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Purple banners promoting the UEFA Cup final adorn streets across Glasgow in anticipation of Wednesday's game but, as UEFA President Michel Platini discovered, it is not the only football event gracing the city.
As the European focus falls on Hampden Park and the UEFA Cup final, Mr Platini was five kilometres away at the Glasgow Green Football Centre where he got the UEFA Grassroots Festival finals under way. Organised by the Scottish Football Association (SFA), the event was the culmination of five months of qualifiers as 13,000 competitors were whittled down to a few hundred, representing all sections of the community and cheered on by several hundred enthusiastic fans. "It's very satisfying to witness events like these," said Mr Platini. "It's a proud moment for UEFA and the Scottish FA.
"It's great to have organised events like these as they really help to encourage youngsters to play the game. All of them have smiles on their faces." The same could be said of the ranks of journalists, UEFA and SFA staff, as well as the teachers and parents as they basked in the sunshine and watched on. "Kids just want to play and we love to see them play," said Graham Diamond, an SFA officer for Glasgow City Council. "Last July we were asked to come up with a grassroots festival to enhance the UEFA Cup final and I think we have.
"We have involved all sections of the community - kids, veterans, people with disability, girls and ethnic minorities. Sadly they don't have the same opportunities as my generation had, to play football in the streets. Now it has to be organised and structured." Standing on a site on Glasgow Green called Flesher's Haugh, which was the original home of Rangers FC, Mr Platini also reflected on times of yore. "I started kicking the ball around when I was five, in front of our house," he said. "Later I would play football in the street with friends, and so it's always good to see the young people playing like here."
The UEFA President also looked forward to the UEFA Cup showpiece between Sevilla FC and RCD Espanyol, expecting an evening to savour. "Scotland is a great football venue," he continued. "You have the passion of the fans and then there is the history; Real Madrid [CF] winning here in 1960 and then [Zinédine] Zidane's goal a few years ago [for Madrid in the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League final]." And his prediction? "It will be a technical game as the Spanish league is very technical. And I think there's a big chance that a Spanish team will win!"
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