Graham Ennis explains why Liverpool enjoyed playing host to fans at Euro '96
Euro ’96 comes to Liverpool, and the city, despite its reputation as the surly capital of the Northern Hemisphere, made a real effort. The streetlights were decorated, the VE Day bunting unfurled and re-hung, the price of beer was adjusted, even the litter bins were emptied. Our reward was, undoubtedly, three of the best games of the entire tournament.
It’s fair to say that the Italians (the travelling Italians, not the Hemel Hempstead Azzuri) didn’t really make use of the city, choosing to base themselves in Manchester. But the Russians did, although the fact that they were billeted in an ocean liner based at Bootle, plus the disappointing form of their team, did little to add to the party atmosphere.
The Czechs, on the other hand, found a real home from home. The White Star, a backstreet pub near Matthew St, site of the original Cavern Club, became their unofficial embassy. One visitor practically fell in love with it and plans, on his return to Prague, to open up his own hostelry with the same name. Furthermore, he proposes to invite the Liverpool landlord over to cut the ribbon. The Czechs cavorted late into the night but never abused the hospitality. With their painted faces, their sub Axl Rose attire and their crazy chants to the tune of ‘Yellow Submarine’, how could anyone take offence? In fact some locals adopted the team and followed them all the way to the final.
One Scouse convert, a Mr Evans from Anfield, at one stage proposed to offer permanent homes for what seemed like the entire Czech squad. Regrettably, it was a brief flirtation, a holiday romance you could say. Meanwhile, a Mr Royle of Everton had planned to kidnap a few Russkies, but again, nothing came of it.
Complementing the football, the city offered an arts festival, a comedy festival and a variety of local bands playing for free. There was also some very dodgy street theatre, but I doubt anybody is impressed by some buffoon pretending to walk in a high wind or to be trapped in a glass box. The highlight was a fashion show, ‘Tackle’, compèred, over a soundtrack of pumping house music and 60s Kop choirs, by a baseball-capped forty-something local radio jock who moonlights at Goodison, where he displays an unhealthy preference for Fleetwood Mac. A truly marvellous evening’s entertainment.
Euro ’96 will undoubtedly be remembered for English supporters replacing nationalism with patriotism, but I suspect that in the North West the abiding memory will be of the Czechs. Like the White Star landlord, we all hope to be in Prague in the Spring.
From WSC 114 August 1996. What was happening this month