David Tindall explains how Yorkshire took on a continental feel for Euro '96
Leeds was a happy host city during Euro ’96. With official banners adorning every lamppost, a gigantic football outside the town hall and the flags of the four competing nations flying outside the Queen’s Hotel in the city centre, it wasn’t hard to realize that something unique was happening.
Inside Elland Road the atmosphere was authentically Spanish thanks to Manolo the drummer who, not underestimating his own importance, wears a national team shirt with number 12 on the back and leads the chanting at all Spain’s games. Thanks to his manic drumming the lack of numbers for some matches didn’t translate into a lack of atmosphere.
Apart from the Spain v France game, segregation seemed non existent with little pockets of Bulgarian and Romanian fans scattered all around, suddenly emerging when their team found the net. The sight of hardened Yorkshiremen streaming out of the Bulgaria v Spain game draped in Bulgarian scarves and flags served to confirm which team the locals had most taken to heart.
Then of course there was the running saga of their hotel in Scarborough. It all began when the Bulgarian minister of finance decided to devalue the country’s currency by 40%, meaning that only 500, as opposed to the expected 3,000, could afford to travel over. Of those 500, only a handful decided to follow the team to Scarborough. Among them was Bulgaria’s top political satirist, ‘Skumbata’. Skumbata, we were told, meant “bubbles of air in a strong brandy”. Never has a translation let a man down so badly. Describing himself as “a bit like your Benny Hill or Mr Bean”, he briefly held court in Scarborough before the rumours began to spread about Stoichkov and the boys being bored senseless. They opted instead for the bright lights of Stockton, but those of us hoping to see Ivanov discussing meringues on the seafront with Alan Bennett were to be disappointed.
Back in Leeds, not everything went to plan either. A huge tent costing £80,000 had been erected by the city council to accommodate visiting fans, but in the first week it played host to twenty geographically confused Danes and one German girl. Foreign fans were rarely seen on non-match days, although on the night of England’s 4-1 win over Holland one hotel played host to a troop of Finns convinced that the Dutch wouldn’t have lost had their man Jari Litmanen been able to line up alongside his Ajax teammates.
The extended licensing laws went down a treat in the city, albeit with a distinct downside in that the sort of nattering DJs who’d normally only find work at weddings were instead gainfully employed in pubs and hotels into the early hours.
Overall, though, Euro ’96 went off with a bang. When the police in Leeds talk in terms of a “carnival atmosphere” you know something’s gone right given the troubles of days gone by. And any day now we’re expecting to hear that Stockton has been officially twinned with Sofia.
From WSC 114 August 1996. What was happening this month