Football the ‘beautiful game’ is a sport of passion; there are few team sports that can ignite the emotions of the rival supporters to the extent that football is capable. Rival teams have their own fanatical fans which follow them through thick and thin, often half way around the World, especially in Europe from Warsaw to Barcelona.
“divided by fierce rivalries”
On occasion some of these passions can overflow and football has received more than its fair share of bad publicity due to crowd violence. This is usually caused by a small minority who have little interest in the game itself.
Supporters of many sports are tribal by nature, wearing the colours and learning the traditional songs and chants of their team. They are divided by international or regional borders and even town boundaries as many cities have several teams. Local communities and even families are often divided by fierce rivalries but they can also be united by loyalty to their local team.
A recent visit to Warsaw afforded an opportunity to enjoy the first game to be played in the new Polish National Football Stadium as a guest of the tourism board. The game was a friendly international between Poland and Portugal to celebrate the opening of the stadium.
The stadium itself is to be a very worthy venue for the European Championships which are being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine. It has a capacity of over 58,000, is festooned in the national colours of red and white, which represent a waving flag and is particularly spectacular when lit up at night.
There are excellent public transport links to the city centre. Bus stops are located close by, a second Metro line has been constructed and the nearby railway station has been refurbished. Access to and from the stadium is exceptionally easy and despite some gates not being open on the evening the whole arrival and departure process was painless.
“will not have to cross their legs for too long”
Security is naturally important but searches of spectators and bags are carried out efficiently and without prejudice.
Facilities inside the stadium are equally as impressive as the exterior. Bars selling beer and other refreshments are available within each area ensuring spectators never have to do without a mandatory beer for the game. There are also plenty of public lavatories so those having drunk a little too much will not have to cross their legs for too long.
Hosting the opening ceremony and first game of the tournament Poland versus Greece and several other games including a semi-final Warsaw will be an ideal base for enjoying the Championships.
There appears to be a shortage of local bars around the stadium however so remaining in the city for as long as possible will likely become the favoured pre-match routine of many supporters.
The problem with friendlies is that there is not anything at stake; without essential points to be earned for qualification, promotion or relegation. With neither team really showing any urgency, this often results in a tame, unexciting match. This unfortunately turned out to be the case for the game against Portugal.
“team of ‘journeymen’ without any outstanding stars”
The supporters were unsurprisingly mainly Polish and they did their utmost to encourage their team on against the household names of the Portuguese stars which included Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul Meireles. Talking with the locals before the game they did not seem too optimistic for this game or the approaching tournament.
It is apparent they feel they are a team of ‘journeymen’ without any outstanding stars however once the ball is ‘kicked-off’ all logic is forgotten and the possibility of an upset is entertained. Just as well, as sadly this was the only entertainment on offer.
Therefore it seemed sensible to turn my attention on the crowd and try to capture just a little of the passion of the evening, which was understandably subdued. There was still plenty of colour, the stands were decorated with regional flags and banners and almost every supporter wore the ‘uniform’ of fans. Some were waving scarves and banners and the occasional chant and call of “Polska” attempted to lift the team and produce some atmosphere.
Football supporters almost without fail experience every possible emotion throughout their lives, a season and even a single game. The faces of the individual supporters betray the anguish, despair and absolute ecstasy that every kick of the ball can produce in the space of 90 minutes, an important tournament or season.
This match may not have not have held any great significance but for those that follow the teams through hardship and triumph this is irrelevant; it is all about pride in the team. The feeling of elation from winning and the ‘bragging’ rights that accompany a victory however fleeting is the drug of choice for many supporters. The Polish are not an exception; they are equally passionate about their team and it was a pleasure to be present when they unveiled their National stadium to the World. They are fully justified in being proud in what has been achieved.
Incidentally the score was a goaless draw for those interested.
The stadium will certainly witness many exciting, drama filled nights in future; it will almost certainly be a venue of spectacular entertainment and a true football factory this summer. I envy those that will be present to share in the excitement with the people of Poland and Warsaw; it will be a great success.