So last week I travelled to Poznan, Poland with my dad to bear witness Ireland’s final game of the European Championship. Although the Irish had been on the wrong side of their two previous EURO encounters, and in doing so surrendering any chance of progression, there was still much to play for, most notably the “honour” Trapattoni had mentioned in one of his latest press-conferences, and with Ireland having beaten Prandelli’s team the previous summer – in a neutral venue as well it should be noted – there was plenty of food for thought as the day grew closer.
However, an unexciting, dull 2-0 defeat, at the hands of a clearly superior Italian side, condemning us to our third consecutive European Championship loss – and thus equalling the record for the worst showing at the EURO’s, previously held by Yugoslavia (’84), the Danes from the turn of the millennium and Bulgaria the year of the Greek’s unprecedented success - fortunately did nothing to dampen the spirits among the Irish fans throughout the trip in Poland. From the hugely disappointing 3-1 loss in the opening fixture, to the annihilation we suffered at the hands of Spain, the Irish teams performance throughout June was nothing short of embarrassing. And yet, despite the uninspiring performances, the 20-odd thousand fans remained in a jubilant mood even after the Italians won in comfortable fashion.
We landed in Poznan airport having flown with British company WizzAir, whose airliner seats, despite being the cheapest available, were woefully uncomfortable as there was insufficient leg space – a pain in the arse for people wishing to sleep – at eleven that morning. However, I let it slide as they had offered such low and affordable prices, prices which I soon discovered why as I became acquainted with my seat. I’d kept myself occupied with Nick Hornby’s ‘Fever Pitch’ – a book which I thoroughly enjoyed and would implore readers of this blog to purchase. It’s a book which all football-obsessed fans can largely relate to – I know I did – and its main purpose is to serve the readers how big an effect this sport has had on Hornby’s – and of course scores of others – life. (Have you ever found yourself rejecting proposals for social gatherings in order to fulfil a football-driven task? Hornby’s an expert in this particular area, even missing occasions such as wedding in favour of the world’s most popular sport.)
The flight exceeded a time just short of two hours, thankfully, as my discomfort deprived me from catching some much needed sleep, hence the reading. On arrival, a bus then collected and drove us from the plane to the airport as our day was finally, slowly but surely, getting underway. We sought out help from several information desks until a designated helper wandered over and instructed us to board the “number L” bus. It was here our tickets came in handy, surprisingly, as holders of European Championship tickets were given a free ride to their destination. Ours was the Poznan train station where we were due to meet up with friends also travelling from home, but via Gdansk where they had the unfortunate pleasure of attending the Spanish mauling of the Irish. Nonetheless, despite their and scores of Irish fans misfortunes they’d headed to Poznan with renewed optimism ahead of the duel with the Italians. Having done battle with Prandelli’s Italians the year previously and earned a 2-0 victory why couldn’t the Irish dream of ending the so far miserable EURO journey on a high?
From the train station my dad and I, noticing our friends had not yet arrived, headed for the Poznan city centre, Stary Rynek. As soon as we arrived we’d noticed a sea of green had engulfed the whole of the town square, taking up temporary residence at every bar and pub available, making the most of this rare opportunity. The Irish had also brought numerous flags from home and I was able to see them hanging on various gates or leaning against the base of many buildings. One such one was the now famous ‘Angela Merkel Thinks We’re at Work’ flag in honour of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Although when I arrived, it had been, what seemed, autographed by the whole of the Irish squad and was due to be auctioned off for charity by the end of the country’s involvement. As I donned my Trapttoni mask, which I was surprised to see in short supply considering the huge number of Irish fans present – there was one other I found – Italian fans raced over to me to be snapped with their hero Trapattoni in an Irish jersey. Suffice to say, I was delighted and enjoyed the occasion as much as they did.
That was at 2pm local time. Swarms of Irish were still gathering in the Old Town Square – at this point there was barely breathing space, unless you were seated at a bar or restaurant – and we didn’t have to wait too long for the first of many ‘fan battles’. Let me just say, it isn’t what it sounds like.There was no physical violence, or any violence at all. Tens of Irish fans pitched their chants and wit against a small, compact group of Italians who, to give them credit, kept it going even though they were severely outnumbered. Cue an endless re-run of the ‘Fields of Athenry’, ‘Come on you Boys in Green’ and, perhaps one of the wittiest I had the pleasure of witnessing, the ‘Ohhh Trapattoni, used to be Italian but he’s Irish now’ which sure enough got the blue blood of the Italians pumping. I was reclining in a bar a stones throw away and seriously considered fetching that oh so elusive Trapattoni mask that many Italians seemed to adore. (I was asked for more photographs once I had taken it out again, which I found was somehow more aesthetically pleasing than the last time.)
Following the conclusion of the fan battles the Italians dispersed and the Irish took over, conjuring up all types of previously unheard of wit-fuelled chants. A particular favourite of mine was the ‘Alive Alive-o’ song sung to the tune of Stephen’s Ireland’s grandmother. (Funnily enough, a couple of friends we had conversed with in a restaurant after the Irish shenanigans had told us of an old lady waving down to the Irish fans in Gdansk as they were passing by. As one would expect, with the unrivalled wit of the Irish, an Irishman took notice of this woman and shouted ‘Stephen Ireland’s Granny’, and of course, the whole street subsequently erupted in true Irish fashion.) The day, and banter exchanged between the Irish and Italians, was nothing but jovial and good-natured and it inevitably set the tone for the fixture later that night.
The chanting on the tram was even more impressive. Irish fans were forced to cram on tram ‘Linia 13′, whose route led directly to the stadium, and, amid the cramming, everybody present exuded copious amounts of sweat, their respective jerseys glued to their respective bodies, during the 15 minute journey. The absence of a working air-conditioning didn’t help the cause either. More chanting inevitably ensued and odes to Trapattoni and Paul McShane – although the latter, having played zero minutes in Ireland’s three games, was clearly the subject of a pisstake (‘Ooh Aah Paul McShane’) – and slamming of former Irish international Roy Keane – ‘F**k you Roy Keane, We’ll Sing when we want’ – made the trip that much more enjoyable as many in tram, jolly as they were, were now beginning to feel the full wrath of a packed tram with next to no space to roam. Sure enough, our destination duly arrived, to the satisfaction and relief of all.
Scores of us heaved our way through each other in order to depart the tram and after some serious pushing, amid a bulging train, we finally found our way out. Prior to the stadium we had met up with a friend of ours back home who was involved throughout the tournament with Ireland. He told us a story regarding the WAG’s of the ‘nobodies’ in the team – harsh (and not my words) – and how they rejected outright the hotel that was proposed for them in Gdansk. Instead they resided somewhere else for the couple of days in the North of Poland. However, on their way down to Poznan, our friend told us of how the WAG’s demanded to stop for McDonald’s. It was here that their class had finally shown through (I’ll say no more).
The match itself was the only disappointment of an otherwise perfect trip. What the Irish team tend to do when a country who’s vastly superior to us is drag them down to our level. And that’s exactly what we did in a game where Italy embarked on arguably their poorest showing in the tournament, while the opposite was in order for the Irish. There were few breaks but when they did come, as a result Italians misplacing passes – how uncharacteristic! – the Irish players in possession – Glen Whelan, for example, when it was a 2 v 2 – squandered it. It perhaps emphasised the fact that a large percentage of our goals came directly from set-pieces. (It was also my first time supporting Ireland outside the country, which made for an even more pleasant experience.)
As soon as I’d returned I was gagging for more. Immediately, as soon as we reached the airport, I checked the upcoming fixtures: Serbia and Kazakhstan. Tickets were mooted for over €200 to and back from Belgrade, which was a tad expensive for an unemployed 17-year-old. And that’s excluding the ticket and accommodation. I guess my next away trip would have to wait. Oh well…
Ireland EURO 2012 Songs:
‘Ohhh Trapattoni, used to be Italian but he’s Irish now’
‘The group is upside-down, the group is upside-down, you’re hardly gonna believe us, the group is upside-down’
‘We’re better than the Dutch’
‘Stephen Ireland’s granny’ (sung to the tune of ‘You”ll never beat the Irish’, was a chant adopted by Irish fans after an old lady waved to Irish fans from her balcony in Gdansk, Poland)
‘Alive Alive-o, Alive Alive-o, Stephen Ireland’s grandmother’s Alive Alive-o’
‘We’ll sing when we want, We’ll sing when we want, Fuck you Roy Keane, We’ll sing when we want’