Northern Ireland

Euro 2016: Football fans hope game shows they are not Poles apart

The Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice where the Northern Ireland v Poland game will take place at the Euro 2016 finals Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice where the Northern Ireland v Poland game will take place at the Euro 2016 finals

The European Championship finals usually provide an opportunity for football fans from different countries to get to know each other a little better, but at the Northern Ireland v Poland game in Nice some will need no introduction.

More than 30,000 Polish people are now living in Northern Ireland and it is the most common country of birth of non-British nationals living there.

Michael Boyd of the Irish Football Association (IFA) will be sampling the atmosphere in France and says it is a chance to "celebrate diversity and friendship" in the game.

"I was chatting to a Polish friend who is heading out to the tournament and he said he had just bought a Northern Ireland shirt," he added.

"I hope the Euro 2016 finals will be a celebration of diversity, this can be a tournament to bring people together and we can play our part.

"The ideal solution is that both Northern Ireland and Poland go through to the next stage."

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Michael Boyd of the Irish Football Association says the game offers the chance to 'celebrate diversity'

That final remark is supported by Maciek Bator, originally from Plock in central Poland, who moved to Northern Ireland in 2004, the same year his home country became an EU member.

However, he includes the caveat that he wants Poland to top group C which also includes Germany and Ukraine.

"It is a massive success that both Poland and Northern Ireland are taking part in the Euro 2016 finals," he said.

"The best solution is that Poland finish first in the group and Northern Ireland finish second.

"We have a draw in this first game and both of us progress to the knock-out stages."

Trouble

Maciek, is the co-founder of CRAICNI (Cultivate Respect, Appreciate Inclusion in Communities in Northern Ireland) and has liaised with various Polish groups in Northern Ireland in the past.

He also worked as an interpreter and mediator at the Northern Ireland v Poland World Cup qualifier in Belfast on 28 March 2009 when there were disturbances between the two sets of fans outside the stadium.

Earlier in the day, nine people were arrested after trouble at a city centre pub.

The match, which Northern Ireland won 3-2, was briefly halted after an object thrown from the crowd hit a linesman.

"Polish hooligans came over just for the game," Maciek added.

"I was working as an interpreter at the game, I was trying to calm down the situation and work as a mediator."

There were tensions in Belfast's Village area for a number of days after the trouble involving Northern Ireland and Polish football fans.

Maciek explained how he was involved in "trying to rebuild positive relationships following that game".

"There were a number of Polish hooligans who got involved in riots and left Northern Ireland shortly afterwards, but there were still a number of people living near the Windsor Park football ground in south Belfast who were blamed for the behaviour of the Polish hooligans," he said.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Riot police patrol a terrace in front of Polish fans at Windsor Park in Belfast during the World Cup qualifier in March 2009

Michael Boyd has worked with Maciek in the past and said the IFA had partnered with Show Racism the Red Card to promote diversity in primary schools in Northern Ireland through its coaches.

"If you go into a classroom now it is so different to 10, 15 or 20 years ago, there are a number of pupils whose first language would not be English," Michael added.

'Strong links'

Olek Paprocki moved to Northern Ireland from Poland a decade ago and is planning to watch the match on television with friends from the amateur football club Sparta Belfast, which features players from various cultural backgrounds.

"It is an international team which has featured Romanian, Polish, Slovak, Irish guys and even a few South Americans," he said.

Image caption Olek Paprocki, who moved to Northern Ireland a decade ago, is travelling to the Euro 2016 finals in France from Belfast

He is heading to Paris on 16 June for Poland's game against Germany.

"Other friends will be in Nice for the Northern Ireland game and I will join them in Paris," he said.

"Plenty of Polish people from here will be at the Northern Ireland game."

He says he is happy living in Northern Ireland.

"Northern Ireland is a good place to live and work," he said.

"Most people I know from amateur football and the people I work with are Northern Ireland fans, I always have a bit of banter with them, especially after the game when we lost 3-2 in Belfast."

Maciek Bator is looking forward to watching the game at a Belfast city-centre pub.

"After 12 years of living here in Northern Ireland the Polish people have a good reputation and have formed strong links with the local community.

"This game will be a chance to celebrate those connections."

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