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The Euro 2008 Stadium Experience: Berne

wankdorf-stadium.jpgExperiencing Euro 2008 from the comfort of your home, office or local pub is so different than seeing the game live in person. But what goes on inside a stadium in the buildup to a Euro 2008 game?

For the first round of Euro 2008 matches that began at 2.45pm ET, most — if not all — of the stadiums televised the noon ET game on the giant screen TVs to encourage fans to get to the stadium early and to reduce traffic congestion in the buildup to the match.

When I watched the game between France and Romania on the giant TV screens before Holland played Italy in Berne, there were two problems. One, it was very difficult to watch a game on a giant screen TV no matter where your seat was in the stadium. Two, the stadium organizers had a DJ playing music throughout the game so it definitely took away the atmosphere of the match. But luckily we didn’t miss much as the French played an absolutely boring game against the very physical Romanians.

I was really impressed with the pre-match events organized by the Swiss. Sure, there was the predictable dancers running across the pitch carrying banners to pump up the crowd. But there was also a host who spoke to the crowd in English and explained what would happen in the build-up to the match. He then introduced two men. One spoke in Dutch to the Oranje army. The other man was Italian and spoke in his native tongue to his fellow countrymen.

Both the Dutch and Italian men tried to pump up their fans. The English-speaking host then explained how he wanted the Dutch and Italian fans to work together to ensure that the match was celebrated in the spirit of the game.

He then got the fans involved in a novel crowd participation game. A very large canvas sheet in the shape of a soccer ball was given to the Dutch fans at one end of the stadium. The host then encouraged the fans to pass the soccer ball canvas over their heads to the opposite side of the stadium where the Italian fans stood. The object of the game was to see if they could get it to the other end within 60 seconds.

While it was fun to watch the fans fumble the ball, it was definitely a good exercise to get the crowd working together as a team.

As the time sped forward toward kick off, the DJ continued to spin his records. The Italian and Dutch fans tried to sing above the din of the music but to no avail. The blasting music was detrimental to the atmosphere in the ground. By the time the game was almost ready to kick off, the fans were singing but not as loudly as they could have been. I really feel the music was to blame for this.

The site for all of these pre-match activities was Berne’s Wankdorf Stadium. Despite it’s laughable name, the ground is one of the best smaller stadiums I’ve ever visited. Recently rebuilt in 2005, the ground looks boxy from the outside, but inside it’s quite compact while still allowing enough leg room in the 32,000 all-seater. What surprised me was how well designed the concourse was than ran beneath the upper deck. The restrooms, for example, were as modern as what you’d expect to find in most larger hotels. And the way the concourse was designed allowed for easy flow of football supporters in and out of that corner of the ground.

Other than the annoying DJ, I give the Euro 2008 stadium experience at Berne’s Wankdorf Stadium a massive thumbs up.

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