Poland: a journalist’s diary of EuroBasket, Slovenians & Krolewskie

Eurobasket 2009First off, I never thought that four days in Warsaw, the main heartbeat of Poland would bring back so many memories. I never even imagined that we would meet and be greeted by so many Slovenians, who were literally everywhere you looked. And instead of constant abuse and threats (like you might get at Football, and I say ‘might’ strongly). All we got was hello’s, pictures and beers!

The trip also included me being within minutes of getting put on the missing list (on the first night), talking to FIBA before the Spain game about Security, and meeting the EuroBasket dancers on the last night in Warsaw – in an underground nightclub! Here are my day-to-day thoughts, be gentle and don’t take the piss when you have finished reading.

DAY UNO

After a comfortable 2 hour flight, and an hour or so talking to two Macedonian fans, myself and three other friends, Adam, Marcus and Joe, arrived at Warsaw’s very modern Airport and we arrived safely at our Hostel (I call it a house, I have reasons). Straight away, we decide to take the 10 second walk to the Hostel bar, and after sampling a truly beautiful drop called “Krolewskie” (kind of screwed you with the mystery of the title there). A guy with a Boston Celtics shirt and another guy walk into the bar. I asked “you here for EuroBasket?” “Yes” the guy replied – “who with”, “Slovenia”. The rest was pretty much history.

Another stroke of luck was that those same Slovenian supporters were staying about two doors away from us, and literally the drinks flowed like water. Now in Slovenia, their main tipple is red wine, which for me is surprising as these boys were drinking straight vodka with their beer – nothing else. They gave me a vodka with apple juice, but all I could taste was vodka. Now in England, they fill the glass with Red Bull, Coke, Lemonade or whatever with your spirit – in Poland, and it looks like Slovenia can be added to this upcoming list, they pour on the spirit and give you about 15ml or even less of the soft-drink of your choice – fair to say, I drank alot before I had even settled down to have some food, where we had the always traditional KFC.

Now while the others were drinking away, I had been invited to attend a Great Britain media drinks gathering. As there were a few journalists there, I thought it would be nice to maybe see some new faces along with the ones I already know. And when I arrived, I was already a little tipsy from the mountain of drink the Slovenians attempted to give me.

My plan simply was to arrive, introduce myself and be gone within an hour. I thought it would be mainly a social meet and greet. And normally I’m a fairly easy going guy, who likes to meet new people anyway.

About an hour or so later, I had sobered myself up enough, and a few journalists that I have known through covering the BBL and the EuroCup (then ULEB) arrived, and straight away, the beer and the test-tube vodka shots came out – so much for sobering up, I thought. And from then on in, I was wasted again.

The media social gathering had turned into a drink fest, and when the coaches from GB arrived, it actually had sobered me up, as Phil Waghorn was there. Phil has been involved with Sussex Basketball for many years, and me living in Sussex, we had a conversation for the best part of fourty minutes just talking about Worthing Thunder, the old Brighton Bears and Sussex in general. It was good to catch up on his views on Sussex hoops after all this time. 

We went to another bar after a few hours spent at Cafe Senses, and had a few beers and one or two more vodka shots, and by the time we had left, it was 3am. “Holy shit!!” I thought to myself, looked at my phone – and saw four missed calls, and two text messages asking where on earth I was. Well, if you don’t text or ring up saying where you are to your mates, you’re bound to get questions asked of you.

Let me advice you on Polish taxis, readers. Get into either one that has a phone number on top, or a Mercedes with “Taxi” on it – otherwise, stay well clear. I had the mis-fortune of getting into two seperate taxis, where one, the driver did not speak English, and two, must of been un-licenced, as they were literally driving around in circles just blatently mugging me off. So in the end, I decided to get out and find another taxi – and thank goodness, he spoke English and drove me safely to my destination. To say I had a good welcome to Warsaw, was quite the understatement – but I worried a few people.

DAY DUE

Now I told the British media the night before, that there were rumored to be around 2 – 3,000 Slovenian fans in Torwar. One looked at me as if to say, ‘Whatever kid’, and I think the general feedback about my comments were one of “I doubt it” – hey, I might of been wrong.

Cue, the City Centre, the down-town bars, anywhere that was publicly open, and there you saw either a green Slovenia warm-up jersey, or someone with the Slovenia flag wrapped around him or her. Warsaw was literally covered with Slovenians, and they travelled in numbers too. Groups of three to groups fourteen and they were all singing – but the good thing was, they were not abusive to the Great Britain fans that walked past – they were pleasant, and actually welcoming to speak to. Some even said “good luck” to us. Whether it was genuine, or sarcasm I won’t know, but they were not being threatening in any manner. 

I was wearing a Great Britain jumper, Marcus was wearing the Great Britain jersey and Adam was wearing a Great Britain shirt with the title sponsors, “Standard Life” plastered on it, so it was fairly obvious that we were flying the flag of our nation – well, you give me a reason why on earth not?

We arrived at the Torwar Hall Arena ridiculously early! I mean probably about four hours before the Molten Basketball would be thrown in the air or the first time kind of early. So we decided to be the first group to make use of the beer tent that was next to the arena. While the others were getting a little more used to their surroundings, I decided to venture into the arena and pick up my press accreditation. I must admit, walking into the press room was a little daunting to say the least. I opened the door and there are at least eight staff members looking daggers at you – don’t know if it was just me, but in any event, one lady did give me a smile, said “Hi” and when the passport and introductions were dished out, I walked out of the room with my pass around my neck.

I walked into the arena and got a feel of what the place would be like come tip-off time. Despite it being the smallest of the EuroBasket venues, I liked it. For some unknown reason though, it felt like I was at the Metro-Radio Arena in Newcastle, England (home of the Newcastle Eagles). Wierd, yes, but it was a nice and suitable venue.

We decide to venture away from the arena for a bit and get some food. So after a little walk, we find a cafe. We all relax for about an hour or so, and start to head back to the arena. By then the outside had started to fill out a little with fans, so we shoot down there. The fans area was good, had a beer tent (as discovered), food stands galore, which to our annoyance, had just opened, a giant screen where Greece and Macedonia were on, there were hoops lined up for competitions – the vibe was positive but we Brits felt a little uneasy about something….Everyone was Slovenian!

A sea of green was powerful and noisy – yes it was an invasion, and I was starting to think, “If we beat them today, you ain’t never seeing me again!”. But, as it turned out the Slovenian mob were incredibly friendly, and we got treated almost like famous rockstars. Everywhere we turned or walked, we were having our pictures taken. There was times where we literally did not or actually could not move without getting our picture taken – that’s no joke either!

As well as having accreditation, I also had a ticket and decided to go in via the main entrance. And although massively outnumbered, the British fans made their fair bit of noise – which was simply brilliant!

Once inside I quickly found out that our seats were right next to the press area, so a little result for me there. Meaning I didn’t have to rush back and forth to do my work at the intervals. The GB fans were small in number, but were making plenty of noise – but everywhere you looked, there was a surrounding mass of green – and they were mental.

The game itself looked as though it would be very one-sided, as Slovenia totally out-played Great Britain in the first quarter – building up a double-digit lead, and eventhough Great Britain stepped up in the second quarter, even taking the lead mid-way through. Unfortunately for Chris Finch’s men, Jurij Zdovc’s troops hit back, and with force – one from which the Brits never recovered. Slovenia ended up winning 72-59.

The second game of day one brought Spain and Serbia to the table. Little did we know at the time, but this game was actually a dress rehersal for the final itself – and if you saw the final, but not the group game. Think the same performance from both sides, just the other way around. Serbia’s ball movement was simply sublime, and they had figured Spain out in the post, and restricted them to outside and mid range shots, normally a risk, but in this case it paid off. Serbia had sent a message that the red hot favourites had a weakness, and by christ did the Serbs exploit it!

The nice thing about day one though. Okay, we lost, but we headed back to the house, and our new found Slovenian friends had waited for us before they went to their nations bar to get us some consolation drinks, and my friend Adam said something that you just could not of said even better.

“For two hours today, we were enemies – for the rest of the tournament, we are now friends”.

It was nailed on perfect, and a huge cheer rung around and we went our seperate ways for the evening. We checked out a club called “Club 70” – free, yes FREE beer until 2am. We arrived at the club at around midnight, and in general, we had a great night – sure GB did not get the win, but we were thinking long term – the experience the players and coaches will take from this would be invaluable. .