SARAH VINE: As England kick off tomorrow, why even soccer newbies will have something to cheer about

My son is very excited about something called the Euros. On closer inspection this turns out to be a football tournament. Correction: another football tournament.

‘But you’ve only just finished the last one,’ I say to him, as he drop-kicks an imaginary ball into the sofa/goal, sending the cat scarpering half-way up the chimney. Massive teenage eye-roll. ‘That was club football, mother. This is countries.’

It is, he informs me, All Very Exciting. Not least because Scotland are playing England, a pairing that presents quite a conundrum, since his father supports Scotland and he England.

My son is very excited about something called the Euros. On closer inspection this turns out to be a football tournament. Correction: another football tournament.

My son is very excited about something called the Euros. On closer inspection this turns out to be a football tournament. Correction: another football tournament.

My son is very excited about something called the Euros. On closer inspection this turns out to be a football tournament. Correction: another football tournament.

It is, he informs me, All Very Exciting. Not least because Scotland are playing England, a pairing that presents quite a conundrum, since his father supports Scotland and he England

It is, he informs me, All Very Exciting. Not least because Scotland are playing England, a pairing that presents quite a conundrum, since his father supports Scotland and he England

It is, he informs me, All Very Exciting. Not least because Scotland are playing England, a pairing that presents quite a conundrum, since his father supports Scotland and he England

As for me, I’m really on the horns of a dilemma, apparently: Wales play Italy in Group A (I was born in Swansea but grew up in Rome). Dramatic pause. ‘Mum?!’ ‘Sorry, what?’, I say, looking up from my phone, where a particularly enticing pair of tangerine clogs has just popped up on my Instagram feed. ‘Wales vs Italy: who are you going to support?’ ‘I don’t care,’ I say. He looks at me as though I had just drowned a kitten.

And I really don’t. Care, that is. The outcome of the Euros is about as interesting to me as a pothole just off junction 13 on the M4. But he does. As do 99.9 per cent of the other males I know.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually really enjoy watching the football. But I have my reservations. I especially hate the language on the terraces and the way fans square up to each other. The sport doesn’t always bring out the best in its fans.

But maybe this year things are different. After a miserable 18 months, Euro 2021 — or Euro 2020, as it’s known, given that last year’s tournament was postponed — will be the first major sporting event on home ground since Covid-19 struck.

It’s an opportunity for coming together, a chance to get into the summer spirit in support of our sportsmen, to cast off months of isolation. At the very least, it’s an excuse to have your friends round for a barbecue, crack open some drinks and enjoy the sun while the TV buzzes away in the corner.

My only worry is England are currently favourites to win, which, in my house at least, may require a certain amount of expectation management.

Whatever the final result, I’m predicting a lively few weeks. My son’s three best friends are, respectively, Mexican/Spanish, Moroccan/Brazilian and Serbian/Italian. I’m not quite sure how that translates into loyalties, but no doubt there will be some passionate exchanges.

Meanwhile, I have cleared the living room of all breakable objects, raided my local Tesco for stocks of Coke Zero and Doritos, and the freezer is stacked with frozen pizzas and other meat-based snacks. And yes I might — just might — join them for the occasional game. Especially the one where Italy smash England. Ha ha. Only joking! 

Wags, hunks and Croatian nibbles — your guide to the Euros

Clear your diary, fire up the barbecue and settle in for a fun-filled four weeks: tomorrow marks England’s kick off in the European Championship, as they play Croatia at Wembley Stadium. From players to presenters, WAGs to the weather (and how to watch the matches alfresco), SARAH RAINEY shares the ultimate guide to the Euros . . . 

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) European Championship has been held every four years since 1960. Twenty-four teams, divided into six groups of four, make it into the championship through a series of qualifying rounds. The groups are determined by a draw; England are in Group D, with Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic. England’s group games are on June 13, 18 and 22.

At the first stage, each team plays the other three in their group. The two teams with the most points go through to the next round, as well as the four highest-performing teams finishing third in each group.

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) European Championship has been held every four years since 1960

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) European Championship has been held every four years since 1960

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) European Championship has been held every four years since 1960

Next, the 16 teams play eight matches, in which the losers are knocked out. The remaining eight enter the quarter-finals, with two teams making it to the final on July 11 and the chance to lift the Henri Delaunay Cup (right).

This year’s 36 group-stage matches will be played in different cities, including Amsterdam, Glasgow and St Petersburg. From the semi-finals onwards, they’re all at Wembley.

England famously reached the semi-finals in 1996, drawing 1-1 with Germany only to lose 6-5 on penalties. A painful memory for any England fan, it was catastrophic for now manager Gareth Southgate, who missed the crucial penalty. However, having never made the final of the 15 European Championships held to date, England go into this tournament as one of the favourites, with the latest odds placing them at 5/1 to win.

Where can you watch? 

With pubs open again, there are plenty of places showing the matches on TVs and large outdoor screens.

Another weather-safe option is Showcase Cinemas, where screens across the UK are showing their home team’s games, as well as the final.

And, depending on what’s allowed come June 21, there are planned fan parks in London, Newcastle and Glasgow, offering free ticketed access to outdoor entertainment, food stalls and big screens.

If you’d prefer to stay home, BBC and ITV are splitting the 51 fixtures. Or why not consider renting your own big screen and enjoying the action alfresco? You can hire a 140-inch inflatable screen (above), with 15 pairs of headphones for your garden guests, for £299 from events company Poptop (poptop.uk.com).

The covid score

Although Wembley stadium can hold 90,000 fans, just 22,500 tickets have been sold for tomorrow’s match. Anyone over the age of 11 will be required to show proof they’ve had two doses of a Covid vaccine at least two weeks prior to the game, or a negative lateral flow test within the previous 48 hours. Both can be shown on the NHS Covid app. Fans will be asked to wear masks and remain in their seats at half-time.

Although Wembley stadium can hold 90,000 fans, just 22,500 tickets have been sold for tomorrow’s match

Although Wembley stadium can hold 90,000 fans, just 22,500 tickets have been sold for tomorrow’s match

Although Wembley stadium can hold 90,000 fans, just 22,500 tickets have been sold for tomorrow’s match

Host a Euro themed party

Invite the neighbours round and make a day of it with the help of themed food, drink and decorations. Aldi is offering a range of snacks, from meatballs to pizzas, while Tesco has a brisket and chuck beef burger. At Iceland, there’s a £5 deal on two pizzas and a range of drinks.

And don’t forget decorations: Party Pieces (partypieces.co.uk) sells a range of football-themed banners, plates, cups and napkins from £1.99, or buy Euro 2020 bunting from Amazon for £7.99.

Here comes the girls

They may have wardrobes dripping with designer labels, but many of England’s WAGs have their own careers, too.

Leading the posse is brunette beauty Fern Hawkins, 26, fiancee of defender Harry Maguire, who has a first-class degree in physiotherapy.

She’ll be joined by fitness instructor Kate Kane, 27 — wife of captain Harry  — and law student Mia McClenaghan, 21, girlfriend of Reece James.

Harry Kane will be leading the England team out onto the field at Wembley tomorrow while his wife Kate, left will be the chief WAG

Harry Kane will be leading the England team out onto the field at Wembley tomorrow while his wife Kate, left will be the chief WAG

Harry Kane will be leading the England team out onto the field at Wembley tomorrow while his wife Kate, left will be the chief WAG

Reece James' girlfriend Mia McClenaghan, pictured, will also be one of the leading tournament WAGs

Reece James' girlfriend Mia McClenaghan, pictured, will also be one of the leading tournament WAGs

Reece James’ girlfriend Mia McClenaghan, pictured, will also be one of the leading tournament WAGs

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford's girlfriend Megan Davison will also be cheering on the team

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford's girlfriend Megan Davison will also be cheering on the team

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s girlfriend Megan Davison will also be cheering on the team

Then there’s Megan Davison, 24, the label-loving wife of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, and make-up artist Ashleigh Behan, 26, partner of midfielder Kalvin Phillips.

The youngest WAG is Rebecca Cooke, 20, who’s expecting her second child with forward Phil Foden later this year.

Strict Covid-19 protocols mean the WAGs are banned from visiting the players at their hotel for the whole tournament.

Bringing the bling on the Croatian side for England’s first group match is model Adriana Durdevic, 29, who married Duje Caleta-Car in a lavish ceremony last month.

Izabel Kovacic, 28, wife of Croatian star Mateo, has been called the country’s Shakira in homage to the Colombian pop star. She is also a successful businesswoman, who runs an organic baby products company.

The stars you can’t miss

Each national team can register a squad of up to 26 players, but the 11-strong team isn’t usually revealed until one hour before each match.

England captain, top goal-scorer in the Premier League and all-round nicest man in football Harry Kane is the shining star of the home squad.

The 27-year-old father-of-three is married to his childhood sweetheart, Kate, abstains from drinking during the season and was made an MBE in 2019 for services to football.

You’ll also recognise defender Kieran Trippier, 30, the golden boy of the 2018 World Cup, and forwards Marcus Rashford, 23,  and Raheem Sterling, 26. The latter found himself in hot water after partying with Usain Bolt last summer, three days before the sprinter tested positive for Covid-19.

On the Croatian team,  6ft 4in Duje Caleta-Car, 24, whose name translates as ‘Daddy-Emperor’, is one of their lead players

On the Croatian team,  6ft 4in Duje Caleta-Car, 24, whose name translates as ‘Daddy-Emperor’, is one of their lead players

On the Croatian team,  6ft 4in Duje Caleta-Car, 24, whose name translates as ‘Daddy-Emperor’, is one of their lead players

Marcus Rashford, pictured, will be hoping to end the season on a high following Manchester United's loss in the Europa League final

Marcus Rashford, pictured, will be hoping to end the season on a high following Manchester United's loss in the Europa League final

Marcus Rashford, pictured, will be hoping to end the season on a high following Manchester United’s loss in the Europa League final 

Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, 25, is the hunk of the squad. With his rugged facial hair and slicked-back locks, he’s been dubbed ‘Zac Efron’s better-looking brother’.

And not forgetting Jude Bellingham, England’s wunderkind, who — at 17 — is the team’s third-youngest international player; only Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney have appeared earlier.

On the Croatian side, keep your eyes peeled for Luka Modric (the one with the hairband), widely regarded as the greatest Croatian footballer of all time, and 6ft 4in Duje Caleta-Car, 24, whose name translates as ‘Daddy-Emperor’.

A scorcher of a month

Expect glorious weather — highs of 28c and uninterrupted sun — at Wembley tomorrow. Even the North will see highs of 24c. Sunbathers can invest in a skimpy red-and-white England bikini from online retailer Pretty Little Thing for £6. 

TV has got a massive female squad

Move over Gary Lineker; there’s a squad of female pundits on our screens this year — three times as many women presenters as there were at the last Euros in 2016.

On the BBC’s team are Gabby Logan, 48, and Eilidh Barbour, 38, as well as former internationals Alex Scott, 36,  and Shelley Kerr, 51.

And Maya Jama, 26,  is co-presenting Crouchy’s Year-Late Euros with former England striker Peter Crouch.

Former Arsenal player and England international Alex Scott is appearing on BBC

Former Arsenal player and England international Alex Scott is appearing on BBC

Former Arsenal player and England international Alex Scott is appearing on BBC

Gabby Logan, pictured, will also be a major presence in the BBC coverage

Gabby Logan, pictured, will also be a major presence in the BBC coverage

Gabby Logan, pictured, will also be a major presence in the BBC coverage 

Maya Jama, 26, is co-presenting Crouchy’s Year-Late Euros with former England striker Peter Crouch

Maya Jama, 26, is co-presenting Crouchy’s Year-Late Euros with former England striker Peter Crouch

Maya Jama, 26, is co-presenting Crouchy’s Year-Late Euros with former England striker Peter Crouch

On ITV, Seema Jaswal, 36, and Reshmin Chowdhury, 43, head up the squad, with pundits including ex-player Eni Aluko, 34, and Soccer Saturday stalwart Michelle Owen, 30.

A half-time snack: Croatian doughnuts  

How to make home made Croatian doughnuts

How to make home made Croatian doughnuts

How to make home made Croatian doughnuts

Makes 20

Ingredients

7g active dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

960g plain flour 

1 tsp salt

145g raisins

60g chopped walnuts

1 grated apple

2 tsp lemon zest

750ml warm water 

750ml vegetable oil

Icing sugar

Method: Dissolve yeast and sugar in 230ml warm water. When it foams, pour into bowl and add flour, salt, raisins, walnuts, apple and zest, and mix well.

Slowly add rest of the water until it forms the consistency of cake batter. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for an hour or until doubled in size. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat vegetable oil to 190c — a crumb of bread dropped in should sizzle and float to the top.

Carefully drop tablespoons of batter into oil in batches and fry until golden, flipping over to brown both sides.

Remove with a slotted spoon, drain off excess oil and dust with icing sugar.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING; ELEANOR SHARPLES 

Link hienalouca.com

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