Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Euro 2020 Final: They think it's all over

Euro 2020 Final: They think it's all over

"They think it's all over". But the inquest is likely to go on for some considerable time and unlike The Russia Report this one might see daylight, I note that the Government used their Intelligence and Security Committee for that report I would suspect that UEFA have yet to set theirs up.

Wembley Way
Wembley Way

What started out as a 'zany idea' in 2012, proved to be completely stupid by the time we got round to holding it in 2021. Current UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said "I would not support it anymore", and that was just to do with the logistics of holding matches in different countries, nothing to do with COVID and how different Governments attempted to control - or spread it.

Italy celebrate
Italy celebrate

But for me my 7th Euros are over. I managed to attend eight games, all in the U.K. I had accepted from the beginning of the tournament that I was not going to be able to travel anywhere outside of the U.K. even if my team were playing.

Of course my Euros could have been over before they began as I had to take a COVID test. Imagine if the result came back positive. How would you feel? What would you do?

Thankfully the result was negative and for future games I was able to rely on the fact that I had my two jabs more than 14 days ago, so I knew I was not going to voluntarily take a test again.

Italy celebrate
Forza Italia!

The next dilemma was sorting out tickets, in February this year it was announced that all tickets would be mobile tickets, I downloaded the app and found that it was straightforward to transfer the tickets I had to my friends that I was going with. This seemed quite revolutionary after years of coveting a ticket for the game. But in light of the current situation seemed a good way of doing things.

My first game, Match 5, June 13th, meant travelling for the first time since March 2020 (15 months). I began by walking into town and as I made my way to the bus station realised I was no longer familiar with the city I lived in.

The Broad Marsh centre being the best example of this. Before the pandemic work had started on knocking it down, but now new buildings had taken the place of the old bus station. It hadn't seemed like a gradual process. The new buildings just appeared I hadn't been to this part of town during the pandemic.

Wembley
Wembley

I was pleased that there were only a handful of people on the bus, but not so happy that because of this we would be stopping at Leicester, Northampton and Milton Keynes.

A total of 13 people were on the bus after these stops. The last time I went on the bus to Wembley for the England v Scotland game in 2016, they took two buses from Nottingham and we parked right next to the stadium.

This time we were dropped off at the back of Costco, and although I could see The Arch I did not know my way to the ground as numerous flats had sprung up and the place was no longer recognisable. I still remember my first visits there where you would look down from the stadium concourse and see one massive car park.

Euro 2020
The end of Euro 2020

I had arranged a meeting with a friend at Costa, in the Designer Outlet Shopping Centre which was now very much part of the Wembley scene and just two minutes from the ground. To get here we had to cut across a sparse Wembley Way and up Wembley Park Boulevard which now had a number of places to eat as well as an Amazon Fresh.

Getting into the stadium was easy. First they checked your Covid status with a cursory glance at whatever you chose to show them and then you had to show your ticket which was then activated, to allow entry to the stadium. Once through these initial checks you were free to wander round the whole concourse before entering at your designated turnstile, by scanning your activated ticket.

Inside the stadium the spectators were spread out as the crowd turned out to be less than 20,000. Of course you were meant to sit in your own seat, but when you are in the top tier and Row 33, would you sit there or move down to Row 1 (and take a few photos for you)?

Italy win Euro 2020
Italy win Euro 2020

The next day it was off to Hampden, the Euro 2020 app said that travel from other parts of the UK was not currently permitted without an essential reason to do so.

What could be more essential than watching your team play in the Euros? I noted that these restrictions would be subject to review before the tournament and that I should check back shortly. As I read this during the tournament I presume they had just not updated their website.

Italy win Euro 2020
Italy win Euro 2020

The crowd at Hampden was just as sparse with seats marked with a green tick, then three with a red cross indicating which seats could be occupied. I had managed to get three seats together…but these took up 9 seats!

After the group stages I hoped to get tickets to more games and I was constantly monitoring the UEFA website in the hope that I would be on there at the right time to secure a ticket for games at Wembley. As luck would have it as we were driving to Scotland for the last group game we happened to stop off at the services.

Of course I tried the website and to my surprise tickets for Italy v Austria were available. The news was that there would be 40,000 at the knockout games at Wembley so I knew I was in with a chance. I managed to purchase two tickets.

This time we tried driving down having secured a parking spot just ten minutes from the stadium. It was Wagamama at the Shopping Centre before the game. Once again I was still trying to get tickets for future games but no luck yet.

We were surprised at how calm things were outside Wembley, but once inside we realised that the crowd was the same as the Group Games, around 20,000. This left me with just one ticket left for the competition, the first semi final and to be honest the game I was looking forward to the most.

Italy light up Wembley
Italy light up Wembley

I did think of going to Hampden for the Round of 16 game, which turned out to be Sweden v Ukraine but the lack of travelling fans meant I knew it would be devoid of atmosphere.

Also, I wondered what the crowd would be, as I noted UEFA actually reduced the price of tickets. Category One normally cost €125, but were reduced to €50. I didn't see this mentioned anywhere, it was only due to my persistent checking of the ticket website that I knew.

Much to my surprise, the attendance was given as 9,221. This was only 600 or so less than the Scotland games and on TV the stadium looked sparsely populated. The irony to this is that UEFA actually cancelled people's tickets to this match when they reduced the stadium capacities, now that Scotland were out people were no longer interested.

Looking at my options to get hold of a ticket, I could see numerous resale sites were selling tickets for games at vastly inflated prices, but they did seem to have plenty of tickets.

I also watched Twitter with interest. It struck me that there was a surprising amount of young women suddenly unable to attend matches and asking how they could sell them. There then seemed a spate of people coming down with COVID that could not attend, also then there was the phrase that "my mate is selling". Would you trust any of these people?

The advantage of the mobile ticket is that between trusted persons, there was no relying on the delay of posting, and the ticket could be delivered in seconds. But what comes first the money or the ticket - and can you trust the other person?

Italy light up Wembley
The closing ceremony

The next game that I could attend was the England v Germany Quarter Final, but I still had to get a ticket. To be honest, I wasn't that interested, I was still preoccupied with getting tickets for the Semi and the Final and I can still remember the last England v Germany game I went to in Charleroi.

I spent every spare minute of my Sunday on the UEFA website, refreshing in the hope tickets would become available, and they did. I secured the tickets I was looking for, this time I managed to get Category 3 tickets, and three for each game. These were the tickets that UEFA took off me in the Random Ballot in May. But now for the same money I had originally spent I had there tickets instead of one, for the same price, for each game.

Having secured tickets for the last week of the tournament I was less interested in the forthcoming England v Germany game, I did keep an eye on ticket availability but did not have any luck. I noticed an increase in the people around me asking for tickets, and knew that some were even heading to Wembley, whilst still checking for tickets as it was not uncommon for tickets to released just a few hours before kick off.

Drove down for the first semi and parked at our spot in someone's drive ten minutes from the ground. This time it was Pizza Express, showing our support for the Italians with pre-match pizza. We  had Category three tickets which meant we were behind the goal. I noted now that it looked like all the seats in this area were full. The gaps were in the hospitality tier. The one that you see empty at half time and for the first fifteen minutes of the second half of games. Enjoyed the game and was delighted that the Italians got through.

The next day I returned…..by National Express. The bus was late in arriving at Nottingham, due to the driver waiting ten minutes for three people that didn't show up at Derby.

I trust they will do the same for me if ever I am late! The journey took an age and we eventually pulled up at around 6.15 pm. I tried to make it to Costa, but the scenes at the bottom of Wembley Park Boulevard were chaotic with supporters blocking the way, singing and throwing beer like it was 2019.

I decided to go straight into the ground. Much as I hate to say it, the atmosphere was good and the stadium was bouncing, literally for the first time I could feel Wembley rocking.

Once England got their equaliser there was only going to be one winner, unless it got to penalties. When England were awarded a penalty in extra time, I pointed out to all around me that there was a second ball on the pitch and that therefore the penalty should not be given, as play must be stopped if there is another ball on the pitch. No one listened to me. The journey home was a long one and I eventually got home at 4.15 am in time for a few hours sleep before work.

For the final, it was a drive down and parking up at the usual spot. This time it was Wagamama. Things were just slightly busier than last Tuesday for the first semi. An enjoyable meal was had before we decided to take in the atmosphere, walking back down Wembley Park Boulevard wasn't easy due to the static crowds.

The atmosphere was not quite the same as Wednesday, it seemed tenser. My companions considered a walk down Wembley Way, but as we looked at the situation we decided that it would be better just to go in the ground. We were due to go in by Entrance 1, which is directly in front of Wembley Way. But it did not look like anyone was moving. I ushered my friends back the way we had come and went to a smaller entrance (No 2) where things were much quieter, but police stood on the steps. We quickly negotiated the, by now, familiar checks. My colleagues breathed a huge sigh of relief at making it into the stadium. For the first time I actually entered the stadium within my allotted time slot, we entered at 17:50.

Inside the stadium, once again the empty seats were to be seen in the second tier. But on the terraces…yes everyone was stood up. There appeared to be overcrowding. It was evident that there were more people than seats in our end. As the National Anthems were sung a random stranger tried to put his arm round me, it wouldn't matter whether there was COVID around or not, he would have got the same response, but to be as irresponsible as that, well we can only wait for the Wembley variant to be announced. Now, of course, the games at Wembley were all a test event and everything was controlled and monitored.

As you all know England scored early and threatened to run away with things. But I didn't give up. Italy stayed in the game and once they equalised looked like the stronger team. The penalty shoot-out had dramatic twists and turns and Italy triumphed.

During the time England were on top in the game I tried to look at the positives. Would it be good for the country? Would it provide a boost to the economy? Would people start to forget about the divisive Brexit? Well, these, I thought were all good points, but I might not be finding out for another 55 years or so.

On the 18th July one week after the Final, I received an email from Euro 2020, asking me to share my experience by taking their survey. I clicked on the survey ready to give my findings but was immediately met with a page saying "We thank you for your time spent taking this survey. Your response has been recorded."

Wembley Way
Wembley Way

Ross Clegg footballtravelswithross.wordpress.com

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