Leeds might be a long way from Brazil but the small matter of 5,500 miles isn’t going to stop the city joining the World Cup party. Paul Robinson reports on local preparations for a global sporting occasion.
Pull on that replica shirt and stock up on food, drink and flags – football fever is set to sweep Leeds as the city celebrates the greatest sporting show on turf.
The World Cup gets under way tomorrow evening, with a global TV audience of two billion people expected to tune in to watch host nation Brazil take on Croatia in the tournament’s opening game.
Roy Hodgson’s England, meanwhile, must wait until Saturday night to kick their first ball in anger, as they tackle Italy in a match that starts at 11pm UK time.
And it seems that, almost everywhere you look in Leeds, people are in the mood for a month-long World Cup party. Tell-tale signs that the big one is around the corner include:
* Council bosses making preparations for fans who are expected to flock to Millennium Square to watch key fixtures on its giant screen;
* Pubs, bars and restaurants across the city lining up deals and events to mark the tournament and cash in on the popularity of the beautiful game;
* Sales of football-related merchandise and other paraphernalia going through the roof at Leeds-based supermarket giant Asda.
Leeds City Council leader Coun Keith Wakefield said today: “The World Cup is always an occasion that captures the imagination and once again venues across our city will be packed out for what we all hope will be a great tournament for England in Brazil.
“I hope that people planning to watch games in the city centre will take the opportunity to enjoy our fantastic retail, entertainment and nightlife.”
The World Cup, though, forms just part of a special sporting summer in Yorkshire.
Its quarter-finals weekend coincides with the county’s staging of the opening sections of the Tour de France bike race.
And organisers of the Grand Depart’s visit to the White Rose county are confident soccer, cycling and tennis – in the shape of Wimbledon – can combine to produce a unique atmosphere.
Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity said: “July 5 and 6 promises to be a world-class weekend of sport, with Yorkshire’s Grand Depart of the Tour de France front and centre. Add in a potential late evening appearance in a quarter-final by England and another thrilling Wimbledon, and you have all the ingredients for a weekend to remember.”
Fans will have no shortage of places in Leeds to watch England’s game with Italy this Saturday.
The O2 Academy Leeds will be showing the match on a big screen, with ‘carnival beats’ from DJs at half-time and full-time.
Groups of up to 50 can book private screenings for any game during the World Cup at The Faversham.
Gastro pub The Atlas is staging screenings and offering beer and burger deals. Leeds Brewery’s PIN venue on Dock Street has laid artificial grass in its bar and installed a set of goalposts for revellers who fancy a kickaround.
Brazilian steakhouse Fazenda is running themed competitions, including one where entrants will put photos on social networking service Instagram that sum up their World Cup experience. It is also opening a Brazilian bar called Bar Brasil next to its Granary Wharf home, with the venue’s launch party being held tomorrow.
Spokeswoman Natalia Andrade said: “There is going to be a great atmosphere at both Fazenda and Bar Brasil during the World Cup. Brazilian people really know how to party and visitors will definitely get a taste of that!”
There will be a screening of the Italy match at Leeds United’s Elland Road ground, where Whites legend Allan Clarke will be speaking about his trip to the 1970 World Cup with England. However, the game is NOT being screened in Millennium Square, because of its late kick-off time.
England’s remaining two group fixtures, against Uruguay on June 19 (8pm UK time) and Costa Rica on June 24 (5pm UK time) will be shown in the square.
A host of other games through the tournament will also be broadcast on the big screen, although quarter-final matches will be blacked-out due to their clash with the Tour de France.
Gates for each England fixture will open 90 minutes before kick-off and fans are being advised to arrive early to make sure of their place.
Screenings of Three Lions matches at previous major tournaments have attracted thousands of supporters.
Coun Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s executive member for leisure, said: “We will once again be creating a special viewing area on Millennium Square for fans to watch Roy’s men in action.”
Asda expects to sell more than three million litres of beer over the course of the tournament
Sales of fruit ciders and lager are already up by 20 per cent while 20,000 sets of patriotic bunting have flown off the shelves. Asda’s head of events, Steph Hughes, said: “This is set to be one of the biggest retail events of the year. From bunting to bangers to beers to burgers, Asda’s got everything you need to get behind and support the boys this summer!”
* Here at the YEP we know that not everyone is a football addict. And so, throughout the World Cup, we will be printing handy details of events that offer an escape from the soccer carnival.
Whether it’s a gig, club night, food evening or exhibition, something will be flagged up as an idea for getting out of the house on every matchday.
A list of events for the first round of group games – which run until next Tuesday – can be found on these pages and will be reprinted in installments over the next few days.