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Marvellous people, fantastic stadium, great result!

This was my first visit to the UK, said Jurek Barcik, and I will remember it for a lifetime. Jurek, a language school owner from Kraków, took time off from a short business trip to London to attend the World Cup qualifier game between Wales and Poland on Saturday June 2 at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. I thought the British were supposed to be cold, he said, but the people we met, from all corners of the United Kingdom, were really marvellous and friendly.

Jurek travelled to Cardiff with Michael Houten, British Studies Coordinator for the British Council Poland. Thanks to their friend, Grzegorz Pater, the Wisła Kraków player who is in the Polish squad, Jurek and Michael were able to meet the players before the game at their hotel on the outskirts of Cardiff. And as you can see from the photos, they also met distinguished figures from the Polish Football Association, (Listkiewicz), soccer giants from the past (Lubański and Boniek), and one particular ghost who still haunts English football (Tomaszewski). When asked by Michael about the outcome of the game, Boniek was in confident mood: Poland will win.

Visitors to the new Millennium Stadium, which has hosted an impressive number of sporting occasions since its reconstruction, such as the Rugby World Cup Final, the FA Cup final, and the Football League play-offs, are immediately struck by what is not only a marvellous piece of architecture but also a fantastic venue for any live events. Every aspect of the stadium organisation is brilliant, said Jurek, from the first rate facilities and the friendly stewards to the fantastic atmosphere which the stadium generates.

In the crowd of 47,000, there was a healthy Polish contingent of over 6,000, who made enough noise for five times their number, outsinging the nation with a reputation for great voices. And interestingly enough, about half these Polish fans were permanently resident in the UK. Jurek was sat next to a Polish couple from Manchester and Michael to an accountant from London who had left Warsaw at the age of 5. English may have been the language of their heads, but it was clear that Polish was still that of the heart.

And the game itself? The result for me was not really that important, said Jurek (well, he would say that, as Poland were virtually certain to qualify anyway), although we were the better side and deserved to win. Neutral observers tended to agree: after a shaky start when they conceded a sloppy goal to Blake (Arsenal will hope Dudek has safer hands next season), Poland took a grip on the game and always looked the better balanced side, despite missing several regular players. Goals from Olisadebe in the first half and substitute Kryszałowicz in the second gave them a 1-2 victory. As for that Giggs ‘miss’, while it may have been heartbreaking for Welsh fans, it was probably gratifying for millions of ‘park’ players round the world to be able to admit such an illustrious star into the ‘I’ve missed a sitter’ club.

In defeat the Welsh fans were magnaminious, displaying tremendous hospitality to their Polish guests. We were invited to an Irish bar near the ground, explained Jurek, and had a great time with Welsh and Irish fans, swapping shirts and singing songs. Almost too great a time, as the pair, along with a large number of other Polish fans, just about made the last train to London.

On the flight back to Kraków a day later Jurek commented on some of the cultural differences he had noticed in his brief stay. It was very strange for me to see pedestrians ignoring stop signs on traffic lights, the distance people in queues kept from each other, and an absence of what I would call very drunk people in pubs. I realise though that I can’t generalise about the British from a short visit to London and Cardiff! He also was struck by certain cultural similarities. When it comes down to it, people are really very much the same, he said. Sport is one of those areas which enables cultural barriers to come down. While Wales and Northern Ireland’s chances of reaching the World Cup Finals in 2002 now look slim, let’s hope that Scotland, England, and the Republic of Ireland join Poland in Korea and Japan and that the fans of all the countries involved use the occasion for the marvellous intercultural festival it can be.


To see more articles on sport, visit the Sport issue of the web pages.


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