1. ITV Report

England fan blog: Three Lions' unexpected success makes it all the sweeter

England fans in the Donbass Arena celebrate the victory over Ukraine and qualification from Group D. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

England fans in Ukraine will send blogs and images to ITV News throughout the team's participation in the Euro 2012 Championships. Here, Mark Perryman, a member of the LondonEnglandFans supporters' group, talks about the joy of qualifying top of Group D.

So it's farewell Donetsk, it's been nice getting to know you but we're off to Kiev now. The joy of last night in Donetsk is probably all the sweeter because coming into Euro 2012 it wasn't quite what we expected.

Seasoned England travellers, certainly since the summer of Euro '96, have become accustomed to England getting out of the group easily enough, it's the least we expect. It was only at Euro 2000 we failed to do so, and that was kind of compensated for by finding Germany were even worse than us.

World Cup '02, Euro '04 and World Cup '06 we reached the quarters, the pitiful campaign in South Africa for World Cup 2010 was at least not so bad to stop us reaching the knock-out stages. But Euro 2012 was different, almost every pundit, and lets be honest most fans, thought we'd struggle, might come home early, at best scrape second place in the group. We've confounded the lot and that's what makes it so sweet, 'we still believed' and have the march tickets to prove it.

An England fan celebrates in Donetsk after the Three Lions beat Ukraine. Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

And to further confound the negatives of the build up, we're having a lovely time. England fans, black and white, are over and over saying that they haven't experienced the racism, the hooliganism, the brutal policing too many media pundits assured us we'd face.

That's not to say none of this exists in Ukraine or Poland, but they haven't infected the tournament in the way that so many predicted. Instead we've found sunshine, cheap beer and a friendly and hospitable nation.

It's easy to forget Ukraine has only enjoyed independence since 1991, that's a very short space of time in the lfe of a nation-state, the power, influence and legacy of their neighbours. Russia is still very much present, and a decent proportion of the country like it that way, and the others very much don't. Furthermore despite the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, outside of Kiev, Ukraine attracts few Western tourists or business travellers. This could be the single biggest impact of Euro 2012 .

In Donetsk the city volunteers were all very young; the stewards, stadium groundstaff and police too. Everywhere we went we felt a sense of excitement at their new found cosmopolitanism as they mixed, many for the first time, with those from England, Sweden, Holland and others.

England and Ukraine fans walk to the Donbass Arena ahead of the Group D match. Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Of our group following England by the coach we brought out with us from Scunthorpe, quite a few were booked to travel home after the group stages. It is a bizarre way to spend a few weeks after all, the country you are booked to go to is not one you choose yourself but it's selected by UEFA or FIFA.

The cities likewise and after the certainty of the group stages you can't pre-plan where you'll be or for how long from now on. But for those who've signed up, we wouldn't miss it for the world. And part of the attraction is that this time we're in a country few of us know very much about and would be unlikely to visit if it wasn't for football.

Hence the contempt for those warnings to 'stay away', we never believed them and know for the most part they were misrepresentations and exaggerations. Our motivation for being here is down to England, and doing so well on the pitch has added an unexpected glow to the trip.

Wayne Rooney's goal against Ukraine helped England finish top of Group D. Credit: PA Wire

But for most the travel is a big part of the appeal too, since World Cup 2002 there has developed a distinct England travelling culture, who like to add sightseeing, sampling the local food and drink, mix with fans of the country we're playing and not just our own. It doesn't appeal to everyone but a lot more than the stock TV shots of England fans gathered together around a Donetsk city centre bar might suggest.

Next up for us is another trip north to Kiev, this time we're going the eastward route to take in Ukraine's second biggest city, Kharkiv. If we came out here with any trepidation, last night finally ended that.

Ukrainians love their football, and their nation, we needed the result but it was still sad to see them exit. But perhaps best of all was when we were 1-0 up and they started their Mexican Wave. You know that any crowd who does that leaves you next to no chance of getting your head kicked in outside afterwards. We're not going home, not yet at any rate.

  • Mark Perryman is a member of the LondonEnglandFans supporters' group and the author of Ingerland: Travels with a Football Nation. His views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.