Kevin Fagan sheds some light on the darker side of Poznan and Gdansk.

FROM DOLE-LAND TO POLAND – WILL THE TRAVELLING IRISH BE SAFE AT THE EUROS???

 

The bags are being packed, the leprechaun wigs are being donned, the campervans are being painted.  Giovanni Trappatoni has led the team to the Promised Land and we’re going to have an absolute ball, no matter what the result. The Green Army are heading to Poland this summer, and it’s going to be an almighty party.  Or is it??  Two cities will play host to thousands of thirsty Irish come June.  Having spoken to some worried Polish natives, Kevin Fagan sheds some light on the darker side of Poznan and Gdansk.

 

When the Republic of Ireland qualified for EURO 2012 last November, the country temporarily dared to dream of an Italia 90-style revival.  Nostalgic clips of Roddy Doyle’s ‘The Van’ did the rounds, and a green tinged hysteria began to rumble.  That rumble is growing to a roar, and in June, an estimated 50,000 Irish will make the trip to Poland to watch their beloved Boys in Green.  This will be Ireland’s fifth major tournament, and our first since the Keane-McCarthy soured World Cup in 2002.  While the previous tournaments were held in the glamorous locations of Italy, America, Germany and Japan, this summer the Green horde will travel to the more modest climes of Poland.  And following the glitz of cities like Rome, Orlando, New York and Yokohama, this time around Ireland will play their games in Poznan and Gdansk.

Well what’s wrong with Poznan and Gdansk, you may ask???  What’s your beef with these two fine Polish cities, you may enquire??? On the surface, well there’s nothing wrong.  Despite being bombed to bits in World War II, both cities appear to be thriving well.  A city council officer in Poznan, who we will get to later, went to great lengths to ensure me his city was perfectly safe.  And why wouldn’t he? The European Championships are a huge opportunity for both Poland and Ukraine to boost their struggling economies.  Indeed, despite Ireland’s worryingly difficult group, the FAI would have been delighted to be drawn in Poland rather than Ukraine.  While we will get to the possible problems in Poland, Ukraine would have been a logistical and infrastructural nightmare for fans and officials alike.  However, if Ireland do qualify from their group, a possible quarter final against England in Donetsk, Ukraine awaits.  What fun that would be.

First up: Poznan. Ireland will play two of their matches here, on June 10th against Croatia and on June 18th against Italy.  This means most Irish fans will be based in the city for the duration of the Championships, making day trips to Gdansk for the game against Spain on June 14th.  Lets be honest, the publicans of Poznan must have wetted themselves with glee when they heard the Irish were pulled out of the hat.  Naturally, Poznan has three Irish bars. That’s right, three. Did you expect any different? Brogans, The Dubliner and O’Morgans can expect some serious business this June.

Sounds good right? It does to everyone who is going there this summer.  But what about those people who have left Poznan?  With hundreds of thousands of Polish now residing here in Ireland, it seemed wise to converse with them about their fair cities.  Marek Jaworski is one such person.  Marek is a 27 year-old who has lived in Ireland for almost six years now.  He hails from Kozieglowy, a suburb of Poznan, comparable in distance to the city as Lucan to Dublin.  Lucan is where he now lives, working in the local Tesco.  So, why would he ever leave Poznan?

“I do not like to make fun of my home city or my country, but, to use an Irish word, I would call bits of Poznan a ‘shithole’.  There are certain parts of the city where it is not safe if I am honest.”  Marek’s honesty is helpful, but it won’t stop anyone from taking their trips.  Is there advice he would give to the travelling Irish?   “Well… (laughs) maybe not get so drunk?? I know everybody will want to party but I know there are some bad guys who will want to take money from all the tourists.”

Surely he must agree that the European Championships will be a plus for the city? “I am happy because I have a lot of cousins who have got work because of the Euros.  Renovations, buildings things like that. Many of them will get jobs as waiters and in bars. But I am worried a bit for the Irish.  I know they don’t make trouble like the English fans, but that might be the problem.  They might be too happy and bang – someone’s wallet is gone.”

Lets head north to Gdansk now. Ireland have just one match here, on the 14th of June when world champions Spain will almost certainly hand Trap & Co’s collective asses to them on a plate. Lukas Sobczak, 29, moved to Ireland in 2004, and is from the Cmentarz area of the port city of Gdansk. He is less worried than Marek about the safety of the Irish fans.  “The Government and the police wont want any problems at all.  If they see any troublemakers they will stop them.  The police in Gdansk are pretty hard, as you say. I would be more worried about them [the fans] in Poznan. I was at a football match in Lech Poznan’s ground and it was crazy. Crazy men.”

Hmmm, ok, back to Poznan then.  In search of a more official stance, the Polish embassy directed me to Damian Zalewski, a member of Poznan City Council.  While both Marek and Lukas had been in Ireland for years and had almost perfect English, Mr. Zalewski’s email had a genuine hint of Google translate about it.  “For two reasons, we don’t have any afraids about safety in Poznan during the tournament.  First, most of the local fans don’t pay much attention to EURO 2012, and probably they will went out of town for this time.”

“When a journalist asks me this question I always reply that in every city you have a chance to get hurt. I’ve lived for six years in France and it was the same “dangerous” as in Poland. We know how to receive everyone and we know how to manage big crowds.”

Hmmm. It is a difficult one. It seems like Poznan is a fine city, but just make sure you have your wits about you.  The possible trouble with that is, we cant be sure that the travelling Irish will have their wits about them at all times.  It is the first time Eastern European countries have hosted a major tournament finals since the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Come June, all eyes will be on them.  Their Governments will be eager to see the Championships pass without a hitch. Usually they do.  For the Irish, it should be fine.  That is unless we qualify for a quarter final in the Ukraine. That could be tricky. 

But we couldn’t possibly qualify from a group with Spain, Italy and Croatia.

Could we?