Season 5 - Poland PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark W   
Friday, 19 October 2012 21:21

Poland v England – World Cup Qualifier (Nearly)


National Stadium, Warsaw


Tuesday 16th October 2012, 21:00 K.O. (local time) except it didn’t





I didn’t really know whether I should be doing a report for this or not. The reports are supposed to be for when we take the flag to a game in a new ground. This certainly doesn’t meet those criteria as I never saw a game… and the flag didn’t make it in either. As I went with all good intentions, however, (and I won’t be going back any time soon) I will make an exception.


I will vary from the usual format by having my say on the big issue of the day first before moving on to how the trip went.


Whenever you go to a football match, you take a gamble. When you leave home you can never be 100% certain that you will get to see the game and the further you are travelling, the higher that likelihood becomes. Even when popping up to Boundary Park, the floodlights can fail or the fog can roll in. When going abroad, flights can get delayed, coaches can break down, and yes, the weather can force the game to be called off. The risk you take is calculated though. You book flights with a four hour connection because you are worried that an hour won’t be long enough, you fly out the day before because you know there are options if it gets cancelled. While I am happy to take these small gambles and live with the consequences, I am always assuming that those with responsibilities for ensuring the game goes ahead have an ounce of competence.


The weather forecast for Tuesday didn’t change in the week running up to the game. It was always going to rain, and it was always going to be getting heavier and heavier as the day went on. When the rain started to turn into more than a light shower about 1pm somebody, be it a member of the Polish FA or someone from FIFA had to make the basic, common sense decision to shut the roof. I appreciate that there may be restrictions on when it can be closed based upon the amount of standing water upon it, but if the decision is made at the right time that does not become as issue.


I do not know who’s decision it was, but whoever it was failed miserably. In my mind, that failure leaves them liable for the fact that I did not get to see a game of football and potentially makes them liable for at least a proportion of the money that I splashed out on getting to that game.


While I appreciate that the FA are trying to make some amends to the travelling fans by offering ticket refunds and a free training session, it is not them that should be shelling out and that, while welcome, is really a drop in the ocean (not intended as a water related pun) compared with the cost of the trip.


Anyway, enough of that…


This wasn’t my average away trip even before the fiasco. This one wasn’t all about drinking and not remembering half the game (yes, ok, I get the irony).


When I’d first booked up several months ago, I had assumed that at least one of the usual gang would end up booking at least a similar trip but it seemed that work commitments and a lack of holidays after the Euros meant that day trips were the order of the day. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though. A group of us would inevitably lead to far too long in the pub so I was determined to make the most of a bit of time to myself for some sightseeing.


As usual, the route was far from straight forward and started with an early morning flight to Katowice. I did think I’d strayed into the wrong country before even leaving Manchester airport though as the Tartan Army were out in force en route to Belgium. Looking back on it, I think I’d rather sit in a stadium watching the rain come down for 90 minutes than follow Scotland!


Katowice is pretty much as described in the guide books. There is nothing there to look at. Most Polish cities are famed as picturesque but somehow this place missed out. It is just an ugly city and I really struggled to fill in a couple of hours between getting the coach from the airport and my train leaving for Warsaw.






and the station might be quite nice once they have built it.


New Station


At the moment though, it’s not the best


Old Station


although I did like the retro timetable




All in all, I was not disappointed when the train finally arrived and I could head for Warsaw. I must admit that I was a bit wary when the train arrived but actually it was very comfortable and despite being a little on the slow side provided a decent option for getting to the capital.




I’ve never claimed to have any kind of a sense of direction and upon arriving in Warsaw, I didn’t disappoint. I’d summoned a number of maps before travelling and as I came out of the station for some reason thought I would know where I was. I was with a couple of lads I’d been speaking to in Katowice and they were in a similar position, except they had a bit better sense of direction. I decided that I would head off with them using a bizarre logic that all hotels would probably be somewhere near each other. To cut a long story short, after they’d quickly found their hotel, I ended up back at the station, in the tourist information about an hour later. My hotel was described at the Ibis Centrum. Centrum my arse. It was about a ten minutes tram ride away but I couldn’t have walked it.


Having got the hang of the trams (ish) I headed into the Old Town after a quick freshen up and was very impressed. Plenty of grandiose buildings, a view of the stadium and no shortage of bars and restaurants.


Old Town 1


Old Town 2


Old Town 3


Having only had about ten hours sleep in the last three days, I had a very sensible evening. After a bit of grub I met up with a number of lads that I know from going to games in a couple of pubs around the Old Town. This included an Irish bar on the outskirts which appeared to have been adopted as the home from home by many. Can’t say I’m the biggest fan of Irish bars but there weren’t that many options if you didn’t want to be the only Englishman in there. The gathering in here included an employee of the FA who shall remain nameless but it’s safe to say that he takes his duties of mixing with the fans very seriously including sharing a drink or twenty.


The next morning I felt much better for an early night and was up and out to see just what Warsaw had to offer culturally before the day trips arrived.


What a fantastic city. I walked around for probably three hours and round every corner was another impressive building. I don’t know what I was really expecting but the contrast with Katowice really couldn’t have been clearer.


Warsaw 1


Warsaw 2


Warsaw 3


Warsaw 4


Warsaw 5


The war memorial was only bettered by the one I saw in Kazakhstan


War memorial


while I liked the fact that the tomb of the Unknown Soldier was constantly guarded.


Unknown Soldier


None of us can really imagine how much the Poles suffered during the war but it is wonderful to see how much respect they show for their dead.


Probably the strangest thing I saw, however, was down at Praski Park just the other side of the river from the Old Town where they have two brown bears living on a concrete island… as you do.




By the time I’d finished my sightseeing and met up with Peter near the station about 12.30 it had just started spitting so we disappeared under a big umbrella outside a bar. Even on a sober trip, it was clearly time for a drink.


After a quick pint we got the tram back to the Old Town and the rain started to get a bit heavier so we sampled a couple of proper traditional bars where the beer was of varying quality but the atmosphere was good. Plenty of lads out for a few drinks before the game without getting too excited. There’s times when I am up for a bit of a sing song outside a pub but this wasn’t one of them so this suited me down to the ground.


Local pub


The rain was getting heavier, but still wasn’t too bad when we decided it was time to grab some food. And what a choice we made here. I’d passed what looked like a tiny little restaurant earlier in one of the squares in the old town which was advertising Wiener Schnitzel, always a favourite in Eastern Europe so we headed in there. This place was like the TARDIS. It was huge inside with the upstairs opening out into several dining rooms. Being about 4.30pm on a Tuesday you would imagine it would be quiet but it was heaving. Clearly this was a favourite with the locals and we were about to find out why. The schnitzels were overhanging the dinner plates and were accompanied with salad and no shortage of potatoes. The Tyskie’s came in litre glasses. The prices looked too good to be true too but we weren’t going to argue. It took us a while to polish everything off and even more impressive than our food was watching a table with a group of young girls getting stuck into the beers. One very slim young lady polished off two and a half steins in the time it took us to have one each. They don’t make them like that in England. Oh, and when the bill came we could only laugh… Just over nine quid between us.


By the time it was time for us to head to the ground, the downpour had truly begun. Despite this, Peter somehow convinced me to walk. We had a bit of a trek to either the station or tram stop and by the time we got to the first tram we were that wet there didn’t seem much point getting on. Having been to the ground in the morning on the tram, I had not fully appreciated just how far it was and it probably took us the best part of an hour from the Old Town. Not a disaster though as it got us there about 75 minutes before kick off (or scheduled kick off I guess).


I should point out that while waking down to the ground, at no point did I consider that the game could be in doubt. Not closing the roof wasn’t even a thought that crossed any of our minds.


There were already a number of England fans hanging around and we arrived just in time to see a group try to force their way past the cordon. There had been plenty around all day looking for tickets and clearly not all had been successful. I don’t know whether this incident worked against us but the steward on the gate chose the moment to come over all officious when it came to taking the flag through. I was told that it was too big as FIFA rules state a maximum size of 2 x 1.5m. To be honest, it probably does exceed that but we are only talking fractions. I tried to negotiate but she was having none of it and I had to take it to a hut where I was given a receipt for collection later.


I did manage to get a picture outside although the couple who held it were not really up to the task. She looks like she really doesn’t want to be there and he is clearly not up to holding it properly. You can tell what it is though so better than nothing.




Aesthetically the ground is superb. The state of Katowice station and the fact that Warsaw Modlin airport has only been open a month shows that Poland had more than a few issues with hitting deadlines for the Euros but you can’t say that they didn’t build a hell of an impressive ground. Aesthetics are not the key factor though, are they?




Inside Ground


Once inside, the state of the pitch was an immediate concern although at 8pm it was bad rather than horrendous. We met up with Ian and Mark, fellow Oldham fans and it was only after talking to them for twenty minutes or so that I first said “This game’s in doubt”. Even then there was an overriding view that this was an over-reaction. It was a World Cup qualifier, there must be a plan in place.


Getting wetter


As the minutes ticked on it was clear that there was no plan. It was far too late to put the roof on and the pitch was becoming more and more flooded. Everyone was on the phone home as there were no announcements being made and eventually the ref came out to do a pitch inspection. If things were already a farce they were about to get a whole lot worse.


If you’ve not seen that first pitch inspection, here’s a taste of it:


Once he’d dropped the ball once, he knew everything he needed to know yet he carried on moving round the pitch seemingly looking for a dry spot. At least he was providing us with some humour. We waited for an announcement and eventually came the only message that we were given all night:




Pardon? What did they think was going to happen. The pitch was flooded and the rain was heavier than it had been all day. What exactly were we going to gain by waiting 45 minutes. The Poles were already pouring out of the ground but we didn’t really have anywhere to go and it wasn’t clear whether we were locked in anyway so we decided that we might as well sit it out.


I’m glad we did as we got to see the only real entertainment of the night as two Poles ran onto the pitch, evaded stewards several times and eventually celebrated with eccentric swan dives. It’s not often that everyone in a ground is united in one cause but these two were cheered from all four stands


The second pitch inspection was as bad as the first. This time the ref tried to kick the ball and surprise surprise it wasn’t happening. We didn’t hang around for an announcement which was for the best as I don’t believe one was ever made.


The trip back to the hotel in dripping clothes wasn’t fun. I managed to get a train into time but the trams were then stopped due to some trouble which I believe had broken out by the ground so I had to walk half way back to the hotel before picking up a tram on another line.


While many England fans were busy trying to organise alternative transport home on the Thursday I was resigned to the fact that was not an option for me. I needed to be back for work and I’d pushed my luck with my wife enough already. I didn’t fancy arriving home to find the locks changed. On the bright side I had enough time for almost 2 hours sleep before I needed to be up to dry my jeans and trainers using the hairdryer in the room and get a bus to the airport.


The drama wasn’t quite over as I ended up stood on a freezing cold runway at Modlin airport after the fire alarm went off. I was convinced I was going to wake up and it would be one bizarre dream. Perhaps I’d had more to drink the night before than I thought I had.


Eventually the fire/bomb/whatever was sorted and I was able to fly home via Milan. On the Milan to Manchester leg we had Mario Balotelli on the flight. What a cock he is, but that’s another story.


I believe England drew with Poland the following day but I was sat at my desk at work at the time and haven’t had chance to watch any highlights. Not quite how I had planned things but I live to fight another day. Only 4 weeks until Sweden in Stockholm.

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