Euro 2012: An Irish Fan’s Memories of an Epic Journey

18 Jul

Euro 2012, a Fans’ Amabassador’s Memories of Poland.

Prologue:

 

When Ireland qualified for Euro 2012 I was naturally delighted having been a veteran of Euro 88, Italia 90 and USA 94.  My delight was tempered however by the realisation that due to financial constraints, it was unlikely I’d get there on this occasion and I was quite fine with that.  I’d seen what I’d seen in previous years and for thousands of fans, Poland would be their first tournament so good for them I thought.

 

That realisation changed however, when Football Supporters Europe contacted the FAI to ask could 6 people be chosen to serve in an Irish “Fans Embassy”.   A what?  What is a Fans’ Embassy?

 

The concept of a Fans’ Embassy was the idea of English fans during the 90s.  Sick of being treated like lepers due to the hooliganism of a number of fellow Englishmen, a group of people decided to fight back and demonstrate that there were law-abiding and genuine fans who just wanted to enjoy the experience.  This Embassy would be a point of contact for fans who wanted to find their way round a strange city, find out travel details, where the stadium was, basic information for newly-arrived fans.  The early Embassy project was a success for the English Fans Embassy and an idea would eventually take off to our benefit.

 

An organisation called Football Supporters Europe and UEFA liked what they saw and as each European and World Championship took place since 1998, Fans’ Embassies grew in number and relevance and funding was provided by FSE and UEFA to ensure they were ran properly and officially.  So to 2012 and the FAI set about recruiting 6 persons.  Pat Duffy, a Development Officer within the FAI and Tom Finnan from the Munster FA were approached as were Garrett Mullan and Conor Cullen who both have worked with “Show Racism the Red Card” and it was Garrett and Conor who made February visits in arctic conditions to Poznan and Gdansk.  Two places remained so the Irish fans’ Forum “You Boys in Green” was asked for the final 2 Ambassadors. Carl McNamara who did stellar work for YBIG from a transport point of view got the nod and when Dave Byrne asked me was I interested, I took a nano-second to say yes, I couldn’t believe my good fortune and privilege.  I was going to the Euros!

 

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I dedicate this Diary, a personal recollection of 12 wonderful days/nights in Poland to my five new brothers: Carl McNamara (Macco), Pat Duffy (The Duff), Tom Finnan (Garda Patrol), Garrett Mullan (Lewis Hamilton) and Conor Cullen (The Totty).  Thanks lads, yiz are HILARIOUS!

 

Arrival in Poznan, Thursday 7th June, 2012.

 

We were met at Poznan Airport shortly before midnight by our Polish Embassy Volunteers (a number of whom we’d met at a Conference in Warsaw 3 weeks previously) and taken the short distance to our Hostel accommodation called Hostel Petit, about 20 minutes walk from the centre of Poznan city centre.  Garrett had made his way to Poznan earlier via Ukraine and Conor was arriving tomorrow as he was at a wedding in Ireland so the remaining 4 of us travelled from Dublin.  The Duff and Tom went off to bed, Carl and meself were thirsty and were still on Irish time so we strolled the 20 minutes down the road, nipped in for a 1am Subway and found a late bar for a few welcoming Tyskie beers.  We were the only 2 Irish in the place but that would change the following days and weeks after!  Fáilte go Poznan!

 

Friday 8th June, Poland parties!

 

Our Embassy duties didn’t have to start till Matchday -1, so much of the morning was spent in meetings with the Polish volunteers about what lay ahead of us.  I volunteered to share driving duties with Garrett and we familiarised ourselves with the Fanzone and the various main streets of Poznan for a few hours, then we headed back to Hostel Petit for a freshen up and to watch the Poland v Greece game at the Hostel.  Obviously we downed a few cans in the hostel watching this game and in with us then to Poznan’s Old Town Square after that.  The Poles were out in force and stayed out in force in town and despite drawing with Greece, it was partytime in Poznan.  We traded songs and chants with them as thousands of Irish had descended that day on the city, so it was a Polish/Irish party in Poznan as we went from bar to bar and street to street singing and waving Polish flags.  We eventually fell home about 5am back to Hostel Petit, what a tremendous start to the trip!  Polska Bialo Czervony!

 

Saturday 9th June, Matchday -1 and Cockblocked by JD!

 

Struggled up for breakfast but Garrett was struggling big time, so we told him to stay put and we’d get the Embassy stall up and running and I’d drive today.  I drove towards the centre of Poznan but such were the traffic restrictions and one-way little streets I lost me way and we dumped the van a short walk from the Stationery Embassy where we summoned the local help to bring us to that point.  First thing to be sorted was our accreditation so I drove out to the Stadium to the accreditation centre and all but Pat got our badges, with Garrett still in bed, him and the Duff would have to return on matchday for it and after about an hour, we drove back to the Stationery Embassy to finally get to work.  We were given all the t-shirts, the fan guides/maps and etc and we set up the Embassy stall in the street that links the Fanzone and Old Town Square with the Croatian stall already up and running beside us. 

 

Fans were starting to pour into Poznan, with about a ratio of 2:1 in favour of the Irish and we were quickly answering questions that all fans would have when arriving at a new city:  where’s the stadium?  How do I get to it?  How far is it?  Where do I get my tickets?  Where’s the Irish bar?  Where’s McDonalds?  Where’s the Carlsberg Fan Camp?  You get the picture, the questions were easy enough and any more difficult questions we were able to get a local volunteer, be it Adam or Krzyzstof or Aleks or Agnieszka or whoever was there, to answer it for us. One early problem we encountered however was a young lad whose bag, wallet and worse again, match tickets had been robbed from his tent in the Fan Camp while he’d been sleeping.  The lad was totally gutted as one can imagine and he’d reported his theft to those concerned, but we soon learned that his case was taken up on the Marian Finucane show and Denis O’Brien would see him right for tickets so that was a nice end to that little tale for that lad.

So far so good with the Embassy work anyhow!

 

As the day was coming to a close, The Duff got a phone call that John Delaney wanted to meet us and take a stroll among the by now singing and lubricated Irish Fan Army.   So down came JD and he personally thanked all of us for volunteering to work for the Fan Embassy.  We took him into Old Town Square, cue pandemonium.  In no time, Delaney was mobbed by delighted fans and even less time the chorus of “Oh John Delaney, he used to be a wanker but he’s all right now” filled the Square!  Posing for photos, everyone taking videos of the moment, this was gas with Delaney lapping up the adulation and slagging in equal measure!   He ducked inside a bar for a few minutes where he got some respite and a beer in his hand as he posed for pic after pic before going out again to be hoisted upon shoulders for more singing.  He threw the obligatory tie into the crowd and eventually decided to head back to his car with the rest of the FAI/3 Mobile entourage who accompanied him.  Again he thanked us and invited us back to the Sheraton Hotel later for a few beers.

 

So on with us anyhow up to the Sheraton with FSE’s Tommy Gassler (he does what he wants!) and Polish Stationery Embassy worker Agnieszka in tow.  Carl had put in the hard yards on Agnieszka but all of a sudden JD stormed in and worked his charm on young Agnieszka and poor Carl was banished to the back with the lads and Gassler as we guzzled beers!   JD 1, Carl 0.  Agnieszka finished with the promise of an Ireland shirt and a ticket to tomorrow’s match as Carl’s promising efforts counted for nothing on this occasion.  Unlucky son, him and Conor and meself had to be content with a photo with James McClean returning to the hotel and as the night wore on, The Duff played an inflatable guitar as I gave a rendition of Joxer.   Another late night ended as we hit the sack looking forward to match day and Carl dreaming of what might’ve been……………..oíche mhaith Aggy………!

 

Sunday 10th June, Matchday!

 

So the reason we’re all here, the football!   We got down to our position at the Embassy spot and Poznan was already buzzing with Irish and Croatian fans and every second enquiry seemed to be about what Tram (No 30) to get to the stadium, so we repeated ourselves thousands of times but that’s what we were there for.  The Duff and Garrett had gone out to the stadium to sort their accreditation and Carl and Tom went with them and we heard things weren’t working out too well with regards to match entry but Conor and meself toiled away at the Embassy till about 5pm when we packed up and I left the bus round the corner away from the madding crowds as the Croatian Embassy kindly offered us a lift to the Stadium.  That crazy Croatian lad Zoran took the wheel and with his mates in great voice they filmed us all in the bus as we surveyed the thousands of people making an early trek to the Stadium as the rain began to fall more steadily.

 

The rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the huge Irish crowd already out there as the usual songs about shoes off/stand up for The Boys in Green got lackery and the team of Gary Breens yet again got its airing.  Beer was in plentiful supply beside the Stadium as we got ready to enter the den.  Accreditation problems didn’t work out, but Joe McGlue came to our aid with extra tickets so we all got a decent seat and young Conor was like a kid at Christmas going into the match accompanied by his battle-hardened new big brother in me!  The support for us inside the stadium was breathtaking and the noise deafening as we gave an emotional rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann and a 10-1 countdown on the PA signalled kick off.  Three minutes in, we were holding our heads in our hands.  We failed to clear an early corner and Mandzukic slipped as he headed the ball goalwards, the header ironically had echoes of Razor in Stuttgart as the ball moved agonisingly slowly towards goal.  Shay scrambled to his left but couldn’t prevent the ball from going in, what a poxy goal so early.  Croatia 1, Ireland 0, stopped in our tracks already.  To be fair we got over the early disaster pretty well and about 20 minutes in were back on terms.  Doyler earned a free out on the left and McGeady swung it in with pace and danger.  Strangely, just as St Ledger met the ball with his head, a whistle sounded from the crowd and as the ball nestled in the net we froze waiting for a linesman’s flag.  The flag didn’t go up, the ref signalled a goal and we jumped around with delight as we were back at 1-1.

 

The game was even-steven up until the 43rd minute and we conceded a corner and I said to Conor “we can’t give anything away here now at this stage”.  We did.  Again we failed to deal with clearing our lines, and Wardy swiped at a clearance and the ball fell to the feet of Jelavic who 9 times out of 10 would’ve been given offside, but the linesman kept his flag down and Jelavic dinked it over Shay as our hearts sank at a second poxy goal given away.   I still felt optimistic we could rescue something in the 2nd half but that was dashed early when another free header was given to Mandzukic and Given’s woes compounded when the ball struck the far post, hit Shay on the head and went in, 3 horrible, soft goals conceded, 1-3 down.  We fought back gamely but without cutting Croatia open, Keith Andrews who had a fine match went close 2 or 3 times, one late header shaving the post but it was more huffing and puffing than dominance and Croatia ran out deserving 3-1 winners.

 

We all met up outside but Garrett had to collect a bag at the Stadium and it was chaotic so the remaining 5 lads took the long walk back to town, stopping at The Sheraton for a quick one as we were tiring fast after a long day.  Tom and The Duff headed back to the hostel after,  while the remaining 4 braved Old Town Square again for a bit of a post-mortem.  Things were pretty subdued and flat down the Square, even the Croatians had tired so we braved it on till about 4am in the company of journalist Fiach Kelly whose exclusive on Seanie Fitz’s arrival in Poznan would be the Indo’s next day headline.  I’m not sure however it made much of a difference, awful and all that his presence and stay at The Sheraton was.  It had been a very long day and the defeat made it even longer.  Matchday over and out.

 

Monday 11th June, Matchday +1 and snubbing UEFA for Michael D!

 

The morning after the night before. Poznan was a good deal quieter today as many Irish had come on one day trips or many had upped and left for Gdansk or other cities first thing this morning so it was interesting to see Old Town Square relatively quiet yet spotlessly clean given 2 days/nights of carnage previously!  Garrett got a phone call that Uachtarán na hÉireann was in town and wanted to meet us briefly so we all woke up immediately and got ready to meet Michael D!  He was at a musical recital, emerged with a posse of Polish cops trying to keep him from meeting the Irish fans remaining on the Square, but he got his way and met several and got a great ovation from the Irish fans! He then went for lunch so we hung around the couple of hours anyhow and we’d nothing by way of Embassy work to do but we’d good banter waiting about for him as The Duff kept us laughing as he did every day and night.  Eventually The President and Mrs Higgins emerged, had a few brief words of thanks and a quick photograph for us also.  It was yet another bizarre few hours in that we put off a UEFA meeting regarding how the match went to meet our President!

 

There was some concern about a lad from Swords who’d gone missing overnight from his mates, his behaviour since coming out to Poland was giving cause for concern anyhow in that the heavy drinking was badly affecting his demeanour and he’d been tagging on to randomers rather than hang out with his pals and when he hadn’t been in touch with home and been seen overnight, his pals rightly rang his folks at home.  So his Dad jumped on a plane and came out to Poznan and the Consular Officer Maurice O’Donnell brought us all together to get details of the lad concerned.  I put up a thread on YBIG and the Embassy Facebook page and the search for him began.  Thankfully he turned up playing football at the Carlsberg Fan Camp later that night with some randomers and his father was re-united with his son so it was a relief to know the lad was ok and that his family could rest easy.  Dad took his son back to Ireland but it was a reminder of what can happen when there’s excessive and extensive boozing going on.

 

The rest of the day was quiet enough, everybody was a bit tired after 3 or 4 nights solid on the lash and tomorrow would see us travelling to Gdansk so we decided just to stay in the Hostel Petit Monday night and get a few cans in and have a bit of slagging and crack together.  I was gonna be driving early in the morning so I stayed off the beer completely and I sloped off to bed about 2am as the others talked shite till probably about 3.  Poznan Phase 1 finished, a brilliant few days and nights, see yiz in a few days!

 

Tuesday 12th June, Gdansk bound and Garrett’s History Classes!

 

St Raymond’s Day.  24 years ago we finally arrived on the world stage when Ray Houghton scored that goal against England in Stuttgart so it was one of the first things on my mind when I awoke.  It was a great decision to not drink last night as I felt well rested and 100% ready for the 4.5 hour drive to Gdansk.  Garrett had kindly downloaded a routeplanner for me so I had the way out of Poznan handy enough.

 

We left the Hostel about 8.30 and traffic was heavy enough getting out of Poznan, but that was fine as it enabled me to read the road signs easily enough without worrying about what was behind me.  Garrett was supposed to be the navvy but as he was quickly into his stride giving the rest of us history lessons, I elected to go it alone getting on the main road to Gdansk and before too long I was sorted and confident.  Carl lent a vocal and passionate hand to Garrett on the history lessons and it passed away the opening couple of hours.  Young Conor was availing of beauty sleep for most of the history lessons and apart from one near enough miss when some hatchet cut across my path without looking, I was enjoying the driving.  We stopped for a break in Bydgoszcz after about 2 hours on the road and a short time later finally hit an open motorway where I put the boot down on the 9 seater, lovely!

 

Allowing for the stop in Bydgoszcz, we arrived safely in Gdansk after about 5 hours and called our contact at the Stationery Embassy from a petrol station.  Mateusz met us a short hop along the road and we arrived at our spot in Gdansk adjacent to the Golden Gate where we had another quick stop for food and said hi to the Spanish lads and the other Polish Embassy Staff.  Mateusz then brought us up to our lodgings in Gdansk and it was a really nice spot indeed, albeit up about 6 flights of stairs!

 

We all headed back down to Gdansk and Carl was heading over to Gdynia as he had arranged a rugby and football day with Arka Gdynia, the local rugby club.  He asked me to give him a dig out with picking the team as he’d no managerial experience so I agreed to go and Conor came along also and about 45 minutes later we were at The Donegal Pub to meet the players who agreed to play.  The players had a few jars inside them, a fair few it seemed with some of them and Carl got a lovely surprise when Gosia,  the person he’d been emailing about the match turned out to be a female.  Gosia brought everybody to the Stadium and Carl set about picking his XI out of about 20 who turned up.

 

The 20 minute a side match was eventful as Poland got a first half goal but the heroic Irish lads levelled with about 2 minutes left to force penalties and Ireland won 5-4 on penalties to spark hilarious celebrations in the corner!  It was agreed to mix the rugby match up as the Arka rugger buggers were MONSTERS so they all ran around for about 15 minutes and everyone was happy enough.  Gosia then brought the ecstatic and thirsty Irish to a local Gdynia bar just in time for the start of Poland v Russia and a wonderful night ensued with local bottled beer sampled, nice food and lashings of it and the Yard of Beer proved very popular indeed and lovely beer it was too at ridiculously good value.  The Duff, Tom and Garrett joined us later from the Donegal Bar before heading back to Gdansk via the Team Hotel in Sopot.  Conor and I braved Gdynia till about 4 till Gosia poured us into a taxi and Carl stayed poured into Gosia, or something like that.  He didn’t get back to Gdansk that night anyhow but I knew he was safe and sound!  A great first day/night in Gdansk and Gdynia and memorable St Raymond’s Day!

 

Wednesday 13th June, Matchday -1 and Tom’s Toutbusting Part 1!

 

Woke up not knowing where the fook I was, this was the first time on the trip I had a semblance of a hangover and it took me a few minutes to remember I was in Gdansk and not Tallaght.  I dragged meself out for brekkie anyhow where one by one we trudged down to eat, all except Carl of course who was probably only getting to bed somewhere in Gdynia or Gosia or a combination of both.

 

We set up the Embassy stall anyhow beside the Golden Gate and before long was meeting some of the crew we’d met in Poznan and I was delighted to meet my former Terenure College AFC players Karl Bishop and Gar O’Grady and also Essie Butler, they’d arrived in the night before and went on a mad one and Essie in particular was in an awful state.  I arranged to meet the lads for jars later to watch Germany v Holland.

 

We had a busy enough day at the Embassy and Tom summoned me down to help a young lad who’d been duped by a Scouse tout the night previously.  The tout turned up again and the young lad from Co Down recognised him and wanted our help in getting his money back.  The tout had shown him tickets for the Spanish match but when the Irish lad came back with his cash and paid the tout, he’d given him an envelope with Sweden v England tickets which of course were of no use.  So Tom marched down with meself and the young fella and “advised” Scouse git to give our lad back his 1600 zlotys for the 3 tickets.  Scouse git’s mate then came over and started eyeballing our Tom and yelling at him but Tom stayed cool as a cucumber and again advised Scouse git to hand back the cash, which he did after a moment or two summing up the situation.   The young Irish lad was delighted anyhow, mission accomplished and Tom and I walked back up towards the Embassy.  Scouse git’s mate wasn’t happy however and followed Tom still giving him loads whereupon Tom finally left Scouse git’s mate in no doubt what would happen to him if he persisted.  Scouse git’s mate finally skidaddled and that was that.

 

We sorta went our separate ways for the evening, Carl and Conor settled back at the hostel to watch the German game while The Duff, Tom and Garrett headed out to the team hotel in Sopot and I changed and freshened up and headed back into Gdansk to meet Karl, Gar and Es and we were soon joined by Es’s father-in-law and brother-in-law so we’d great bit of crack and enjoyed the lovely weather and (despite the dreadfully slow service) the beers down by the quayside at the end of the main street.  I then also met another ex-TCAFC player John Geelon and had met Ken Carney and Dave Hannon in Poznan so half of our 2004 League winning team was out here, with Jerzy to come tomorrow!  The night rambled on anyhow and Karl, Gar, Es and me headed up for a couple more about 1am to the downstairs Irish bar up by the Golden Gate and  after those couple of drinks the lads headed off as they’d been langers the previous night.  So I said good luck and made my towards a taxi, only to be headed off at the the pass by about a dozen YBIG characters who I hadn’t yet met in Poland, so off to a nightclub with us all, the likes of Alan, Shoco, Tom, Sandra, Gaz, Del among others and a John Delaney clad John O’Neill, he was gas!  I had 2 drinks in the night club and that was that, brought me up to 4am probably as it was again getting bright but before I hailed me cab ran into (literally) Keith Flynn so there were YBIG members everywhere!  I collapsed into bed.  Another brilliant day/night in Gdansk, this trip is the dogs cojones!

 

Thursday 14th June, Matchday, Mr Tayto and a Fields of Athenry Marathon.

 

A busy morning for all.  The Duff had arranged for Minister for Sport Michael Ring to come down and say hello to us and Ger Keville had given me the phone number for the Star’s photographer to take the pic so that was all set.  We also had the Pat Kenny Show broadcasting behind us as the Cycle to Poland lads were due in at noon having cycled all the way from Ireland for charity.  Add to that the arrival of Mr Tayto in Gdansk handing out large bags of Tayto to all and sundry, it was pretty hectic stuff around the Golden Gate and Conor  was whisked away to the Press Tent to answer questions on the Embassy at a Press Conference!

 

There were thousands of Irish fans pouring into Gdansk, many of whom hadn’t a ticket for the Spain game and it was looking increasingly unlikely that they’d get any but everyone was still in great spirits and similar to Poznan with the Croatians, we clearly outnumbered the Spaniards by at least 2:1, there were Irish everywhere.    We only got two accreditations between the six of us for entry to the game so we had a draw and myself and Carl were the lucky ones whose names were picked so I was delighted, yet I was still disappointed for the other four as it seemed there’d be no spares anywhere and the touts were looking for ridiculous money.

 

The weather was increasingly cool, breezy and damp so we packed up the stall early enough and with our local Polish volunteer in the bus to direct us if we lost the Spanish bus ahead, I drove the lads out to the Stadium early and was able to park the bus a couple of hundred yards from the spectacular re-built stadium in Gdansk with its yellow shell standing out clearly.

 

We had Football Supporters Europe lads Tommy Gassler and Paul Corkrey with us as well and Tom Finnan went off trying to source tickets as The Duff and others grabbed some shuteye.  We grabbed a couple of beers before the masses arrived and the Polish volunteers motioned to us to enter the Stadium about 90 minutes prior to kick off with our accreditation in tow so Carl, meself, Tommy and Corkey had a good look around the magnificent stadium as the tension built.

 

While our accreditation didn’t allow us a seat, we had a great view from behind the highest seat in the stand and we settled in for the first half around about the halfway line as the game kicked off.  Amazingly and sickeningly again, within 3 minutes we were behind.  Dunne made a great tackle to block a dangerous situation but as he rose to his feet and tried to clear the ball, Torres nipped in ahead of Richie to take the ball and two touches later he’d smashed it past Shay to give Spain an early lead.  Talk about Deja Vu, we’d scarcely stopped our first vocal encouragement when we were already looking at a mountain to climb.

 

The remainder of the half was complete dominance from Spain, they passed the ball for fun with superb awareness, intelligence and pace as we chased Spanish shadow after Spanish shadow and even when we did get the ball, the Spaniards hounded us to win it back as we’d nowhere to go, nor the guile to find somewhere to go.  Shay made a few saves and we defended stoutly and at 1-0 at half time, we’d done very well to keep it that way.

 

Tommy and Corkey decided they wanted to be among or as near to the Irish singing as possible, so we moved around from our first half vantage point to right behind Shay’s goal for the 2nd half as we hoped we might make a fight of it.  As in the Croatia game however, the game was put beyond us with an early 2nd half goal by David Silva as he somehow rolled the ball past/between three Irish defenders with Shay clawing at fresh air.  Game over.

 

The Spanish really began to run us ragged now with their passing and movement and Iniesta was just untouchable and uncatchable, what a privilege to see this player up close (even though we were up high, his genius and majesty was close enough to enjoy) and the Irish players must’ve had twisted blood as the Spanish passed the ball 5 yards, 8 yards, 10 yards, 20 yards, regardless the length of pass it was accurate, effective and thoroughly draining on our players.  Still the Irish fans kept up the singing and encouragement, still the Irish players gave their all but it all seemed so futile against the World and European champions.   It was a only a matter of time before number three arrived and when McGeady was robbed of possession, Iniesta passed to Silva who rolled the ball through to Torres who glided past Dunne, steadied and stroked the ball past Given.  We were starting to suffer now but still the Irish sang.  Tommy and Corkey were hugely impressed with this army of Irish fans retaining their pride and not abandoning their team despite the footballing lesson being given to us.

 

Iniesta was called ashore, the Spanish fans chanted and bowed to his majesty, “Inieeeesta, Inieeesta, Inieeeesta”.  I joined in the applause for him without hesitation.  They brought on Fabregas, we brought on Paul Green, with all due respect to Green this is the world of difference you’re dealing with here.  Still the Spanish toyed with us and got a late corner.   With our players dead on their feet, the ball was played to Fabregas who was unmarked and before you could shout “mark up” he had threaded the ball through the tiniest gap between Shay and Keith Andrews  and the ball kissed the post on its way into our net.  Spain 4, Ireland 0, Fabregas seemed almost apologetic as he barely celebrated.  Still the Irish sang.

 

It seemed now that Spain decided enough, that they can’t and won’t humiliate the Irish team and particularly the fans.  After 86 minutes it started.  “Low Lie the Fields of Athenry, where once we watched the small free birds fly”………..Spain passed the ball, we chased it…………”our love was on the wing”………Xavi to Fabregas………”we had dreams and songs to sing”………….Fabregas to Silva…………..”it’s so lonely round the Fields of Athenry”.  Lull in play………it got ever louder, “LOW LIE THE FIELDS OF ATHENRY”………..89 minutes now and it was still going on, full volume, French and German TV stations  stopped their commentators talking as every green-clad Irish fan sang Pete St John’s song with passion and pride.  Tommy and Corkey beside us were speechless, Tommy’s video  was recording since the 87th minute, Corkey (a Welshman) was joining in.  Still the Spanish knocked it about, three minutes injury time to play……..”where once we watched the small free birds fly”………..this wasn’t gonna end for a while yet.  The referee put the Irish team out of its misery, the fans’ misery not apparent as still the Fields of Athenry rang around this magnificent stadium.  Once more lads “Low Lie the Fields of Athenry”………the Irish team sloped off, the lads who played physically and mentally drained, knowing already they’d be going home on Tuesday, the unused subs acknowledging this 25,000 strong Irish chorus who just wouldn’t shut the fook up and leave.  The Spanish players applauded both sets of fans, the Irish players and staff finally disappeared and the last bars of the longest song in the history of supporters eventually petered out.  This was amazing.  Yes we suffered 90 plus minutes of being battered and punished by Spain, our players suffered, the fans at home doubtlessly suffered but the mass outpouring of pride from our fans from the 86th minute or so through injury time and after the final whistle was mesmerising and memorable.  Seeing the wonderful Spanish players at their best was memorable, the whole occasion was memorable despite the drubbing.  I was actually high on emotion right now rather than angry at the result, it was a truly strange yet uplifting emotion.  We were already out of Euro 2012 yet I wasn’t feeling sad, work that one out!   We climbed into the bus and our Polish volunteer pals manouevered their one out and off we went, away from the scene of a hammering, away from the scene of a remarkable end of match experience………..

 

We drove the back roads of Gdansk on our way back to town, convinced we were gonna get ambushed, robbed and buggered but the Polish driver in front of us brought us safely back to the Embassy base where we parked the bus for the night and Carl and I invited Corkey and Tommy to join us for a couple of quick ones as they were bound for an early flight to Warsaw.  We dissected the 90 minutes and the whole experience and thanked Tommy and Corkey for bringing us here (as we wouldn’t meet them again this trip) and we were joined by Conor and Garrett who’d watched the match in a bar with The Duff and Tom.  The Duff and Tom sloped off after the final whistle, depressed and sad and understandably so but as the beers went down and YBIG members joined us in the bar, we got the beer goo on us.  The cold was getting too much however so we found a cosy bar off the main street of Gdansk and settled in, with Conor jumping the queue of thirsty punters by learning how to shout “4 beers” in Polish, good man Conor!    Don’t know what time we called it a day but I was leaving Gdansk next morning for Torun so I packed me case and filled the smaller bag with me with enough stuff for the 2 nights I’d spend in Torun.  We were out but we weren’t down.

 

Thursday 15th June, Torun bound!

 

Didn’t make it up for breakfast and was just about to board a bus into town to meet Dave for the trip to Torun when he called me saying the coach meeting place was a bit away, so I hopped in a taxi which left me nowhere really near it!  So onto a tram for 2 stops and we all met up near last night’s stadium for Steve Krijgers coaches to take us to Torun.  It was good to meet up with several of my fans team players waiting for the coach and the main talking point this morning was the drubbing and the Fields and how the reaction had gone worldwide with the usual exception to the feelgood factor being Roy Dickhead Keane.

 

The three hour journey passed quickly enough anyhow and the coach left us right across the road from the Bulwar Hotel in Torun and Dave checked us in and the hotel was beautiful so we freshened up, got settled in and Dave, meself and James Keogh headed into the centre of Torun, only minutes away for a couple of beers and some grub. 

 

Torun was a complete change to the madness and mayhem of Poznan and Gdansk.  For a start there were far less Irish on the streets and the make up of the city saw smaller streets and smaller outdoor places to drink so it was perfect for a bit of respite from the previous week of late nights and booze soaked hilarity.  We found a nice quiet place for a few pre-dinner beers and were soon joined by more YBIG lads so we had 2 or 3 there and then found a very nice place to eat where we could also see the England v Sweden game.  We all ate well, had several beers and a shot of vodka on the house and including a tip, we were all relieved of the ridiculous sum of 90 zlotys, or 22 euro!   We strolled around the corner anyhow where we encountered more YBIG folks, including Brianie and his wife Eimear and son Aidan, whose 14th birthday was being celebrated.  A cake arrived for young Aidan and after Eimear cut it into slices, Keville pied Del Harte in the face with Del looking a picture.  I then wandered inside the bar looking for the bog when my attention was grabbed by a familiar face, none other than Derek McCormack who coaches my nephew Tom’s U12 St Paul’s Artane team so it was great to have a drink with Derek and his pals.  I said to Derek to come see the fans game the following day as it would keep them out of the bar for a few hours and he said he’d do his best.  To be fair to the players, most if not all disappeared early and I called it a day about 1.30 for the short walk back to the Bulwar.  Dave was already comatose and didn’t go on any famous sleep walks or wee in the wardrobe or elsewhere as I’d been warned he might.  The team and Gaffer were sleeping soundly.   I think.

 

Saturday 16th June, Ireland Fans v Poland Fans, Mr Tayto gets ambushed and a Singsong in Jan Olbrecht!

 

A hearty and hot breakfast was devoured as I thought about my starting XI for the game at 3pm.  It was a very warm and sunny morning so I knew I’d use the 18 players to the fullest with subs on/off.  But the best laid plans and all that would soon come via texts, with Ryan Kelly, Franny Carragher and Justin Flynn having to withdraw as they couldn’t get out of Gdansk in time, it seemed the train timetable had changed so the boys wouldn’t make it on time.  Luckily I had Barry Hand and Peter Byrne in Torun who’d played for us previously, but I needed an 18th so I rang home to me sister who had Derek McCormack’s number and Derek agreed to turn up and help me out so I had me 18 and we were set.  Macco came up on an early train from Gdansk and instructed Conor to make sure to put mine and his suitcase in the bus before they headed for Poznan and Conor texted to say that was done, so that was a relief.

 

The taxi driver left us to the wrong stadium initially but we arrived at the right venue in plenty of time and the heat and humidity was increasing all the time so we took it easy warming up and got used to the lovely surroundings as several hundred fans filed in to watch the match.  We met the Mayor of Torun before kick off and received some Torun souvenirs before the clock moved around to 2.55 and we took the pitch to a great reception and the National Anthems hit home what we were about to experience.

 

We started brightly with Ray Kelly up top looking lively and our best early chance was a fine ball over the top by Del Harte which released Barry Elmes but the keeper saved Baz’s shot well.  We nearly conceded a soft goal when a cross from the left saw Kevin Haughey miscue his clearance and the ball shaved the post but we came back strongly and good play between Peter Byrne, Ciaran Flanagan and Barry Hand saw Barry force the keeper to save with Barry O’Brien firing wide from the rebound.   It was even enough thereon, but just on half time a great solo run by Derek McCormack saw him fire into the side netting and the half finished scoreless.

 

While Tayto crisps were being handed out and we hung around after a much extended half time break, we spotted Mr Tayto posing for a photo.  The whole squad sneaked up behind Mr Tayto and wrestled Ireland’s favourite crisp Mascot to the ground as everyone piled on, I’m sure Mr Tayto shit several crisps while this happened but it was all in good taste!

 

The second half we came right out of the blocks and scored two quick goals.  Derek created the first with a great bit of skill to earn himself some space and he curled a lovely ball inside the left back for Ray Kelly to charge onto and Ray lofted the ball over the onrushing Polish keeper’s head for a great finish.  1-0 Ireland and this quickly became two as Baz Elmes fed Del Harte whose shot from 22 yards was parried by the keeper but Mark Duggan was on hand to score the rebound from close range and put us in control.

 

I managed to get subs on/off pretty well but for about 6 minutes it was impossible as the Polish match operator decided to play the official Irish and Polish Euro 2012 songs at full blast over the PA but it finally went sufficiently quiet again for my voice to be heard!   Poland pulled one back with just under 10 minutes to go to give us a few nerves, but we finished very strongly and when Barry O’Brien robbed the Polish lad 30 yards out, he went on one of those strong runs into the box and was upended as he prepared to shoot, stonewall peno was awarded.  Ger Keville thumped in the peno but the ref wasn’t ready and made him retake it, but Ger just repeated the dose and made the score 3-1 with 2 minutes left and there was still time for their keeper to make a great save from Del Harte, but a fourth would’ve been harsh on Poland so we finished 3-1 winners and deservedly so.

 

The John Delaney-clad comedian John O’Neill was all over the win and high-fived every player and meself and the crowd, this was his moment and he lapped it up as only JD can!  Hilarious character playing by John and it really added to the tremendous atmosphere in Torun that day and every single person left there with a smile on their face.  Personally it was a day of massive satisfaction for me and an Irish team had managed a win in Poland.  Thanks lads, brilliant!

 

We headed back briefly to the hotel before getting back out in time to watch the Poland v Czech game as the Torun Poles came out in force in their colours and we all got our faces painted red and white by a local as we looked forward to a celebration of our great win earlier.  Sadly, the Poles came up short as the Czechs scored a late goal but we tried to keep the Polish spirits up by singing Polska Bialo Czerwony time and again and everyone was in flying form.  Then Keville informed us that there was a singsong starting up in Jan Olbrecht around the corner so a load of us headed for there and Ger wasn’t wrong!  What followed was a veritable feast of Irish ballads and songs with a room that had tremendous acoustics to send the roof off the house for a few hours, this was magic and the Polish drinkers took delight in our delight!  We passed the cup around several times, filled it and drank it several times and everyone took a turn at a song, what a night!  I did my Alan Who Monologue about the match in Belfast in 1993 that got us to the World Cup and almost fell at the final hurdle, but my memory came back to finish triumphantly, it was that kind of day and night!  Many of our victorious players were there and it’s safe to say this was the best day and night of the trip, or any trip for that matter, it was wonderful.  As I headed for the hotel about 3am, I got absolutely soaked as an electrical storm passed through Torun, but what the heck?  I texted Louise from reception and she quite rightly said “it’s time to go to bed now Phelim, it’s past 3am your time”.  So I did.

 

Sunday 17th June, Matchday -1, return to Poznan.

 

Dragged meself out for breakfast, extremely tired after a marathon day yesterday and Carl texted saying he needed refuge and a shower having ended up spending the night sleeping between Ger Keville and Gary Murphy, which sounded quite creepy to be fair so Carl was happy for a bit of “space”.  I managed to buy Louise a present in Gdansk as days were running out and I was happy with what I got and Liam Murray was absolutely delighted to find some Saddam Hussein Currency which he snapped up with glee to go with his Nazi memorabilia.

 

We boarded the 1pm coach back to Poznan and I texted me Da for Father’s Day as word spread around the bus to remind us!  We were dropped at the bus station and hopped in a cab to take us into the Old Town area and I strolled up to the Embassy where the lads were on duty and the Italian stall beside us, so all was in full swing.  The Duff and Conor were on their own at the Embassy, Garrett was in the Stationery doing some reports and updating the Embassy Facebook page and Tom was watching the hurling at some bar down the street, so The Duff recounted the journey from Gdansk to Poznan and the power nap Garrett took midway through the drive!  But Garrett got them back safely and that was all that mattered.  I re-acquainted myself with the Italian lads I’d met in Warsaw three weeks previously and it was a relatively quiet couple of hours till we were closing up. Tom marched back up after the hurling with the cry of “Go on the Gaffer!” when he saw me and he nearly burst me with the biggest Tipp Bearhug he could muster, I thanked him when I got me breath back!

 

We  headed back to the Stationery Embassy, caught up on some emails and dropped in next door for a nice bite to eat before strolling back down to Old Town Square for a few beers with the Italians.  Maurice O’Donnell and Amanda from the Consulate were down there also so we were going from group to group and before we knew it, it was about 3am and Garda Patrol, Conor and Macco had gone ahead of us.  The Duff, Garrett and meself were last to leave and Duff rang Tom to ask him was he joining us for a bit of lapdancing (we were practically outside the Hostel at this stage!), but Garda Patrol’s emphatic “NO” meant he wasn’t biting and Conor robbed me of a bigger bedroom by getting in with Macco so I squeezed into the room with Garrett and we got the head down for the last time on the trip.  I was getting tired at this stage and I was sorta glad we were going home on Tuesday but we hoped for one last big push on the park and certainly we’d go down fighting off it tomorrow night!  What a trip it had been.

 

Monday 18th June, Matchday, Tom’s Toutbusting Part 2,  Thanks to all and The Duff’s Oscar Nominations!

 

So this was it then, our last full day at Euro 2012.  It was hard to believe it was over already, but at the same time, the late, beer-soaked nights were taking their toll and I’m not sure Ukraine would’ve been the most attractive proposition for a further few days, but we were gonna enjoy today and tonight anyhow.  I arranged to meet Liam Murray to distribute The Daily Star with Ger Pakenham and it being another hot day, this was hard slog but we got them all given out and the papers were well received by all.

 

I was on my way back from giving out the last few papers when I came upon an Irish fan at the end of the Square in heated discussion with another Scouse git tout.  I asked him what had happened and he told me this Scouse git tout sold him a stolen ticket for the Spain game and when he scanned the ticket to gain entry, it was refused and the Irish lad watched the game in a bar and out of pocket thanks to the scumbag.  I told our friend to wait and keep yer man there, I told the Scouse lad who I was and why I was there and I went to summon Tom for assistance.   Tom and I got down to the situation and within seconds the Scouse git had decided to give our Irish lad his cash back, so he was extremely grateful for our intervention and interest and the Embassy had gone 2-0 up on those horrible Scouse Git tout scumbags.

 

 Word later came through that an Irish fan, James Nolan, was missing in Bydgoszcz since Saturday so fliers were printed up and distributed to all the fans passing the Embassy and we all hoped James would turn up.  We weren’t as snowed under with queries as the Croatia game here but we were kept going and the main focus was definitely getting the information out about James.  Sadly, as it turned out, James was found a few days later having seemingly drowned in the local river……………may he Rest in Peace………

 

********

 

Everyone got sorted for admission to the game, be it with the UEFA accreditation or a ticket so we hoped we might have something to shout about.  We got out towards the Stadium again early enough and Kryzsztof and Maciej joined us in the bus to show us the way and get us through the Police Roadblocks.  Maciej was horsing through the Polish booze and by the time we got to about an hour before kick off, he was buckled.  Garrett had another power nap on the grass outside as well while Maciej became increasingly incoherent and unsteady so I did my best to stay far behind or far ahead as we entered the stadium.

 

Entering the stadium was uneventful, but it took us till 5 minutes before kick off to finally find a vantage point we were allowed watch from, but with plenty of empty seats our end, we settled into a few seats (me, Conor, Garrett and Aleksander (from the Polish contingent) as the anthems were played and sung with equal gusto and emotion.

 

We competed fairly well with the Italians first half but we were still lacking a real cutting edge with Robbie out of form and the Italians coping with Doyle’s honesty and graft without much bother.  We conceded yet another soft goal from yet another set piece, a corner on our right was met by a near post header by Cassano and his header just crossed the line before Duffer could scoop a clearance onto the bar.  1-0 at half time and to be honest, I never reckoned we’d get back into it given Trap’s stubbornness in his team selection and set up.

 

Italy controlled the 2nd half as well and the Irish fans were definitely running on empty despite some rousing attempts to get behind the team.  The team was tired, we were tired and there was a distinct tired look about John O’Shea’s defending that allowed Balotelli to volley home from 6 yards in injury time to seal Italy’s 2-0 win.  That kinda summed up our performances with poor defending, lack of concentration and lack of sharpness, it had been a massive let down on the pitch and the fans were at this stage worn out.

 

We got back to the bus and away from the Stadium fairly quickly and our tired spirits were lifted by Maciej doing an absolutely hilarious, broken English version of Bohemian Rhapsody.  I almost crashed the bus laughing at his Freddy Mercury impression and The Duff egged him on with calls for  Beatles songs and other such famous oldies and Maciej to be fair, did his best.  Maciej then praised my driving by singing “Phelim is a Legend, Phelim is a legend na na na na”  which the second time became “Phelor is a legend” and eventually my name had suddenly become “Sailor is a Legend”, as we all fell about the bus laughing and joined in the chorus for Sailor.  We got back to the Stationery Embassy full of joy and laughter at the impromptu Maciej gig and our Farewell night at the Embassy started in earnest with a fridge full of beer waiting.

 

We thanked all the Polish Embassy staff for helping us so well and making us feel so at home and the Italians consoled us over the result, but we didn’t really need it as we knew we were second best and we wished Italy well in Ukraine.  The Italian lads cooked up some delicious pasta for everybody and it was devoured by all.  Then The Duff called for hush.

 

It was Duff’s Oscar time!   Awards were given to :

 

  • Garda Patrol (Tom) for his tout-busting successes.
  • The Gaffer for being the only Irish football winner in Poland (Macco’s squad in Gdynia got an honourable mention, but the Oscar was mine!)
  • Garrett, for his drive and mid-journey power nap under a tree from Gdansk to Poznan
  • Conor, for his devotion to his post and his boyish good looks
  • Macco, for his determination and tenacity in chasing Polish young wans.

 

We each got a can of beer for our Oscars.  The Duff also presented the Italians with a bottle of booze and other miscellaneous awards were doled out to some locals  but The Duff’s speech was wonderful, off-the-cuff and extremely funny, if it wasn’t lost on the non-Irish present!  The beers flowed and it was time to hit Old Time Square once more so we did and we drank the night away with our Italian and Polish friends and I gave away my flag to some Polish lad who thought it was Christmas, I dunno how many times he thanked me but he was delighted anyhow!   As dawn broke and Macco appeared back on the Square after sneaking off with Aggy and as the clock ticked towards 6, there was now no point going to bed as we had an 8.30am train to catch to take us to Warsaw.  The Duff and Garda Patrol had managed to get a later flight direct with the team so that was good for them and we walked the Italians back to base and I showered, shaved and packed till it was time to get a cab to the train station about 8am.  It was yet another warm morning, the effects of booze were still palpable and fair play to them, Krzysztof and Ewelina turned up on the platform to wave us off and that meant alot.  We poured ourselves into our train cabin, waved goodbye and conked out in minutes, it would be about 3 hours to Warsaw.

 

So that was it, four of us got safely by train to Warsaw, from there we flew to Heathrow and had a few hour wait before arriving back in Dublin on Tuesday 19th, about 8.30pm.  Conor headed off for a taxi immediately and Carl had managed to get a lift for us two so we were going for a pint and Garrett agreed to join us to finish it all off.  As I stood at the bar, I turned to me right and Darren O’Dea was sitting there drinking a pint and I said “Howya Darren” and to be fair to him he asked meself and Carl over to have a drink with him.  He was pretty browned off that the performances were so bad and that he didn’t see any action but he was totally bowled over by the support for the three matches and a few minutes later we were joined by Aiden McGeady.  Darren and him had missed a connecting flight to Glasgow so were looking for an alternative way there or else it would be a night in Dublin for the pair of them!  McGeady was very talkative and spoke about his old pal Gary Twigg and I told Aiden just what a legend Twiggy had become at Rovers.  The lads bought us a pint and that was I suppose a fitting way for us to end an absolutely amazing trip, with a chance meeting with two of our squad!   Our lift arrived and we said our goodbyes, McGeady and O’Dea again thanked us but we promised to boo them if they play shite again!

 

Final words

 

I’ll miss Poland, I already do.  I’ll miss the ridiculous value for money for food and booze and taxis.  I’ll miss the Polish people who welcomed us so well, who put on the most amazing footballing party for those lucky enough to be in Poland.  I’ll miss the Irish wit, incredible singing, sheer lunacy and infectious good humour and more importantly, the Irish respect.  I’ll miss the Croatian and Italian Fan Embassy teams.  I’ll even miss the 1980s type Hostel Petit that we called home while in Poznan!   But I was missing Louise and the girls, my dog and my family so it was time to go home and enough was enough!

 

But most of all I’ll miss my 5 Embassy Brothers who are now my friends.  It was a privilege to be asked to work on this project but it was a greater privilege to have these guys in my company.  6 different personalities, 6 different views, 2 fantastic drivers but by Jaysus the 6 of us hardly stopped laughing from the time we left Dublin on June 7 to the time we landed at Dublin on June 19.  Thanks lads, I’ll see yiz soon for a re-union and we’ll take up where we left off, taking the piss out of each other, helping each other and pissing ourselves laughing.   After all, we’re the Irish Fans’ Embassy, we’ll do what we want!

 

The End.

 

Phelim Warren, June 2012.

 

 

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