Trap's Army hug rival fans into submission


POZNAN LETTER:MY FRIEND reacted with astonishment to the news that Spain did, in fact need, a bailout. “What the . . .?” he asked. “A bailout? Have they lost another striker?” It took a few seconds for it to become clear that we were talking about the actual real world – ravaged economies, austerity, all of that. Because all weekend, Poznan has been locked into its own little Croatian-Irish rejection of anything approaching problems.

From Friday night to Monday morning, the Irish and their Croatian friends drank the Stare Miasto dry without coming up for air. From the start, the Croatians were outnumbered. They tried to make themselves heard and made a show of marching through the square singing their complex dirges. These were drowned out by 15,000 Irish men singing Stand Up for the Boys in Green. Before the Croatian drummers knew it, they had been reduced to providing rhythm for a particularly heartfelt rendition (is there any other kind?) of The Fields of Athenry.

At around midnight on Saturday, a local man in his 70s stood on the corner of the square looking in amazement at the bedlam unfolding before him. The antics – the songs, the drunkenness, the wilful daftness – must seem almost miraculous to the elder generation here, who are old enough to remember their city’s slow recovery from the devastation of the second World War and the many Sunday evenings during the Communist decades when the Market Square was deserted and silent. These were people who marched just for basic rights: all this drink and celebration and frivolity over something as privileged as a football match must be bewildering to them.

The Irish wasted little time in convincing the Poznan locals that their reputation for being happy drunks is based on hard fact and hard liquor. The best fans in the world gave a remarkable exhibition of all-day and all-night drinking. Some could handle it but you didn’t have to go far before you saw the fallen among Trap’s Army scattered across the square. A few green-shirted forms lay passed out in doorways and alleys, sound asleep, possibly having fallen victim to exhaustion as much as the local brew, which packs a hefty percentage. Others staggered uncertainly across the broad cobblestone square, caught in that state between losing and regaining their balance that looks like a permanent stumble. There is only word for this level of drunkenness: buckled. Lads were buckled. Everywhere.

In the early hours of the morning, some class of a riot “erupted” in the Main Square. It apparently involved a row between the Poles and the Croatians. There are several views as to why this happened: historical tensions, macho posturing etc. The most likely reason is that they just snapped once the Irish crowd in the tent outside Brovaria embarked on their 89th rendition of The Fields of Athenry.

In fairness to the Poles and Croatians, there were so many heavily armed police around the square it would have been impolite not to stage some class of a fight. The police presence more or less demanded it and once the first few punches were aimed and a few café chairs lobbed towards the other side, the police wasted little time in chucking a few outraged Poles and Croatians into armoured vans and leaving the square clear.

I’m not sure what visiting fans would have to do to get a row going with the Irish fans. They are farcically good humoured and the closest they come to violence is administering slobbery bear hugs to whoever happens to wander into their path.

On Sunday, the party continued in the square. The trams out to the stadium were crowded with green shirts, still dancing, still singing. It was warm and fat drops of rain began to appear at around 4pm . . . it must have seemed like an Irish bank holiday weekend, except with incredibly cheap drink.

The best Irish flag reads: Angela Merkel Thinks I’m At Work. The best overheard line was between two young Irish gigolos consoling each other: “You were getting on great with the mother”. Best improvised sign went to the Irish lads who stood in front of a stony faced line of riot police and held up two cardboard slogans bearing the immortal Father Ted line: Down with this sort of thing.

By 5pm yesterday afternoon, reports were filtering through about more scuffles between local fans and the Croatians. But by then, most people were heading out to the stadium. The thought must have occurred to many that the best way of knocking the Croatians out would be to have 25,000 Irish fans exhaling in their direction at the same time.

Half an hour to kick-off and the Irish team were introduced to the sound of Sirius, the Alan Parsons tune that has been the theme tune for the Chicago Bulls basketball team since the heyday of Michael Jordan, a good omen surely.

It is just before kick-off and the teams are coming out. This perfect little rectangle of a stadium is fairly trembling and when you see the Irish team walking out and the fevered reaction in the green bedecked stands, you become lost for words and there is nothing to do but sit back and just look. Look at that!

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