The first Euros in 24 years had us veterans all feeling Retro! I Had exiled myself from games; having grown disillusioned at pricing, not convinced at the Croke Park Roar and bored with the football. But one month before kick off, after a few fateful drinks with Terry (the Tash) and Paul (Beautiful South London!) Murray, my appetite as well a hangover for an away trip returned!
Family home sickness and work commitments clipped my wings to the extent that a one game trip was as far as I could push the envelope! But would I jet out for the first game, where all would be as fresh as daisies and full of enthusiasm, or would I wait for the Italy game, ready to fly in with qualification on a knife edge, ready for a Holland in Scilly or Saudi Arabia in Japan moment? Opting for the first game proved to be the right decision in the end!
Having decided on a trip so late, had I missed the boat or the Ryanair plane? Well Mr O’Leary has loads of options in Poland. While most, to avoid the direct trips, went for Berlin, Wroclow or Warsaw, my Brummie Irish pal Alan Byrne told of a ghost route from Birmingham to a place called or pronounced Biscots. Only two hours from Poznan by train. His Polish friends told him to take the train, but sit in the middle carriages. Lots of crashes!!
We arrived at Brum airport to get the Biscots flight? Would we be alone on the ghost route or would the word have got out? There was a a lot of green in the airport, so we were not alone!!! Ryanair baggage staff did their best to delay matters, but we got off on time!
We got to Bizgodz mid-Saturday afternoon, cabs were a plenty and we checked into our hotels. We settled down to watch the Germany match and eyed up a steak restaurant across the road. Standard fare on football trips steak and chips! We booked the window seat and ordered “cheap” T bone steaks”. There was a sting and a mild rip-off as the menu price was per gramme!
We headed over to find the old town. I am sure all were old towned out by the end of the trip! The old town had a small square with lots of bars and was busy till silly o clock! We met some lads from Sligo who, after I assured them I was not Referee Dermot GALLAGHER, were good company! Made me feel my age when I told them I was in Poznan for Ireland’s greatest 70 minutes 21 years ago when they went 3-1 up and Ireland’s worst 20 minutes, when the lead was surrendered! We admired the River running through the small town, but this a poignant memory following the tragedy to James Nolan R.I.P.
We headed off to Poznan on the rattler on match day, leaving Brian behind who forgot his match ticket! I like everyone connected with the RISSC was staying in a Terry Tash Room! But who would I be sharing with? He who shall be nameless, the biggest snorer of all time or other blasts from the past who I had not seen in a decade? Well the door opened to reveal the amiable Bristol Rover Tony (who apart from singing Irene goodnight Irene!) was the perfect room mate. Jumping Pulp Fiction like timeline wise to the next morning, there was a third body in our room and to this day I don’t have a clue who he was?
Back to match day afternoon, me and Tony shared a cab into the (you guessed it) OLD TOWN! In all my years of trips, still not sure I have seen anything like the good natured mayhem in the old town square. Perhaps, St Julians Bay in Malta on qualification for ‘Italia 90’ night in ’89 was the closest, without a Styx Niteclub thrown in! The square was wall to wall bars and wall to wall green with a few Croatia chess board shirts dotted around! It was a mass of noise, mayhem and come on you boys…The demographic of support was majority lads in their 20s, 30s, not many families or groups of females!
The shall we stay or should we go now debate raged on, but we dragged ourselves away from the noisy square and tried to work out the quickest way to the stadium. Wished Star Trek technology would arrive and we could just beam our way into the ground !!. The trams came by looking like something out of an Indian RAILWAY! Bodies and scarves hanging out the windows, trams almost toppling over so packed they were! We found a tram eventually. The songs on the Tram ranged from Depeche Mode to that one sung at the darts? What’s darts got to do with it, we wondered? The route seemed to be madcap, going over pavements and cobbled stones, reminded me of the car chase spoofs on Police Squad!!
It was just as noisy and chaotic getting into the ground. A couple of security checks and still didn’t have a clue where to go. I had a restricted view seat and the view was restricted. In the corner of the ground, the corner seats were not in sync with the stand to the left. The good news is I just moved a block and had a perfect view from the aisle!
I also had a perfect view of the fans who spent the whole half queueing for food and non alocoholic beer! The second most obvious statement after we were outclassed was that there were too many drunk Irish fans in the ground. One fella walks into my block 30mins in and asks me whats the score!!
What has changed since the trips of old? Always lots of drunk fans! It was ever thus as they say! I am not so keen on the leprechaun index. There didn’t used to be fans dressing up like the national stereotype? I was more in favour of the retro Euro 88 tops. Either the lads haven’t put on weight and kept the old tops in storage or there is a strong Throwback market out there!
The fans sang and the team got beat. Like many an away trip, but this was no noble unlucky dodgy linesman, conspiracy theory loss! The team were just outplayed!!
We got back to town on a bus quite quickly. The square filled up again and I had chats and drinks with many of the old gang from the RISSC who had flown in from all over the world. We went up to one bar which sold a beer whose label said it all – STRONG beer! We found another with a secret toilet? The night grew brighter and the lads started to head home, trains north to catch. I headed back to my digs!
I returned to a quieter old town the next day. The boys in green still, but all bar the hardiest were on coffee, water or cokes!! I left the square having been pestered by a young group of lads who hadn’t let go of their beers and were insisting I was Dermot Gallagher!!
I shared my airport cab with a couple from Maynooth who were running late for a train to Gdanzk! I left them off a little sad, as I was leaving an adventure that was continuing for so many! But I am as able for an eight night drinking every day trip as the fans would be to run one of my three hour marathons………….! But my appetite has kicked in for the occasional away trip, a two/three night with my old mates from the RISSC!
My flight home was upstaged by a late arrival on the plane, President Higgins, flying Ryanair! We all dream of team of Michael D’s sang the passengers!!!