City buzzing with football fever for Euro 2012

Steven Dow, co-owner of Football Nation on Lothian Road
Steven Dow, co-owner of Football Nation on Lothian Road
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THE bunting is up and so are the flags, the face paints are at the ready, and there’s a colourful cornucopia of nationalistic outpouring around the city.

But forget the Jubilee, this time the celebrations are all about a round ball being kicked around a pitch by 22 men all desperate to be crowned champions of Europe.

Tomorrow, Euro 2012 finally kicks off, and although Scotland failed to make it to the final 16 and the tournament in Poland and Ukraine, such is the cosmopolitan nature of the Capital that almost every team which did qualify is being supported somewhere by someone.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, Edinburgh Airport is a hotbed of internationalism – and football banter. Certainly at the Sixt vehicle rental counter the conversation about just who will win involves a German, an Englishwoman and a Lithuanian Russian.

If that sounds like a bad joke, even worse for them is that thanks to their employer’s business colours, they’ll spend the tournament sporting bright orange – the colour of the Netherlands.

“I know, it’s terrible,” says 25-year-old German branch supervisor Theo Pelzer. “They are our biggest rivals, but I can’t do anything about it, except hope that they don’t play well.

“My own team is Borussia Dortmund, but I can’t wait to see how the national team will perform. I’ll definitely be out watching every game I can in a bar, probably with my colleagues, so we will all be supporting different teams. The Netherlands and Portugal will be hard to beat and Denmark can sometimes surprise, but it would be great to get to the finals with England. It’s just a shame that Scotland aren’t there – they would make it all much more fun.”

Amanda Rennie, 25, a customer service officer who works with Theo, is desperate to paint her nails red, white and blue. “But I’m not allowed,” she says. “And I know I’m going to get some serious stick while the football’s on. I’ve got so many Scottish friends and I know they’ll support anyone but England, but I’m just hoping that as no-one seems to think we’ll be any good this time, the pressure will be off and the boys will perform.”

However, neither Germany nor England have a chance according to driver Mindaugas Bagdonavicius. “I’m from Lithuania but I’ll be supporting Russia,” he says. “My grandparents were Russian so it’s what we do, even at Eurovision.

“Russia have a really good manager and they are very focused and I think if they concentrate they will be unbeatable.”

The 24-year-old, who is studying to be a pilot adds: “The rest of the group are all going to lose. Russia is getting stronger in everything and football is no exception. Mind you, I’ll be watching the matches at home so I can shout loudly at the TV if they don’t do as well as I hope.”

In the main terminal, Michal Marszalek, a 34-year-old worker with Servisair is consoling security officer and former professional footballer Andy Seaton about Scotland’s failure to play in his native country.

Michal, who is originally from a town near Krakow, says hosting the tournament is a major honour for Poland. “The fact that it’s happening at home and in the Ukraine is fantastic. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get back to see any games but I’ll probably be at The Three Sisters watching it on the big screens.

“It’s a shame that Scotland didn’t make it, but with the number of Polish people in Edinburgh it would be nice if the city got behind my team,” he adds.

‘Well, anyone but England,” grins 35-year-old Andy. “I’m gutted that we’re not there, especially as at the last Scotland-England game I said to my wife that I’d be following Scotland at the next tournament – and we’ve never qualified for anything since.”

Andy, who at one time played left back for Falkirk – turning out at the Scottish Cup final in 1997 – is in charge of the Edinburgh Airport football team. “Despite Scotland not being there, I’ll still be watching it all,” he says. “I’ll probably support Holland as I like their style of play.”

Michal adds: “I hope Poland do well, but really I just don’t want Germany to win.”

Back in town, and the Spanish flag is flying high outside Igg’s restaurant and Barioja in Jeffrey Street. Inside though, things could get a little heated as the competition intensifies, for while most of the staff will be supporting Spain, chef Eugene Reilly will be shouting for France.

“My father is from Montpelier, and though I was born there I was brought up in Scotland. Normally, I would follow Scotland, but as they’re not there, it has to be France for me. They are pretty consistent, and it will be really embarrassing for everyone else here when we win.”

His boss, assistant manager Marco Morana, inset left, laughs loudly. “Spain are the hot favourites, and while that might mean the kiss of death, I think they will win. They are world champions after all.”

“Yes, but they’ve done little since then,” chips in Eugene. “But we will make up for that,” boasts Marco. “We always show the Spanish games and will probably have a special menu on for those evenings, showcasing the best in Spanish food with the best football.”

He adds: “Actually I prefer rugby and never miss going to see Scotland at Murrayfield, but with big football competitions like this you have to get behind your national team. And when we have players from Real Madrid and Barcelona in the team, they will be very hard to beat.”

One who does expect his team to be beaten by Spain is Tony Crolla. The restaurateur is flying to Poland for Italy’s first game against the title holders on Sunday, and he admits he’s not holding out too much hope.

“Spain will be a very tough tie,” he admits. “If we beat them that will be a very big scalp, but the Italian team is a bit upside down at the moment, with lots of new, younger players coming through. But I’m going there thinking that we will lose – just as I did with Hibs at the Scottish Cup.”

He adds: “So far things have been quite low key about the Euros. We will have the big screens up in Vittoria’s but so far there’s been little hype about it. Perhaps if Italy reach the next round and go further there will be more interest, but I think our pizza delivery business will do well.

“Mind you, if they make it to the final I’ll be booking another plane to Poland,” he laughs.

Over at Peter’s Yard bakery in the Quartermile, 55-year-old Peter Ljungquist is also pessimistic about his team’s fortunes as they face Ukraine, France and England in their group. “I do not think Sweden will pass the group stage,” he shrugs. “We are relying on Zlatan Ibrahimovic too much. And you can’t just expect one man to do it all.”

But 26-year-old Kaite Russell in Malone’s Bar, is more upbeat about it all, especially the Republic of Ireland’s chances. “The first game is crucial,” she says. “We need to beat Croatia and take the defeat against Spain which will undoubtedly happen, win the next game and then hopefully get England in the next round. Anything can happen – it’s the Euros after all.”

Steven’s stripped for action before kick-off

HE’S got bunting, he’s got flags, he’s got scarves, he’s got strips . . . yes, if there’s one man delighted at the approach of Euro 2012 it’s Steven Dow.

The co-owner of Football Nation on Lothian Road, he says the championship has meant an exceedingly busy time, with football tops of all nations flying off the shelves.

“There’s a bit of let’s support anyone but England going on,” he laughs, “which is probably why we’ve sold out of Sweden tops, but we didn’t stock too many to begin with. France is also selling well, though, and I can only guess it’s because they’re both playing against England in the group stage.

“Mind you, the bestseller is the Republic of Ireland, and I have to admit there is a big demand for England tops because there are many English people in Edinburgh.”

He adds: “It varies between the young and old as to what they’re buying. While men, especially Celtic or Hibs fans, might go for Ireland, the young boys really want Spain, which, given that they’re world champions, is no surprise.”

“There’s a big market for other nation’s football strips because Edinburgh has so many nationalities these days. It’s been kind of mad – especially hot on the heels of the Scottish Cup final, but it’s all been good fun. People seem really up for watching the Euros.”

One strip he doesn’t stock is that of Ukraine, which will no doubt disappoint the deputy leader of the city Steve Cardownie and his fellow SNP councillor Stefan Tymkewycz. Cllr Tymkewycz’s father was Ukranian, and Cllr Cardownie also has links to the country – through his wife.

“I guess in terms of emotional attachment I’ll root for Ukraine,” he laughs. “As well as my wife coming from there, I’ve been there many times and Edinburgh is, of course, twinned with Kiev.”

However, his coalition partner, city leader Andrew Burns will be flying a different flag – one of St George, though he says it’s nothing to do with opposition to independence. ‘I’m half English, so given that Scotland aren’t playing, I’ll be supporting England,” he says.