Watching Poland lose in a Polski Social Klub
Czech Republic 1-0 Poland, June 16
June 20 ~ "Polska" is the chant from more or less everybody in the Polski Social Klub in Portswood, on the outskirts of Southampton, where several hundred of the city's sizeable Polish community have gathered to watch their homeland's win-or-bust Euro 2012 group game with the Czech Republic. Where better to get a feel for how the co-hosts are enjoying the tournament, I thought, as I turned up alone and uninvited to be given a Polish flag on a stick. The main hall is crammed full of people of all ages, who sit squeezed together on benches. Beneath the Polish coat of arms and a crucifix is a large projector screen.
Children creak their necks up to watch from their cross-legged position on the wooden floor. Many of them demonstrate far greater concentration spans than kids their age are given credit for, particularly during large chunks of the second-half, when Poland's lack of opportunities could have tempted them to go outside and play.
The bar has already done a roaring trade when Zbigniew Boniek pops up on screen for an interview. One or two crow's feet may be etched upon his face, but with his neatly coiffured hair and moustache Boniek looks no different from the day he scored a hat-trick against Belgium in the 1982 World Cup. Dressed in a suit and speaking in measured tones he looks like a firm but fair police detective from the pages of an Elmore Leonard novel. The blend of alcohol and wistfulness doesn't have the effect I imagined, and his appearance goes by without any fanfare. Nostalgia-fests don't seem to be the Poles' bag.
With space at a premium I manage to find standing room by the fire exit, where language is less of a barrier than the noise from the vuvuzelas in the hall. It's not long before the majority are off their seats to celebrate a goal. It is only when Petr Cech gathers the ball from the outside of the side netting to a take goal kick that they realise Dariusz Dudka's volley ended up the wrong side of the post.
The language barrier could be preventing me from picking it up, but there doesn't seem to be that boorish sense of self-entitlement, usually expressed by sighs and tuts, you get all too often when watching England games. England might expect, but Poland seem a little more philosophical. Being saddled with the record of never having won a game in the European Championships probably doesn't help.
With his hairline retreating, the Czech's Petr Jiracek has clearly decided to give long hair once last go before it goes the way of Terry Nutkins. Having made a nuisance of himself during the first half, Jiracek leaves the Polish defence on their backsides and opens the scoring. The goal is acknowledged with a brief period of silence, but it isn't long before the vuvuzelas are at it again.
Poland throw the kitchen sink at Cech. Sadly, he is wearing his protective helmet and their efforts amount to nothing. Under the circumstances I didn't think a Polish goal or two was too much for ask for. I had driven here, forsaking company and alcohol, to piggy-back another nation's euphoria, so the least Robert Lewandowski could do was bring his club form to town. He sliced his best opportunity wide.
By the looks of things, I am the only one cheesed off by it all. People have now turned their attention to the bar and the food. In the gents a man tries to tell me I have I mistaken the towel dispenser for the hand dryer. "You could have had four goals," I say, holding up the fingers on my wet left hand. "Maybe, but the thing is we're…" he stops to search for the right description before settling for "shit".
Finally, some criticism to stem the disappointment; but Poland, the co-hosts, are out of the European Championships. There are no tears, no fervent post-match autopsy and certainly no reason to allow the result of a game of football to spoil a good night. Mark Sanderson