01 07 2012 – Euro 2012 – THE FINAL – Spain v Italy

So today was the final. The reason I am here. The reason I have endured a few weeks here in Ukraine.

Millions of soccer fans around the world glued to their television in anticipation of the big final contest.

It looked stunning on the big screen. At pitchside I was scratching my head.

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The opening ceremony looked bizarre. Hundreds of Ukrainians on the pitch dressed in neon outfits, apparently running around in a random fashion.

And then I looked up at the stadium screens and saw amazing shapes of referee whistles, football boots and other football related shapes being made by these dancers.

In psychology, the first time you encounter or experience something is usually the best. Most people like the music from the era that they grew up in. My favorite FIFA World Cups were Spain 82 and Mexico 86. France 84 was awesome with Platini, Patrick Battison, Jean Tigana, Joel Bats, Alain Giresse … for me, it was the best ever.

If I had purchased a time machine way back in 1984 and had set it to July 1st 2012 for the UEFA European Football Championship Final I think I would have kept the receipt and wanted my money back.

At my favorite Euro, Portugal 2004, fans flew in from far and wide to create an amazing spectacle.

A scattering of fans from Spain, struggling with their domestic economy paying over inflated prices in Kiev is not the ideal ingredient to concoct something and to enthuse about.

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Japan 2002 for example, when arriving in a city you got the feeling that there was at a big game.. a World Cup Quarter Final..(not even the final or semi!) – there was just something in the air.

Tonight there wasn’t. It was very underwhelming. It may have looked OK on TV but regardless of if we were all tired and less enthusiastic, it did not seem like the old days when there was a final.

It is hard enough writing this blog, but I am happy that I do not have grandchildren at the moment as there is nothing to tell them about the final in Kiev.

Was that because the football fans of Ukraine did not go? Was the stadium full of audience watchers wanting to watch a spectacle instead?

With the stadium in new UEFA Euro 2012 signage celebrating the final, it was still very much hard work in trying to document the goings on.

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When Platini scored in the Final against Spain in 1984, the stadium erupted. Nothing erupted here. Perhaps Platini can see that for himself and wants to change things around.

Platini does have a point.

Why not make European tournament multi-country. If France have to play Belgium in a Quarter Final, play it at Wembley Stadium or in the Ajax ArenA where it is easy to get to – unlike Donetsk to Warsaw where at a moments notice it will cost you $1,600.00

Despite the media criticising his ‘outrageous’ idea of abandoning the idea of country hosting a tournament of me, Platini has got it right.

We have all been saying that we should have really been in Milano or Roma this evening. As I have said before, Italy was a certainty to get Euro 2012 until its Serie A imploded in front of its very own bit with betting scandals. The only second option was Ukraine/Poland.

In ten years we could have been in Kiev, but also Cardiff, Amsterdam, Bruxelles, Oslo, Madrid and Moscow with a big final say in Paris.

For all the lack of affordable accommodation, transport links, the Ukraine has been a great adventure though.

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I honestly did not want to come here. Not because I had far better things to be doing back home but I was not enthused by the prospect of spending nearly a month here – Strange really as I love exploring and going to new places, but for some reason the prospect of being here did not enthuse me one little bit.

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I have seen a lot of the Ukraine. Places the tour guides want you to see and places that they probably wish did not exist. I have encountered probably the worst roads that I have ever been on in my life. Witnessed more near misses on roads in a month than I would driving a million miles anywhere else. And I have been on the new great high-speed train.

But most of all, the Ukraine has been very welcoming. There is not one bit of anger in the people. They are all so polite and kind. There is no hidden agenda with these folk. No doubt I will return home to the UK and literally bump into a youth in a pub or bar and he will stare at me and will instantly want a fight outside. Here the people apologise, smile and wish you well. The people make the cities. They come and sit down beside you in restaurants, make conversation – this would never happen in London.

If UEFA ask me what was “it like” – apart from moaning about the terrible on-line accreditation system, everything worked well. We all got around OK. The local security people who we normally detest were lovely and friendly. The volunteers who worked in the media centres were quite exceptional. I can not remember it being like this in Portugal! It ran like clockwork. The links between cities left a little to be desired and the hotels were hugely inflated but that is not the fault of UEFA, nor indeed the voting committee – blame the Italians themselves.

Oh – I still don’t like the children mascot standing in front of the players during a national anthem. Some are nearly as tall as the players. Getting headshots is a joke.

No doubt my friends saw the final on TV with the enthusiasm that I used to watch finals like this before I started doing this crazy job. If they ask me what it was like, I will simply say in a dull tone – it was not a game of two halves, Spain were the better team. “You saw it on TV you know what happened…”

And I got a nice picture of the moon…

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Spain as their shirts now symbolise, have won a World Cup, a Euro in 2008 and won another in 2012. I have been to all three. Iconic – yes. Most amazing football experience of my life – No!

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It was just a game. Nothing special. Been to better – been to worse.

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Trophy run around was terrible – something spectacular will have to happen to beat Chelsea winning the UEFA Champions League last month. The teams came out, Spain won, I took some pictures, got some super amazing pictures but spectacularly cocked up in royal fashion on one of the goals that will leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

It is like a striker missing an open goal and the fans abusing him. Goals win football matches, not tackles or celebrations or players with their stunning wives walking around the pitch at the end of the game with a winners medal around their neck.

But then, historically I have never performed at the Euro. I always do well at UEFA Champions League Finals and FIFA World Cups but never at African Cup of Nations or the Euros.

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One thing that really bugs me are the idiotic fans who berate players earning £100,000 expecting them to be superstars. I can assure you these players are as hungry and enthusiastic about scoring a goal in a training session as they are in a big final. What they get paid does not matter to them. And the same for the trusty football photographer. Be it cover a small league game or an insignificant qualification match or pre-season friendly to a grand, continental final or even the global final, the World Cup Final – you always want to come home happy! But such is the nature of the job, you always miss more than you score. You always bug yourself for not being good enough, for not achieving your goals.

I could do an Europa League qualifier in three days time, though I will probably leave it 11 days before I think about embarking on my next match! Thats a lot of sleeps to think about Torres slotting the ball past Buffon. Though I’d hate to be a goalkeeper though being haunted about the ball slipping underneath you and into the net to lose a game though.

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At least I can make myself happy again by snapping some happy snaps on the way to the airport.

….though again I have lots of OK pictures ruined by fans having their camera in the stadium and my cameras picking up the auto focus beams of light causing annoying white oval shapes..

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For those sad followers of photography I shot the final at 2000 ISO at 1/2500 at F4. Why people message me to find this information out, I do not know. Does it matter?!

Im off to pack my bags. No major purchases this time… just a £2.38 pair of Ray Ban sunglasses from Donetsk market and the issue of squeezing my coat that I simply did not need into my North Face bag.

No doubt I will be an idiot in the eyes of many this coming football season when I do a game of say Oldham Athletic v Sheffield Wednesday – watch the goals on repeat on the hour every hour on Sky Sports, want to buy the DVD and keep newspaper clippings as it was the best game ever.

Yes I did the Euro 2012 final, but I won’t be wearing a T-shirt saying I was there. I missed two goals. I do not feel worthy of wearing it as a winners medal.

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2 responses to “01 07 2012 – Euro 2012 – THE FINAL – Spain v Italy

  1. Excellent as always Sir, I love reading your Blog. Bit of a shame we are flying out to Spain next week, would of been electric in Madrid tonight. I don’t think i have ever seen such a dominant team, they could well be on for another World Cup all this talk of boring is just bizarre, definitely closer to Holland’s total football philosophy. As a spectacle though I completely agree, very one sided. I suppose that is what I mean about the tournament as whole (not that I have watched a great deal), it has been literally as flat as fart, I read articles talking about football fever in the uk before the Italy game, never saw any of it.

  2. Thank you for an interesting and honest take on the Euros.

    The fact that professional photographers are not perfect is of great encouragement as I embark on a second season of Sunday League and Northern League football.

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