Basel - 1,637 miles travelled

And before you start, it's not my statement but that of just about every local, travelling fan and journalist I have spoken to over here.

A typical conversation might go something like this.

Me: "Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions about your team?"

Local/fan/journo: "Ok, where are you from?"

Me: "England."

Local/fan/journo: "Oh." Several seconds of silence follow. "I cannot believe England are not here. Such a disappointment"

A look of sympathy crossed with sorrow plus a dash of disbelief then follows, so I explain that England are not here because they were not good enough in qualifying, pure and simple.

England fans

Variations on this conversation have happened at regular intervals on my journey through Euro 2008. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure England's qualifying failure provided a rich amount of schadenfreude for plenty of people across all corners of Europe.

And I have a definite hunch that, although they would never admit it publicly, some of the authorities who had in organising the tournament were relieved when England lost to Croatia on that sodden Wembley night.

But what has really struck me out here is the genuine affection and regard in which people from all across Europe hold the English and their national team.

Yes, England have baggage, some of it unsightly, unwanted and downright ugly, and I have been in bars at previous major tournaments where what I have seen and heard has made me ashamed to be English, an apologist for my country.

But if the passion of the vast majority of England's huge travelling support, their good humour and desire to have a good time becomes lost in a blizzard of negative headlines at home, then it does not seem to be the case elsewhere.

Police keen an eye on England fans during the 2006 World Cup in Germany

And for every occasion I have seen shameful behaviour from England fans over the years there have been numerous other instances when their unswerving, vocal loyalty to their team, their desire to mix with other nations and embrace what a major tournament is all about has made me proud to be English.

It has also obviously made an impression on the foreigners that have witnessed it.

The high profile of the Premier League and many of its star players also ensures that many people from other European countries are as familiar with English football as you and I.

I was talking to a Dutch journalist the other day who waxed lyrical about how he follows a complicated pattern of taping Match of the Day, Match of the Day 2 and various other live matches to ensure he does not miss any of the action. I was both amazed and disturbed by the man's dedication.

However, read some of the comments on the BBC's Euro 2008 blog and the absence of England from this summer's big football tournament is clearly a touchy subject.

Lots of people have made it clear that they think England should not be mentioned at all, that banging on about them is somehow sacrilegious to the brilliant competition unfolding without them. The philosophy seems to be that England didn't qualify, so let's forget all about them for a few weeks.

This may or may not be the right approach, though I would be a liar if I said I hadn't thought about what difference it would have made if England had been here. But what has really struck me is the genuine affection with which England and their supporters are held across Europe.

Paul Fletcher is a broadcast journalist at BBC Sport Interactive. Please check our FAQs if you have any questions.


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