Kris Fernandes is a FIFA accredited freelance writer based in Toronto. He has been actively involved in spreading the love of the beautiful game in Canada and abroad for several years through administration, media coverage and coaching. He also covered the 2006 FIFA World Cup live for CBCSports.ca with the popular journal series, "A Canadian in Germany". Contact Kris at firstname.lastname@example.org
I've spent a total of 54 hours on trains since I arrived in Europe for Euro 2008.
Most people prefer to spend their commute by reading one of the dozens of newspapers from the countless kiosks, while others zone out to tunes on their MP3 players. During the numerous long hauls I've done between Austria and Switzerland, I spend a lot of time gazing at the breathtaking Alps and sapphire coloured lakes.
Staying up until at least 3 am leads to a lot of catch-up sleep as well, though my back is cursing me for sleeping slouched in my seat in the cramped six-person cabins they have.
But the best part of going to matches via rail is definitely the people you meet.
On a typical match day, each train is packed with fans from all corners of the globe, and nearly all of them are more than happy to chat about the beautiful game over a bite or pint in the dining car. Naturally, they all have unique stories and are quite intrigued that someone from Canada came over here.
One quartet I met came from Split, Croatia and they were highly entertaining characters. Armed with a combined total of 30 euros to get all four of them to Austria (normally 125 euros per person one way) Ljubo, the only one who could speak English, explained that most fans from Croatia travelling abroad try to avoid purchasing rail tickets and run around the train attempting to avoid collectors so that they have money to buy match tickets from scalpers.
It almost worked this time until two collectors came from both ends of the car and were about to kick them off when a group of Polish fans came over and distracted the collectors, while one of them slipped their match tickets to the Croats so they could continue their quest. A great thing about Euro 2008 is that match tickets also double as a second-class rail ticket to anywhere in Austria and Switzerland for a 24 hour period. Considering they were playing each other, this makes the Polish gesture that much more remarkable.
Then there are globetrotters like Andreas and Gaston from Argentina. They are here to showcase an exhibition of photos they have accumulated over the last four years for a photo book about soccer pitches called 'Canchas' (Spanish for a spontaneous pitch).
More fascinated with the social culture and fandom of the game rather than the game itself, these guys have put all their money, time, and energy into chasing their dream of uniting fans through their unique collections, which you can find at www.canchas.org. They are always looking for contributions from anyone with a camera and they said they'd love to have Canada represented more, so if you have a unique pitch near you, go take some shots and represent us.
Soccer is a brilliant brotherhood and it is all because of fans like these that make the game as great as it is. Let the train roll on.