Ireland v England? Try Poland v Russia

By now, you’ve probably all seen the video of the Irish fans greeting the English team’s coach in Krakow. It was hard to miss. And even harder not to laugh at, even if there’s something a little sad about how the English – by contrast – are so supportive of Ireland.

At the Irish squad’s media centre Gdnyia, I decided to show it to a Polish journalist named Marek who I had been sharing a bit of information and news with.

He didn’t quite laugh. He scoffed.

“That’s nothing.”

He then asked me whether I was going to Poland’s match against Russia on Tuesday. I said I was going to try; that it depended on train times and Irish media activities.

He simply said, “well take care”.

Poland’s history with Russia is, of course, well known. So is some of the expected trouble at Tuesday’s game, not to mention the general dimensions of the match.

But, as obvious as it sounds, you don’t really get a sense of the proper dimensions until you spend time here in this kind of situation.

Being from a country that the second world war and its aftermath generally missed, it’s probably a little too easy to overlook how tangible the impact still is.

Take, for example, some of the Irish media’s next activity later in the day. At about 6.30, Richard Dunne was put up to talk to the Sunday newspapers in the Grand Hotel in Sopot.

The content of the interview is embargoed until the morning of the Croatia game. But the context is well worth explaining.

In the room where Dunne was speaking, there was a wall covered with famous faces. Charles De Gaulle, Fidel Castro and a host of others.

One face was – understandably – missing: Adolf Hitler.

Two days after the Nazis invaded Poland, he took himself to the hotel to oversee – and, essentially, bask in – the operation.

When told of that fact earlier, a few members of the media asked could they see the room. They were allowed... but on condition. They had to promise not to disturb anything since the room had now been reserved for another special guest. Michel Platini will be staying there any time he visits Gdansk over the course of the next month.

You can make your own jokes!

There are still very few jokes to be made, however, about Poland’s hatred of Russia. It came out in everything Marek said.

And, in contrast to that, the Irish-English dichotomy now seems –mercifully – pantomime.

There was still one remaining similarity though.

Towards the end of our chat, Marek said that he was had been speaking to a few Ireland’s Euro 88 squad over the past week and, while Chris Morris and Kevin Moran had been great for him, there was one he was still desperately hoping to get: Ronnie Whelan.

Absent-mindedly, I wondered whether it was because Marek was a Liverpool fan or something.

“Oh no,” he sated... before lilting into a hint of sing: “He put the ball into the USSR’s net.”

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

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