Euro 2022: A summer like no other for the city of Leigh

Euro 2022: A summer like no other for the city of Leigh

Netherlands fans at the Euro 2022 Fan Park in Leigh city centre
A new mural in honor of Lay-born musician Pete Shelley from Buzzcocks forms an impressive backdrop to the city’s Euro 2022 fan park.
Location: Leigh Sports Village Date: Friday, July 22 to kick: 20:00 BST Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website; Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live; Text commentary on the BBC Sport website

“I have to be honest and say I never really heard of Leigh before Euro 2022,” said Dan Schippers of the Dutch Football Association before hosting the Netherlands in Greater Manchester last week.

“I know about Wigan next door because they’ve had some good Dutch players in the Premier League, but Leigh? Not so much.”

To be fair, Leigh wasn’t an obvious choice when choosing the venue “The biggest women’s European sporting event in history”.External link

But four miles from the city is England forward Ella Toone Tyldesley grew up,External link has pulled out all the stops to prove itself a worthy host for the European Women’s Championship.

In return, Leh has been transformed into a party town by fun-loving fans from the Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal and Switzerland, who have brought life, energy, color and good vibes to Leh in the past two weeks.

The locals, traditionally a rugby league hot spot, turn out for their thousands of matches. Just shy of 20,000 people watched three games at Sports Village, the home of Leigh Centurions Rugby League Club and Manchester United Women’s Super League team.

And more to come.

The Premier League and Championship grounds of Brighton, Brentford and Rotherham have been selected to host quarter-final ties, as have Leigh.

Five days after their first tour, Sweden – ranked second in the world – and their team-loving blue and yellow-clad supporters return to town on Friday to face Belgium for a place in the semi-finals. Residents of Schofield Street [more about them below] Can’t wait.

It promises to be another prestigious moment for a proud region that has embraced the spirit and feel good of a record-breaking Euro 2022.

“I’ve never known so much excitement in Leigh,” David Wands, who has lived in the town for five years, told BBC Sport.

Netherlands fans - and locals - dance on Schofield Street in Leigh ahead of their Euro 2022 match with Portugal
Netherlands fans – and locals – dance on Schofield Street in Leigh ahead of their Euro 2022 match with Portugal

‘Never seen anything like it’

Wands will never forget the scenes outside his home on Schofield Street, a stone’s throw from Leigh Sports Village, on the late afternoon of July 13.

Defending champions the Netherlands were in town to face Portugal, and hundreds of spectators waved Dutch flags and marched behind a bright orange double-decker bus that pumped dance music from giant speakers as it drove down narrow streets towards the ground.

“I thought ‘What’s all that noise outside the window?’. When I opened my front door, I saw this orange sea going past,” Wands added.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. I grabbed my phone and recorded it. The Dutch fans were very friendly and they were high-fiving residents who came out on the street to watch.”

Ahead of the fan march on the ground – which saw Orange sing off the center of Leigh – the orange double-decker attracted the attention of locals who asked for photographs of it parked in the town centre.

“It’s not like any other bus, it’s famous back home and all over the world,” explained a Dutch fan “It was at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and now it’s in Leigh for the Women’s Euros.”

Sweden fans from Stockholm at the Civic Square in Leiden before the Euro 2022 group game with Portugal
Sweden fans from Stockholm at the civic square in Leiden before the group game with Portugal last Sunday
Locals from Leigh stand in the garden to cheer Sweden fans on their way to the game with Portugal.
Locals – and pet dogs – watch Sweden fans on their way to the game with Portugal at Leigh Sports Village.

‘A rugby league town that embraces women’s football’

One of the more unusual stories to emerge from Leigh hosting the games is a reported ‘row’ over the Euro 2022 bunting that has been hung in the town center to celebrate the event.

According to the Daily Mail,External link Small flags flying in the wind are disturbing the peace and quiet of the residents.

“I know there are more important things to worry about, but the noise is ear-bleeding – they’re too loud,” one unnamed business owner was quoted as saying.

That aside, the fan park in the city’s Civic Square had a carnival atmosphere on match days, with thousands of fans drinking beer, singing, eating ice cream and dancing to some of the best – and worst – Euro beats.

The Civic Square is next to the city library, but outdoor parties hours before kick-off make reading in peace on match days a challenge.

A new mural honoring the Lay-born musician Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks The fan zone also provided an eye-catching backdrop.

When the Netherlands visited, the city center was hopping. Dutch supporters John Savis and Mick Verbers went toe-to-toe in their national costumes on their first visit to Leigh.

Netherlands fans at the Euro 2022 Fan Park in Leigh city centre
Netherlands fans John Savis and Mick Verber in national colors in Leigh city centre

“We’ve supported the Netherlands all over the world – not just the soccer team, but also hockey and volleyball,” Verbers said.

“We’ve never been to Leigh before. We love it and I’d definitely like to go to a rugby match.”

Local pubs and shops have made a tidy profit from Euro 2022 Last Sunday, Sweden fans took over the Centurion pub’s beer garden ahead of their team Destroyed Portugal 5-0.

One quick-thinking street trader even cashed in on the frenzy by selling mobile fans on the pavement close to the ground – for £6 or two for £10.

14 goals were scored in the three group games at Leigh Sports Village, with Manchester City’s Portuguese players Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo appearing to support Portugal in a thrilling match. 3-2 loss to the Netherlands.

Netherlands and Portugal fans pose with a police officer outside Le Sports Village ahead of their Euro 2022 game
Leigh Sports Village has so far hosted fans from the Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal and Switzerland at Euro 2022

A record-breaking 500,000 tickets were sold ahead of the start of Euro 2022 for 31 games at Wembley, Old Trafford, Southampton, Brighton, Milton Keynes, Sheffield United, Brentford, Rotherham, Leigh and Manchester City’s academy stadiums.

But critics argue that the figure could have been higher had the match been hosted at larger grounds other than the Academy Stadium and Leigh Sports Village – which have tournament capacities of 4,400 and 7,800 respectively – instead.

Wands, however, believes Euro 2022 has helped shine a positive spotlight on Leigh, who have enjoyed a summer like no other.

“Having these matches is great for the city,” he added. “Leigh is probably a rugby league town because of its history, but it has really embraced women’s football.”

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