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Beer, Euro 2024, and all those cups – what’s going on?

The European Championship has been drenched in beer. In the fan zones and outside the stadiums. On the concourses and in the stands.

Everyone has been drenched. Fans, players and, much to the amusement of everyone not wearing a lanyard, journalists, who have been sheltering laptops and walking into press conferences dripping with booze.

Get the tiny violins. Possibly a towel.

We do need to talk about the plastic cups, which have been cascading down from the stands towards anyone taking a corner or goal kick.

The beer first, though.

The official sponsor of the tournament is Bitburger, the German brewer, and the concourse bars are exclusively stocked with their products. For matches at the Allianz Arena, for instance, Pils, Radler and an alcohol-free beer are €7 for 500ml. For games in Cologne, at the RheinEnergieStadion, they have been pouring Kolsch, the sweet beer usually served in small, cylindrical glasses. There are no limits on how much people can buy and fans are able to drink anywhere inside the stadium.

With exceptions.

For England’s group game against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen, only beer with two per cent alcohol was served, compared with the usual 4.8 per cent. The fixture was deemed high-risk. Other special measures were employed, too, including a ban on drinking in the stands. It is unclear at this stage whether England’s last-16 game against Slovakia on Sunday, back in Gelsenkirchen, will be subject to the same restrictions.

Yet even with that lower alcohol content, most travelling supporters are, where drinking is concerned, enjoying a different level of freedom to that experienced back home.

Since 1985 in England, supporters attending matches across the Football League have been prevented from drinking alcohol “in sight of the pitch”. In Scotland, the rules are even stricter: no drinking in stadiums at all.

In Spain, only non-alcoholic beer is allowed. In France, there are no in-stadium alcohol sales for Ligue 1 games. In Serbia, bars around stadiums are only allowed to serve until two hours before kick-off.

Then there is Germany.

UEFA’s approach when staging tournaments is to adapt their rules for food and drink around local legislation and in Germany, alcohol is very much a part of Bundesliga matchdays. There can, as has happened at Euro 2024, be restrictions during high-risk games, that is not unheard of, but there would be something fundamentally un-German about not being able to watch the football with a drink in hand.

Naturally, clubs make a lot of money from beer sales; almost all in the top two divisions have a brewery as a sponsor. Famously, Schalke’s Veltins Arena has a 5km pipeline that connects the stadium with a local brewery. So, on any given weekend, beer sprays out from German terraces. Watch Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall when a goal is scored; in the right light and at the right angle, it can look like the whole stand is weeping with joy.

There was trepidation about this. For instance, before England fans travelled to Germany, the UK’s Foreign Office issued a warning about the strength of German lager. But concerns about over-consumption have not really materialised so far. There have been few arrests and while many supporters have enjoyed long days in sun-drenched beer gardens, there has been very little trouble.

The Athletic spoke to a steward at Allianz Arena on Tuesday night. He said he and his team had experienced few problems with behaviour so far during the tournament. They had been watchful. So far, so good, despite full-strength alcohol being served at the games hosted in Munich, none of which have been deemed high-risk.

The plastic cups are a nuisance, though, and they are everywhere — including in press conferences. On Tuesday night, Dragan Stojkovic was asked whether Serbian fans throwing them at Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel had created an unnecessary distraction, contributing to his side’s elimination after a goalless draw.

“Please, ask me about the football,” Stojkovic pleaded.

Three nations have been fined for fans throwing objects onto the pitch so far — Croatia, Scotland, and Albania — and more are coming. When France played the Netherlands in the group stages, Antoine Griezmann had to evade a hail of beer cups when taking a corner. Against Switzerland, Germany’s Toni Kroos was similarly bombarded in the first half in Frankfurt, as was Italy’s Lorenzo Pellegrini against Croatia.

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Before that game in Leipzig, a few fans and journalists in the lower tiers were struck by plastic cups from above. Later on, the ball actually struck one that had landed on the pitch. When Schmeichel was a target on Tuesday night, in the incident Stojkovic was asked about, substitute Yussuf Poulsen had to help clear the penalty box.

After England’s 0-0 draw with Slovenia, when Gareth Southgate approached the fans at full time, they responded with jeers and plastic; the English Football Association can expect a fine in the post.

Are UEFA planning action?

When asked about the beer cups by The Athletic on Tuesday, a spokesman said they would be awaiting full reports before making any decisions. Something is stirring, but we are not quite sure what yet.

Plastic cups are not usually such a nuisance in Germany. In March 2022, a game between Bochum and Borussia Monchengladbach was abandoned after an assistant referee was struck on the head by a beer cup. In 2023, a 3.Liga game between Zwickau and Rot-Weiss Essen was abandoned at half-time when a referee had a beer thrown in his face. But such incidents are rare, which might partly be because of legislative change.

In 2023, many German stadiums began a drive towards using reusable cups. At participating stadiums, fans pay a deposit for a cup outside the stadium and can claim it back by returning their cup after the game. Bayern Munich have had such a policy since 2018-19, but many other clubs have adopted it in the years since. The environmental impact is one consequence. Fans’ eagerness to keep hold of their cups and their deposit is another.

The atmosphere during Euro 2024 games so far has been excellent, with supporters — other than in a few cases — enjoying being together. They have filled the stadiums and town centres with noise and joviality and, while there have been flashes of antagonism, the prevailing mood has been benevolent and full of friendly rivalry.

Given it has been many years since a football tournament took place in mainland Europe without Covid-19 restrictions, that makes tenuous sense. Many seem to be treating the tournament as they would a holiday, with a determination to make the best of the experience despite, certainly in the opening days, some wearying organisational issues.

Supporters tend only to make headlines when they behave badly. At this tournament, where there have been dramatic improvements but at which there are still queues and delays, they deserve to be recognised for what they have allowed Euro 2024 to become. Colourful, atmospheric, festival-like.

The freedom to enjoy themselves has been part of that, too.

go-deeper

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(Top photo: A plastic cup on the pitch at Slovenia vs Serbia; by Clive Mason via Getty Images)

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