I sit across from my two travel companions on the Warsaw Express train from Berlin. Two young german men suck back bavarian lager next to us like they’re giving oral pleasure to a juicy bratwurst. The pair chants “ACAB, All Cops Are Bastards” at any Polish police officer flying by our train window. If a peaceful city such as Vancouver turns into a raging inferno over a hockey game, what kind of bloody bedlam will I get to witness at the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, especially with the history European countries have with each other?
My first destination, Warsaw, seems to be a city brimming with tension. Just days before our arrival, Russian firms battled it out with Polish hooligans in a duel for nationalistic pride. With Russia playing Greece in town tonight, the Russian fans linger. Poland plays tonight, and the city is awash with the national jersey. I keep an eye out for another war reenactment following the games. With both teams getting kicked out of the tournament tonight, the scene is sadder than old yeller’s death scene.
Making our way into Poznan, our second stop on our tour, I notice we look like a group of travelling german fans. My two polish born former Germany residents wear the white jerseys of the national team, and the other two exaggerate their german tourist image with hiked up shorts and black beaters. We rename them Lars and Henrik to complete the ‘look’. Not garnering enough attention, we begin a German soccer chant hoping to rile things up. We scream the only German sounding words we know, “Flugen, Farby! Flugen, Farby! Flugen…” Fans welcome our shoults with cheers and congratulations on Germany’s win over Denmark earlier that day. Many join our chorus. Any local within hearing distance would be wondering why we were yelling the name of a Polish paint company.
Henrik tosses a soccer ball bought from the Euro2012 fanstore into a crowd, hoping to stir up a friendly game of keep up. A posh Italian chests the ball from his crisp white shirt, to an irish fan in beer-soaked soccer gear. I see a social experiment in the making as the play turns sloppy, and the men become more aggressive. The game descends into chaos as irish fans, who have now overwhelmed the crowd, punt the ball as high into the air as they can manage in some butchered version of Gaelic football. Just as I am ready to sit back and watch a good ol’ riot break out, the ball drops lazily into the hands of our friend Agata. The ball’s dropping has the same effect on the game as Justin Bieber’s will on his singing career and we use the brutes confusion over an actual female being in their midst to make our escape with the ball.
Later, we walk down one of the many narrow cobblestone streets surrounding the stary rynek. After a few too many Tatankas we brainstorm a gem and whip out the soccer ball again. Irish spring out of every nook and cranny in an instant. Instead of swimming against the tide, we join in. My GAA skills lack and I step aside. The first sign that events may slip out of control falls on my foot, as an errant boot knocks the giant M off the sign above. The final boot, which would make Adrian Sweeney proud, sends the ball packing to the highest rooftop.
It is now game day. The town centre statues covered by drunken football fans early in the a.m. are now covered with fencing and barbed wire (as if that ill stop them). I hop on the tram. As we get closer to the stadium with every stop, the tram fills up with green like potato in a perogie.
Approaching the stadium on foot, the crowd thickens. Female soccer fans make their first appearance, but only clad in blue. It appears the Italian fans, though drowned out by the Irish, manage to still draw plenty of attention by actually taking some of their women along with them.
We buy some Tyskies from some Polish girls dishing beers out the back of a pizza delivery hatchback. Walking through the crowd with beers in hand, our news of pizza-delivery-beer-girls make the football fans slober. Knowing the stadium will be dry, the hatchback from heaven is an oasis in an arid desert. Entering the stadium, I note they serve 0.5% alcohol beer in the stadium. I figure I would need 100 beers to get me drunk at that percentage, but it doesn’t stop many of the faithful from trying.
Walking back to our rented apartment I watch some Irish fans battle to ascend to the top of the some historic statues at 6 o’clock in the morning. I again think back to Vancouver’s hockey riot. The chaos that has engulfed the town lacks the outcome of June 15, 2011. While cracks in the cobblestones slowly gather glass from broken bottles, I see no burning police cars or joyous looting. I cannot fathom a reason why it doesn’t. For starters, these fans are clearly drunker than anyone I came across in Vancouver, save for the man I saw in the mirror. Secondly, Vancouver riot had women. Here, it’s all men. I smell more irish sausage than in an ulster fry.