This morning, I share the disappointment of 40 million Polish people who are waking up with a knot in the pit of their stomach, that feeling familiar to all football fans which means your club or country have just gone out of a major competition. Over the past three weeks I have come to share the hopes and dreams of the 'Biało-Czerwoni' or the White and Reds, so it's with a heavy heart that I sit down to compose my thoughts the morning after Poland's defeat by the Czech Republic.
I used the last page of my notepad to record last night's post-match press conference notes, so maybe it was meant to be this way. My new Polish friends will certainly tell me that. Despite their obvious pride in themselves as a nascent western democracy, one thing which has taken me by surprise has been the level of fatalism when it comes to the fortunes of their national football team.
As a native Scot, I should be more familiar than most with that feeling, but in the run-up to the Czech Republic game, I was struck by the overwhelming sense of foreboding among the supporters. Even coach Franciszek Smuda subconsciously got in on the act, thanking our UEFA film crew after "our last interview". As it turned out he was right, but it did leave me wondering whether this overt pessimism is something that relates to this current national side or is part of the nation's psyche.
Whether that feeling transmitted itself to the players on the pitch is debatable, but one inescapable truth is that this current Poland side passed up an excellent opportunity to make history by reaching the knockout stage for the first time. Pitted against Russia, Greece and Czech Republic, the co-hosts could hardly have hand-picked a more favourable group. Even after drawing their first two games, the opportunity was still there in the final fixture until Rafał Murawski surrendered possession in midfield to present the Czechs with a path to goal and the quarter-finals. Fear of success or fear of failure? In future, maybe Poland should believe in themselves more.
So it's 'do widzenia' and 'dziękuję Polska', thank you and goodbye Poland. In my time here, I have seen some fantastic matches in impressive modern stadiums, experienced the generous hospitality of the Polish people and made friendships that will hopefully stand the test of time. Above all else, that is the enduring legacy of tournaments like UEFA EURO 2012 – the ability to bring different nations and people together, all in the name of football.
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