THE opening match of Euro 2020 last night kicked off a big weekend for football fans and pub landlords around Swindon.

Hospitality sector managers have been displaying their decorations while taking bookings for what is expected to be a busy 48 hours.

The first match of the delayed 2020 European Championships saw Turkey play against Italy last night and Wales will play Switzerland today – but it’s England’s match against Croatia at 2pm tomorrow that will draw in the socially-distanced crowds of punters.

The Ridge landlord Justin Britchford set up a family fun zone outside his West Swindon venue with a cinema-sized LED screen, facepainting area, pop-up food stalls, along with coaching and kickabouts for kids.

He expects 1,000 people to show up, though there is capacity for 2,000 if more bookings come in.

He said: “I can’t wait, I’ve got everything crossed and hope we go far. We have a great team – probably the best we have ever had going into a tournament – so we have a good chance but you never know how it’s going to go on the day.

“The car park is used for drive-in movies and it’s a huge space, so it’s perfect for this, and the weather is looking promising.

“We’re charging a fiver for tickets but half of that is given back for the customers to spend on drinks, and the rest goes towards security and marshals to ensure everyone stays safe.

“There’ll be plenty of room and we’re making sure it’s done properly. We’re showing most of the games, not just the England ones of course, although those will be the busiest, and if the family fun zone is popular, we’ll keep adding attractions.”

The continental football showpiece will provide a welcome boost in trade for the hospitality sector after a difficult year-and-a-half of struggling through the pandemic.

The Runner landlord Jayne Tilsley filled her Wootton Bassett Road pub with flags and displays – mostly England-themed but with a few Scotland and Wales flags here and there.

She said: “I’m football mad, I can’t wait, it’s about time to get back to normality and pubs can regain some of their business.

“People have become used to drinking and eating and home but they need to support pubs during this first big event post-lockdown.

“We sponsor AFC Mannington, they come in every Sunday and are very supportive.

“I’m Welsh but I still hope England win on Sunday, it could give the country a great boost and people need a bit of cheering up at the moment.

“Miles and I have been running pubs for decades so we brought all these decorations with us, and there’s more we could add, we like to make an effort.

“It’s a big pub, we can section areas off so if you want to get away from the football there’s still space outside.

“People will have to stay in tables of six but there’ll still be a good atmosphere.”

Indoor seats at the Woodlands Edge are fully-booked for Sunday with outdoor seating on a first-come first-served basis.

Rob Chapman said: “We put up banners and flags everywhere, it’s really taking off and getting everyone back in, so we’re expecting it to be very busy.”

The pandemic scuppered David Jones’ plans to fly abroad so he’ll be looking for somewhere in Swindon to catch the matches.

He said: “I was going to go out to Rome to see Italy play Wales, and was really looking forward to it.

“I got the ticket in January 2020, and the football was going be the centrepiece of my summer. I booked two weeks off work for the group stage and my trip to Italy was going to be in the middle of it.

“Obviously all that was called off, and earlier this year I got a refund on the ticket and my travel costs. I didn’t think it would be wise to travel and that was the right decision.

“It’s disappointing but very minor in the scheme of the pandemic. I’ll still be watching all the games, because I still have the first two weeks of the tournament off.  I’m a bit wary of crowded pubs, but I’ll see if there are places showing games in the open. It would be nice to watch with others rather than just alone indoors.”