Deyna of destiny as past and present merge in Poland
23:00 GMT, 7 June 2012
A group of German tourists were being given a history lesson on Solidarnosc Plac. They were outside Gate No 2 on Doki Street, where Lech Walesa once stood and changed the world.
here. There is a direct line. Welcome to Poland, where history lives.
History lives: A statue of Kazimierz Deyna was unveiled in Warsaw this week
A couple of miles north, past the odd red-and-white Polska flag draped from a window, the new Lechia Gdansk stadium was being prepared for Sunday's Group C opener between Spain and Italy. It is some structure, an amber bowl to reflect the mineral that gave Gdansk its trade, able to hold almost 45,000.
To the west of the city, the old Lechia stadium looks in good nick, too. Germany, to whom Gdansk remains 'Danzig', are training there. Around 8,000 locals watched Mesut Ozil and Co on Wednesday.
This is the ground where, in 1983, Walesa was smuggled in to see Lechia play Juventus in the second leg of a European Cup- winners' Cup tie. Giovanni Trapattoni, Michel Platini and Zbigniew Boniek were playing for Juve.
The ruling Communist Party were cracking down on Solidarity, Walesa's trade union federation, and Walesa has recalled: 'The stadium was packed, the crowd shouted Solidarity's name. It sounded really perfect. It did upset the Communists and the secret police. It was a big moment. We needed to show the Communist Party that they weren't the only power in Poland. They felt paralysed by seeing how united we were at football matches.
'Sport was one of the ways we met each other and found out how much we had in common. We were much closer because of football.'
On Wednesday, on the Polish equivalent of News at Ten, two grinning nuns were interviewed in a stand as Germany trained. That came after a report on the return of the ashes of Kazimierz Deyna to Poland. The former Manchester City midfielder was killed in a car crash in San Diego in 1989. A hero of 1974, when Poland came third in the World Cup, Deyna's ashes now lie in Warsaw, where Legia fans have also paid for a statue. History mingles with the present.
If Deyna's name was a reminder of better days for Polish football, the nuns revealed again the significance of Catholicism – not so long ago, Celtic's Polish goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, was known as the 'Holy Goalie'. There is a picture of another, Pope 'Jan Pawel II', on Gate No 2. Yesterday started a religious holiday across Poland that lasts until next Tuesday. In the middle of Gdansk you could smell the incense marking Corpus Christi.
What football fever there is felt on hold – Poland's primary sports star over the past decade has been a ski jumper called Adam Malysz and domestically football has been in the doldrums for almost 20 years. Widzew Lodz were the last Polish club to reach the group stage of the Champions League and that was in 1996. Former sports minister Jacek Debski was murdered in 2001 by a bullet to the head, which preceded a destructive match-fixing scandal. Today, Poland have the lowest FIFA ranking of the 16 teams at the Euros.
Still there are arguments. Grzegorz Lato, another famous name from the Seventies – 100 caps, 45 goals – is the FA president. He and others omitted Poland's eagle from their new kit. There was an outcry and a quick relaunch. Jan Tomaszewski, another historic figure – Brian Clough's 'clown' from Wembley in 1973 – is a pundit and MP. He says he will not be supporting Poland because there are allegedly too many foreigners in the team.
Support: Fans of Legia attend a ceremony dedicated to Kazimierz Deyna
Bordeaux's Ludovic Obraniak is one of the accused. Born in France, like centre half Damien Perquis, Obraniak has a Polish grandfather. Left back Sebastian Boenisch has played for Germany's Under 21s.
'This foreigner debate has not been particularly good for me,' Obraniak said this week. 'There's a similar one in France. I feel Polish, but I know I'm not 100 per cent Polish.'
It is five years since UEFA gave Poland and Ukraine the go-ahead, a day described by the then Polish FA president as 'the most important in Polish football ever'.
A good start tonight in Warsaw would help ease anxiety, and should spur excitement. Poland host Greece, who qualified above Croatia, conceding just five goals in 10 matches. The Poles have been playing friendlies since 2009. They have lost 6-0 to Spain and drawn 2-2 against Germany.
A home win is hardly guaranteed, but one would tee up next Tuesday, when Russia are Poland's opponents. That has the potential to captivate not just Poland but beyond.
That, for current Prime Minister Donald Tusk, is the aim. The political hope is that Euro 2012 transforms perceptions of the country. This will be seen as the first major eastern European tournament, but Poland wants to be known as central Europe, as a bridge.
'The greatest investment of Euro 2012 isn't the wonderful stadiums, the great airport terminals, the roads and railway stations,' said Tusk. 'It's investment in the brand and reputation of Poland among the hundreds of millions who will watch it on TV, and the hundreds of thousands who will come here and won't judge us only on sport.'
What cannot be ignored is that the estimated 20billion pumped into infrastructure concerns the population at a time of recession; Solidarity are threatening tournament strikes over pensions but Poland is not convulsed politically, as Ukraine is.
If optimism feels fragile – Walesa spoke of 'the lack of self- confidence as a country' recently – perhaps they are just waiting to see if they can pull it off.
'We may not have everything quite buttoned up,' Walesa added. 'But Poland has already won.'