THE MORNING after the night before was a sobering experience. Waking up in a baking hot campervan to the sound of two dispersible Solpadeine tablets and a Dioralyte rehydration sachet effervescing with warm water in a plastic beer cup. 3-1.
The post-match post mortem began while the Solpadeine tablets fizzed out and our smeared face paint faded further. Hopes and unrealistic expectations for our Boys in Green were revised drastically downwards.
No-one could be heard singing “You’ll never beat the Irish”. Instead forlorn figures slumped in their deck chairs in the shade, away from the intense glare of the sun, and away from the probing Euro 2012 spotlight.
While unable to avoid our disappointment we were able to recall match day in a positive light. There was a tremendous atmosphere before the match with the old town square in Poznan being overwhelmed with thousands of Irish and hundreds of amicable Croatians.
Songs were sung heartily with the new succinct chant of “(John) Terry is a racist, Terry is a racist, na na na naa” gaining in popularity among fans of all persuasions. Word had spread that the English football team were received at their base in Krakow, Poland to more Irish than English. Vociferous Irish fans sang the “Terry is a racist” chant as a bemused English team alighted from their bus.
The old town square in Poznan was also the scene where many stern looking riot police had converged before the match, casting their watchful eyes over the thousands of drinking fans.
Some unimpressed riot police with their batons and holstered guns also posed for photos with some disarmingly charming Irish fans. The Poznan riot police had baton charged and cleared the same old town square the night before the match when some local malevolent looking Lech Poznan FC had gathered together.
The image of two Irish fans standing before a large squad of riot police holding homemade signs reading “careful now” and “down with this sort of thing” has gone viral on social media. The signs were a nod to Father Ted and Dougal meekly picketing the screening of a film on Craggy Island at the behest of Bishop Brennan and perfectly captures dark Irish humour while juxtaposing the non-violent behaviour of travelling Irish fans, relative to the fans or hooligans of other nations.
No doubt most people reading this blog will have watched the match so I won’t dwell on it here, especially considering the result.
The atmosphere in the stadium was something I have never experienced before despite having attended more than a few football, rugby and GAA matches in my time. In fact I’m still hoarse from singing “We all dream of a team of Gary Breens” with thousands of other fans.
When Ireland equalised we all did the celebration we had been hoping for – jumping up and down en masse with arms linked and our backs to the pitch. This strange celebration was conceived by local club, Lech Poznan FC. The local Poles who had attended the match seemed to be impressed with Irish fans “doing a Poznan” celebration.
Relations between Irish and Croatian fans before and after the match were good, with many Croatians joining our singing and wishing us well. One Croatian fan even gave us a can of Polish beer to drink while walking towards the stadium.
Our first impression of Poznan was typified when Polish police had found our travelling snake of Irish camper vans haplessly negotiating the city centre and its myriad of tram tracks. They kindly gave us a police escort to our camp site and the inhabitants of Poznan could cross the city streets free from the danger of camper vans mounting kerbs. Locals toot their car horns when they see the Irish and Poles make a massive effort to help with directions when needed. The city itself is rather beautiful with many picturesque old buildings unscathed from WW2 and Poland’s unfortunate positioning between Germany and Russia.
While our personal hangovers will subside later, our collective Euro 2012 one will linger on in the knowledge that our next opposition are reigning European and world champions, Spain.
Next stop is Gdansk on Poland’s north Baltic Sea coast, a city infamous due to its Solidarity movement opposing the communist regime before the fall of the iron curtain. The Boys in Green will need to show some of that indefatigable defiance when they play Spain on Thursday.
For us however it’s time to explore the city of Poznan – while giving its plentiful bars a wide berth.