Euro star

There was an air of inevitability when Iker Cassillas lifted the European Championships trophy for Spain in July after a resounding 4-0 win over Italy. Once again the Spanish retained their crown as kings of Europe to add to their World Cup triumph in Germany in 2010.

If the Spanish retaining the trophy was inevitable, one of the major surprises for many was the success of the tournament as a whole for joint hosts Poland and Ukraine.

The build-up to the event, among the top five sporting events on the world stage, was dogged by negativity.

First there were fears whether stadiums and infrastructure would be fully in place, and then that Black and Asian fans should stay away through fears of racism within grounds following a BBC documentary.

Some politicians boycotted games played in Kiev and Donetsk as a human rights protest. When the dust settled and the first whistle blew in Warsaw on 8 June for Poland vs Greece, a truly memorable tournament was played out.

From the early demise of the Dutch, to the surprising exit of Russia, to the counter attacking Germans and surprising Italians, the Euros saw 76 goals and, as usual, an England exit on penalties.

For many of us, as we sat back at home or in the pub to watch the tournament unfold, we didn’t give a second thought to what it takes to stage such a competition.

Behind the scenes it’s a very different story as 23-year-old University of Wolverhampton graduate, Joanna Zielinska found out.

Joanna, who is from Poland, returned to her native country during the summer to work as a volunteer during the event.

Having just graduated with a 2:1 in Event and Venue Management and Tourism Management based at the University’s Walsall Campus, she sought to put what she learnt on her course into practice.

Joanna was based within logistics at the stadium in Gdansk, which hosted group games involving Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Croatia as well as the quarter final between Germany and Greece.

Joanna said: “I decided to do my dissertation on the Euros and I started it last summer. As part of my research I saw that they were advertising for volunteers. Around 24,000 people applied for positions and I was lucky enough to get one of them.

“My main role was meant to be administration but I got involved in a lot of project work because I was there in the two weeks before the tournament started.

“I was based with the venue manager so I ended up being involved with translation, event management tasks and sorting out access passes for visitors.

“The majority of the work was in the two-week build-up to the first match in Gdansk, which was Spain against Italy.

“It was a sell-out crowd and so busy getting everything ready like the signage, VIP and hospitality areas and sorting out all the accreditation for people in time.

“I was working eight hours a day doing four or five shifts a week but really enjoyed it.”

The iconic 43,000 stadium in the seaside city of Gdansk is home to local side Lechia Gdansk.

It looks somewhat like a big shimmering gold bubble and its exterior is meant to resemble amber which has long been extracted from the nearby Baltic coast.

It was one of many new stadiums built in Poland and Ukraine in order to host matches and meet UEFA standards.

Welcoming

And according to Joanna, who is about to become Vice-President for Activities at the University of Wolverhampton Students’ Union, it’s only by working there she realises what a big deal it is to stage such an event.

She said: “It was the biggest event we have ever had in Poland. We have staged things like handball, volleyball and basketball tournaments but football is the most popular sport although we don’t have the best team.

“People were really excited to be involved and about the new facilities being built. Everyone loved it. The atmosphere was amazing.

“Everyone was so enthusiastic and very welcoming. There were some worries in advance about how people in Poland would react and whether enough people would be able to speak English but in the end it was fine.

“It was great to see behind the scenes at such a big event. Most people don’t see what goes on just to get a tournament like that ready. All they see is the match but the safety and security side is massive, alongside the translation.

“It’s such a huge thing to get 40,000 people into and out of a stadium smoothly. Not to mention the VIPs, politicians and all the various delegates.

“From my point of view it was an amazing learning experience. The biggest difference is learning on the ground – my degree gave me a really good insight but it’s always going to be different when you are actually out there doing it.

“Also there is the difference between managing events in England and managing events in Poland. There were people from all over the world involved and different organisations, each had its own way of doing things which needed smoothing over.”

Positive experiences

Of course another plus point of working at such a major event is getting up close and personal with footballing aristocracy.

“The office where I was based was next to the tunnel so I would see all the players training before the match.

“The interview area was also there too so I could see all the players coming backwards and forwards. We weren’t allowed to ask for photos or autographs though.

“There were open sessions for the public and when we were working on match days we were able to go and watch the second half.

“It’s funny because I wasn’t really into football before I worked at Euro 2012 but once I was involved I had to watch every single game.

“I loved watching the Germans when they played at Gdansk but my favourite game has to have been Spain against Ireland.

“The stadium was just a sea of green. The Ireland fans did not expect to win but they backed their team and created such a great atmosphere. Their fans were so amazing even though they lost 4-0.

“Spain played at Gdansk three times. When they first played everyone was so excited, but then you got used to it so by the second and third time they played there they were just normal.

“I was able to go anywhere in the stadium: changing rooms, tunnel, VIP areas – it was great. Opinion has been very positive from everyone who came. They did surveys in airports when people were leaving and more than 90 per cent of people said they’d come back or tell their friends about Poland.

“If you can make your visitors happy and they go away with a smile on their face, then you can enjoy it as you know it’s gone well. It makes it all very rewarding and worthwhile."