/ Euro 2012

View from Warsaw Airport: Stephen Alkin

Updated: Saturday, 09 Jun 2012 16:05

For those of you who don't remember - Pat Nevin in a Chelsea jersey
For those of you who don't remember - Pat Nevin in a Chelsea jersey

We are on the second leg of our journey - Brian Kerr, Liam Nolan and I - en route from Wroclaw to Gdansk, via Warsaw.

That’s a bit like going from Cork to Belfast via London – the vagaries of being in the hands of travel agents. Imagine our surprise this morning on arriving in Wroclaw airport to see a queue of people for a direct flight to Gdansk!

It makes you wonder why we aren’t on that. That kind of circumstance comes with the territory – really, this is not a complaint, just an observation.

The people one meets on these journeys are many and varied. Our first encounter today was with Pat Nevin, probably best known for his days at Chelsea in the 1980s and with Scotland.

He’s working for BBC Radio Five Live as a commentator and was on his way to Warsaw. That’s where Liam lives with his wife Aga, so there were tips to be given on where to go. Pat is a big fan of music and was happy to have some places to visit in the next few days.

Personally, all I’m interested in on this trip is the football. The first thing we’ll do on arriving in Gdansk will be to find a good place to watch this evening’s games in Group B, the first in the Ukraine.

It is so vital to see every minute of every game, where possible. It fills in so much of the nuance of the tournament as it unfolds from first day to final.

Pat is a big Hibernian fan. We chatted about his connection and on how both he and Brian feel Pat Fenlon is doing as manager of the Easter Road club. They both agree that he will do very well there.

I was telling Pat that I was in Munich, as a Chelsea fan, with my son Daniel. He had to make a choice between an invitation to the final from Chelsea Football Club, where he is still considered a legend, or going to see his beloved Hibs try and win theire first Scottish cup final in 110 years against arch rivals, Hearts. He chose Hampden Park and an absolute hammering for his team. Wrong choice Pat!

Brian was recounting his association with Pat Fenlon when he was a callow youth just returned from Chelsea to play for St Patrick’s Athletic. What was very apparent was Brian’s brilliant recall of those days, every detail and nuance.

Pat Nevin, on the other hand, remembers very little from his playing days. He recently watched a highlights programme of Chelsea versus West Bromwich Albion from his playing days on ESPN.

Remarkably, he could not remember one thing about that game, one of hundreds he played in a long and illustrious career. For those of you that never saw him play, he was a brilliant winger, small, quick and skilful.

Anyway, he’s watching this game, and he’s playing in it, and he didn’t know the score or the fact that he scored two goals in the match, until he saw them unfold before his eyes. We have that much in common at least – that we both have an ability to forget things from the past.

As we both agreed, it’s that wonderful ability to watch a movie for the second or third time and not know what’s coming next – or how it will end.

The flight was uneventful. On arrival here in Warsaw airport, where we have two hours to kill, my first job is to find a plug socket and get the computer going, both to fill in the blanks from yesterday, stats etc, and to have access to emails etc.

We found a café on the way to our gate 27. I was about to sit down and get to work. A man came over to me and showed me a photograph on his phone. It was of a colleague of his who had been beaten up in Wroclaw two weeks ago because he was wearing his accreditation around his neck.

The perpetrator of this ghastly act – and, believe me, this man’s injuries were quite severe, lacerations to his face – was trying to steal the man’s credentials.

And the man in the bar came over because I was wearing mine, as I normally do on these trips, and to warn me that it may not be a good idea.

He spoke in an English accent. I asked him what brought him here and he explained that he was looking after the pitches at Euro 2012, all eight of them in Poland and Ukraine.

I mentioned an article I read recently in the Irish Times’ splendid preview to the Euros that came out last Wednesday. I asked him about the Irish man that was featured, and he said Richard Hayden, who is in charge of the pitch in Poznan where Ireland will play their games with Croatia and Italy in the coming days.

Well, and here’s the kernel of this incredible chance meeting, it turns out I was chatting with Andy Cole of Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI). And this is the same Andy Cole that looks after my golf club in Dublin, Edmondstown.

Believe it or not, I have met Andy twice before, in Edmondstown, in the year of my captaincy there, 2007. He didn’t recognise me, hardly surprising. And I didn’t recognise him, typical of my ability to forget places and faces.

But what an extraordinary coincidence that we should meet in this way, in a café in Warsaw airport, he on the way to Kharkiv, me en route to Gdansk, following this amazing tournament that has started so well and will enthral us all in the coming weeks.

Andy had some very interesting things to say about the oligarch that runs things in the vicinity of Kharkiv – but that is a story for another day, and best told by Andy someday, when he sits down to write his memoirs of a life spent as an agronomist.

We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, two men in the bubble that is Euro 2012.

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