Streets not so green as fascinating city reveals true colours to recovering fans

Sat, Jun 16, 2012, 01:00

EURO 2012 ROAD TRIP: DAY 10:GDANSK THE morning after felt like a wake. But this is a good place to put mere football disappointment into perspective.

It was where the first shots of the second World War were fired. And although you wouldn’t know it from the handsomely reconstructed buildings of its old town, the city was bombed almost to oblivion by the war’s end.

A plaque on City Hall records the contribution of an Irishman whose role will be remembered here long after our 4-0 thumping by the Spanish is forgotten. His name was Seán Lester, a career diplomat who, for three very difficult years in the mid-1930s, served as the League of Nations’ high commissioner in what was then the Free City of Danzig.

It was still an ethnically German city and Hitler wanted to make it politically German too. So for three years, Lester fought a running battle with the Nazis, while warning anyone who would listen what he feared was coming if they weren’t stopped.

For his defence of the local Jewish population, he is remembered now as a Schindler-like figure, and for the same reasons he was once “the most hated man in the Third Reich”: a badge of great honour.

So although it felt like a wake in Gdansk yesterday, it was, as the more philosophical Irish fans reminded themselves, a wake for which nobody had died. The sun rose again, somehow. As did the fans, albeit in many cases half a day later than the sun, by which time the temperatures were balmy enough for many of them to take to the city’s beaches.

Back on the magnificent Ulica Dluga – the pedestrianised main drag of the old town – meanwhile, the atmosphere was a stark contrast to a day earlier, when small pockets of Spanish fans had been hopelessly outnumbered and outsung by the green-shirted masses.

For one thing, there wasn’t nearly so much green around yesterday. But this probably had more to do with personal hygiene – some of those shirts had been lived in for days – than any desertion from the cause.

As Roy Keane might be pleased to hear, there wasn’t much singing either. Outside a cafe on Dluga, a piano player struck up Molly Malone at one point of the afternoon and failed to raise a note out of the Irish fans nearby. Then she tried Y Viva Espana, whereupon she was rewarded with a lusty chorus from the Spanish. We weren’t impressed: they only sing when they’re winning.

As for the Irish fan, well, they’re never at their best before sunset. But there was a feeling yesterday that the choir had temporarily lost its voice. No doubt it was delayed trauma from the night before, when the Fields of Athenry still resounded even at the final whistle.

It’s probably not possible to watch Spain complete 859 passes against the team you’re supporting without suffering some medium-term psychological damage. In fact, the wonder is that, alongside “the Poznan” – the craze invented in that city whereby fans turn their backs to the action – Thursday night’s game didn’t launch “The Gdansk”, a variation in which fans sit facing the action but with hands over their eyes.

In any case, the travelling fanbase is likely to be in recovery mode for another day or two. So with the possible exception of Giovanni Trapattoni, no Irish supporter in Poland yesterday wanted to think about the Italy match yet. It’ll have an interesting subplot when it comes, and we still have the prize of avoiding last place in the group to play for.

Yesterday, however, was about recuperation and exploring a fascinating city. Compulsory stops including Solidarity Place and the shipyards, where the old Soviet Union met its nemesis. And where, once famous from the nightly news, the giant cranes remain an impressive sight: green and a looking bit worse for wear, but still standing tall, like most of the Irish supporters.