Thursday, June 21, 2012

Euro2012: Poland

Poznan, Gdansk, Poznan; POLAND: 7 - 19 June 2012
"What? You've cycled here to Poland for Euro 2012? Wow, you must be a big football fan?"

"Well, no not really."

"Oh, so then you are big into cycling?

"Well, no. I've never done a big cycle trip before and I only bought this bike a few days before starting out."

"Okay ... Are you mad?!"

Apart from repeatedly having the above conversation, my time in Poland during Euro 2012 was mainly spent socialising and singing; and not just Irish football songs ("Stand Up for the Boys in Green", "We all dream of a team of Gary Breens", etc etc etc.) but Polish songs too. That Irish fans used to sing "Polska Biało-Czerwoni / Poland, the White and Red" was just one of the reasons why most of the locals seemed so enamored with us. Irish-Polish relations were also helped by the fact that the Irish really are great fans. The centers of Poznan and Gdansk/Sopot were constantly packed with good-natured revellers in the days building up to Ireland's matches. It was incredible.
I arrived in Poland without match tickets or booked accommodation, but it all worked out. I found space at campsites, which were good craic, although I felt sorry for the small number of non-Irish campers due to the late night sessions and because every morning Irish fans were to be found all over the place in varying degrees of health.
It seemed that not many Irish fans came to Poland with spare tickets, so unfortunately I had to turn to touts. Whilst I wasn't prepared to pay the €200 - €250 asking price for the Ireland v. Spain match (which I watched on the big screen in the packed Fanzone), I paid €100 and €75 for a ticket to the games against Croatia and Italy respectively (face value for both was €70). Given the amazing atmosphere in the lead-up, especially for the opening game against Croatia, I was delighted to get a ticket.
In the stadium comedian Karl Spain was part of the pre-match build-up, which included a surprisingly impressive "mini opening ceremony" before each game.
Unfortunately, while all else was perfect, Ireland's performances and results were poor. Indeed, apart from the fact that Ireland lost all three of its matches, everything about being in Poland during Euro 2012 was great; from the friendly Polish people and their rocking cities to being proudly part of that amazing spectacle that is Irish fans abroad. And I even got to see up-close Ireland's President Michael D. Higgins.
So even though I'm not a big soccer fan, being at Euro 2012 was a great experience and I'm delighted that I had the opportunity to be there.

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