Euro 2012: Fans off the beaten track

Thousands of football followers have preferred caravans to expensive hotels. Paul Radley reports from Lviv.

These fans drove all the way from Lisbon, Portugal, to Lviv, Ukraine, to watch their team during the ongoing Euro 2012. Paul Radley / The National
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Six friends from Portugal undertook a road trip from Lisbon, via Spain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland, covering more than 4,000 kilometres, to get to Lviv in time for their team's opening match on Saturday.

All of which meant they could park their caravan in Lviv city centre for free. For the most part, they would not have had it any other way, although they are starting to miss the odd comfort.

"You haven't smelled it yet," said Jonas Codinha, 32, pointing to the entrance of the caravan which he will share with five other men for 10 days.

"Now the weather is not very good so it is hard to keep it clean. But it is all good fun. We are very good friends. I think you have to be to do this."

Having such a sizable tour squad in a single vehicle may make for testing living conditions, but it helps to spread the load when it comes to driving.

Taking two-hour shifts at the wheel, they drove for 44 hours, starting from the middle of the night last Wednesday, stopping only for comfort breaks and to refuel the van.

When they reached Poland, they met four German friends and travelled in convoy to Lviv for the match against Germany, which they watched from opposite ends of the stadium.

They clearly enjoy driving. Once they have watched tonight's match against Denmark at the Arena Lviv, they plan to drive to Prague in time for one of their number to catch a flight home to Lisbon.

"We are in it more for the vacation than the football, but we are with people who are very big football fans," said Joao Batista, 30.

The intrepid travellers are among many who have gone to extreme lengths to circumvent the "bandits and crooks" that Michel Platini, the Uefa president, insists are using this European Championship for devious personal gains.

The former French midfielder has been livid at the manner in which hoteliers in Ukraine have driven up the prices. "You can't change the price of a room from €40 euros [Dh183] to 100 and then up to 500 just like that from one day to the other," he said. "This just is not done."

The profiteers have not been able to entrap everyone, though. The prohibitive costs have prompted many fans to travel by caravan - they are parked in any available space just outside Lviv's historical centre - or to camp.

The results have been mixed. In Kiev, around 2,000 Swedish supporters were said to have camped at one site which had no showers and few toilets.

In the two eastern cities, Kharkiv and Donetsk, tourist infrastructure is minimal, so demand is high for relatively few accommodation options.

Six German travellers in Kharkiv reportedly had to seek help from that host city's "fan embassy", having pre-paid for beds at a campsite which did not exist.

However, if the worst examples of human existence really have been operating in Ukraine at this tournament, the Portuguese travellers have not seen them.

They regard inflated prices as being normal at a major tournament like this, and they cannot speak highly enough of the Ukrainian hospitality they have encountered.

"Just this morning our water ran out in our shower, so we went to a hostel to ask if we could take a shower," Codinha said. "They didn't even charge us. We paid because we wanted to, but they didn't want money and they told us we could come back whenever we wanted to. People don't want to take advantage of you here."

The presence of a Portuguese-speaking Ukrainian border guard on the way across from Poland was another unexpected bonus.

"People here are really, really friendly," Batista said. "They just want to talk to you, even if they don't speak a word of English, and they want to take a picture with you.

"Last night, we were having a barbecue here and our neighbours - we call them our neighbours - came out and gave us pizzas and chocolate."

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