Faces of football
By Kacper Pempel
Three weeks of the Euro 2012 adventure are already behind us. Three weeks of hard work, meeting thousands of people, driving thousands of miles and shooting thousands of pictures.
As a photographer based in Poland, I was assigned to cover not only matches but also news stories in Polish cities like Wroclaw, Poznan and Gdansk. So I had a chance to meet people from many different parts of Europe who made the journey here for the soccer fiesta. They were genuine football lovers and real soccer fans.
The Irish fans made the most remarkable impression. The party they threw for all three of their games was incredible and they showed they know how to have fun even when their team is losing. They transformed the Old Market in Poznan into a “green island”, singing and cheering their national team before and after matches and through the night. After a couple of hours sleep they would be back again to kick off the next day’s festivities.
Every Poznan citizen I spoke to – taxi drivers, waiters – said they had been surprised how nice the Irish were and they wouldn’t forget the example they set of how you should behave as a soccer fan on the road.
But it wasn’t only the Irish. I also spent a good deal of time with other nationalities from Groups A and C. I remember Croatian fans dancing with a huge flag and with a red and white board covering half of Poznan Old Market. They also came with a small band of musicians to accompany their national songs.
The day before the quarter-final between Greece and Germany, I met a very nice couple of Greeks, Theano and Paris from Volos. We walked together around the city, where they pointed out influences of their culture on Gdansk’s Old Market. Theano recognized every sculpture depicting Greek gods in a flash, even at night. The next day they were decked out in the blue and white of Greece, cheering their team in peaceful harmony with the German fans.
Poland were unfortunately eliminated at the group stage, but Polish fans stayed on the streets and in the fan zones to watch good quality football and cheer with fans visiting from abroad. And it was heartwarming that almost every Greek, Czech, Irish, Italian, Russian, Croatian, Spanish and German I encountered tried to sing in Polish. – chants like “Polska bialo – czerwoni” (which means Poland red and white) – with Polish fans. I even met Norwegians Ole and Mats who had appointed themselves honorary Polish fans for the tournament (see below).
Euro 2012 is a very big event for Poland. We want to show visitors what a beautiful country we have, how friendly we are and how much change there has been in the 20 years since the arrival of democracy.
I’m very proud of my country’s performance as hosts and comments I heard from visitors like my Reuters colleagues, as well from fans I met, were uniformly positive. Hearing from visiting fans that they will definitely come back is ultimately the best result of this tournament for Poland.