x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Euro 2012 diary: Graffiti, cake and a white-knuckle plane journey

In the first of a weekly diary, Paul Radley , our man in Ukraine, talks about the highs and lows of covering the European Championship

Lviv has been home to Germany and Portuguese fans this week ahead of their first match, a 1-0 win for the Germans, on Saturday. The National's Paul Radley was there as well to soak up the atmosphere. Efrem Lukatsky / AP Photo
Lviv has been home to Germany and Portuguese fans this week ahead of their first match, a 1-0 win for the Germans, on Saturday. The National's Paul Radley was there as well to soak up the atmosphere. Efrem Lukatsky / AP Photo

Day 1: Dubai, Kiev, Lviv

Total ignorance of Russian and Cyrillic script could prove problematic this month.

On a long layover in transit from Dubai to Lviv, head to a cheap-looking cafe for what is hopefully a value cup of tea. Order one (with milk) and take a copy of the Kiev Post newspaper.

What arrives at the table is a pot of something tasting like cold medicine, a bottle of cognac, a large slice of cake and a bill for 155 hryvnia (around Dh70).

Send back the cake and cognac, and point out the charge for the newspaper is three times too much, thus whittling the bill down to a more palatable 76 hryvnia.

The connecting flight from Kiev Boryspil on a glorified microlight, into the eye of a spectacular electrical storm, in a country with a poor aviation safety record, is gory.

This may be the norm here. The priest in the seat in front remains heroically unconcerned throughout, transfixed as he is by his Kindle.

Day 2: Lviv

Lviv's people do not seem in thrall to this tournament as yet, not in the way Indians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans were for last year's cricket World Cup, for example.

They are grateful for some of its effects, though. They have a smart new airport, which will allow for more flights into a city that is one of this country's leading hopes for tourism.

There are also some newly sealed roads, which were apparently in dire need of an upgrade before. And the new football stadium also fuels local pride.

It is nowhere near as ostentatiously spectacular as some of the other new venues for this tournament. However, the Arena Lviv, which is set to host three group matches, is still a neatly aesthetic feature of an otherwise unprepossessing square of Ukraine.

First sight of it even produces a smile from the dazzlingly unsentimental taxi driver.

Day 3: Lviv

Eurovision chic abounds as Lviv's fan park is officially opened in the centre of the handsome Old Town.

It feels like somewhat of a surprise that neither Dana International nor Englebert Humperdinck are called upon to sing the national anthems ahead of Poland against Greece.

Wearing blond wigs and carrying phony woodwind instruments, the "Russian Fan Team" look more like the Abba tribute act from Abu Dhabi Harlequins rugby club.

Lviv's Freedom Avenue, on which the fan park is built, is supposed to be a seat of great historical relevance to the Ukraine. It probably is, but it is well hidden behind the identikit advertising banners of the tournament's sponsors.

Day 4: Lviv, Germany-Portugal

This western Ukraine town crackles into life as the competition's serious business begins with Match Day 1: Germany against Portugal.

Although the match itself is drab, and unbecoming of the array of Galacticos on show, the occasion is anything but. A pre-match thunderstorm only fuels the high spirits. The match starts with the German supporters causing a fuss about nothing by throwing scrunched up balls of card onto the field. The 90 minutes end with a 1-0 German win and a huge plume of smoke coming from the same section.

After the game all the supporters pile into the same trolly-buses - the tram-come-electric-coaches which serve as public transport in Lviv, regardless of nationality.

Some Germans help hoist a Ukrainian wearing a Portugal shirt from his wheelchair and into the bus, and give him plenty of room amid a claustrophobic scrum.

This is hardly the image of apocalyptic fandom that was projected before these championships. Let's hope it lasts.

Day 5: Lviv

Make the half-an-hour or so hike up Castle Hill, the summit of which provides an agreeable perspective of the Latin cathedrals and Armenian churches, as well as the town hall and opera house of central Lviv.

A few blocky, communist-era tower blocks are visible in the distance, but this is said to be the least Soviet of Ukraine's main cities, and their impact is unobtrusive.

Street art is another feature of this town centre, and graffiti is daubed along most of the walls on the walk up the hill. It is disturbingly light on Banksy satire, however.

The Celtic cross is the motif of choice, while the words used mostly relate to white power, or just plain English swear words. So there is a little English understood here, then.

So centrally located in a city that has had a long time to prepare for this tournament, the tags are unnerving,

Last year, when the cricket World Cup arrived, a large swath of Dhaka was fumigated to rid the place of insects. Residents near the ground in Colombo were told not to hang out their washing for fear of it being an eyesore.

The odd placed lick of paint in Lviv, judiciously placed, before Euro 2012 might have done the same trick in improving the visitor experience.

Day 6: Lviv

It has rained most days since arrival in Ukraine, but only relatively short sharp storms. Today, however, brings with it the sort of incessant, grey drizzle that makes even the most picturesque town feel drab and uninviting.

It seems a bit harsh that Lviv's people, who have made genuine efforts to make their continental guests seem welcome, will not be afforded the same fair weather the rest of the teams have had, when their side make their tournament debut.

Forcibly ejected from the fan park before even getting inside ahead of England's match against France. Can't work out why, and the one-way conversation with the brusque policeman sheds little light.

Then the realisation dawns that the offending item is the sandwich I'm eating: it is not the sandwich of the tournament's official sponsors.

Joleon Lescott's goal is celebrated with surprising gusto by the assembled Danes, Germans, Ukrainians et al. It prompts one group of Germans to start singing songs about Steven Gerrard. Which feels odd.

pradley@thenational.ae

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