Used to be bigger: Österreich – Magyarország / Austria – Hungary



Beer: Stiegl

Origin: Salzburg

Obtained: in Vienna, in person, 4 days before the start of the tournament



Beer: Borsodi

Origin: Bőcs, near Miskolc, Eastern Hungary

Obtained: Wine shop opposite my office in Warsaw


Post-imperial tussles are not uncommon at major tournaments: match-ups between Portugal and Angola and Algeria and France are just two examples that spring to mind. Austria v Hungary is a bit different, on the count that they are both European, and that for a while they jointly ran the gig. The Austro-Hungarian empire would’ve once accounted for at least 7 (!) of the beers in my beer odyssey. In footballing terms too both nations have, to a greater or lesser extent, fallen from greater footballing heights. Hungary’s Aranycsapat or ‘golden team’ (Puskás and co) will never be surpassed, much as Hungarians know that their lost lands of Transylvania and other various chunks of neighbouring countries will never return.

As great as it once was in football and territorially, I’m not sure Hungarian beer has ever reached the heights of either. Not far from where my Hungarian beer Borsodi is brewed is a valley known as the ‘szépasszonyvölgy’ or ‘valley of beautiful women’, the idea being that a woman can look all the more beautiful after a few drinks. The drink in qustion however is wine, and it is in its hearty wines, not its beeers, that Hungary excels. In fact I can positively say from my 3 years living there a decade ago that Hungarian beer is pretty awful, and I tended to avoid Borsodi for the slightly better Dreher. Hungary’s craft beers are now taking off and I’m sure thy’re not bad but I kind of wanted to stick with the dubious quality Hungarian beer I remember, so Borsodi it is.


The Austrians are much better at making beer, as I can vouch for from a recent trip to Vienna. I settled on the Salzburg beer Stiegl but there are many others I could have happily gone for. Wieselburger is outstanding and the local Vienna brew Ottakringer is also quite nice.

When the Austrians defeated the Hungarian 1848-49 uprising by executing the so-called ‘martyrs of Arad’, Hungarians said they would not clink beer glasses for 150 years as the Austrian generals had done. So the biggest question for me is, will the Hungarians clink glasses tonight if they win? 😉



On the shoulders of giants – Northern Ireland


Beer: Whitewater Belfast Ale

Origin: Kilkeel, County Down

Obtained: Ordered from

One of the most tricky to get. I’m sure if I’d had a chance to scour specialist beer stores on brief visits to the UK it would’ve turned up, but in the normal course of business, it’s hard to come by. In the end it was one of three which turned out to be most problematic (Croatia and, surprinsingly, Austria being the other two) and had to be mail ordered from a fancy wine outfit, arriving in a fantastic blow-up plastic contraption that shielded it from harm all the way from Ulster to Warsaw.

I suppose it was the default choice. I think when I was up there I mostly drinking whiskey so had no obvious choice in mind when NI qualified. I’ve decided to support Northern Ireland against Poland purely in visceral anger for the pay tv deal being foisted upon Euro 2016 fans in Poland. Norn airn!

My guru – Cymru / Wales


Beer: Brains SA Gold

Origin: Cardiff (Caerdydd)

Obtained: Sainsbury’s, UK

Wales has some great traditional beers. I’d have been delighted to get hold of some Felinfoel (pronounced roughly ‘velinvowl’, not in the way you might feel if you had a particularly nasty hangover). It also has a feisty craft beer scene. Who wouldn’t want a bottle of Dirty Stop OutBrains and I, however, have some history.

It all goes back to 1998 and moving to Wales to study at Cardiff Uni. As both a way of earning some cash whilst studying but also to make use of the musical education of my formative years I earned a transfer from Chester Cathedral Choir to the (basically) now defunct Llandaff Cathedral Choir. It was there that I learned to sing the Welsh National Anthem (one of four at the tournament I can sing along to from memory), though I’m ashamed to say that the choirmaster got choristers through rehearsals by getting them to sing ‘my hen laid a haddock on top of a tree’, and I also learned the only grammatically advanced sentence of Welsh I can muster, ‘Yn enw’r tad a’r mab a’r ysbryd glân’, although I can rustle up a fair bit of vocabulary, not least cwrw (‘coo-roo’) which means, wait for it, beer.

The connection may not be obvious to some, but anyone within a sniff of a cathedral choir will know that choirs and pubs are never far apart. I believe the person behind the apparently lapsed Cathedral Choir Pubs website is a former Llandaff lay clerk himself. The gentlemen of the choir would after evensong frequently graduate to the Black Lion. Perhaps I missed out on the partying and nightclubs of uni life but made up for it through plenty of proper old school drinking, of mainly Brains (standard, the stronger ‘SA’, the very pleasant ‘dark’, which was a mild, and the just slightly more subtle-tasting Reverend James) and, being the youngest person there, paid for very little of it (one of the venerable bases would then drive himself home, apparently stone cold sober).

So this could explain how I became a plastic Welshman, for the purposes of Euro 2016 anyway, but there’s more to it than that. I in fact have roots in Wales. My grandmother’s name was Gwyneth Griffiths, and they hailed from Pembrokeshire (in actual fact the part they call ‘little England beyond Wales’, for the reason that the Welsh place names start giving way to English ones) so I qualify through ancestry, like a kind of Kit Symons or Vinnie Jones (The scorer of Wales’ winner against Slovakia is English-born with a Welsh grandmother, so don’t knock it).

The real blame though lies with the construction of Wales’ grand Millenium Stadium, which will host next year’s Champions League final no less. The ground is always jam packed for the rugby, but when it was tentatively decided to start hosting Wales national football matches there, with tickets only ten quid a piece, locals lapped them up, and with my Welsh connections and no particular history of following England at the turnstiles, I ended up at qualifiers against the likes of Norway, Poland and Ukraine. I even made one away game, in 2004, in Budapest against Hungary. My Welsh allegiances then went into the deep freeze a bit but I always wanted to back them if they made it to a tournament, and here they are. Lloniannau!

Playing the game – Россия / Russia


Beer: Zhigulyovskoye

Origin: Samara, Russian Federation

Obtained: Carrefour, Poland

Rather like Russia itself, the foreboding can of Zhigulyovskoye is definitely the biggest beer in my Euro 2016 beer odyssey but is far from being the best. It was at one time almost the only beer brand available in the USSR. You have to grasp that, for most people in the former Soviet Union, beer is considered a sort of soft drink (Ukraine, for example, is the only country I know where Coca Cola bottles have the words ‘non-alcoholic drink’ written on them). As such, this is merely an easy-drinking prelude to a bit of vodka later on (though I won’t be going down that route). It apparently used to be ‘Viennese beer’ but this was changed for being considered too petit bourgeois by the communist authorities.

It very nearly didn’t make it in to my plans at all, and I considered some substitutes, hence I have a bottle of Polish Braniewo at home (a town on the border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave) and a bottle of the Belgian Cuvée Des Trolls, in reference to the Kremlin practice of employing armies of students to write pro-Russian comments across online message boards, in case you ever wondered where all those comments under Russia articles on The Guardian  website come from.

However, after going on somewhat of a cup run (Albanian, Icelandic and Hungarian beer all unexpectedly turned up in local shops) the prospect of collecting all 24 beers was really coming together. In the end it would’ve been too much for my Euro beers OCD to play them at left back (in the shop) and I picked one up as a small olive branch in the distant hope of peace (once Putin is either dead or in The Hague).

At risk of getting all political, I’ve been boycotting Russian products for about the last two and a half years. The reasons for this are a long story but centre chiefly on Russia’s various interventions in Ukraine, military and otherwise, since late 2013. Thus far I’ve boycotted the Winter Olympics (which was easy-I don’t know what most of those sports were), and the Formula 1 races, also in Sochi (more difficult for me as a long time F1 fan and Lewis Hamilton is the biggest sports sensation to come out of Stevenage the Boro).

It may be a naive idea to boycott an entire World Cup in 2018 but at present this is what I intend to do. Of course sport should not be mixed with politics, but to say that you have to understand that the whole reason the World Cup is going to Russia is for the purposes of Russian domestic politics. It is the same reason that Russia holds the Winter Olympics and F1, but also the same reason it dabbles, covertly or otherwise, in military conflicts in Georgia, Ukraine or Syria. Russia’s rulers have to provide diversions for the local population in order for its kleptocratic leadership to survive. These revolve variously around two themes, firstly the idea that Russia is a great power with international prestige, and that secondly, it is surrounded by chaotic US puppet democracies which have gone to shit. It doesn’t matter that neither of these are actually the case, as the Kremlin’s control of state media makes sure that this is how all but the most savvy Russians see the world. So in all honesty you can’t just shrug it off by saying ‘don’t mix politics with sport’, more like ‘sport is being used for political ends, do you want to recognise this fact or not?’. Most won’t bother and that’s up to them.


Cheeky beer – România / Romania


Beer: Ciuc

Origin: Secuimea (Székelyföld or Szeklerland), central Romania

Obtained: Couriered personally by a very kind Romanian work colleague

One of the country’s most popular beers, Ciuc (roughly pronounced ‘chook’), known as ‘Csíki Sör’ to the locals, hails from the largely Hungarian-speaking town of Miercurea Ciuc (Csíkszereda), the coldest place in Romania. The town, which I have visited, is a peculiar place. The original town was partly demolished and rebuilt in brutal communist concretism by notorious Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Much of the present town was built on swampland and is an incongruous mixture of grand brutalist concrete buildings (some left half finished when I visited) and wide boulevards juxtaposed with narrower streets more in keeping with the size and importance of the town. Historically the authorities used Romanian-speaking public officials to keep order in these minority areas, and even 10 years ago, wandering down the street after a couple of drinks was enough to demand the attention of the Romanian police who dress like French gendarmes, such is the eternal Romanian fascination with all things French. Appropriate enough for tonight’s opening fixture I suppose.

Anyhow my memories of the place were good enough for Ciuc be the obvious choice, and as Transylvanians are known for their hospitality, I received not just one can but a set of six and its own glass no less. The rest have all long since been guzzled leaving just one for the tournament opener. Nothing like a cheeky beer, is there?

That old chestnut – La France / France


Beer: Pietra

Origin: Corsica

Obtained: Alma supermarket, Olsztyn, Poland

As France is, bien sûr, a wine country, it tends to mean that most beermaking flourishes on the periphery of ‘l’Hexagone’. Alsace, with its Germanic heritage, brews German-style beers such as Kronenbourg 1664. The north, with its proximity to Belgium, is home to one of the stalwarts of Fench beer, Pelforth, and so on. Craft beers also tend to come from the country’s extremities, such as Brittany, France’s celtic fringe (where the Wales squad have taken residence). Pietra in fact comes from the italianate island of Corsica and is made using chestnut flour, an ingredient common in local cuisine. A nice touch is the Corsican language used on the bottle. Be in no doubt, this is biera corsa (!), not just bière corse. The chestnutness (?) is subtle rather than obvious I’m told. Anyhow can’t wait to find out.

Euro beers 2016: Starting line up


So, after months of plugging away since the end of qualification, and finally completing the set on Monday evening, this is my initial 24 ‘man’ beer squad for Euro 2016. More info about the beers, how I got them, football and life in general will be posted up throughout the tournament. Here goes:


France: Pietra

Romania: Ciuc

Albania: Tirana

Switzerland: Feldschlösschen


England: Hobson’s Manor Ale

Russia: Zhigulyovskoye

Wales: Brains SA Gold

Slovakia: Zlatý Bažant


Germany: Schorschbräu Schorschbock

Ukraine: Obolon Magnat

Poland: Ciechan Wyborne

Northern Ireland: Whitewater Belfast Ale


Spain: Estrella Galicia

Czech Republic: Bakalář

Turkey: Efes

Croatia: Karlovačko


Belgium: Westmalle Trappist

Italy: Castello, La decisa

Republic of Ireland: Porterhouse Wrasslers

Sweden: Mariestads


Portugal: Sagres Preta

Iceland: Einstök White Ale

Austria: Stiegl

Hungary: Borsodi

Feel free to compliment/slate as appropriate. 😉