Six England fans sleeping inside a 'tent' in sub-zero temperatures on the night of England v Germany in South Africa in 2010. Sometimes you have to make do if you want to keep to budgets at football tournaments.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It is getting to the point where those of us who are planning to attend Euro 2012 really need to start coming up with some concrete plans. The question is: Is it really worth the effort and expense of going?

Having been lucky enough to attend five FIFA World Cups and five UEFA European Championships, you get used to the pre-tournament media scare stories: 

Japan 2002 they told you that only a millionaire could afford to travel to the World Cup. It turned out though that you could find accommodation for as little as 15 pounds per night and a tournament train pass was as cheap as chips. I feel sorry for anybody who had planned to go to Japan but was subsequently put off by the media - it was a truly unforgettable experience.

Similar things could be said about the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Apparently - if you believed the press - hundreds of football fans were likely to be murdered in one of the world's most dangerous countries (total death toll: zero). And if you didn't get your comeuppance from the locals then South Africa's snakes (they were hibernating), virulent diseases, dangerous roads (often better than German autobahns), or an act of terrorism would spell the end for any football fan 'foolish' enough to travel. As it turned out, South Africa proved to be safer (and often felt safer) than a fortnight's holiday in Manchester.

But what about the Euro 2012 scare stories? Does MTAG give any of them credence? 
MTAG previously visited Ukraine in 1999 and 2002 and would rate those trips as being right up there with some of our best travel experiences. Not only was Ukraine untouched and completely bereft of Western tourists but during your time in the country you sometimes felt like you had stepped in to a time machine and travelled back 50 years in time. Ukraine was incredibly exciting and incredibly 'real'. One thing I do recall though was the ridiculously high prices of substandard hotels. It wasn't uncommon for a decaying Soviet hotel passing itself off as five-star to charge guests 200 or 300 dollars per night. Fortunately, when I visited in 1999, my accommodation was paid for by the British tourism agency that I worked for at that time.

Fast forward to 2012 and it doesn't come as any surprise to MTAG to discover that hotels in central Kyiv and Donetsk are asking absurd prices for a night under their roofs; Ukraine's hotels have always been ridiculously expensive. The problem is though that anybody attending Ukraine Euro 2012 seems to have next to no choice when it comes to budget options. Because while there were those who travelled to Japan and South Africa and spent 200 euro per night on a hotel room, the normal fans got by on a nightly budget closer to 20 euro. It appears that that kind of budget in Ukraine simply isn't, in general, a possibility, and this is where the problems begin...

It is less than seven weeks until the tournament kicks off. MTAG has a ticket for France v England on June 11 in Donetsk. Forget trying to find a hotel in the city for the night of the match; not unless you are willing to cash out well over one hundred euros. But what about camping? How much would you expect to pay for a place in a tent? 10 euro? 20 euro if they are really taking the pi$$? Try 84 euro! Yes, a bed in a tent in one particular camp site on the night of England v France will set you back almost 100 euro. MTAG simply cannot afford those kinds of prices and certainly wouldn't pay that kind of money simply on principle. Frankly, it will be cheaper to sit in a bar all night and get the first train out the following morning.

South Africans on the way to England v Germany in Bloemfontein. You can't always be choosy about the mode of transport you use when you attend a world cup or a European championships.

And how about transport? Well, good luck to foreign fans who don't read any Cyrillic and who don't speak a word of Russian or Ukrainian. Yes, there will be volunteers and signs in English, but once you wander off the beaten track life isn't going to be easy. Let's not also forget that the distance between say Kyiv and Donetsk is approximately 600 kilometres. To put this in context, this is roughly the same distance as it is between London and Aberdeen, in north Scotland. Imagine therefore trying to get from London to northern Scotland on a fleet of 40-year-old buses and on roads that sometimes have more pot holes than asphalt. None of this is going to be easy, that is for certain...

...but will it be worth the effort? Probably, yes, but only time will tell. It looks like it is going to be a case of making it all up as you go along (as was usually the case in South Africa). MTAG will find places to stay and will somehow find a way of getting from point A to point B. 

And, as was the case when we previously visited Ukraine in 1999 and 2002, More Than a Game is expecting the whole experience to be exciting and very, very 'real'. It is time though to start working out how to get to Ukraine within budget. A flight from the UK to Poland and then a bus to Kyiv? A train from Latvia through Belarus? 

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