be ready by early June – was delayed so we were “rescheduled” and our flight departed out of the old, Berlin Schoenefeld airport. Yes, they NEED to close this airport and “move on…” After checking in we went in search of a TV (and a drink) to wait for our flight departure and watch the next Euro 2012 game. Unfortunately, there was only ONE facility with operating TV’s in our departure terminal – an Irish Bar. So we sat down to have a Guinness and a Magners Cider. Soon the crowd began to build as the pre-game show began. It was a huge match between World Cup holders Spain and the Italy club. By the time the match started, the bar area was wall-to-wall with Italians, Spaniards, and others (us) watching the exciting match.
Now the Spanish and the Italians can get fairly excited and as the stakes were high, this was a loud and demonstrative crowd all huddled around three TV’s. So here we were – in East Berlin Germany packed into an Irish bar, surrounded by flag waving (where’d they get those from) fans from Spain and Italy. And of course the other nationalities were rooting against both. It was a “European” experience!
Although we could not get to the games, watching with a crowd – especially a passionate crowd – is often the next best option. We were Italy the next weekends and in every bar, cafe, and even high-end restaurants, TV’s were placed. They were on the sidewalks outside small businesses and crowds gathered. In Rome, we joined Italian friends at Campo de Fiori to watch a couple of games. The first night Germany won and it was interesting to watch the Italian fans. We decided to return to the same venue for the all-important Italy vs. England match. Seated next to us, amid all the Italians, was a group of English fans.
It was an exciting game with many chances for both teams… but at the end of regulation the game was scoreless. And after two overtime periods with no scoring, the game came down to a “Shootout.” It was tense and every shot was cheered and jeered by the people massed in the piazza. Finally, Italy secured a win and the crowd erupted!
Above are two photos when the winning Shootout goal was scored. You can see the excitement of the Italian fans and in the right foreground, the English fans realizing their Euro 2012 dreams were over.
Unfortunately for the Italian fans, Italy lost 4-0 in the finals to the powerful Spanish team. The month-long tournament generated incredible passion and excitement all through Europe – much like the World Cup does worldwide. If you’re traveling when these tournaments are ongoing, you will be swept up by the enthusiasm and nationalism of the contending countries. It’s an exciting spectacle. Ron Phillips Travel be happy to help you participate!
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