BBC commentator SIMON BROTHERTON on the joy of six in Poland…Brighty’s Crystal Palace ice cream…and Adam’s red face
Monday June 18
Days like this one feel like Christmas morning to me. The World and defending European Champions Spain are on the menu tonight in a much anticipated encounter with Luca Modric and his Croatian colleagues. I’m genuinely excited at the prospect. Any day I’m going to see Xavi play leaves me with an extra spring in my step.
Big live football matches don’t come around very often on BBC Television these days, so when they do and it’s your game as well, you really hope it’s a decent one. Both for the audience’s enjoyment and your own purposes, because obviously it’s much easier to commentate on a free-flowing game of skill with a fair sprinkling of goalmouth activity, than it is to talk your way through a morass of half paced mediocrity.
So thanks for nothing Spain and Croatia. I couldn’t understand why the Spanish were so half-arsed when they were only a kick away from going home like the Russians only a few days before. Now, if Ivan Rakitic had scored with that glorious headed chance in the second half, it would have been interesting. But he didn’t and for long periods it looked like a training session. At least they were true to their word of not playing for a 2-2 draw. Nearly nine million people tuned in. It wasn’t one of the great nights for them or me.
Tuesday June 19
At every match I’ve bumped into bleary eyed colleagues with tales of trains at 1am or flights at the crack of dawn. We’ve merely had a few trips along a strip of motorway resembling the M6 toll road. All of my games have been in either Warsaw, Poznan or Gdansk. No journey longer than four and a half hours. Six group games, all by car. Dodged one there I reckon.
It’s the last day of the group stage but as the night’s games are in Ukraine, we have a first day off in Gdansk and Team Brotherton decide the best way to spend it is by taking a group bike ride to the coastal spa resort of Sopot. We take a detour through the famous shipyards, the cranes still silhouetted against the sky though mostly out of use now, and climb off to peruse the iconic photos in the Solidarity museum.
There’s more history as we stop by the water at Westerplatte, the scene of the first shots fired in the Second World War. Then we get to the beach where Brighty buys an ice cream in Crystal Palace colours which keeps him amused for a good 10 minutes.
Adam, our engineer, has somehow managed to go as red as a beetroot during our leisurely 15km ride from the old town of Gdansk to the sea. Some SOS aftersun cream is procured which he slaps on while we wait for food to arrive at the restaurant. His has the reddest face I’ve ever seen and he looks as though he could internally combust at any minute.
Wednesday June 20
The news is good for us today from the powers that be in the IBC in Warsaw. We are staying where we are, to cover the Germany v Greece quarter-final on Friday evening. Great, I haven’t seen Germany in the flesh yet and am keen to see the team I’ve tipped to win the whole thing. The bonus is that we’re still in town for Uefa’s entertainment offering , which turns out to be the biggest bargain of the whole Euro’s. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds play the fan zone in Gdansk and the tickets didn’t cost a bean. It’s funny how nobody ever seems to vote for us at the Eurovision Song Contest but when Europe needs some decent music, they know where to look. “Are there any Irish people out there?” says Noel early on as a few stragglers from the emerald isle cheer, “What the bloody hell are you lot still doing here!” The rain showers stay away and Adam the engineer reliably informs me the sound is top notch. He’s a big guitar man and I’m pleased he’s happy with the levels, but he’s still got a very red face. Brilliant night out.
Thursday June 21
When the sun’s out, old town Gdansk has weekend break written all over it. When it’s raining, the best you can say it’s no hardship to stay indoors and do some commentary notes. Call me fair-weather but I’m not going out running in this. Goodbye pavement, hello treadmill.
We head to the Amber Arena for Germany’s press conference on the off chance someone says something interesting. Radio colleague Phil Wye has hot footed it from the airport and walks in looking like a deep sea trawler man. His waterproof tested to the limit by the Baltic rain, his glasses needing wipers. The lack of spoken English won’t help his cause here either. At least you can put subtitles on the telly.
Germany are glad to be playing their quarter-final near their base and coach Joachim Loew says they’re happy to be playing what feels like at home again. Given the city’s history, which includes periods of German rule, I’m not surprised, though I know I’m mischievously reading more into it than he meant.
Manuel Neuer is asked several times about the prospect of a penalty shootout. He answers as best he can for someone who recently lost a Champions League Final on spot-kicks, but I’ll eat my hat if it goes that far tomorrow. I think he feels the same but can’t say so.
We are into the habit of only eating where we can book a table with a television view in the evenings. The producer, Graham, has excelled himself this time. We are right in front of a pull-down screen that shows Ronaldo in all his strutting glory. It’s an interesting waterfront restaurant that specializes in sea food, has gold painted trees with plastic lemons hanging down, a python in a glass covered pit under one of the tables and a galleon parked outside that makes it look like Captain Pugwash has popped in for his dinner.
I am distracted by the size of Adam’s enormous dessert and in that precise moment miss the goal. By the way, he’s not quite as red today.
Friday June 22
We are greeted by a different type of rain today. Rather than just bucketing down old style, it’s more of a murky drizzle, deceptive in that it doesn’t look so bad, but still soaks you through to the skin. By lunchtime it decides to clear up and be grey. We head for the stadium during the afternoon and can’t even make out the tops of some of the cranes in the nearby ship yards.
Thankfully the match lifts the gloom no end. Germany are a joy to watch and play some lovely football, while Greece hint at an upset once more, albeit for only five second-half minutes. Germany are the best team I’ve seen out here and my last game at the tournament leaves me on a high.
The evening ends with a chat along a dimly lit side street leading back to our respective hotels with David Moyes. He is interesting, engaging and informative, just as I’m sure he will be next season when I try to interview him 10 minutes after a 1-0 home defeat.
Saturday June 23
Heading home today via a five-hour drive to Warsaw and flight back to Heathrow. Thank you Poland for a great 18 days.
Spain versus France is on the radio as I head round the M25. Not much of a game by all accounts.
Tomorrow I’ll be joining 20 million other Brits across the land by settling in front of the telly for the England game. An opportunity to see everyone else’s view of the Euro’s.
More importantly it’s a chance to spend some time with my family. In a summer encompassing the Euro’s, Tour de France, Olympics and Paralympics, I need to make the most of every opportunity to see them I can.
Sunday June 24
I can’t lie, I’m thinking about the Tour de France already. I think Bradley’s got a chance.