x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Euro 2012: An industrious piece of travel for a family holiday

At Kharkiv, Ukraine, Paul Radley talks to a Canadian family supporting Portugal about their trek from Edmonton.

Portugal fans have enjoyed the atmosphere of Euro 2012's Group B matches in the Ukraine.
Portugal fans have enjoyed the atmosphere of Euro 2012's Group B matches in the Ukraine.

KHARKIV, UKRAINE // In the shadow of communist-era tenements and constructed on the site of a former cemetery, the daunting Metalist Stadium seemed an odd meeting place for two of European football's most convivial sets of supporters last night.

As family holiday destinations go, it was less likely still.

However, a mother, father, son and daughter had made the convoluted, 8,200kms journey from Edmonton, Canada especially for it.

It goes without saying, the main driver for the trip was the 90 minutes of football and the chance to support Portugal rather than the sights of Kharkiv.

"If you see Cristiano Ronaldo, tell him we have been out here on the street for three days waiting to see him, with no food or water," joked mother Fatima Domingues.

Fatima, Jose, Julian and Kaylie Domingues had not suffered quite such acute hardship, but their effort to make the fixture certainly deserved some appreciation.

Having landed tickets through Uefa's follow-your-team ballot, they had made the trip to Ukraine's north-east from Canada by way of London and Vienna.

They went to the ground the evening before Sunday night's game against Holland, too, decked out in their team's colours on the off chance of catching 15 minutes of seeing Ronaldo et al training, or even simply the team bus pulling into the ground.

Kharkiv, a city of around 1.5 million people, is the industrial and intellectual giant of Ukraine but it has an imposing facade.

In particular, the stadium of a club that was founded by a train building plant has not moved far from its working-class roots.

"Why else would you make the effort to come from Canada to Ukraine? I can't think of many reasons other than football," said son Julian, 21.

"It has been a real experience seeing places that were built in communist times. And the people have been really friendly to us.

"One guy rode the metro with us all the way here, and went totally out of his way just to make sure we got here OK." Kharkiv is unlikely to become a feature of the tourist trail any time soon, and it has certainly done its best to cash in on its moment in the sun.

For the three matches that have been played here, accommodation prices have generally been exorbitant.

The Domingues family have paid US$325 (Dh1,200) per night for an apartment they deem to be less than the "luxury" standard advertised.

Meanwhile, an estimated 5,000 supporters of the Holland team, who have played all three of their pool matches here, have opted to camp in the city to make costs manageable.

Despite the logistical challenges for the Domingues family, it is the first time they have been able to see their team play live at a major championship, and they are happy to be here.

"I think it is understandable Uefa should give tournaments like these to places like this, to help kick-start their football and their economy," said father Jose.

pradley@thenational.ae

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