Before I set off I was aware of the negative publicity, but as a football supporter and traveller, I don't pay too much attention to people who consistently look for easy stories to create headlines. Instead I believe in finding out for myself. I can report that I have witnessed no problems between supporters and no incidents of racism at all. I have already commented on the exorbitant prices being charged for ( very) basic accommodation and personally believe that this is the reason that supporters have not travelled in the numbers I would expect. The exception being the Irish.
During the last fortnight I have visited six of the eight venues. I have been impressed with every one, to such an extent that I cannot believe there is such a thing as a restricted view ticket. (The only restricted view I heard of was a travelling fan's view blocked by an Irishman standing in the aisle. When the Irishman was confronted he simply smiled looked down, picked up a pint from the row of them he had and gave it to his new friend, and stayed where he was). My only complaint would be that Kiev has a running track meaning that behind the goal you are a long way from the action.
During my trip I met a German who managed to take advantage of the free accommodation in Kiev, by responding to the adverts I had seen (see 15th June), countering my earlier comments and offering a positive perspective on the situation. He rang a phone number, was picked up by his host, driven to the accommodation and then left the key as his host went to work. Then in the evening his host treated him to a sumptuous meal.
Individuals in both countries have been eager to meet and talk to you as a visitor to their country. This wasn't difficult in Poland, but in Ukraine, where less people speak English once a local starts a conversation with you, you can see all the non English speaking people want to join in with this and hijack the local to act as translator.
The culinary highlight for me has been the pierogi (Poland) and varenki (Ukraine) which are simply dumplings with different fillings e.g. cheese or meat.
Having been eating cakes and desserts since before you were aware of James Richardson I can recommend Blinkle in Warsaw and Veronika's in Lviv.
At this tournament I personally believe the quality of the football in the Group stages, has been better than ever before, with most teams having a chance of qualifying, maybe due to the new rules!
The hosts both played their part enthusiastically supporting the games, and had visiting supporters joining in the chants for the two home nations, as I left the stadium for the last time on Friday "Polska biało czerwoni," rang round the ground as the Poles in Gdansk also bade the tournament farewell.
The number of travelling fans has been much lower than at previous tournaments. Although I didn't see them I have heard that the Irish supporters made a favourable impression on the residents of Poznan, where around 30,000 were seen, teaching the locals to "stand up for the boys in green."
As ever the Italians and French did not have the support to match their teams. The Swedes had the luck of the draw and set up camp in Kiev, whilst The Netherlands total of points matched their interest in their base of Kharkiv.
The Russian supporters I see were promised free flights to the Quarter Finals if the team progressed that far as part of Vladimir Putin's election campaign.
The Germans were present in good numbers at all three of their games that I saw, and have a strong belief that they will end their 16 years of hurt.
So those were some of the highs.
As for Löw, just remember Markus's words, as Germany edge ever Klose!
© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile