Dane in Europe

Dane is a member of the University Honors Program and a junior history major who was awarded a Richter International Fellowship to conduct independent, graduate-level research this summer in Europe. He is exploring the phenomenon of racism in European soccer and plans to attend the Euro 2008 tournament.

Victory for Spain: wrapping up my research

Last night, Spain defeated Germany in the Euro 2008 final 1-0. Fernando Torres scored the winning goal in the 33rd minute, and that’s all it took.

dane-IMG_0069-sm.jpgUnfortunately, I was in the wrong city for any type of celebration. As the seconds ticked off the game clock and Spain captured their first major tournament victory since 1964, I was sitting in the middle of a biergarten in Berlin amidst a throng of dejected Germans. But before I get back to that, let me catch you up with what I’ve experienced since my last post.

Back to the action

My last post came from the very relaxing Hallstatt where I spent a relaxing two days away from the excitement and crowds of Euro 2008 and from my research project on racism in European soccer. However, even on my break, I could not escape my project fully. I discovered that racism in European soccer had even managed to affect the persons of that small town, a town so small that it didn’t even have a soccer team.

Now in Vienna to see the semifinal match between Spain and Russia, I kept my eyes open for any racial incidents that might occur. I was in a large and diverse city to attend a match between two teams and fan groups that had been accused of racial abuse before. If I had stumbled upon the effects of racism in soccer in Hallstatt, surely I would see them here as well.

The atmosphere in the city was terrific. I arrived many hours before the game so that I could take in the sights of the city, but everywhere I went, I could not escape a game atmosphere. Spanish and Russian fans had flooded the streets of Vienna, cheering and parading in marketplaces, along the Danube, and on crowded thoroughfares. They gave little notice to the angry motorists honking their horns at them to try to clear them out of the roads. They either assumed the honks were in support of their cause or they didn’t care.

The game was dominated by Spain, winning 3-0. It was an impressive performance, a good sign for Spain on their way to the finals.

daneIMG_0068-sm.jpgThe final

I spent the day of the final between Germany and Spain in Berlin. The pre-game parties began around noon. Everywhere I went, German fans were out in force, trumpeting and cheering. Even the Brandenburg Tor was decked out in game day decorations.

Unfortunately, Spain ended up the winners. There was no celebration that night in Berlin. The German fans all just seemed to finish their drinks and walk home in silence.

Nonetheless, from my perspective, it was a fantastic game. And a great one to end a remarkable tournament.

Conclusion

I hadn’t seen any racially motivated verbal attacks on the rest of my journey. The tournament acted largely as a uniting rather than a dividing event. Although this is what I witnessed, I did read and hear about some incidents involving Western European fans against Turkish fans. But once Turkey was eliminated from the tournament things continued as if there was nothing at all wrong with the state of European soccer.

Although Euro 2008 was relatively event-free as far as racism was concerned, acting as if it is not there is not the proper way to treat it. European soccer has taken many positive steps in the right direction in combating racism, but many countries are still ignoring the problem completely. This cannot occur. For the problem to be correctly addressed it must be dealt with head-on.

Luis Aragones, Spain’s coach for Euro 2008, had been caught on camera during the World Cup calling Frenchman Thierry Henry a black monkey. Spain did not take any action against him and allowed him to remain as their coach. This lack of punishment is largely consistent in Europe. Racism is not seen as that big of an issue in many European nations. This needs to change.

Perhaps the lack of racial incidents present in Euro 2008 is a positive sign. But it’s still there below the surface. Combating racism in European soccer is a constant fight. Just because it can’t always be seen doesn’t mean it’s not there. Hopefully Europe will not forget that.

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Trip to Hallstatt

With no interviews or games to occupy my time, I decided to relax by venturing to the small, quiet lakeside town of Hallstatt. Located about 80 kilometers southeast of Salzburg, this picturesque town was the perfect place to take a break from the hullabaloo of the tournament. However, even in this seemingly isolated town, I could not escape the issue of racism in European soccer.

I arrived two days ago around lunchtime. I stepped off the train and made my way down the hill to the lake where a ferry awaited the four of us.

The short ride across the lake was the first of many scenic sights that will be forever in my mind. It was like nothing I had seen before.

I spent the afternoon exploring the town. It was like the town was behind the rest of the world, a bit slower. Not just the architecture – as anyone who has been to Europe will tell you, old buildings can be found in almost any city there – but the lifestyle was just a step behind in pace and sophistication. For the short time I was there, it was wonderful.

The next morning, I woke up early to tour the oldest salt mine in the world before hiking the paths through the mountains. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the salt mine, I was already behind three school buses full of children. Apparently the local schools also decided they would beat the crowds by catching the first tour of the day. So I reversed the order of my day.

The mountain trails were beautiful. It had rained last night so the springs and waterfalls were in full force. And the view of the town and lake below were not bad either.

Before I knew it, it was three o???clock. I was near the top of the mountain and the last tour of the day left at five. I ran most of the way down the mountain, which is harder than I imagined. It was more of a controlled fall than anything. I rode the funicular up the mountain and ran the rest of the way to the mine. I was one minute late according to my clock, but I wouldn’t be denied. I walked right up to the main desk and told them I ran all the way down the mountain to make this tour. “Please let me go.”

Sorry, they said in many more words. “You can go on the next one though.” I was stunned and relieved … and boy did I need more water.

I Wish They All Could Be European Girls
Thirty minutes later, the official last tour left. Since I was still trying to cool off with the help of the cool, mountain air, Daniela, the tour guide came to get me. Wow, she’s hot, I remember thinking. Should I ask her out for a drink? Naw, I’m just another tourist. I’m sure it would be weird.

After putting on a ridiculously ugly jump suit, I entered the mine along with the rest of the poorly dressed tour group, led by Daniela.

We learned the history of the mine as we made our way deeper and deeper into the mountain, using a fun and practical slide system. Deep in the mountain we stopped at an underground lake and watched a laser and smoke presentation over the eerily placid water. (I looked for Golam before remembering he perished in Mount Doom years earlier).

“Are you alone?” asked Daniela quietly, the presentation still entertaining the group.

I was a little curt with her at the start (the presentation was really interesting), but I soon figured out what was going on.

We talked throughout the rest of the tour during video presentations and when walking between our various stops. She was pretty, she spoke good English, it was time to make my move.

But what if she’s just being nice? I thought. It is sort of her job. Come on, even if she says no, you’ll never see her again. What’s the harm? But do I really want to be the story all the other tourists tell their friends back home? The guy who tried to ask the tour guide on a date.

“Are you, uh, how do you say …” Daniela searched her mind for the correct translation. I knew from her body language and demeanor exactly what she was trying to say, but I was so stunned that I couldn’t even finish the sentence for her. “…Doing something tonight?”

I said “No” immediately, followed by a quick “Yes, I???d love to meet up for coffee later.”

I met Daniela a few hours later at the base of the mountain. She lived in the neighboring town, so I got in her car and we headed off to her favorite coffee shop.

We talked about general things for a while: our college experiences, teenage life, and American politics (Europeans are enraptured by this year’s presidential race), and American television and music.

Soon, however, since she wondered why I was traveling by myself, the conversation turned to racism in soccer.

No Place Untouched
Since Austria (or Oesterreich, as she kept insisting) is almost never competitive in major competitions, Daniela admitted many of her friends often root for Germany (though not those old enough to remember Nazi occupation).

Lately, Turkish immigrants have flooded into Western Europe, most notably Germany. This has led to growing resentment between citizens and immigrants. And the result has spilled onto the soccer fields.

The games themselves become outlets for frustration and anger (as expressed in How Soccer Explains the World and Soccer Against the Enemy). And as of late, the bitterness and rivalry of the fans have reached new heights.

She contended that people often brush it aside as merely fans being fans, but it is often more than that. The term auslaenders raus (foreigners out) has been yelled, chanted, and displayed enough times that it cannot be passed off as the lamentable actions of a wayward few.

“Do you understand?” she said.

“I do,” I responded. “I believe we have a very similar situation stateside.”

The next day I ate lunch at a doener stand by the dock, waiting for the ferry to take me back across the lake to the train. I was excited for the restart of the tournament. Tonight, Germany versus Turkey. It should be interesting, maybe eventful.

A new man soon took over the shift at the doener stand. He changed the radio to play country music, “Rhinestone Cowboy” to be more specific. We began talking.

He had emigrated from Turkey. He liked country music and the television show DALLAS. He disliked President Bush. And he was willing to talk extensively about his own experiences and those of his friends and family as foreigners in an unreceptive land.

Even in this small town, he has faced hardships, he claimed. And he hoped his country’s soccer team could pull off another miracle tonight.

I went to Hallstatt to try to remove myself from the tournament and give my mind a break from thinking and analyzing the various aspects of racism in soccer. However I found that the nature of this blight is not so easily escapable. Its reach is immense.

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Tournament in review

A lot has happened since my last entry. For those who are unsure how the tournament has progressed, let me catch you up.

dane-IMG_0048-sm.jpgPortugal, Turkey, Croatia, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Russia all advanced to the knockout phase of the tournament (win or go home). The biggest surprises so far are France’s failure to advance by finishing last in their group and Croatia beating out Germany for the top spot in theirs. To me Spain and The Netherlands looked the most impressive, with Portugal and a surging Russia team on the second tier. Of course, Italy, the current world champions should never be discounted.

dane-IMG_0049-sm.jpgIn the quarterfinal round, Germany upset Portugal 3-2 in an amazingly entertaining match in which Philip Lahm scored a late goal to put Germany ahead for good. Somehow, the next game proved to have an even better finish as Turkey leveled the score in injury time on its way to defeating Croatia in penalties (3-1). And in last night’s game, Russia stunned The Netherlands 3-1 in extra time. Hopefully the remaining games will prove just as entertaining.

Quarterfinal clash
I arrived in Vienna in the early afternoon for the quarterfinal match between Spain and Italy.

dane-IMG_0052-sm.jpgThe Spanish and Italian fans are cheering and playing instruments in the street. The excitement for the game is already at an unbelievable level.

I don’t have a ticket yet, but I really want to see this game. So I headed back to the train station where I had seen people selling tickets when I first arrived.

I quickly found a seller. He asked if I was alone. I quickly made up a story about meeting a couple friends of mine in town for the game. “They already have tickets though,” I claimed. He probably was just hoping I knew more buyers, but you never know.

My newly acquired ticket stuffed in my pocket, I headed toward the stadium. It was easy to find. I didn’t even have to check my map. I just followed the parading Spanish and Italian fans.

I arrived at the stadium quite early. However, it was hard to tell by how full the stadium was. (My ticket scanned properly, and no one was sitting in my seat, if you were wondering or thought that might be an issue, like my Mom did.)

Just prior to the playing of the respective national anthems of Italy and Spain, a message appeared, delivered by one Spanish player and one Italian player, asking the fans to be respectful and quiet during the other country’s anthem. Neither fan group took heed of the request, whistling loudly during the opposing team’s anthem.

Beyond that, however, the game was relatively incident free. Of course, the Spanish and Italian passion on both sides bled through, but it never got out of control. The atmosphere was more reminiscent of a big time college football rivalry than anything else.

dane-IMG_0053-sm.jpgAnd even after a number of questionable calls and a close finish (Spain won on penalties 4-2, after a scoreless 120 minutes of play), the fans on both sides remained relatively respectful toward one another.

dane-IMG_0054-sm.jpgThe Spanish fans were jubilant. The Italian fans were disheartened. And I was glad I got to see two of the world’s premiere teams compete on such a high stage.

Now, for the first time since the tournament began, there will be a break in the action. It’s sad really. I’ve grown accustomed to watching world-class soccer on a nightly basis. But then again, I am in Europe. I’m sure I’ll find something to occupy my time.

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Italy v. Romania

The soccer match between Italy and Romania was quite exciting. There were many chances for both sides to score, though near misses, bad luck and brilliant goalkeeping only allowed for one goal apiece.

I arrived in Zurich the night before the game. There were a number of Italian and Romanian fans on the train, too. The Italians were generally the more friendly of the two groups. (Also, they generally were more proficient at English, which likely explains why they were friendlier, or seemed that way.).

They often invited me to cheer along with them (yes, the team cheers started 24 hours before the actual game began) and were happy and willing to tell me anything I wanted to know about the azzurri, as the Italian called their team, except, of course, why they were beat 3-0 by Holland a few days before.

A few of them acknowledged the persistent strain of racism in their beloved sport. We talked briefly about the now famous “head-butting” incident that marred an otherwise brilliant World Cup final in 2006, which Italy eventually won. Although what was said by Matterazi to provoke Zidane likely will never be revealed, speculation often yields that it was racist in nature (with Zidane’s parents being Algerian immigrants, though many other theories abound).

Furthermore, I asked if they believed there would be any incidents tomorrow between the fans or players, since a growing resentment between the two peoples have been escalating with recent immigration of Romanians to Italy and Italy deporting many of them back. But they did not believe this would be an issue.

dane-IMG_0034-11aug2008-sm.jpgWhen I arrived in Zurich, I threw my backpack over my shoulder and headed down the platform toward the main doors. However, I quickly stopped in my tracks and looked upward: giant, life-like replicas of soccer stars from many nations stood in a huddle. It seemed like every new tourist was taking pictures of these unbelievably life-like forms. And so did I.

The fan zones were very close to the stadium. You could hear the German and Croatian fans cheering loudly at the many television screens throughout the venue. And the Italians I had spoken with on the train immediately made their way to the excitement.

Twenty-four hours later, I intently watched the fans and players of both Italy and Romania, as their respective teams were now center stage. I had read numerous accounts of Italian and Romanian fans and players getting into scuffles in the last couple of years, and I was interested to see if it would occur again, here, tonight.

It did not. The Italian fans on the train had been correct in their prediction.

There were obviously calls that each team and their fans did not like, and certain challenges and tackles that players took offense to, but nothing out of the ordinary. But the situations never got out of control, and, from my point of view, no one reverted to any form of racism.

It was a good game. I enjoyed it from my neutral point of view. Though both fan groups walked away feeling as though their team should have won.

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Hit and miss

After lunch I promptly boarded a train headed for Nyon. I was headed to UEFA headquarters to interview one of their representatives who specializes in dealing with racism in European soccer.

I arrived in Nyon early and walked from the train station to his office. The walk was beautiful. Nyon sits on the shores of Lake Geneva about fifteen minutes north of the eponymous city. The day was unusually warm for the time of year and place, but a constant breeze off the lake intermittently cooled things off. And even here, in a city away from the sounds and crowds of the soccer stadiums that are playing host to the tournament, a fan zone and a large screen are set up for spectators. And then, as I neared UEFA headquarters, flags began to line the streets promoting the tournament and fair play and denouncing racism.

I walked into the lobby and was immediately approached by an attentive secretary. She confirmed my appointment, provided me with a security badge and accompanied me to their waiting room overlooking the lake.

But as amazing as the view was, it could not capture my attention. Sitting in glass cases all around me were the various trophies UEFA awards teams who win their organized events. I quickly rushed over to the Champion’s League trophy, recently awarded to Manchester United. The UEFA Cup was adjacent to it, and 2008 – FC Zenit Saint Petersburg was already etched into its base, amongst past champions.

Dane-IMG_0031-sm.jpgThen, I noticed the cup that was the cause of all the commotion I had witnessed the past few days, the EURO Cup, the trophy that would be awarded to the winning team at the end of the tournament that had begun a few days ago. Who would lift the trophy at the end of the month in Vienna? I wondered.

Before I could move on to another trophy, however, the UEFA representative’s assistant arrived to escort me to a conference room. She brought me water and two folders filled with statements, advertisements, articles, transcripts, and a DVD containing UEFA’s new anti-racism ad campaign, which will be run during the upcoming Champion’s League games.

A few minutes later, the UEFA representative entered. I interviewed him for roughly one hour, covering their current and future policies on how to prevent racism and soccer, when the anti-racism division was created within UEFA and what steps against racism they are trying to get leagues in Europe to start making. It went smoothly, and I gained all the information I came to get and much more.

We then talked briefly about our favorite teams and players and which team we thought would win Euro 2008 (we narrowed it down to Spain or The Netherlands). He then gave me an anti-racism t-shirt, water bottle and captain’s armband.

I wished all my upcoming interviews would play out like this one. I love free stuff.

Back on the train, headed toward Geneva, I called my liaison to FURD to make sure everything was still a go for our interview in a couple of hours. Unfortunately, he claimed to be too busy to meet. He said he had a lot going on, et cetera, et cetera.

I went back to my hotel room and looked over the notes and material I had gained from my interview at UEFA earlier that day. What a gold mine, I thought. Too bad they don’t all play out like that.

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When in Romandy

Dane-IMG_0028-sm.jpgI am in Geneva now, one of the host cities of Euro 2008. The tournament is now fully underway. In fact, two nights ago, Portugal (2) defeated Turkey (0) in this very city.

It seems as if the whole city is revolving around the happenings of the tournament. Fan zones – filled with televisions, food, clothes and drink vendors, games, and, in one area, stands in front of a movie theatre-sized screen to create a stadium-like atmosphere for those who could not gain entry to the actual game – occupy various sectors of the city and always contain proud fans of the various nations participating in the prestigious tournament. Even the Jet d’Eau, the famous water jet fountain that sits where Lake Geneva meets the Rhone, has not been untouched by the tournament frenzy, as a giant soccer ball appears to be resting atop its jet stream.

Tonight, Italy begins its tournament run against The Netherlands. I will finally get to see the players I discussed with various Italian fans and soccer organizations over the past couple of days (though only from a fan zone, as I was unable to obtain tickets, or lodging for that matter, in Bern where the game is being played). Will they live up to expectations? Will any racial incidents occur? All I can do is watch and wait.

Tomorrow will be a busy day for me. Due to scheduling issues and time constraints, I will be forced to meet with two different soccer organizations in two different cities tomorrow afternoon – the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in Nyon and Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD) in Geneva. I am looking forward to both interviews. They will be my first non-Italian-based interviews and should provide a point to compare and contrast the extent to which racism persists in Italian soccer as compared with other European countries. It should be incredibly interesting.

I must go now. A man trying to sell flowers to passers-by has visited me on more than one occasion now and is eyeing me again. Since I am the only one who has not walked away I think he assumes I might be interested in purchasing some, despite turning him away multiple times.

I’m off to participate in the fanfare. When in Romandy, right? Au revoir.

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Where soccer rules

Dane_0023-sm.jpg I can already feel the buzz. The Italians cannot wait for the tournament to begin. Expectations are high. Their team did bring home the World Cup two years ago, and they enter Euro 2008 with largely the same roster. It is nice to be in a country where soccer is anticipated with enthusiasm, appreciated.

Yesterday, while I was taking in some sights – the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Forum, Saint Peter’s Square, the Tiber – after clearing customs at roughly 8 AM, I bumped into a number of people ready to enthusiastically (with hands wildly flailing) explain their national sport to me. The conversations went as expected until I brought up the issue of racism in their beloved sport.

“I do not believe there is any racism in soccer here in Italy,” claimed an Italian economist who lived and worked in London for eight years before returning to his home country.

“All that is done is only to win. They do whatever it takes to win. That is the only reason for incidents.”

Another Italian soccer fan explained, “No, no … Europe is different from America. People in America come from everywhere, all over. In Europe, people are from where they are. In my opinion there is no racism in Europe like America. America has lots of nationalism like Britain, France. In Italy, no, not as much.”

I could not believe what I was hearing. I thought everyone acknowledged the prevalence of racism in Italian soccer.

They had to be wrong, I thought. This is a country whose government imposed a controversial new rule to halt any soccer matches where offensive banners are displayed, the same country where monkey chants and boos often rain down upon black players, the same country where banners themselves were banned entirely this past year because the government-imposed rule was not enough.

Perhaps these two fans are just too close to the situation. According to Soccer Against the Enemy, there is a saying in Naples “that when a man has money, he first buys himself something to eat, then goes to the soccer match, and then sees if he has anything left to find a place to live.” These two fans must love their game so much that they ignore the dark side of it.

The next day, I awoke with their words still on my mind. I was in Italy to discover why their soccer matches seemed to spawn so many more racial incidents compared to other countries such as England. Could I have been wrong about the extent to which racism exists in Italian soccer? My interview later that day would certainly shed more light on the matter.

I went to the internet cafe around the corner to double check the directions they had sent me on how to take the Metro out to their headquarters when I found an e-mail waiting for me from one of the persons I would be interviewing later that day. Apparently something had come up and they had pushed the interviews forward. I had thirty minutes to get there.

After asking the cafe manager how long it would take to get to Unione Italiano Sport Per Tutti (UISP) headquarters, I knew I wouldn’t make it, so I scrambled to find a taxi.

I gave the driver the address I had written down from the e-mail. He nodded and sped off.

Twenty-five minutes later, I got the distinct feeling that the driver had no idea where he was going. He kept pulling out his map and looking at the address and checking his map and so on.

After another ten minutes, he started asking me various questions in Italian. I had no idea what he was saying. All I could do was point at the address on the paper. “Franchellucci? No Franchelluci,” he said, pounding his finger on the map.

I immediately took out my cell phone and called Francesca, the person I would be interviewing first. I told her I would be late, that I was in a cab, and that we were lost. She tried to give me directions to relay to the driver, but I ultimately had to hand over my phone to him.

The speed of the conversation quickly took off to a rate I had never encountered before. I arrived at their building in no time. It turns out it was just around the corner.

The interviews went swimmingly. It turns out racism in Italian soccer is very prevalent, even more so than I had read about.

We discussed incidents ranging from the amateur level to the national level and everywhere in between. They had their own ideas about how to limit these events from occurring, and, for the most part, they sounded great.

To them it is most important to start educating the kids about the dangers of racism and the asininity of believing one racial or ethnic group is superior to another. “If you educate them while they are young,” Francesca contended, “they will know what is right from the start.”

It will be a long process, but all three of the people I interviewed believed that, in the end, it would work and help rid their national sport of such a dark blight.

When pressed to answer why they believed there had been a surge of racist behavior in recent years, they claimed that it was likely a reflection to the large surge of immigrants into Italy in recent years.

They claimed that Italy had never been a country where people from other parts of the world came to live until recently, and native Italians were having a hard time coping with these new outsiders from Romania, Africa and elsewhere.

Give it time, they repeated. It’ll just take a little while for people to adjust, but it’s happening.

That night as I sat in a corner caf?? in one of Rome’s many piazzas, I listened to the conversations of the men and women around me. I could pick up names of players I recognized here and there, “Matterazi,” “Luca Toni.” They were clearly discussing their soccer team’s chances in Euro 2008. I enjoyed listening, even though I couldn’t fully understand what they were saying. There is a clear passion for soccer in their country, a clear departure from the United States.

I knew soccer was much bigger throughout the rest of the world. I had heard many times over that it is the world’s most popular sport, but it’s hard to understand the kind of passion that people around the world have for it. The buzz is incredible.

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Road to Rome

I can never sleep on planes. I am convinced it is due to the increasingly inadequate accommodations on today’s average airline; however, it also likely has something to do with the anticipation of where I am going, and what I will get to experience when I arrive.

In a matter of hours I will be in la Citta Eterna, the Eternal City, Rome, home of the Collisseum, the Pantheon and A.S. Roma’s Commando Ultra Curva Sud. The Curva Sud are the traditional ultras group of the soccer club, having formed over the years by the merger of many smaller fan groups, and they are a big reason for my journey to Rome.

Franklin Foer argues in How Soccer Explains the World that soccer can be a lens through which global phenomena can be viewed. “Of course, soccer isn’t the same as Bach or Buddhism,” he states. “But it is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community’s fabric, a repository of traditions.”

And the fan groups are where the reflection of culture phenomena in soccer can often best be viewed (though it is not the only place), which brings us back to the Curva Sud.

Italian fan groups have often been racially abusive towards other clubs, fans and players, and the Curva Sud are no exception. My research project, which I will be conducting over the next four weeks, will be to explore the phenomenon of racism in European soccer.

To do this I will be talking with fans, anti-racism groups and members of European soccer’s governing bodies. I will also be attending Euro 2008 (a tournament that occurs every four years to crown the best international soccer team in Europe, second in importance only to the World Cup) where I will attend soccer matches, visit fan zones and watch games in bars and biergartens to observe fan interaction between each other as the games unfold.

Soon I will be in Rome, home of the Curva Sud, where I will begin my project and watch Foer’s contention in action. In a day I will conduct my first interview, and shortly after that the Euro 2008 tournament will begin. There is so much to be excited about. How could anyone sleep?

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