Three defeats in three games are no cause for grief. At St Mary’s stadium in Southampton, Queen was playing “Don’t stop me now” and the fans from Northern Ireland actually didn’t look as if they were thinking about quitting. They applauded, waved their flags and some even danced as the team said goodbye to the spectators who had traveled with them after the 5-0 defeat by England on Friday.
The European Championship ended for Northern Ireland after the preliminary round, as the last in Group A. But that was of secondary importance for the Northern Irish fans. They were celebrating their selection making it to a major tournament for the first time. At each game, the Northern Ireland supporters put on a spectacle in the stands, with drums, balloons and the battle cry of the Green and White Army.
The European Championship in England, where the group phase ended on Monday, is a festival of joie de vivre, characterized by the good mood and the colorful blaze of the fans. Dressed mostly in dark green, the Northern Irish crowd impressed with their passion despite the sobering results. The fans of the Netherlands in bright orange march to the stadium before every game. The spectators from Sweden attract attention everywhere because of their sunny yellow jerseys. Even during games like that between Italy and Iceland at Manchester City’s Academy Stadium, the smallest EM venue, the atmosphere is shimmering. The only thing that bothers me in this case is the amount of blue.
It is the blue of the tarpaulins that were used to cover the stands behind the goals, because standing room is not permitted at Uefa events. Through the tarpaulins, TV images are sent out into the world from the Academy Stadium, giving the impression that the EM is being held on training grounds. This look is much more annoying for the organizers than the fact that Manchester City’s women’s stadium can only accommodate 4700 people. There had been a debate about the size of the venues before the tournament, initiated by Icelander Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir. She had complained that the Academy Stadium was unworthy of an EM.
The English association FA and Uefa were accused of not doing justice to the growth of women’s football in recent years with the choice of stadiums.
After the conclusion of the preliminary round, however, it can be concluded that the organizers were right with the strategy of focusing primarily on medium-sized venues such as the Premier League stadiums in Brighton, Brentford or Southampton and some games in less glamorous venues such as Leigh, Rotherham or have it take place at Academy Stadium.
The stadiums were well to very well filled for most games. Often there were still seats available, but the unfortunate images of thousands of empty seat shells were largely avoided. The organizers found the right balance on the stadium issue.
The audience at the European Championship is different than at a men’s tournament. The proportion of women is significantly larger, there are more children in the stands, there is no need to separate fans. Spectators from all European countries sit peacefully side by side. Incidentally, there are also more obviously same-sex couples than in men’s football. Rainbow scarves are sold in front of the venues just as naturally as the scarves of the participating teams. The EM has the vibes of an international family festival. The soundtrack to this is the sound of the gossip papers that are distributed in all stadiums.
The tournament is already the busiest for women in history, partly because of the nearly 70,000 people who watched the opening game between England and Austria at Old Trafford. The English played a flawless preliminary round and are favorites for the title. The further achievements of the team should depend on how big the EM hype in England will be. Because it is also true that away from the venues, little is noticeable about the tournament.
In the sports section of the domestic media, Wimbledon and cricket have so far been more important than the European Championship. So far, it has not been observed that the whole country is waving flags in the gardens or throwing filled beer mugs in the air at public viewings as in men’s tournaments. But that can still be. The English want to be there until the end – until the final next week Sunday at the sold-out Wembley Stadium.