The UEFA Europa League continues to nurture a positive image and identity within the European game. The forthcoming knockout phase will see the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League Truck Tour, organised by UEFA in conjunction with adidas, convey the atmosphere and spirit of the competition at various stadiums – starting at the round of 32 first leg between England's Stoke City FC and Spain's Valencia CF at the Stoke Stadium next Thursday.
Six venues in six countries were already visited by the UEFA Europa League truck during the autumn – Hannover 96 (Germany), Tottenham Hotspur FC (England), FC Rapid Bucureşti (Romania), FC Salzburg (Austria), Malmö FF (Sweden) and Club Atlético de Madrid (Spain). The stopovers attracted some 4,000 people who were able to enjoy displays of fascinating memorabilia from past UEFA Europa League seasons; club shirts from the participating teams; adidas products; and, of course, the official UEFA Europa League match ball.
Moreover, a variety of prizes were drawn or handed out to the assembled football fans – adidas UEFA Europa League caps, UEFA Respect T-shirts, UEFA Europa League match balls and mini-balls, home club jerseys, pins, stickers and supporter guides.
Another main attraction at the truck is the video game corner where visitors can play the latest Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 game. For those who prefer match action, video screens show UEFA Europa League highlights from the previous season – the top goals and moments, plus interviews with players and coaches.
The Grab Your Ticket competition is also a hit with the fans. As tickets bearing the UEFA Europa League insignia fly around a booth, the name of the game is to catch as many as possible, because the one with "Prize" on it wins an official match ball and the local team's shirt – or sometimes even tickets to the game. In addition, supporters can take photos of themselves with an installed webcam, compose a message and send the e-postcard to their friends.
Nor does the fun end there. The adidas Speed Parcour is a running and dribbling exercise that invites fans to compare their time against those of famous footballers, while the Predator Pass Tool is a test of speed and agility for participants who must kick balls onto panels as they light up. Last but not least, the UEFA Europa League giant ball display is a photo opportunity that's not to be missed.
The truck drivers also portray the popularity of the UEFA Europa League Truck Tour. "When we are on the road," one says, "people honk their horns when passing. Often, they slow down so much to get a good snapshot that we are forced to pass them to stay on schedule. When we are parked or getting fuel, lots of people come over to take pictures. It's the same on ferries. Sometimes we let people sit in the truck to give them the feeling of what it's like to drive the truck."
"People everywhere are flabbergasted when they see the truck, the impression it makes, the great design," says another driver. "They feel very fortunate when given the opportunity to get close to, or even into it. It is a pleasure to drive the UEFA Europa League truck."
In Stoke-on-Trent, the truck will be set up next Wednesday, 15 February, at Tontine Square from 12.00 to 18.00 local time. It will then receive visitors at the stadium in the hours leading up to the match on Thursday.
The following week, the travelling roadshow will be at the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, for the round of 32 second leg between FC Schalke 04 and FC Viktoria Plzeň on 23 February – and will feature a special appearance by the UEFA Europa League trophy.
Further dates will be announced in due course. The truck will also be present in Bucharest in the days building up to the UEFA Europa League final at the National Arena on Wednesday 9 May.
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