x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Euro 2012: Turn out the lights for the party is over

After 27 days of living life in the fast lane, Kiev's city heartbeat returns to its humdrum rhythm writes Paul Radley.

Adam Lambert, centre, performs with British guitarist Brian May, right, and the band Queen during pre-final festivities that also included a concert by Sir Elton John.
Adam Lambert, centre, performs with British guitarist Brian May, right, and the band Queen during pre-final festivities that also included a concert by Sir Elton John.

Day 21 - Donetsk

Nip into the Donbass Palace hotel in the centre of Donetsk to use Wi-Fi. Steve McManaman, the former England player turned pundit, is wandering around, as are a number of the wives and girlfriends of the Spanish players.

The top-end hotels in this city, which is the hometown of both the country's richest man and the president, are said to be the best in Ukraine, and this place - known as the finest - certainly seems flashy enough.

However, you could be anywhere in the world in a five-star luxury like this. The impression the patrons of this place get of Donetsk must be a world away from that of those who have pitched a tent in a campsite just to see their team play. Who has it best?

Spain flew back in today, two days after jetting out immediately after their quarter-final with France.

They remain amazingly relaxed, despite all that is on the line.

 

Day 22 - Donetsk

In front of the Shakhtar Stadium at the southern end of Donetsk, where Spain will play Portugal, workmen are taking down the concert stage next to the fan zone.

They cannot have done much trade there since the knockout stage began. Given the pedigree of matches, the amount of foreign visitors for Spain's matches against France and Portugal has been sadly light.

There were plenty of empty seats for the semi-final at the Donbass Arena. That 50,000-person tourist boom that local officials were predicting clearly never eventuated.

After Spain's shoot-out victory, the players josh around by the side of the pitch, hugging their families and having pictures taken with their toddler children.

This is the human side of these superstars which you do not usually see. They seem a likeable bunch.

 

Day 23 - Donetsk, Kiev

The 6.30am express train to Kiev from Donetsk is mercifully peaceful. The only noise within the carriages for much of the seven-hour journey north-west to the capital is snoring, as the majority of passengers had a late finish at the semi-final.

As the smart new Korean train pulls into Kiev, the anonymity of big-city life is immediately apparent. Donetsk may have more than a million residents, but it still has a small-town feel.

In Kiev, you are unnoticed.

Five magic words combine for the best advertising slogan to date in Ukraine at a train station cafe: "You will be understood here". Not always the case in this country.

In central Kiev, a massive queue snakes up a street from a tiny, hole-in-the-wall food kiosk.

I join the back of it, as it seems like the thing to do, and at the front am presented with a steaming croissant-come-hot-dog. A Kiev right of passage, apparently.

 

Day 24 - Kiev

Make a pilgrimage to the Dynamo Kiev stadium. At the foot of a steep hill lined with trees, and just behind the capital city's central square, it could not be farther removed from the featureless, out of town, newbuilds which are starting to become football's norm. It is not hard to imagine a moody atmosphere when Dynamo play here. Out front is a bronze statue of Valeriy Lobanovskyi, Dynamo's great coach, plus a stone tablet immortalising a group of Dynamo players who died during the Second World War.

When Kiev was occupied by Nazi Germany, the players were challenged to a public match with German soldiers. They won so comfortably, despite half-time orders from German officers to ease up, the referee had to curtail the game.

The team, known as Start, were offered further chances to lose.

When even the best team the occupiers could turn out were defeated the Nazis gave up, and proceeded to arrest most of the players, some of whom were executed.

The story is the basis for the classic movie Escape to Victory, starring footballing greats like Pele and Osvaldo Ardiles, along with actors Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone.

 

Day 25 - Kiev

Queen, with a guest appearance by Adam Lambert, and Elton John perform an eve-of-final concert in a pulsing fan zone in Independence Square.

Strangely, the former Watford chairman is a regular visitor to this city.

"I love you, Kiev," he says from behind his piano. That old chestnut.

He probably says that everywhere he goes, although Kiev is a very loveable place. It oozes history, some of which is fresh, too.

The central square became a tented city during the Orange Revolution of 2004, and relics of the revolution remain. There is a row of tents from where protesters highlight the injustice of the jailing of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister.

Philipp Lahm, the Germany captain, is quoted on one placard, saying the imprisonment counters his beliefs about democracy.

Perhaps the fact Germany went out in the semi-finals saved a diplomatic incident with Viktor Yanukovych, the president, set to be in attendance.

 

Day 26 - Kiev

The Euro 2012 final between Spain and Italy has drawn a cosmopolitan crowd, and most have to pick a side to support rather than falling back on birthright.

Most have gone for Spain, and some German voices boom out the words to Que Viva Espana.

It is an odd sight, as all are wearing Germany shirts, and one is in full Manuel Neuer goalkeeping kit, including gloves. The media centre at the Olympic Stadium is so huge it even has its own McCafe in the middle, which does a good trade on final night.

A couple of rows in front in the media seats inside the stadium, Arsene Wenger takes time out from being Arsenal manager to conduct expert analysis duties.

He had said Spain's method has become a defensive one.

What does he know about it?

 

Day 27 - Kiev

Time waits for no man, not even Michel Platini.

Spain's triumphant players cannot stop to smell the roses, as they are due back in Madrid for their victory parade this afternoon.

However well Poland and Ukraine have treated them over the past month, they can be forgiven for being eager to get back.

There is little doubt the carnival is over in the city they are leaving behind.

Workmen are busy striking the stages, the colours of Uefa are being leached and Ukraine's capital is being returned to the humdrum of every day life.

Whether it likes it or not.

The whole atmosphere of the place is totally altered.

Drivers in traffic jams are ready on their horns.

On the pavements, people have no time to stand and stare.

They have places to go all over again. There is nothing to see here now.

Move along.

pradley@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE