PATRICK BARCLAY, Evening Standard and Independent on Sunday columnist, on sleep deprivation…video diaries…and a wedding invitation…
Monday June 11
What made me think this was a good idea? It’s 1.17am and I’m on a distinctly chilly platform at Poznan’s central railway station, wondering why someone designed the back-to-benches without backs. Sitting up rigid is to be the order of a long night following Ireland’s opening defeat by Croatia, but I don’t know this as, naively envisaging a few hours of sleep on the 2.06 back to Warsaw, I hang my restless head. A cry from across the tracks makes me look up. There’s an old drunk on an office chair. He’s tiny and the chair is clearly designed for a very senior executive. On a small table by his left hand is a can of beer. Mainly the drunk warbles but every now and again he squawks raucously at the passengers opposite. Now he’s going to attempt an expedition. He wriggles to the edge of the seat and hops to the ground. The Irish supporters milling around the station entrance have inadvertently given him an idea. It involves a request for a light for his cigarette. A stout female officer breaks clear from a group of police and intercepts him. Gently. After a mild protest, he returns to the chair and clambers aboard once more, taking a consoling sip of beer. The Polish police can look fierce but have seemed to control the Euro 2012 crowds – the thugs apart – with tact. The old man knows he can try it on again later. He’s smiling. So is the officer as her wagging finger indicates he should stay put for a while. Even I am smiling now. Eventually the train rolls in and there are five burly Poles in my six-seat compartment. They like being woken up about as much as you’d expect. My sleep, when it comes, is in 10-minute parcels. At one stage, I swear the minute hand of my watch has actually gone back. Tottering off at Warsaw, I realise there’s time to get back to the apartment and have a brief kip before writing the Evening Standard column. Bliss! And writing the column isn’t that bad either. I enjoy working with the Standard’s sports editor, Tim Nichols. He’s one of the best I’ve ever worked with and that’s saying something when the list includes Simon Kelner, Charlie Burgess, Alan Hubbard, John Samuel, Colin Gibson and the – for me- incomparable Jon Ryan.
Tuesday June 12
A busy day, involving a last-minute change to my video diary for the Independent website – sometimes you have to reinvent yourself and, if you try it at 64, workmates are bound to see the funny side – and a column on England’s draw with France for Fox Soccer in the United States culminates in Poland v Russia at Warsaw’s gorgeous crown-shaped National Stadium by the river. I’m based in Warsaw for the duration and the stadium media centre is my office. It’s just a matter of taking the lift to the gods, where the media seats are situated, half an hour before kick-off. The atmosphere is electric – comparable with Liverpool v Chelsea in the Champions League in 2005 – and it turns out to be a riveting match, a 1-1 draw. Being a football reporter is a privilege on nights like this and I hit the sack not at all caring that the wake-up call is at 3.30am.
Wednesday June 13
It’s 3.30am and, God, I hate this job. It’s a chilly journey to the Central Station. The train to Gdansk leaves at 5.12 and the station cafés aren’t open. At least there are six hours on the train in which to write the Standard column and a piece for a new magazine to be launched next month by Ken Monkou, the former Chelsea central defender. It’s an interview with the actor and comedian Omid Djalili, whom I met shortly before the flight to Warsaw. He couldn’t have been more helpful and, not for the first time, a football writer reflected on how much more civilised journalism can be when you step outside football. At night I was able to watch two matches while sinking food and a few pints.
Thursday June 14
Another day of hard work, to which the Standard added with a request for a piece about David Moyes’s suitability for the post created at Spurs by Harry Redknapp’s departure, ends with more lovely football, played by Spain in the rain that lashed 20,000 magnificent Ireland supporters. Fernando Torres scores twice and it’s four and could have been double figures. Shay Given makes a candidate for save of the tournament. A Dutch journalist mate invites me to join him on a drive back to Warsaw, which saves a bit of precious time.
Friday June 15
A scramble to get the latest video diary together in time for the Indy’s mid-morning audience. It’s successful thanks to a fine contribution from Andy Gray and Richard Keys, whose talkSPORT radio show I’d appeared on earlier in the week; it’s been transplanted from London to a flat in Warsaw near the stadium. Gray and Keys helped to preview the night’s match between Sweden and England, which I ended the day watching on television in my local bar in the old part of town, near the little flat that is home.
Saturday June 16
You know me: I never like to complain. That’s why I haven’t mentioned this before. But I’ve had this cough for at least two weeks and it’s getting worse. It’s getting so bad that, when I wake up this morning, I’m worried that the people next door are going to complain. So I ask the landlord, Jacek, who’s quickly become more of a mate really and introduced me to the rest of the good ol’ boys in the bar, and he drives me to his doctor and she’s got such a lovely smile and easy manner that I’m feeling better even before I start on the four drugs she prescribes. A feature on Jogi Lowe and the Germans for the Independent on Sunday fills the afternoon and then it’s up into the gods again for Greece v Russia. You can’t help but admire the Greeks, who win but are horribly deprived of their captain, Giorgos Karagounis, for the quarter-final as he is shown a yellow card for the heinous crime of being tripped in the penalty area. It’s wrong that referees are asked to be mind-readers. When they err in such situations, insult is added to injury and, on the whole, I’d prefer it if cautions for diving were abolished.
Sunday June 17
It’s virtually a day off. But I’ve wasted most of it sleeping. (A few of us decided to unwind after the Greece match. We found somewhere about 1am but initially it turned us away because there was a wedding party on. Upon being given the impression that we were about to burst into tears, the staff relented and set up a table for us in the square opposite. I don’t know how we found our way into the wedding party but it happened and I ended up among the last four in the bar at 6am. The others were the bride and groom. Their condition – immaculate – contrasted with ours and, when the staff finally ushered us out, my expression of hope that we had behaved ourselves, intended light-heartedly, was met by a thin smile and an enigmatic: ‘’It was a mistake.’’ If nothing else, I remember those words. Perturbing.) There are two concurrent matches at night to keep an eye on – Portugal v Holland and Denmark v Germany – and because the bar has tellies in opposite corners showing one each I’m sitting like Marty Feldman. But having a pint in your hand – or half-litre, which is just as well because Polish beer seems to start at 5.5 – does the experience no harm. It’s a hair of the dog that bit me. But I’m going to drink responsibly from now on.