As I sit in the lobby of the OkiDoki hostel in Warsaw, I finally have time to reflect on the whirlwind that has been my past 48 hours. What a journey! Going to do my best to do it justice in running diary format in the next hour before I head out to the big Fan Zone to watch the elimination match between England and Ukraine.
6:00 AM - Time to wake up and get on the el for my 9:10 AM flight from Chicago O’Hare to London Heathrow. In what might be a new personal record, I fully packed the night before and am not waking up viciously hungover. Well I guess this is growing up.
8:30 - I didn’t have time to take a picture before voraciously consuming it but the turkey, bacon, cheddar bakery sandwich with chipotle mayo at Dunkin Donuts is exquisite. If you haven’t tried it yet, please do it soon so it doesn’t go away and force me to spend the rest of my life chasing that food dragon.
9:10 – And we’re off! The flight to London is moderately painless – after six flights to and from Asia over the past two years, the seven-hour flight to Heathrow is a breeze. I sleep for half of it.
12:00 AM London time – I situate myself in the Heathrow arrivals terminal, which is basically a refugee zone for the dozen or so travelers like myself who have overnight layovers; this will be my home for the next nine hours. I discover that I can buy wifi for 10 pounds and that it lasts a month. This entry is serving as my reminder to cancel the monthly Boingo service after next week’s 17-hour layover.
2:30 AM - Teaming up with my new friend Rich, a Visa executive headed for work in Dubai who provides me with a an electrical outlet converter, I stream Game 3 of Heat-Thunder. This seems like a better idea than, you know, sleeping. Finally finding an adequate stream midway through the third quarter, we are rewarded with a great game. It was another “Leave me the fuck alone” game for LeBron, who only needs two more of these before he gets his way. Actually maybe not, even if he does win the game, idiots like Skip Bayless will probably credit Wade and say that LeBron still needs four more rings to match Kobe and five more to catch Jordan.
6:00 AM - This seems like a good time to bring up that my suitcase, which I had to pick up and bring through the honors system which is London’s customs (seriously, if you have nothing to declare you walk out through a door and all of a sudden find yourself on the outside without even having to walk by scary looking guards), is DESTROYED. I debate whether to say anything to the gate agent for my flight to Warsaw, and to my immense shock, she is extremely sympathetic to my cause. She insists that I deserve compensation and tries to get me in contact with American Airline baggage people, who are not yet open. When this fails, she makes sure that it is written into my passenger itinerary that American messed up my luggage so that when I contact them they will make it right. In America, she would have told me to fuck off and tried to figure out a way that I could be held responsible for the broken suitcase that was intact when I departed.
Noon – I arrive in Warsaw and it’s a beautiful day. As I have three hours to kill before my train to Poznan, I sit down at a patio bar, have a couple beers, people watch, and try not to think about the fact that I’ve been traveling for 20 hours. My initial impression of Warsaw is that it looks frozen in 1985; no buildings look like they were built in the last 20 years. My drink prices seem to confirm my suspicion; two .5-liter premium beers at a trendy bar in the center of town total about $10. Smoking is very common and I don’t see anybody over the age of 40.
6:00 - My three-hour train to Poznan was relatively uneventful. I arrive in the city, which isn’t much of a city at all–it’s like if the NFL Playoffs only existed once every four years and games were held in Stamford, CT–eventually find my hotel, and meet up with my dad’s client Kevin and his family. Kevin generously invited me on this trip about four months ago, and said he’d provide me with tickets to three matches if I could figure out a way to get here. An offer I couldn’t refuse and my current state of deliriousness is more than worth it.
7:00 – In the hour I’ve been in the city, it’s clear that Irish fans outnumber Italian fans 20:1, despite the fact that Ireland has been eliminated from the tournament and Italy advances to the next stage with a win. They’re, uh, not pacing themselves with alcohol consumption. “They never do,” Kevin says. Along with his son KJ, we catch a cab towards the stadium. The cabbie expertly weaves through back roads, encountering 0 traffic in the 15-minute ride to the 45,000 person stadium, and drops us off a block away. The fare is $7.00 and Kevin tips 150%.
There’s a car pulled over in the middle of the road selling beer and pizza out of its trunk. How could I resist? Total cost: $10. For some reason, the people of Poznan collectively decided not to gouge their visitors even though they would have been well within their rights to do so. Here’s me posing in front of said car–note my spiffy 1994 US World Cup hat.
Outside the stadium, it is an absolute SEA of drunken Irishmen clad in green. It’s like if everybody at a Wisconsin football game was as drunk as the students. Kevin has six extra tickets and gives them to Irish fans for free, walking away before they have the chance to realize the absurd fortune that has just been bestowed upon them (face value of the seats was about $150/ticket).
The demographics of the fans are younger than what you would expect for a trip that has to cost at least a couple thousand dollars per person–Usually, events like this price out real fans but apparently the Irish fans are the realest. A vast majority of them are under 35 and an even higher percentage are male. The jumbotron would pan in on hot girls in the crowd but ran out of new ones about 10 minutes into the game and had to recycle the five of them in a perpetual loop.
8:00 – After both national anthems–and the Irish fans apparently had not had enough after their own and started belting along to Italy’s, yelling the lyrics from the screen without regard to tune–it was time for kickoff. My 20:1 estimate to which Irish fans outnumbered Italy’s might have been conservative. They sing loudly and indistinguishably throughout the entire first half but it’s pretty clear that their team is outmatched. I am not nuanced enough in soccer to know what Italy’s defensive strategy was or which personnel were responsible for its execution but it was plain to see that the only way Ireland was going to score would be from a penalty kick or fluke breakaway.
Here’s the view from our seats of the pregame ceremony:
Other observations from the game from a soccer n00b:
- Mario Balitelli’s goal to put Italy up 2-0 at the end of the game was stunningly BRILLIANT. If I devoted my entire life to trying, I don’t think I could replicate the feat. Goals are scarce in soccer but when they do happen, they are often beautiful.
- Italy’s flopping was absolutely egregious. If I were a player on the other team I feel like I’d have enough of it, kick one of the players square in the shin or thigh, and say, “Now you have a reason to curl up in agony!”
- One thing that soccer fans love about the sport is that its 45-minute halves are continuous with no breaks. However, there are plenty of breaks in the action. Italy probably spends about 10 minutes a half faking injuries and there are several periods during the game where it’s almost an unspoken agreement that nobody on either team will exert himself for a minute or two.
- Once again, the Irish fans PUT ON! They were loud the entire game – well past the point where it became clear the team would not win – and stayed after the game to cheer on their team. The entire fan base is like the Miami Heat “Good job, good effort!” kid.
Today, I slept until 11 before heading back to Warsaw. Even though I’ve only been in Poland for a little over a day, I’m immensely excited for the adventures that my next week will bring.