On Sunday, my wife and I attended the Euro 2012 Group C game in Poznan, between Ireland and Croatia. Unlike Ian, I had been able to source tickets through the UEFA website, although not through the initial general lottery, but rather when the tickets came on offer later. As an Irish person, the 3-1 defeat to Croatia was hard to take, but was a great experience to have attended. I won’t cover the football in too much detail, as that will have enough coverage elsewhere. However, some other points of note are covered below.
Poland/Poznan as a host
My initial feelings around how Poland was preparing to be a host to many other countries was that the expectations were very low-key and low level. Poznan normally works well as a tourist location, and has the Poznan International Fair, which occurs each few months. However, it seemed like a lot of people and businesses in Poznan were treating Euro 2012 as just an extension of normal tourist operations. However, with in the region of 60,000 to 70,000 extra visitors, across 3 match-days, it seems like there were no specific plans in place with how best to manage them, and make the most of the visits. The supermarkets and off-licences had long queues, while there were parts where there were no people at all visiting, only a few minutes from the city centre.
Poland as a Central European location
It seemed like a criticism of Ukraine and positive for Poland, when 12 of the ‘visiting’ 14 teams (apart from the 2 hosts) chose to base themselves in Poland. With most teams opting to stay in Poland and fly into Ukraine if needed, it seemed to point at the availability of facilities in Poland versus in Ukraine. However, another factor was Poland’s central location, and thus availability to most of the qualifying countries as an easy-to-reach location. This was highlighted in two ways. Firstly, the Czech Republic team had the best draw when it came to location. The closest Euro 2012 location to Czech Republic was Wrocław and all of their games take place there. Not even the hosts have that luxury, as they have a change of venue at least once. This allows the Czechs most convenience with the border being only one hour by drive from Wrocław.
However, this was also highlighted in two other ways. When driving from Kraków to Poznań on Sunday, there were many cars with Croatian flags and number plates also travelling north. This showed Poland’s worth as a central location. We even saw two cyclists who were travelling from Croatis (presumably taking a few days to get to Poznań from Croatia). While travelling near Wrocław, we also saw many cars from Germany, who seemed to be returning from L’viv after watching Germany win 1-0 against Portugal on Saturday night. Whatever about available infrastructure, most locations for Euro 2012 seemed to give options to most fans to travel to the games.
Inside the stadium versus television
In the Municipal Stadium (Stadion Miejski)in Poznań, there was a great atmosphere. The stadium design means that noise reverberates and echos to make a great atmosphere. However, there were a few signs where the stadium did not feel fully finished, despite officially reopening almost 2 years ago in September 2010. When the first football games were played there were a number of concerns raised by UEFA, and while most seem to have been addressed, there were small points noticeable. For example, there were a few points where covers for plug sockets had been broken and in other places where plastering had not been fully completed to the best of standards. However, for the game between Ireland and Croatia, there was a great atmosphere. About 70% of the audience was Irish, with most of the remainder Croatian and while the result meant the Croats had reason to sing, the Irish fans continued to give support. Due to the stadium shape, this gave a great atmosphere, although this may not have translated as well to the television screens.
When watching some other games on TV, the crowd seems somewhat muted. However, having been in the stadium I can say that it does not seem to reflect the amount of singing which takes place. Furthermore, when watching a game on TV, it seems that most stadia are all the same with the same ads scrolling past and so on. This seems to be a ‘curse’ of the modern stadium where it is designed with commercial effects in mind rather than for the fans.
Clashes, Fights and other disturbances
It was interesting to visit the Rynek and fan-zone in Poznań. With thousands of people collecting there, and much alcohol being consumed, it was easy to see how some clashes could occur. However, what made it most interesting was that the clashes that occurred seemed to be more between fans (of one nationality) and police, rather than between opposing fans. The Irish fans in particular seemed to be looking for the party and something to forget the economic reality. However, the Croatia fans did let off some fireworks and flares to celebrate scoring goals, only for the Polish stewards and police to step in. A video of fans on Poznań’s Rynek seems to support this, showing fans attacking police rather than other fans. This also seems to align to the story of Russian fans attacking Polish stewards last Friday. Thus, it is interesting to see the response prepared for future such situations, should they occur over the coming couple of weeks.