Sitting in my flat, I can hear a faint shouting. A group of lads are down a nearby park, dressed up in Poland shirts, drinking and singing with 6 hours to go before the Poland – Czech Republic game begins… It appears the Poles have learnt something from the Irish. All around me today in a low key way in the Warsaw suburb in which I live I can sense this great tension in Poles. Today is the day. This is it.
It was a tension that reached a fever pitch I’d never seen before in all my football life last Tuesday, when Poland and Russia met each other at the National Stadium across the river from central Warsaw. Lucky enough to get a ticket at the last minute for a mere 15 Euros, my Irish friend and I walked in to a completely full ground, scarves held aloft in a mass show of unity. It was breathtaking to see the stadium for the first time. It’s every bit the equal of Wembley and it seems that in the steepness of it upper stands it captures something more of the passion of a national game. In this case that was a raucous, swelling tumult of noise that ebbed and flowed as much as the game did. The Russian visiting fans, who’d been perfectly friendly to us on the way into the stadium (a few minutes after the violence by Poniatowski bridge) were completely outsung by the 40,000 or so Polish fans in the stadium.
I don’t want to write about a few thugs fighting each other or attacking innocent bystanders who happened to be nearby. There were well over 200,000 people in Warsaw from one of the two teams. The fact that, at most, 500 blokes (0.2% of that two hundred thousand) decided to have a go at each other does not reflect the experience I or most of the people attending the game had. Shameful but by no means representative.
So by the time Poland were a goal down and the second half had started, I was completely hoarse, but the noise grew and grew. It was breathtaking and the explosion of joy when Błaszczkowski belted the equaliser in was phenomenal. I have never been to a game quite like it. Exhausted after the game, we staggered out of the ground and picked ourselves up to drink a fair bit of wódka and stumble home well after the sun had risen for the next day. One to tell the grandchildren, that’s for sure. Hell, I even got on TV.
And they say the camera adds ten pounds!
But that was Tuesday and already that phenomenal result against the group’s strongest team feels like a lifetime away. In the papers I’ve been reading, everyone’s talked about the excitement when the host nation gets out of the group. From my point of view, I can barely sit on the edge of my seat without falling off. Though my poor liver is a massive Czech Republic fan – hoping for a dismal defeat which sends us all home – I feel like every other fibre of my being is willing Poland on already.
Multiply that force of will by 40 million, then stuff 1/400th of that into the car park which makes up Warsaw’s fan zone and then set that passion alive by beating Czech Republic today. If that happens then all the passion and joy we’ve seen before will look like a kick about in the park. Today is the day.