Kick off Euro style

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JetAway December 2009

With Man United one of the favourites in the Champions League and the World Cup salivatingly close, JetAway asked footie fanatic Daniel Ford to educate us on Europe’s stars, stadiums and scandals.


The big concrete terracing at Akritas Chloraka (bottom of Cyprus Division 2) is baking hot so I’m sitting on a stray bit of cardboard. There are maybe 100 fans dotted around in the area where my cousin Lewis and I, and thousands of flies, have settled to watch the game against the second-placed side from Larnaca. Just in front of the children aiming toilet rolls quite accurately at the halfway line is a guy hopping about selling tickets. But whether they are for the match we’re watching (the turnstiles were unmanned) or for a raffle is unclear. About the same number of people are dotted around on the terraces behind the goal, a bit of concrete that seems to hang on the hillside. Well, actually, it does hang on the hillside, as the whole stadium is cut into a massive drop from what is little more than a village, situated a few miles from the tourist town of Paphos. The stadium is rubbish, the football is rubbish and youngsters from the home side’s youth team are throwing things at the opposition bigwigs who are sitting in front of me. But I adore every minute of it because I am a football lover.

I’m doing my mid-life crisis thing and living in Cyprus for a few months, running on the beach in the mornings, working in a bar in the afternoons and generally loafing about. Akritas Chloraka’s “stadium” is just a short walk up the hill from my local (where I drink not work). The other ex-pats in the bar can’t believe I can be bothered to trek up the steep hill in the ridiculously hot (winter) heat; copies of this morning’s Mail On Sunday have just arrived and the air-con is turned up high. They order more beers.

A couple of weeks later I jump in my Jeep and drive to the capital, Nicosia, to watch Cyprus hold Germany to a 1-1 draw in a European Championship qualifier. It’s become a habit: I get on a plane, I watch football and visit stadiums. I’ve seen the FIFA Five-a-Side World Championships in Hong Kong, wangled my way into a corporate box in Gothenburg while watching the England under-21s, marvelled at the mad Boca Juniors fans in Buenos Aires, strolled down the tunnel at Real Madrid, even managed an inter-island under-18 match while on honeymoon in Mauritius. Like football? Me?

So you’ll forgive me for believing that the greatest thing to happen in the travel industry was when jumping on a plane to Europe became easier than catching a bus to Huddersfield. Passport? Check. Toothbrush? Check. Football ticket? Check.

Today, when football fans scour the fixtures for matches to watch it’s not just the English leagues they check out – it’s open season on Spain, Italy, France, Hungary and beyond. Here’s some things I’ve learnt about European footie and where to soak up the atmosphere when the game’s over.

THE WORLD’S (SECOND) RICHEST CLUB

With a revenue of £257.1m in 2007-8, Manchester United would have been sitting at the top of the pile in Deloitte’s annual money-making list had the pound not fallen against euro in that period (Real Madrid got the top spot). Expect local rivals Manchester City to leap up from their current position of 20th when the new list is published early in 2010.

THE BEER SPONSORS

Dutch beer brand Heineken sponsors the UEFA Champions League so it’d be downright rude not to show a little support, don’t you think? Luckily for beer drinkers and football fans, Amsterdam is home to one of the most attractive sides on the continent. AFC Ajax, four times European Cup winners, built their reputation by developing home-grown talent (including one of the world’s greatest players, Johan Cruyff ) and gave birth to the phrase “total football”, where players change positions freely during the game. Sadly for them, a 1995 ruling in the European Court of Justice, commonly known as the Bosman Ruling, meant that players out of contract could move clubs for nothing, so the Ajax of the present can be summed up by the phrase “young, gifted and leaving”. Still, console yourself with the fact that the Ajax players you watch today will be the Barcelona and Inter Milan stars of tomorrow.

NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY

Oh dear, Milan football, where to start? Inter Milan (who play in the blue and black kit) and AC Milan (who play in red and black) both call the legendary San Siro stadium home, and both have histories littered with, shall we say, noteworthy events. Clouds hung over Inter’s European semifinal wins in 1964 and 1965 when the team were accused of bribing referees, while just over four decades later AC had points deducted in a similar scandal. Then there are the fans: in 2001 riot police had to stop Inter Milan supporters pushing a motorbike off the second tier of the stadium, and in 2005 a player was injured with a f lare, the same year racist chanting caused an Ivory Coast defender to attempt to walk off the pitch.

Some years earlier, the entire AC side walked off to try to force a replay in a European Cup quarter final that they were losing to Marseille when some floodlights failed. The match was awarded to Marseille and AC were banned from competing in Europe for a whole year.

WHERE’S THE BAR?

It’s certainly not hard to find a bar in Budapest. But boy will you struggle to find the best ones for a cold, post-match Dreher Classic. And it’s no wonder, because the best bars can be found in abandoned buildings, often move locations and are renowned for not advertising. You’ll have to ask a local. Or try the iconic Szimpla (Vll Kertész u 48; 00 36 1 321 5880). You’ll have less trouble finding Stadion Hidegkuti Nándor, which is just a couple of miles east of the river Danube and home to MTK Hungária, a club owned by Gábor Várszegi, a former rock star who gave up his musical career in Hungary to deal diamonds in Los Angeles. As you do…

ART IS FOOTBALL

The first time I went to Barcelona my art-loving companion made me walk a lap of the city admiring the influence of Gaudi and Miró. Then, in the evening, we circled the restaurants to find one Picasso used to frequent. It was mobbed so we ended up eating tacos in a small Mexican place instead. This is where it truly hit me what football means in this city. A group of fans we chatted to made it clear that the club not only represented their Catalan identity but also that football was about winning “beautiful”. The Picasso museum is the second most popular in the city. The first? Barcelona FC, of course, where art meets football.

Daniel Ford is co-author of A Football Fan’s Guide To Europe (New Holland, £14.99). He is pleased to report that Akritas Chloraka have been promoted to Cyprus Division 2 once more

TRAVEL INFO

AC Milan
San Siro, Via Piccolomini 5. 00 39 026 2281. To get there: Metro on Line MM1 (stop Lotto Fiera 2). Tram 16.

Ajax
Amsterdam Arena, Arena Boulevard 1, 1101 AX Amsterdam Zuidoost. 00 31 20 311 1444.
To get there: Metro Line 54 (stop Strandvliet). Buses 29, 59, 60, 62, 137, 158, 174, 175 (stop Bijlmer).

Barcelona,
Camp Nou, Carrer d’Arístides Maillol. 00 34 902 189 900.
To get there: Subway Line 3 (stops Maria Cristina, Palau Reial, Zona Universitària) or Line 5 (stops Collblanc, Badal).
Buses 7, 15, 33, 43, 54, 56, 57, 67, 68, 74, 75, 113, 157, 158, L12, L14, L50, L56, L62.
Trams T1, T2, T3 (stops Avinguda de Xile, Palau Reial, Pius XII).

Inter Milan (as AC Milan). 00 39 02 487 7761.

Manchester United
Old Trafford, Sir Matt Busby Way, Old Trafford. 00 44 161 868 8000.
To get there: Metrolink tram in direction of Altrincham (stop Old Trafford).
Train from mainline stations (stop Manchester United FC Halt).
Buses 17, 114, 115, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 257, 263, 264.

MTK
Hungaria Stadion Hidegkuti Nándor, Salgótarjáni út 12-14. 00 36 1 333 8368.
To get there: Metro M2 to Stadionok, then tram 1.

Paris St Germain
24 rue du Commandant Guilbaud, 75016. 00 33 1 4743 7171.
To get there: Metro Line 9 (stop Porte de St-Cloud). Line 10 (stop Porte d’Auteuil).
Buses 22, 32, 52, 62, 72, 123, 175, 189, 241, PC1.

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