Ian Plenderleith checks out online suggestions on how to survive Euro 2008 – avoid ticket touts and don't talk to Tina Turner

If you’re looking for something special in your Euro 2008 coverage, there are precious few sites around that are going to go the extra distance, especially with no home nations to justify added expense for a one-off tournament. With projected site visits down, and revenue from ads for those fantastic England replica away kits correspondingly low, you’ll likely have to be happy with standard results, stats, match reports and fantasy leagues. All in all, dedicated Euro sections at your favoured newspaper’s site, or at the reliable but dull portals at places such as the BBC and Soccernet, will fulfil your basic needs. Not that those are a recommendation.

Bearing that in mind, the official UEFA site may be no less of a letdown than anywhere else, although you may want to disregard it as soon as you see headlines such as  Swiss Preparations Running Like Clockwork and Berne In Bloom For Dutch Guests. Everything’s well in football world. However, there’s a good stats section in the Fanzone, where you can find out that Scotland, with 203 fouls, topped the list as dirtiest team during the qualifiers, and ponder the incongruity that a reserve striker for a mediocre Premier League team (Fulham’s David Healy) was top scorer with a total of 13. Which respectively suggests that you cannot kick your way to success, nor is having a consistent striker any guarantee of qualification. At least not as much as being drawn in the same group as England (worked for Russia especially well) or having a dirty great big front man – the Czech Republic’s Jan Koller may have scored seven fewer goals than Healy, but he committed a table-topping 36 fouls.

1924 – We’re Going To Reclaim Our Title is an interesting place to browse if you know a little French or German. It’s a “virtual museum” celebrating the last time Switzerland were European champions. True, there was no European Nations’ Cup in 1924, but as Olympic silver medallists in Paris (they lost the final 3-0 to Uruguay), the Swiss were sort of champions of Europe, the site claims. And anyway, this is billed as a “cultural project… examining the status of the world’s most popular sport in everyday Swiss culture”. See, it’s worthy, so never mind trivial details like gross historical distortion.

The site tells how the Swiss, as “rank outsiders” (no change there, then), only booked a ten-day return ticket on their way to France, expecting to be home quickly. But, thanks to the heroics of men such as top scorer Xam Abegglen, they beat Lithuania, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Sweden to advance to the final. Can’t see it happening again given the current side’s lousy form, although if they can unearth another striker called Xam, anything’s possible.

Some advice for visiting fans at the UEFA-sponsored FanGuide website – don’t disturb Switzerland’s millionaire celebrities. “No one will dare address Tina Turner as she wanders through Zürich,” notes the site, because “Mr and Mrs Swiss are also rather discreet, very withdrawn and reserved”. So don’t talk to anyone, famous or not, because they won’t want to be your friend. Yes, that includes the random bibulous Scot in a kilt who thinks he can travel the world and make anyone smile by wiggling his sporran and showing a clean pair of pale Highland cheeks. It might be hilarious in the streets of Riga, but strait-laced Genevans won’t be so impressed.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has similarly sober advice for travelling Brits. Take the following counsel, pronounced in clipped Queen’s English, and you’ll be in for a quiet time should you be planning to drop in on central Europe this June. “Plan your itinerary and think about how you will get around – transport links will be busy.” Very sound guidance and doubtless something few travellers would bother to consider beforehand. “Be very wary of anyone offering tickets, especially touts around the venues.” Translate as: Johnny Foreigner’s out to fleece you, but keep your head.

And on it goes. “Don’t give UK football fans a bad name – drink responsibly and obey local laws.” Meaning, don’t get arrested and make extra work for our embassy staff, who’d rather be drinking a nice cup of tea than passing a slab of Sacher Torte to some Viennese policeman to spring you out of jail on the quiet. And finally: “Don’t respond to taunts or aggressive behaviour from other football fans.” Ah come on, this isn’t the Seventies any more, we’re all one big happy football family nowadays. It says so in the official tournament anthem.

The FCO even offers helpful guidance on food. In Austria “schnitzel – fried veil [sic] in breadcrumbs – is considered a national dish”. Though they don’t say what the veil is made out of, so you might be better off trying calf meat. Meanwhile, when in Switzerland, note that according to the Foreign Office, “the Swiss love their cheese”. It’s not clear if this is intended as an invitation to indulge yourself in something besides Red Leicester, or if it’s a warning. You know, you can’t trust yer average Swiss, what with all that cheese he eats. But at least it tastes better than fried veil.

From WSC 256 June 2008

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