LONDON (Reuters) - Twenty minutes stroll along the River Taff from the stadium that will host Saturday’s Champions League final neat rows of tents stretch out across a picturesque park awaiting occupation.
On the eve of the biggest football match ever staged in Cardiff, the expected invasion by fans of Real Madrid and Juventus was not materialising as locals went about their Friday morning business in peace.
It was a similar story in Cardiff’s city centre where small groups of Spanish and Italian fans ambled about in replica football shirts enjoying the castle views and a sip of beer.
Fever pitch it most definitely was not.
Some estimates said the showdown between two of Europe’s grandest old clubs would see 150,000 extra people swarm in.
But either they are leaving it late or the scare stories of Cardiff running out of accommodation appear to have kept the numbers down. Either way the Welsh capital’s local businesses are in danger of missing an open goal.
“Cardiff council originally wanted us to set up a campsite for 10,000 people,” Rhian Evans, owner of Camping Ninja, told Reuters as her staff dealt with a trickle of arrivals.
”In reality we are looking at maybe 1,000. There appears to not be the appetite for staying in Cardiff that people anticipated. I think people have been encouraged to stay elsewhere. It’s put people off coming in.
“I hear the hotels are full in Bristol and Swansea even. All the hostels here are slashed their prices. Cardiff is not full.”
While there is plenty on offer in Cardiff, especially in the Bay area where fans can enjoy a floating football pitch or marvel at an enormous inflatable Champions League trophy, the football festival is taking a while to fire up.
Local police officers reported the streets around the iconic National Stadium of Wales, in the heart of the city, as quieter than a usual Friday afternoon and way down on Six Nations rugby weekends when for two days the myriad bars are crammed.
A huge security operation with many roads closed to traffic added to the tranquil atmosphere with uniformed police, some armed, outnumbering fans. With memories of last week’s Manchester bombing all to vivid, about 6,000 officers will be deployed in the city from Thursday to Saturday.
“This is undoubtedly the biggest sporting event that Cardiff has ever hosted but I‘m sure with our partners we’ll host a really enjoyable and secure event,” South Wales Police assistant constable Richard Lewis told Reuters.
“The scrutiny and the eyes of the world are upon us.”
With hundreds of fans jetting in on special charter flights on Saturday morning - some flying back after the match -- and trains running to London until the small hours of Sunday morning, many will have just a fleeting Cardiff experience.
But those who have made the trip - even without tickets for the match - are determined to enjoy themselves with whatever Cardiff has to offer, even the drizzle.
Rafael Sanchez and his wife Lina trudged into the campsite on Friday having arrived from Bogota, Colombia via London.
“We just wanted to enjoy the atmosphere,” Rafael said. “We are supporting both teams in a way because Jean Cuadrado plays for Juventus and James for Real. But we really want Juve.”
With no giant screens erected for fans without tickets to come together, they planned to watch the game in a bar.
“That’s the point of the trip, to drink some Welsh beer,” he said. “I hear they have one called Brains!”
They could even end up at the Elevens Bar and Grill - a swish venue owned by none other than Real Madrid’s Cardiff-born Gareth Bale. Several Madridistas had already discovered it.
“I hear Bale will bring the team here if they win,” said Ramon Perez while enjoying a pint with his Atletico Madrid-supporting girlfriend Carla. “Fingers crossed.”
Editing by Ed Osmond