I am writing this with the intent to share the experience of Euro Cup with all of you who care about soccer want the unique perspective I was able to get during my most recent trip to Europe 2012 (and because Deyan asked nicely). While there is plenty I missed, particularly in the beginning and the end of the tournament, hopefully you enjoy the stories of what did happen. Plus this should be fun…
As the tourney opened I was painfully stuck working. Quick background, I now work for a global education company and was given an assignment to go to Rome for 10 days to meet as many teachers and student groups as possible to meet and greet, make sure everything was going well, schmooze and buy stuff for VIPs. Afterwards I flew to Poland…Opening night I was meeting a group for dinner but did manage to take out a group of the adults on the town. We got back just in time to watch the Russian demolition of the Czechs. Funny how that ended up working out…
The next day I finished work in time to get to Piazza di Campo de Fiori to watch the beginning of the Netherlands v. Denmark. You would not believe how many Dutch fans were randomly in Rome but you probably can believe how much they stand out in a crowd. In the Piazza every bar/restaurant has tvs that are facing the square and there are distinct areas devoted to certain countries that are marked by flags. I sat with a cute Dutch girl and started talking about the potential the Dutch clearly had to make an impact on the tourney. For those who watched this game, it was the beginning of the end for the Dutch. Plenty of good possession and individual skill but completely lacking teamwork, especially in the final third. Surprisingly, the Dutch I spoke with after the game were not upset about losing at all; they were more upset that they didn’t play well together. They calmly said, “well, now we need to beat Germany.” Yikes, that’s optimism.
Again fail as I had to meet a group outside the city during the Italy v Spain game. This blew and I was pissed. I went to the restaurant half an hour early so I could watch the first 30 minutes in a side room with the staff before the group came into the restaurant. It was still kind of visible so I was jumping up from the table strategically to check the score and watch replays when something had clearly happened. I did however make it back to an Irish pub in Rome for the Ireland v Croatia game. Despite the enthusiasm and drinking ability of the Irish fans, they never stood a chance and I was impressed with Croatia (and very much looking forward to attending Spain v Croatia).
I’ll speed up a little bit here because even with maximum creativity license, I was still watching games on Tv’s, cool part was that it was at night and in Italy. England v France attracted some fans but they got along (oddly) so nothing interesting happened and the game wasn’t that good. Afterwards I went to this really cool neighborhood called the Travestere in Rome which you should check out if you are there. Kinda like an Italian hipster neighborhood without any of the negative hipster traits. In part due to this find I really enjoyed the Ukraine v Sweden game. Also because of the throwback for Sheva.
Moving ahead, Blaszkowski’s goal was sick and I only caught the end of the much anticipated Germany v Netherlands bc of evening work. The last 20 minutes were really entertaining as the Dutch fans started to get really excited but ultimately they were let down tremendously. Also screw Portugal for scoring late against the Danish.
So 3rd match day of round 2 I flew to Krackow. Krackow is really small and really old (not destroyed in WWII) and has beautiful Polish girls. There is one main square where all of the night life is and there were flags announcing Euro Cup everywhere. Every single tv in Poland was playing each match all tourney long. They were such proud hosts that it was genuinely pretty heartwarming. I watched the Spanish rip Ireland apart as once again the Irish fans got drunk and silly but couldn’t compete. Vodka and beer are dangerously cheap in Poland and I ended up seeing a friend from work, completely randomly, and raged with jubilant Spaniards all night. My Spanish was flowing…
I’ll save specific site seeing stories for another time as this is explicitly a Euro Cup thing. Next set of games began after we dragged ourselves very hungover through a couple of walking tours of the old town and Jewish quarter of Krakow. France and Ukraine had that stupid rain delay which threw off the timing of what I think was a Friday night. Anyways, I was hanging out with some dude from LA who just got a massive severance from some defense contractor and was down to party. We went to this outdoor bar in the square showing the game where Trotsky and Stalin (or whatever his name was at the time) used to sit and rip vodka shots, this felt cool… Possible game of the tourney for me between England and Sweden, not necessarily in terms of quality but in terms of drama. I was rooting hard for Sweden because I was headed to Sweden on the day of the last round of matches and it would have been sweet if that game had meant something. Cue Welbeck’s cheeky finish and the last Sweden match didn’t matter.
Now for the GOOD STUFF (sorry it took so long). Train to Warsaw arrived at maybe 4 pm. The Warsaw FanZone was right next to the train station so I check it out before going to drop my bags off at the house I was Couch Surfing at. Went downtown to the main area again and walked all the way to the stadium, very legit. Also, seemingly very easy and cheap to get a ticket to Russia v Greece but I preferred to watch the final Poland match with all the Poles. Lots of Russians in town though and a weird vibe after the rioting the previous round. Side note on what happened; apparently it was some kind of national holiday so the Russian federation submitted a proposal to allow the supporters to march down to the stadium. Many Polish people said this would be a bad idea… So during the march, Poles would put scarves over their faces, go in for a few slugs and then bounce, remove the scarf and act like nothing happened. Clearly the police got involved and it was shown all over the news. Oh well.
Anyways, I end up meeting the couple I was staying with and after debating where to watch the match, the wife and I won out and we decided to go to back to the FanZone. Marek, the husband, was convinced it would be too crazy…def correct. At around 7:30 it took almost an hour of strenuous pushing, mob style, to get through the doors of the FanZone. I shit you not, this was highly unsafe and stampede like. You saw the big pictures on TV, half of Warsaw was in the FanZone. Once the fear of death/missing the game was quelled by getting inside I took a look around. The pictures I took don’t do it justice but some of the aerial shots we saw on the screens do. Imagine not a city block or two closed but the majority of the downtown area. There were I think 7-8 screens the size of an intersection with people as far as the eye could see facing each screen. They were positioned so that there were many city blocks facing each screen. 100% of people were wearing red and white. Almost everyone had a scarf, face paint and any number of other silly costumes. Very music festival-esque. Unfortunately, despite a strong start, Poland deprived us of what would surely have been one of the craziest parties anyone has ever experienced. Bummer.
Next day, just watched the games with Mark, the Polish homie, all the while discussing what could have been. He was bummed.
MATCH DAY! I took a train to Gdansk from Warsaw, about 5.5 hours and got in at 2:30. I figured I would check into my random hostel and then check out the Old Town before getting into game mode. Not possible. The entire city was already FLOODED with Spaniards and Croatians just raging. Interestingly enough and a very positive dynamic to step into, they got along quite well and everyone was being extremely gracious towards the Polish hosts. Everyone of every language knew the chant of “POLSKAAAAAA biały i cerwony” This was included in the mix of every other chants throughout the entire day. The next 4 hours consisted of beer drinking, singing, dancing, occasionally starting random conversations (Spanish to Spaniards and English to Croatians). Everyone was deliriously excited and it was here that I vow to attend every international soccer tournament possible, period. It’s just the f’ing best atmosphere possible! Also really funny were the many chants of “Arrivederci Italia!” Come on entertaining 2-2 tie!!
Getting to the stadium was easy but time consuming as Gdansk is a small town and not used to transporting 40,000 spectators from the main area to the brand new stadium about 5 km away. Side note, no idea what this stadium will be used for in the future, seriously…
Once I got off the train and started following the hoard of people towards the stadium we finally got a glimpse of the stadium. Sooooooooooooo sick. I was a little nervous as I still needed to pick up my ticket from the UEFA version of will call but that process was actually really easy. Ticket in hand, I giddily went toward the stadium finishing the last beer of the game, beer inside is non-alcoholic, silly. I tried to walk around and take pictures of everything so I could share it with everyone; I think I did an ok job. Walking in I realize that my ticket is literally on the midfield stripe and row 25! This is what buying “section 1” gets you. I got inside in time to check out warm-ups and am only reminded of the Barca games I used to see of the skill and touch of all the players. The Spaniards are playing the fastest games of 1 touch keep away that is humanly possible. For anyone who has ever played the game seriously, it is humbling.
The entrances are chilling and the stadium is pretty much full. Advance planning and knowing where your team will be helps out the euro fans. The game itself was one of Spain’s “boring games” where all they did was artistically pass the ball around with incredible touch and control. They controlled everything. The pace of the game was so leisurely that we might as well have been relaxing on the Costa del Sol with a table of sangria, just like the Spanish prefer. The only real break in Spain using superior skill and lackluster ambition was in counter attack. Luka Modric is spectacular and clearly a world class talent. He took the ball and flew past people to create the only real Croatian chances of the match. I will be furious if he moves to Madrid and I am forced to hate him.
Spain casually decides to win the game at the end and completely screw over Croatia. Kind of a bummer for the Croatians and messes up the friendly dynamic of earlier in the day but nothing bad happens. Probably 30 minutes after the game and just as everyone is getting on the trains it starts to rain as hard as humanly possible. After seeking cover in the underground train station of the old town people start to venture out into the rain because there is no beer in the underground train station. This creates a dancing street party of Spaniards, very fun but very wet. I have no idea what this town of Gdansk is actually like because this experience was so unique to this particular day.
I’ll stop here because the next day I flew to Sweden and nothing particularly unique to Euro Cup happened here. I watched the Sweden game at my friends apt in Stockholm and everyone wished the game had mattered. If you like blondes, move to Sweden immediately, it’s all true!
On that note, I hope you enjoyed reading this and see you in Brazil!