Above: the reaction from the fan zone as Poland score their one and only goal against Greece yesterday.
I am so proud of Poland today. Proud of the way the whole country came alive to celebrate the start of Euro 2012. Proud that in Warsaw’s fan zone the atmosphere fizzed with a booze soaked electricity. Cans and bottles lay everywhere and later as people started to wilt in the heat, bodies started to flop to the ground too. It was an exhausting, maddening crush of people. Good natured and bursting out in song. Horns blaring, sweat dripping, cheers and hugs, and that was before the game had even started. The sight of over a hundred thousand people packed into the fan zone was incredible and the reaction in the video above says it all.
I’m also proud because in a week where a lot of (English) media has been focussing on negative aspects of life in Poland, when I was in Warsaw yesterday I saw people from all sorts of backgrounds, black, asian or Indian, mixing happily with other Polish fans. Standing waiting for my mates to arrive by the Rotunda I spied a kind of demented young zul, all razor close cropped hair, topless and heroin thin and on his way to looking fifty by the time he gets to thirty. With bulging eyes and unbalanced limbs, he raced past shouting ‘n*****, n*****, n*****’ at a black person standing close to me. No-one joined him and most people looked incredibly embarrassed and shocked. Believe it or not but that makes me proud. These idiots are a minority, just like in the UK, and they don’t deserve the importance they’ve been given. Most English newspapers would have you believe that bloodthirsty ‘baying mobs’ of goggle eyed racists are round every corner. This is our chance to prove that’s not the case: so far, so good.
However all was not so quiet over in Wroclaw for the Czech Republic and Russia game. In two incidents already online, Russian fans attacked and beat up several security guards in the stadium itself and several fans fought in the city’s historic market place. In addition, Russian fans walked through Wroclaw with flags bearing the Soviet army hammer and sickle – an illegal and deeply offensive symbol to the many Poles who suffered under sixty years of Soviet occupation – with no reaction from the police.
What are the lessons so far from the first day of the tournament in Poland?
- There will be blood
Clearly the police can’t be everywhere and from the evidence of what I saw yesterday, will not be making huge attempts to stop fans drinking heavily before the games or being too drunk to enter fan zones. There will be more (probably drunken) violence and there’s not much we can do about it. The biggest danger judging by yesterday’s performance appears to be the tens of thousands of Russians in the country.
- Poland will surprise you
I was chatting to an Irish bloke in a bar yesterday. He couldn’t believe how friendly people were, how welcoming and how lively the city was. Mind you, he was trolleyed. But I am sensing that reaction with all the people I’ve so far met during this tournament. With beer and vodka cheap as chips to any person living west of Poland, this is its moment to surprise people with the depths of what it has to offer as a tourist location (there are more things apart from cheap booze mind). It’s such a shame that Poland’s promotional campaign ‘Feel Like at Home’ has been so late and so lacklustre. A missed opportunity.
- Polish football fans – Collision course or collusion?
Some newspapers have been surprised by the ‘Fuck Euro’ protests by fans here, including the flags and hostility (of whatever kind) at the Dutch training practice. So let me provide them with a bit of background. Polish football fans have been a collision course with the Government for its crack down on football hooliganism (with measures which go beyond policing in our country such as banning away match attendance, supporter cards, police with massive scary ball-biting dogs and tear gas) in the run up to Euro 2012. The difference between how football is policed in Poland and Ukraine is quite stark. On the other hand, the ‘firms’ here in Poland were in rucks with the Communist forces at the same time that Poland’s leaders were all radical student politicians. When you throw in Poland’s quite old-school masculine culture, some say that the Government hasn’t gone far enough: games are regularly interrupted by firecrackers, flares and (so European) rolls of toilet paper. The Fuck Euro campaign is all about a refusal of what Polish fans consider ‘modern football’ and an attempt to humiliate the Government during the Euros, for whom this is Poland’s biggest chance to shine on the world stage for a generation.
- Poland vs Russia is going to be tasty
And I’ve got tickets.