Jon Rea explains why the fun of Euro ’96 never quite made it to Nottingham
The disappointing support from local fans is only partly helpful in explaining why, for Nottingham at least, Euro ’96 was the story of the party nobody came to.
The city burghers worked hard to create a festive feel. The Victoria Embankment staged dragon boat racing, salsas, stilt walkers, food stalls and marketeers, far more representative of modern British culture than the inane joustery nonsense at Wembley, or the appalling massed ranks of Sun/Snickers hats.
However, having seen the hordes of good-humoured Danes massed like strewn Lego in a pumping Hillsborough, the Embankment, for all its efforts, felt like a spare Spring fête in Matlock. It wasn’t only the British fans who were out-priced by Euro ’96. The Croatians drank and sang with impassioned vigour, but many of them stayed in the North, or slept on trains. The Turks brought with them over 10,000 fans, and plenty of confidence (“Can we do it? Yes!” proclaimed their ubiquitous T-shirts), but a large number of them came from London and tended to go home of an evening, while those that did enjoy the hospitality of the city hardly had the Licensed Victuallers’ Association rubbing their hands with glee – most were teetotal. The Portuguese were full of Latino groove in the stadium but tended to be polite and reserved outside it, though they had plenty to celebrate after their team had beaten what was virtually Croatia’s reserve side in the final group match.
The small but fiercely loyal knot of Croatian supporters didn’t seem to care, though. They out-sang all their opponents in the group, and scared the hell out of the local constabulary without raising a fist. During the match with Turkey the police declined a confrontation with the ex-army Ultras among the Croat following, sensibly choosing instead to arrest a bunch of balloons belonging to the Free Kurdistan movement. Because of the link with Stimac and Asanovic, the Croatians attracted sizeable support from Derby fans (West Ham shirts were also spotted), who were more than happy to sing Rams’ songs in Forest’s Trent End stronghold.
Given that it was one of the tournament’s friendliest venues, and that it witnessed some of the best first round games, it was a pity that the City Ground was so sparsely attended. The smallest host ground of the competition was little more than half-full for each game, and though the FA’s bungled ticket distribution can carry the blame for that so far, it has to be said that the excellent and imaginative work of all those involved in the organization was undermined by the local public’s indifference.
Indeed, because of that, this could be the one and only time Nottingham stages major tournament games. Come a successful bid for the 2006 World Cup, eyes will inevitably turn to the Cellnet Mark II in Derby, and a city with a reputation for football that many say Nottingham, for all its myriad attractions as a host, ultimately lacks.
From WSC 114 August 1996. What was happening this month