I went West in search of Euro2012 fun and frolics yesterday to the Western Polish city of Poznan, 300 kilometres to the West of Warsaw. I was going to watch Croatia play Italy in Poznan’s renovated city stadium where one of the giants of Polish football Lech Poznan play their games. I was anxious to find out how another Polish city apart from Warsaw is dealing with the hecticness of the Euros.
First I had to negotiate the three and a half hour train to get to Poznan. The train was full of people from other countries including numerous East Asians, Italians, Russians and Croatians all on their way to see the match. It was a pretty comfortable journey and I relaxed into my seat and got a bit of reading done. On getting to Poznan I was hit by the sheer amount of volunteers ready to assist fans and foreign visitors in the main station. There were those employed by the Euros themselves with green bibs and those who worked for Poznan train station in orange bibs. Both of these sets of volunteers wore large badges stating ‘We speak English.’ There must have been at least 50 volunteers there to help the Italians and Croats who mostly arrived with blank looks on their faces.
After leaving the station we set off for the ground. It was good to hear that people who have match-day tickets get free access to public transport on the day of the game but there was a distinct lack of English language information at the tram stop that took us to the stadium.
On the tram itself there were masses of Croat supporters and I heard them shout in Croat ‘Talianskie pici’ which the Slavonic language speakers amongst us might realise is actually a rather rude chant. But there weren’t many Italians about, and they wouldn’t have understood anyway so it didn’t really matter.
Once we got to the ground there was a small security search and we were in! The city stadium isn’t the most attractive from the outside but it was pretty beautiful on the inside with the usual flags showing where the various sets of supporters had come from. I saw signs for ‘Mostar’, ‘Šibenik’ and the closer to home Polish towns of ‘Głogów’ and ‘Dębno’.
Before the match started I went to get non-alcoholic beers for me and my friends. It is illegal to drink beer in Polish stadiums so the non-alcoholic beer would have to do. There was a massive queue and some rather slow-witted bar-staff which meant I almost missed the kick-off.
Going back to my seat my friend Peter looked rather angry. He pointed to an Italian who was taking up our seats. Peter told me that the Italian had refused to move when asked to do so. My friend thus went to get the steward to move him. He was back a minute later with the steward, the steward at first thought I was the person who was taking up the seats illegally but I convinced him in my Polish it was the Italian next to us. He eventually got the Italian to move but out neighbour wasn’t very happy about it.
By this point, we already had missed the first 10 minutes of the match and we were already pretty annoyed. It got worse however, we were on the second row behind the goal and on the first row we noticed a massive pile of people who stopped us from having a clear view of the game. They were mostly Italians from other parts of the stadium who wanted to get close to the goal. We were very irritated by this point as they refused to sit down when asked to do so. We thus went once more to the stewards to see what they could do. I approached a massive security guard to complain, the guy told me it wasn’t his problem! Incensed at this I went to another steward who similarly said it wasn’t his problem. So nothing happened, we went to stand away from all the problems at the front. Now in England we would have been moved on if we did this – but the stewards were just letting people stand wherever they wanted! It was all very bizarre!
Eventually one of the stewards went down to talk to the guys causing trouble. But this was the problem, they only went down to talk to them. They wouldn’t clear them out of the ruckus at the front. To make things worse we saw one of Croat fans talking to one of the most irritating Italian guys and the Italian threw a punch at him while the stewards were standing right next to the whole thing! However instead of throwing the idiot out they continued to talk to him, me and my mate were shocked and shaking with anger by this point. In England the guy would have long been thrown out and there would have been a host of stewards sorting out the problem. But not in Poznan.
When the main steward came past later I shouted at him in Polish for about five minutes, saying it wasn’t right, that they should chuck the idiot out, that we couldn’t see and had paid our money, and that the Italian had thrown a punch. He replied that the Croat who had been punched wouldn’t write a complaint to the police so they couldn’t do anything to the Italian. It was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard!
After all this idiocy, and the realisation that nothing would be done by the incompetent stewards we decided to move to another part of the stadium. Eventually we found other (probably much more expensive) seats somewhere else and could finally watch the game. The second half was actually an enjoyable game (we caught about 15 minutes of the first half due to all the trouble) and we were ecstatic to see the Croats equalise, they were well worthy of the point, and I was distinctly unimpressed by the weary Italians. When the Croats scored their passionate fans lit flares and threw them onto the pitch. This brought an announcement over the Tannoy system in three languages not to throw flares in future – the security checks on the way in had obviously been very slack.
Apart from that we were disappointed to see a lot of empty seats, there were hardly any Italians at all in the ground, they must have been put off by the Eastern European scare stories that have been spread by the Western media.
After the game we made our way back to the town centre and caught the Spain-Ireland game going on in Gdansk in Poznan’s fan zone. I liked the fan zone in the town, much more relaxed than the one in Warsaw, but that’s also probably because Poland weren’t playing. Spain, as you all know, won far too easily against the beleaguered Irish but the considerable amount of Ireland fans in Poznan (they play two of their games there) seemed in good spirits, singing the most popular chant of the tournament so far ‘Polska – Bialo czerwoni’ the Polish equivalent of ‘Ing-er-land, In-ger-land, In-ger-land’.
We then left the fan-zone and got another beer on Poznan’s wonderful old-town square. We chose a bar that was overflowing with Croat fans. Somehow they had convinced the pub owner to put on Croatian songs, to which they sung to gleefully, they even set off a flare or two outside, it was all pretty good-natured in general though. I was happy there weren’t many Italian fans as there may have been trouble otherwise.
It was time to head home to sleep. It was an interesting first live experience of the tournament to say the least. Tomorrow me and some friends will be off to Russia-Greece in the national stadium, whilst the rest of the country cheers on Poland in their all-important clash with the Czechs. I’ll give you some insights on that tomorrow. Right time to watch England perform miserably against Sweden…