Poles not alone in being immune to ’charms’ of Ukraine

Lukasz’s grasp of English was mightily impressive for a guy who has lived in Gdansk all his life.

His driving wasn’t so admirable and two weeks will hardly be enough to become accustomed to the buzz taxi drivers seem to get here from hugging each other’s bumpers.

But anyway, back to Lukasz.

He was an eager sort, friendly and happy with his lot. He was driving some sort of Volkswagen car but he had a brand new VW van at home and was just back from a family holiday to Vigo in Northern Spain. By Wednesday, he had managed to source match tickets for six of his family. He was clearly excited by the prospect of Euro 2012 coming to the Tri-City region, and why not? He should make enough next week to earn a return to Galicia and, who knows, maybe even invest in a third motor.

“Gdansk has its old town, Sopot is for party and Gdynia has the business and industry,” he said rather persuasively. “We have the sea, the woods and the mountains. Whatever you like to do you can do here.”

Lukazs was motoring at this stage — both verbally and literally — as he ducked and weaved his way through streets decorated with tournament banners and flags of all 16 competing nations.

After a time, the car bore deeper into the suburb of Owija where the German team was staying and about to hold another daily press conference before their opening match against Portugal in Lviv. “Ah, Ukraine,” said Lukasz. “I have not been there but…” for once he seemed lost for words but then came the verdict and how damning it was “...they have nothing.”

He isn’t far wrong, by all accounts.

A lack of hotels and other basic facilities persuaded Germany and four other countries to establish base camp in Poland despite being drawn to play all three group games in the former Soviet Republic. All five face flights of somewhere between 720 and 920 or so miles to make appointments in Kharkiv and Donetsk.

Even the shortest of those trips — Holland’s hop from Krakow to Kharkiv — is longer than the stretch between New York and Chicago.

The result is a nightmare for supporters and the media detailed to follow Germany, England, Holland, Denmark and Portugal. A number of members of the German press corps have abandoned all thoughts of aping their side’s long-haul itinerary and will cover press conferences and even matches from the comfort of their base here in Gdansk.

Their English counterparts have at least committed to the task of travelling east but many face flights to and from Krakow via London simply because it is cheaper to do so.

And to think — that could have been us!

It’s almost too ghastly to consider but the fact is there may be anything up to 20,000 Irish fans following Giovanni Trapattoni and his team out here in the next week or so, while the normally vast Barmy Army will be limited to something around one-fifth of that after most turned their noses up at ridiculous itineraries and even more ludicrous pricing demands from the few hotels that are actually open for business east of Kiev.

The thing is, Uefa can handle the cribbing of a few hundred journalists. Don’t they always, sez you. They can even deal with the cold shoulder from thousands of fans as long as the stadiums are filled with locals but what they haven’t been able to ignore is the furore over the BBC’s Panorama Stadiums of Hate programme that was aired on Polish TV on Tuesday evening.

The Ukrainians claim the programme was sensationalist, listen to some Poles and they will say they resent being lumped in with the Ukrainians, who they say are the ones with the real issues of violence and racism inside football grounds. It has all been highly unedifying, not least Michel Platini’s warning that players who walk from the pitch after being racially abused would be booked.

His was a staggeringly stupid comment to make at a time when various teams have been visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp — but then none of this is to say that Euro 2012 won’t be declared a success.

To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, all those things that seem so important, well mister they’ll vanish right into the air when the action starts.

What better than the beautiful game to paper over a few ugly cracks.

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