The show is over and the circus will roll on, but citizens of the European Championship's two host nations believe the tournament has been a huge success
With overhead views of the numerous slagheaps and grim power stations, as early as the descent into Donetsk airport you are primed not to expect this to be a city of outstanding natural beauty.
Much of this industrial corner of eastern Ukraine could hardly be deemed postcard material, but pleasant scenery is not a pre-requisite for the successful staging of a major football tournament as Donetsk, in particular, has emphatically demonstrated over the course of the last month.
Indeed, a lack of architectural refinement was hardly the principle concern in the build-up to a championship that was supposed to be tainted by racism, corruption and violence.
True, the riots in Warsaw ahead of Russia and Poland’s politically-charged encounter provided an ugly backdrop to what should have been one of the tournament’s highlights, while suspicions of administrative skulduggery and opportunism linger.
Racism, too, has been a sporadic issue, though it should be pointed out that, other than a brief outbreak of chanting at an open Dutch training session the day before the big kick-off, the co-hosts have not been the chief perpetrators.
Refreshingly, despite the punishments rarely fitting the crimes, Uefa has been swift and decisive in taking action on those national federations who steadfastly refuse to get their houses in order when it comes to dealing with the unsavoury elements of their support.
Overall, however, the pre-tournament picture painted, certainly by certain sections of the British media, of the host countries as a home for neo-Nazi thugs, permitted to roam the streets freely inflicting a carefree reign of terror, now verges on the scandalous. Fact, pleasingly, has been stranger than what has transpired to be fiction.
It has been an eye-opening experience, not just for those who have visited a venue most would surely otherwise have ignored, but for the people of Ukraine themselves, who have been visibly lifted by the presence of so many inquisitive new faces.
Conversely, there was an underlying sense of sadness as the Uefa circus upped sticks and moved on to the next giant money-filled trough, unlikely to return for some time, if at all.
"We have never seen so much colour and excitement here and we are all so upset it is over. We hope it might be the start of something, but really we know it won’t be the case"
- Euro 2012 volunteer
“We have never seen so much colour and excitement here and we are all so upset it is over. We hope it might be the start of something, but really we know it won’t be the case.
“This is not a city where people will want to take holidays but we think we have shown the real Ukraine. It is not the place people were saying it was one month ago. If this is the case then we can say we have done a really good job.”
If there is not to be a lasting legacy in terms of tourism in Donetsk, places such as Kiev and Lviv have certainly put themselves on the map, while across the border in Poland, Warsaw and Krakow and even Gdansk have enhanced their reputations as cities where warmth and hospitality are in plentiful supply.
“I think that Polish citizens of our region are very peaceful,” said Pawel Adamovicz, Mayor of Gdansk. “We are very friendly and open to foreigners. I'm very proud that there was no hooliganism and no brutality. And the image of Gdansk and the image of Poland will be better and warmer than the BBC shows us to be.”
The notion of legacy, of course, extends far beyond the hope of football fans in search of a cheap pint and sunshine returning.
The €1 billion total revenue the corporate shilling magnets at Uefa were banking on plundering might dwarf what any of the host cities will have made, but the money they will have individually spent on revamping road and rail infrastructure, as well as constructing shiny new modern stadia, will benefit future generations for years to come.
“Around 90 per cent of the cost of our infrastructure is for us - for my citizens,” added Adamovic. “And we will use the infrastructure for many, many years in the future. This beautiful stadium is the only extra thing.
“Frankly, without Euro 2012 this stadium wouldn't exist. Maybe for the next 10 years, we'd be trying to build the stadium. It was a good and optimistic decision for Poland and Ukraine to host Euro 2012. It enabled us to build the stadium, and I'm proud we have a beautiful stadium, and so are the citizens of Gdansk.”
Football has undoubtedly proven to be a force for good in these two emerging eastern European countries, and it is to be hoped the future of their national teams will be enhanced as a result.
On a purely sporting front, the failures of both Ukraine and Poland to make it out of the group stage, as was the case with both Austria and Switzerland four years ago, drained a certain level of interest and enthusiasm for the competition.
Certainly, however, the Orlik 2012 project in Poland, which has provided hundreds of new, much needed training facilities and all-weather pitches – it took just 30 months to build and open 1,300 such centres - should ensure the country is able to roll a few more Robert Lewandowskis’ off the production line at a greater rate than it had been doing so previously, when some youth teams had been forced to practise on waterlogged, concrete tennis courts.
That what has been an ultimately positive experience for those involved, fans, local citizens and media alike, must end on such a surreal note with Michel Platini’s proposal to turn Euro 2012 into a travelling roadshow sticks in the throat.
So much of what has been accomplished in Ukraine and Poland over the course of the last month would be impossible to replicate were Euro 2020 to be played out in 13 cities across the continent.
That, however, is not the concern of these two host nations who have benefited immensely, deservedly so in the face of so much scepticism, from the opportunity and experience of staging one of the biggest sporting jamborees in Europe.