By Stephen Alkin
After what seems like an interminable wait, the Euro 2012 competition is about to begin.
This comes to you from the third floor of the Park Hotel Diament in Wroclaw, strategically located away from all distraction and close to the airport that is our link for the next ten days or so.
It is your average hotel but packed to the rafters. The Municipal Stadium is about 10km away, the venue for our first game, Russia v Czech Republic, at 8.45pm local time this evening.
I’m writing this as a break from the research that is part and parcel of the commentator’s lot, the hours of trawling online and hard copy to find the juicy bits that may or may not make it air during our first game.
I’m here with Brian Kerr, well-known to all football fans for his lifetime love and passion for the beautiful game. Our trio is completed by Liam Nolan, a freelance Producer/Director/Writer, who lives in Warsaw and will be my minder for most of the tournament.
We arrived on Wednesday night and have made a couple of visits to the centre of Wroclaw. It is a medium sized city of about 650,000 on the River Oder in Lower Silesia. Not much happens here normally, the pace seems quite slow, people go about their business, just like anywhere.
Then the Euro 2012 circus arrives and all of a sudden there are fans visiting from all over – we met quite a few Irish supporters including Jim O’Neill from Waterford, the former League of Ireland referee, and a group he was with, suitably boisterous and looking forward to the feast of football ahead.
I remember my first encounter with Brian Kerr. It was back in the mid-80s when he was the manager of St Patrick’s Athletic. I was a sub-editor working in the RTÉ TV sport department.
Brian had agreed to allow me to film a feature for the Soccer Stadium section of Sports Stadium, our weekly mix of live and recorded sport that disappeared off your screens back in 1997.
The idea was that I’d go along with a camera, film the team warming up, get shots of Brian doing his pre-match, half-time and post match team talks.
Along with an interview I’d put together a profile piece on one of the up-and-coming young managers in the league (Brian was only in his early thirties back then).
For a young guy like me it was a privilege to get this kind of opportunity.
I was only making my way on the production side of my career. My editor, Mike Horgan, thought this would make a good little story for Soccer Stadium, our weekly look at soccer at home and abroad.
All was going well - we shot the various pieces before and during the game. The only problem was that St Pat’s lost the game unexpectedly to Bray Wanderers by the only goal.
Despite that, Brian still graciously allowed us to finish the piece and do the post-match interview. However, I left Inchicore that evening in no doubt that that would be the last time a camera would be allowed in the dressing room so long as Brian was the manager.
Our presence was blamed for the defeat, I guess someone had to take the criticism.
Since then I have been very wary about asking too much of managers and players around matches. There is a ‘no-go zone’ that is difficult to describe around every dressing room and every team.
They have their way of doing things and they do not like it to be compromised by the likes of a camera or ‘outsiders’. And outsiders is what we were made to feel that day, make no bones about it.
This evening there will be four international teams going through their last minute preparations before the defining first games at this championship.
The laws of the game they play under are identical to those administered by referees all over the world at every level of the game.
In the same way as St Pats 27 years ago and every game at every level, those international players from Poland, Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic will have their way of doing things, their little habits and idiosyncrasies, their order of dressing, the way they tie their laces, their warm-up procedures, all carefully choreographed and designed to make each individual feel at ease when the big game starts.
The last thing they’d need is some cub reporter or cameraman unsettling their best laid plans. And in that there is no difference to the scene in Richmond Park all those years ago and the players on the biggest stage. It’s all about doing their best as individuals and team!
As for my predictions for this tournament, I’d better put my colours on the mast before a ball is kicked in earnest:
Best outside bet: Sweden
Ireland: Qualify after beating Croatia on Sunday
Golden boot: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
England: Home after group stage
Enjoy the football – but don’t let it lead to any rows…..