Monday, 11 June 2012

Football, sophistication and primitivism

So far, so good. No mass outbreaks of mass violence to pique the prurient interest of the British media (the strongest report thus far has been this one in the Daily Telegraph; note the lack of detail and reliance on hearsay).

But tomorrow all this may change; Poland plays Russia at home, in Warsaw - the enmity between Scotland and England ('the Auld Enemy') is as nothing to this.

Amid the flotillas of Polish cars sporting Polish flags, I saw today the first vehicles from Russia. All of them black, all of them with darkened windows, all of them with a showroom price of at least €60,000. We are talking Lexus, Range Rover, BMW 7-series. Friends of Putin or honest entrepreneurs who have worked hard to achieve? A bit of both, most probably.

Given the Czechs' 4:1 thrashing at the hands of the Russians in Wrocław last Thursday, I think it highly unlikely that Poland will manage to even hold the Russians to a draw. In the likely eventuality of a Polish defeat, the streets of Warsaw tomorrow night will not be a safe place to exhibit a black Audi Q7 on Moscow plates. In fact, central Warsaw - from the National Stadium to the Palace of Culture and for many blocks around - will not be a pleasant place to be, full-stop.

Of course, I hope I am proved wrong by events.

It would be nice to see cheerful, sober Polish fans thronging westwards along Most Poniatowskiego politely exclaiming "Tough luck, Russia, jolly good show old chaps, better luck next time," (or even "Well done, Russia, it was indeed the better team that won it"). Nice, but it won't happen. There's too much historical animosity; the Russian boot has stamped down on the Polish face too often to let bygones be bygones on the football field. Especially if the Russian fans then insist on rubbing it in.

Meanwhile, the public face of the city of Warsaw is holding up. The public transport system is working perfectly. The threatened beer drought has not materialised (Guinness at 4.99 zlotys a can at Lidl while stocks last). The atmosphere around the fan zone, less than half a kilometre from my office, remains entirely good natured. Warsaw's Roma mendicant community has withdrawn from visibility, leaving lucrative pitches to Polish beggars, most of whom have a significant alcohol problem. Today I saw one such fellow asleep atop a rubbish bin outside Dworzec Centralny, hand still clutching an empty cola cup containing petty alms.

I can only hope for a positive outcome. If there's one day of this entire tournament that could go badly wrong - it's tomorrow. May the Good Lord, who has provided for Poland so well over the past years, see that somehow, all goes well on the day.

This time last year:
Era becomes T-Mobile

This time two years ago:
Warsaw-Góra Kalwaria-Pilawa rail link closed

This time three years ago:
Marsh harrier, golden airliner over Jeziorki

This time four years ago:
Bus blaze on way to town

This time five years ago:
A beautiful, stormy twilight

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