On the pitch, it was over almost as soon as it had started. However, the results did not dampen the spirits of the legions of ‘Trap’s Green Army.’ First stop a few days previously was Krakow, partaking in the famous Irish ‘welcoming committee’ for the England team as they arrived at their hotel; not quite the reception they were expecting. The green majority in Krakow was just a taste of things to come.
Navigating Poland by rail was expected to be boring and drawn-out, but the trip up to Poznan, on the day of Poland’s opening game, was eventful to say the least. We occupied a compartment on the train with a few beers, and soon enough a sing-song broke out. Not 3 verses had passed in ‘The Auld Triangle’, when the compartment door swung open and in filed several over-sized intimidating ‘skinheads’ riddled with Lech Poznan and swastika tattoos. ‘Hail-Marys’ were being uttered at this stage, but thankfully they took a liking to us, and after a few more beers and songs explained how they were fully behind the Irish wave who were about to invade their city, and left with high spirits with a chant of “POLSKA! IRLANDE!”
Next up was arrival in Poznan at the Fan Campsite close to the centre of the city, purposely built to accommodate thousands of the green invasion; an ocean of tents and campervans. Facilities weren’t what you would call luxurious; showers were cold, hard ground to pitch tents, and the portaloos would have disgusted even Bobby Sands. Fans had made all sorts of savings and sacrifices to make the trip, one chap even came over despite the fact that his wife was due the day before the Croatia game. The main square in Poznan was constantly bouncing to chants such as ‘Merkel Thinks We’re Working!’, ‘We’re Gonna Win the Group!’ and songs which acted as constant reassurances of the well-being of Stephen Ireland’s grandmothers. Even when riot police were rushed in to deal with rioting Croatian and Polish, the Irish didn’t get involved, but continued to sing our hearts out.
The crushing 3-1 defeat to the Croats, who were well represented at the game themselves, failed to dampen spirits as we marched onto Gdansk. More of the same up there, but this time a more up-market campsite (hot showers are always a huge plus) was in store. The Spain match will not be remembered for the result, but it is fair to say most fans present in the stadium that night would agree that those final minutes were up there with the greatest moments in their lives. ‘The Fields of Athenry’ is still ringing in my ears and most fans barely had any voices left waking up on the Friday morning.
The party rumbled back down to Poznan over the next few days, with optimism high among Irish, singing “You’re going home with us!” at any sight of an Italian jersey. Jokes were strife as we attempted to justify that we have a superior team to Holland as the Dutch were sent packing with no points from Group B. There was barely room for breathing in the square in Poznan last Monday from late morning as we sought send the team off in style and there was genuine belief that a result could be achieved against the Trapattoni’s countrymen. The trams to the stadium resembled Indian trains with fans hanging out the window to stay on. The buzz around the ground was special, Ireland has always won at least one game at any major championship we have visited. I was stuck on my own in the middle of the Italian section at the match, and they had a genuine fear that there could be an upset. Alas it wasn’t to be, but if you were in the Poznan, you would have guessed the Irish had won judging by the celebrations as a send-off.
Ireland’s first major tournament may not be remembered for our performances, but the fans partied like it was Italia ’90. The months of saving and the days of recovering from an almighty hangover have been worth every second.
SPORT IS EVERYTHING. Brian Barry.
Brian Barry is a University College Cork student and also writes for vavel.com. He has recently joined the SportIsEverything team and is an invaluable addition. His sporting knowledge extends to many sports and this is reflected in his works. You can follow him on Twitter via @briangbarry or even send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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