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Eine Kleine Dantmusik - Euro 2024 Day 1 14/6/24

Volksparkstadion, Hamburg.

Back in 2006 when I did several “off-tube” commentaries for talkSPORT during the German World Cup, little did I think that I’d be flying out to that same country 18 years later to participate in my 6th sojourn abroad at a major football championship. South Africa, Brazil, France, Russia & Qatar have been blogged about here before, so why not go for it again and give you a flavour of Deutschland!

My German “O” level may or may not come in handy over the next few weeks. In truth, being at a UEFA/FIFA tournament means never having to say “Es Tut Mir Leid” - us lazy English get everything on a plate around host stadia - including the menus next to the plates at the media room cafeteria. But I will make an effort to get beyond merely Danke and Guten Morgen at hotels and the like (EDIT: I later successfully asked for milk for my cup of tea at the hotel bar with full on sentences and was not laughed at by the member of staff concerned - boom.)

Heathrow to Hamburg was the first trip to negotiate on the Friday. What will take a bit of getting used to after the Qatar experience is being away from most of my talkSPORT colleagues rather than all being in the same hotel as we were 18 months ago. This time I’m part of a trio in the “Red Team” (colours used rather than letters to denote different comms teams so that A B C etc doesn’t make some feel inferior to others) comprising yours truly, producer Izzy and former Villa striker, Darren Bent…although he’s an Arsenal fan, which makes things less awkward for this Bluenose lol.

It’s always strange and rather nice getting to work on football with players you’ve commentated on before their journey into broadcasting. I’ve called a few Darren Bent goals in my time at talkSPORT…I also remember the night he wasn’t picked for a Villa home game I attended and he reputedly stormed out of the ground to drive home before kick off. The nervous Villa press officer Brian Doogan made a point of hastily visiting the press box within minutes of that rumour starting to try and refute the story…I’ll get to the bottom of that tale when I see Benty!

Airport hotels around Heathrow are such incredible hives of activity. My overnight stop near Terminal 2 was no exception. My KISS suitcase always seems to elicit a good laugh from someone milling around the lobby wherever I go. It’s a good conversation starter sometimes, but not this time. Just a point, a laugh and a thumbs up from a random stranger in the queue next to mine.

We sat on the tarmac at Heathrow on Friday morning for about an hour compounding our already delayed flight, but soon enough we’d arrived in leafy Hamburg in the north of Germany. I’ve never ever been to Germany, except for one connecting flight from Oslo to London via Berlin when I was gigging with KISS tribute Dressed To Kill about 15 years ago. My main take from that Berlin departure lounge was the plexiglass smoking cubicle right smack bang in the middle of the concourse which was jam-packed with people desperately puffing away and creating such a smoke haze in that little box, you could barely see above people’s waistlines. They looked like lab rats to me. And utterly crackers.

First on the agenda once we’d checked in at our hotel for the next 3 nights was to go and collect our media accreditation for the Euros from a pickup centre right next to Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion where my first game to commentate on takes place on Sunday (Poland v Netherlands). Euros fever hasn’t quite hit this part of the town just now (which isn’t surprising seeing as the stadium is a few miles out of town), and it was blissfully quiet at the accreditation centre, so we were in and out of there inside 5 minutes.

The stadium - home to Hamburger SV - is imposing and austere from the exterior…lots of industrial looking criss-cross metal struts and nothing especially fancy about the place…will get a look inside tomorrow when we go to check the broadcast lines - a necessity for producers these days the day before a game abroad. It’s 10 years to the day that our team pitched up at Arena Amazonia in Manaus for England’s World Cup opener vs Italy to discover that some FIFA technical numpty had just gone and severed multiple broadcast cables, including ours at talkSPORT. We only got our line working and went live on air literally 1 hour before kick off, whereas normally you’re all connected and happy 3 hours before the get go. That was a bit hairy.

Next door to the Volksparkstadion is the Hamburg Arena (I checked to see if KISS had played there - of course they had ;) ) and also a smaller arena next to that which is the home of ice hockey team Hamburg Freezers. Izzy the producer joked that she hoped their mascot was an actual freezer unit - similar to ‘Boiler Man’ that has been at West Brom for a few years now! I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes at Boiler Man when I first clapped eyes on him at The Hawthorns. Was convinced it was a pisstake or a ‘Candid Camera’ thing (ask your Dad) but NO…Ideal Boilers had spent actual money dressing some poor individual up as a boiler. Not even a pair of eyes to give it a modicum of a personality! Still, we Blues fans can talk - we once had a mascot of a blue nose with big clodhopping feet and no eyes for a season or two. Embarrassing

The last word of that previous paragraph might also apply to Scotland after Germany undressed them in the opener. We watched it in the hotel bar in amongst locals who seemed rather blasé about such annihilation. Almost like they fully expected 5-1. And it’s a good job the net was there to stop Fullkrug’s strike otherwise it might be interfering with the International Space Station as we speak. Let’s see how Jim White spins that on Monday morning…

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