Irish soccer fan Deirdre Power from Tralee, Co. Kerry, traveled to Poland with her boyfriend Damien and his brother Gavin to support the Irish team. Here she writes about her experience, the highs and lows of the trip, and the amazing Irish spirit, which has earned Irish soccer fans a special award from UEFA.

It’s December and we book flights from Dublin to Warsaw with Aer Lingus. With the help of Gosia (Polish friend) we secured a campervan for our trip. We did everything we could to try and secure match tickets including entering countless tickets and direct emails to John Delaney. A quick shop around Ebay and we had our wigs, t-shirts, jerseys and flags. Our flag had a large green Homer Simpson bursting thru the flag and the tag line of “Up The Duff” on it. You can take your own meaning from it as there is several!

The time had finally arrived.  We watched the Croatia game at home thinking we were going to have at least a result and everything else would be great……opps. Ever the optimist I still believed they had some hope.

The check in desks at Dublin airport were littered with jerseys from Packie Bonner’s yellow jersey from 1990 to the new kit. It was great to see so much color and the excitement was building. We took our seats on the plane and I think I counted four women on the flight. Well it was a soccer tournament after all!

We arrived in Warsaw and got our campervan. One rule was made before departure “No one uses the Campervan toilet” then there would be no arguments about cleaning it out.

So we were on the road and the GPS set to Gdansk, about a five hour journey. Gavin & Damien shared the driving. A few hic-ups along the way but we finally arrived in Gdansk about midnight.
The next morning (Thursday) it was all systems go for the Spanish game. We had got a call the previous day that there were tickets around for the Spain game so we ended up paying €250.00 each per ticket.

We made our way into the fan camp in the middle of Gdansk to soak up the atmosphere which was great. The organizers opened these massive fan camps where thousands of fans enjoyed the music, food and drink of course. With all these fans in one place there were bursts of spontaneous singing around the camp with chants from ‘sit down for the boys in green’ which led to ‘shoes off to the boys in green’ where everyone took off their shoes and jumped around with them. It was a great build up.

We got a taxi to the stadium and as we walked up the steps to our seats you could feel this tension and excitement building. Could we actually beat or even get a point against Spain. We got to half time with just one goal down. As the rain poured down the only good thing at this point was that we were covered by the giant stands. Once the second half started the Irish fans were great; song after song after song. It was really great to hear the chants sung by 99 per cent of the stadium. There was a load of Polish in their own shirts with Irish hats and scarfs on which were joining in on the singing. We hit the 48 minute mark and Silva bangs in a goal. It was terrible we knew we were lucky to get to half time with just one goal down but now two…it knocked us for six. And then Torres wasn’t finished yet 70minute he hits the net for the second time. It was definitely over.

Then Spain bring Fabregas off their bench and bang he scores from a corner. This was the final nail in Ireland’s Euro 2012 coffin. We were truly miserable and deflated.

Then something really special happened a rendition of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ made its way around the stadium. A bit down beat at the beginning and then it gathered voices and heart. Every single verse got louder and louder, the Irish fans were truly amazing. I think there was only five minutes to go in the game and all you could hear was thousands of fans singing as one. This spontaneous burst of song gave you that feeling that something special was happening, the hair on the back of my neck was up and I had goose bumps all over. It was just brill. “The Fields of Athenry” was as loud as ever and the Irish fans were singing as if they had just won the final. I was delighted to be part of this special moment.

When woke up the following morning we were still talking about the end of the Spain game and how great we really are as a nation. Our team lost 4-0 and we are singing our hearts out.

At breakfast we sat with a daily Irish newspaper (they were handed out free every morning at the campsites to Irish fans) and read about Roy Keane and his comments. I believe he really likes to go against the grain and likes to have the headlines for the very wrong reasons. Don’t get me wrong I have great respect for him as a player but only when he has been successful as a manager then I will take him seriously. Get a life Roy- all this bitterness will make you ill. I think this was an outlet for the Irish fans not to be thinking of recession, job losses, rising bill prices etc. It was a holiday for most of us and we were going to make the most of it win, lose or draw.

We moved onto a lovely place called Sopot just outside Gdansk for the following two days just until we were to make our way to Poznan for the Italy game. There we met a group of young lads from South Kerry who converted an old school bus to facilitate four bunks and four seats while driving. It was gas. They had a block of wood holding the handbrake up in place. Not for the faint hearted driving through Europe but they had great stories of their adventure.

The following day we made our journey to Poznan. We checked into our fan campsite and unloaded the outdoor chairs and tables and relaxed for a few hours. There was close to 200 campervans in this site and 198 of them were Irish. I only made out two Italian vans.

It was great to see all the flags draped across the bonnets of all the vans some with their local towns and local pubs written on them. Then others with “go home to your granny” with a picture of Stephen Ireland on it. We got ourselves in order by having showers, not a nice experience at all being a woman in a camp site mostly full of fellas with just shower curtains between everyone. Then a trip to the loo was even worse. There was about 20 port a loos in the site and they had to be the worst thing about the whole trip. Just imagine having to gag every time you enter one- it was just terrible and when the heat hit 30degrees worse they got. Eventually we made the decision to use the toilet facilities in the bars we were drinking in rather than having to use them again.

We went into the old town square in Poznan and it was mighty craic. The chants were coming from all different corners of the square with a real carnival atmosphere. There was footballs being kicked into the air and you were constantly on the look out for one landing on your head but it was all in good spirits. In all the time and the few cities we had been thru we did not see any trouble on the streets or in the bars.

There was an air of excitement the next day in the campsite as everyone was getting themselves in gear for the Italy and final Irish game of the tournament. It was as if we were going to enjoy this no matter what. We knew there was no hope but sure why not enjoy ourselves at the same time.

At the stadium that night it was great again with all the singing and chat with everyone around us. We had a great start to the game -well by that I mean we didn’t leave in a goal in the first five minutes actually we didn’t leave in a goal in the first 35minutes which was good considering the other two games.

So we were beaten 2-0 and defiantly heading home (we knew that already). The singing continued after the game but it was nothing like the spontaneous “The Fields of Athenry” during the Spain game. So we made our way back to the old town square in what can only be described as a vicious lightening storm, had a few drinks and back to the campervan.

We decided to make our way to Warsaw a day early and give back the campervan and spend the night there prior to our early flight the following morning. So we made the five hour journey with no bumpy roads, only a motorway that wasn’t finished and did not appear on any of our two GPS, back to Warsaw. We got the deposit back and I got my sister (a travel agent) to book us into a hotel. It was perfect. We had roasting hot showers and scrubbed ourselves to death for fear we could still smell the port a loo off us.

We were just a 15 minute walk from the square where we grabbed a meal and watched the England v Ukraine game with a few drinks. There was very sad and sick heads at the check in desks all making the journey home the next morning. We picked up a few gifts, magnets, soccer balls and vodka and made our way to the departure gate. It was a much quieter flight home than it was on the way over but I am sure everyone had a great time.

The bad things about the trip were;
Bumpy Roads.
Match Results.
Roy Keane.
Port a loos.
Cold Showers.

The good things about the trip were;
Great Fans.
Cheap Drink.
The Fields of Athenry.
Hotel showers in Warsaw.
Beautiful old Town Squares in every City.
Polish Birds (the boys input).

Irish fans supporting the DuffGoogle Images