Swordfighting and football don’t mix – right? Well I’m not sure after witnessing the Folk Football festival in Kyiv which coincided with the staging of the quarter-finals.
Good on the Ukrainians for using the tournament to promote their own culture.
And I was certainly not prepared for a battle Royal between two acrobatic swordsmen, duelling spectacularly. In fact it was a lot more thrilling than the Italy v England game.
Sparks were flying off the metal blades as they hammered away at each other in a brilliantly choreographed duel. Errol Flynn eat your heart out. The sparks would have been enough for a council health and safety penpusher to step in and declare the event off back in the UK.
Organiser Georgian playwright Raguli Vlasidze, who looked like he was a rumbustious chunky central midfielder with a kick like a horse back in his youth when no doubt he played in Tiflis, organised it to raise money for good causes.
Money raised will promote education, culture and sport, develop Ukrainian cinema and theatre and ‘encourage national spirituality’.
Ceremonial maces were on sale, football games in a giant paddling pool were organised (‘Allowed: hand gestures and lots of smiling’, said the programme).
The big ball on display in the picture is adorned with the designs of the Pysanko – the traditional painted egg of Ukraine.
Interviewing him via an interpreter was difficult as the English version of what he was saying came out in less than perfect sentences. But there was no doubt of an obvious passion for football.
He said: “Football changes our lives so we want to change people, this festival is for this.”
In the programme, it says: “We believe that the time will soon come when football stadiums worldwide will be adorned with national ornamentation, subconsciously elevating the inherent sense of national spirituality.”
In Wales’s case, that could well be a pint glass I reckon.
Previous to its visit to Kyiv’s famous Andryivsky Street, where the famous writer Bulgakov lived, and which is the centrepiece of the city’s historic Podil area, the folk football bandwagon had been to Lviv and to Ivan0-Frankivsk.
So with its giant football pie, I couldn’t get why this particular item featured, it was a suitably surreal and typically Ukrainian weird concoctioN.
And apparently the Football Peace carpet will be blessed by the Pope himself when it reaches Rome.
Really, this was like watching West Brom in an international tournament – lots of earnest, honest endeavour from both sides, incompetence in front of goal and a deathlessly dull 120 minutes. England copped a load of flak for their endeavours but it wasn’t as if Italy were breathtakingly adventurous – they couldn’t manage a goal despite monopolising the match.
The template for a 0-0 was set early on. After 21 minutes, all neutrals began the Mexican wave, which England fans admirably ignored. But you couldn’t blame the rest of us for taking part.
Locals cranked up ‘Oooh-cry-ina’ chants early, one guy even tried to get a ‘Rossiya’ (Russia) chant going but had no takers. Later on, the ‘Ooh-cry-ina’ morphed into ‘Italia’, as the hosts decided to back Italy because they were still miffed that England had edged them out of the championships.
In fact it was a shame Ukraine missed out on this match as it would have been immeasurably improved – they’d have been a more fluid attacking threat and, of course, everybody in the stadium would have gone absolutely bazonkas as per the crazed Swedish hordes who lit up the stadium in the 3-2 defeat nine days earlier. Instead, most people were moderately interested.
So we had a strangely subdued motley crew at the match – surprisingly quite a few Poles – many of whom were Ukrainians taking the first swig from international football’s champagne tournament.
England fans, again admirably, stoked up the heat with a strong second-half showing of support which felt at the time as though it could carry the team through. But there was to be no joy for Jon, Kiev resident and Stevenage Borough fan. Liked his comment: “It’s been interesting to be able to look the police in the eye in the course of the tournament.”
But, not being in the habit of watching England very often as Wales play at the same time, the parallels with Lisbon 2004 were uncanny – only that was a far better side.
Back then Sven, it seemed to me, played two back fours (I was up in the stand) and used a siege defence. Lo and behold, reading before the tournament, Sven copied a lot from Roy Hodgson’s Swedish success in the 70s.
So now England have Sven’s guru in the hot seat and the style is the same. Against decent sides, at any rate. Two back fours, clean sheet, bore the fans to death.
Though a friend Oxana called it ‘lingeringly suspenseful’, texted: “I watched in perfect comfort in McDonalds, not amidst crowds in the fanzone. And though it did seem interminable I was having a kind of private reverie, so I was not bored.”
So commiserations to England fans on another penalty fiasco. Painful, obviously. But if you want real anguish, pop over to Wales in September for the next qualifying campaign. That’ll be REAL pain.
A matryoshka doll is the classic one-inside-another souvenir you see everywhere way out east.
It struck me the more I thought about the day of Holland v Portugal that it had so many personal layers of meaning for me, and was such a wonderful occasion, that it was, however absurdly, something of a matryoshka match.