Taking the packed 3 car, red & yellow No. 11 tram from Basel SBB train station to St. Jacob`s Park, the home of FC Basel and the site of the Opening Match of EURO 2008 was exciting with the fans chanting and rocking the tram. .It was 1963 the last time I went to the old stadium by the same name, having hitch hiked with my college room mate Dave, after exams, to watch Switzerland v England. My former school friend Jimmy Armfield was captain of England that day and took us to dinner in the Schwietzerhof, the top hotel(although we slept in the Youth Hostel) It was such a long time ago that Jimmy Melia now coaching in USA, and then a Liverpool player, played his second and last international match under manager Alf Ramsey and scored a goal in an 8-1 England romp.
The new, modern version opened a few years ago and with 40,000 is the largest in the country. It boasts a shopping centre and a huge retirement apartment complex. It looked nice but I was told it was only for very wealthy retirees. Since I had somehow mislaid my secret Swiss bank account, I guess that counts me out. I walked down Walkeweg, a pretty little street. On one hand there were bright 3 storey apartments painted white with yellow wooden blinds, and the residents and their families were all dressed in Swiss outfits with flags and horns,cheering the approaching hoards of fans from the tram stop and holding aloft their babies. On the other side of the street I chatted with a man and remarked about his lovely garden full of vegetables and fruit that he had proudly looked after. He described them all to me. There must have been a hundred of these small patches, common all over Europe, where people spend their spare time growing fresh produce, but this had a nice one storey house on the plot, which is unusual.
The thousands of fans, Swiss over Czech about 10 to 1 were dressed to kill. There were half a dozen teenagers covered entirely in red dye and clanking huge Swiss cow bells, and the nearby tram tracks had neat grass between them which were perfectly mowed.
Back in town we went to one of the many Fan Zones, via a 2 km Fan Street,leading from the station to the river. This one was in MarktPlatz outside the beautiful Rennaisance red Town Hall, built after Basel joined the Swiss Confederation in 1501.There was a huge outdoor screen and Carlsberg beer stalls plus a French run sausage grill, which was very slow. The Swiss fans were all dressed in red and white, wrapped in Swiss flags, a white cross on a red background and blowing horns and chanting Hopp Schwiiz, and clanging cow bells of all sizes. It was crowded, but not 20 % of the volume of people I had seen at Fan Zones at FIFA World Cup 2006 in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Kaiserslautern, Nurnberg etc. It is very unpleasant when 50% of the people are smoking.There was not too much optimism as they started the match and the Czech giant Jan Koller, who had destroyed USA two years ago in Gelsenkirchen, was given the ball within 5 seconds of kick-off.
As you all know, Vaclav Sverkos got the only goal of the match, but neither team will be there on the final day, 29th June in Vienna. Koller was not really a threat and they had no Plan B. What was most disapponting was the injury to Swiss star Alexander Frei, who had only recently returned after a season's absence. His tears told the story. He plays in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund, but started his pro career with Basel.
One team that maybe there at the final day is Portugal, exciting winners over Turkey in Geneva, 2-0. Scolari's team has lots of talent and lots of options and it was a wonderfully constructed goal from Pepe that opened the scoring. I had taken the short 1 hour train ride to Zurich Hbf, one of the great train stations of the world, and watched in one of the bars. In the lobby is a huge display of 12 players, about 100 feet high, in a circle,. The day before I had watched the 'making' of one of them ,Michael Ballock, and the designing, painting, and huge uniforms in an interesting TV documentary. It is proving to be a very popular tourist attraction.
Returning on the overnight express to Germany I shared a crowded train with Croatian fans on the way to Vienna for their first match with co-hosts Austria. I got off the train in Salzburg and finally got to bed just before 6.00 am Sunday. Today I will relax in the hotel biergarten and watch on a giant screen the other match Poland v Germany from Klagenfurt.