Whisper it quietly, because it doesn't make for hard-hitting copy like hooligans kicking lumps out of other hooligans - but Poland are proving to be excellent hosts of the European Championship.
At least that’s the opinion of the Irish fans who have made the beautiful city of Toruń their base for the tournament.
Put off by the extortionate hotel prices of the host cities, many instead chose this university town with a population of around 200,000 that lies in between Poznan and Gdansk.
An Irish fans group called ‘You Boys In Green’ flagged up Toruń as an option for fans and have arranged a convoy of buses to matches, with both cities where Ireland play about three hours' drive away.
The Irish fans here have stumbled across their own type of Polish paradise which has made getting over the defeat to Croatia a wonderfully pleasurable experience.
What they’ve found is a city so strikingly pleasing on the eye that in 1997 its entire old town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sightseeing is a secondary concern for most fans though; a football tournament doesn’t exactly attract the culture vultures, but ‘the important stuff’ in Toruń has all struck the right chord.
For this is a town full of beautiful women, superb (and strong) beer and vodka, delicious food and excellent hotels (my hotel even has a TV in the toilet!)
What’s more, everything is exceptionally cheap – except of course the women, who in the main seem to be taking the bumbling advances of the Irishmen with good humour but polite rejection.
The important stats: the price of a large beer is typically 7zl – which works out at around £1.30 or €1.60 – although there is one bar in the town that is charging just 4zl for their large beers.
The meal below of traditional Polish dumplings, with potato cake, a beer and an espresso cost about £4 and was both tasty and filling.
So quickly has the Polish love affair started for the Irish fans that many abandoned green on Monday for the first time during their trip, instead wearing the red of Poland for their match against Russia.
This is a country that is clearly gripped with football fever. Every ad on television seems to have a football theme, Polish posters and flags are everywhere, many people are proudly wearing ‘Polska’ tops as they walk around town, and the pubs of Toruń were packed for the Russian match, with many sitting and standing in the outside areas of the pub’s old town with chants, often started by Irish fans, spreading from pub to pub during the exciting 1-1 draw.
The standard Polish rallying cry is to the tune of ‘Go West’ and goes 'Polska Bialoczerwoni' (Poland, the white and reds), although us Irish haven’t got a clue on the pronunciation of course and instead sing something that sounds like ‘Polska, yellow Germany’.
Another chant sounded a little like 'Yes, Shay Given' – so that’s how the Irish joined in, while the Irish supporters also adapted some of their own songs, such as the cult classic 'We all dream of team of Gary Breens', to more suit the occasion.
- “And number one is Lewandowski, and number two is Lewandowski, and number three is Lewandowski, and number four is Lewandowski... we all dream of a team of Lewandowskis...”
There have, admittedly, been some disturbing images coming out of Poland so far of trouble around the matches, but to dismiss the whole country as undeserving hosts because of this is unfair. There are idiots everywhere - you could certainly make London look a pretty harrowing place if you selectively put together certain images from the last year.
The people of Toruń could have been resentful about the Irish ‘crashing their party’ but they have been exceptionally friendly and seem to genuinely enjoy the sense of fun the Irish have brought to the town.
There seems to have been no big spike in prices or attempts to rip-off the fans either. One pub even went the extra mile to help out one fan who must have drunk himself into a forgetful state the previous night.
The Irish fans are trying to do their bit too. On the supporters’ coaches, collections are being held to raise money for Toruń’s children hospital. Other fans are going into one of the town’s English schools to talk to the students about Ireland, while some supporters even went into the local prison to play the inmates at table football.
Irish fans travel to Gdansk knowing that if they lose to Spain they are out of the tournament, rendering their final match against Italy effectively meaningless.
However, Poland’s fine draw against Russia means that there is a big match on Saturday night that everyone in Toruń, Irish and Polish alike, can genuinely look forward to.
All together now….
- ‘Polska, yellow Germany!’
This tournament has really been the first that Irish fans have been able to enjoy and document in the ‘digital age’. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist when Ireland played in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea, while cameras on phones were a luxury as opposed to the norm.
Now fans have the chance to share videos and pictures with the folks back home - and already this tournament has produced some gems.
On Twitter, a photo emerged of an Irish fan licking the exposed breast of a female Croatian fan inside the stadium with the hashtag #HeroOrTraitor? The photo of course is not suitable for this website, but anyone who wishes to see it just needs to check out the Twitter timeline of Irish defender Sean St Ledger, who tweeted the picture, exonerated the fan - and gave him legendary status.
There is also a great video of Kevin Kilbane impressively rapping the Vanilla Ice song 'Ice, Ice, Baby' to a group of fans in Gdansk, but perhaps my favourite is the video captured below.
As Irish and Croatian fans travelled to the stadium in Poznan by tram, Irish fans decide to pick a novel song to drown out their Croatian counterparts – the theme song from Australian soap ‘Home and Away.’ As random as it is brilliant.
- ‘Hold me in your arms, don’t let me go, I want to stay forever, closer each day, home and away.’