KRAKOW, June 19 — As bells ring from Krakow’s skyline of churches, it is difficult not to imagine they toll for Poland’s Euro 2012 dream and mark a first farewell to departing friends.
In this artistic, historic and religious city, included in the first UNESCO World Heritage List, a dreamy silence has replaced face-painted joy and enthusiasm.
Where hordes gathered on Saturday before strolling to the fan park at the symbolic field of Blonia, on Sunday there was only a hushed army of cleaners.
In hot sunshine, families sought shade under trees in Planty Park where drunks dozed on benches, untroubled by police or passers-by.
Even the hourly cornet tunes from the wonderful Rynek Glowny square and soaring soprano voices from the Music Academy seemed softer until Monday when a rousing piano solo lifted spirits.
Co-host Poland’s exit after losing to the Czech Republic had been tearful, but the pain was temporary.
In Krakow, nobody is down for long.
Despite being overlooked as a host venue for matches even though the city is home to two of Poland’s top clubs, including Wisla who have won seven titles in 12 years, Krakow embraced Euro 2012 and was an impeccable unofficial host for thousands of fans.
Notable among the “sport tourists” who added to the booming trade at the castle, cathedral, museums, galleries and memorials, not to mention nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau, were supporters of the city’s three official guest nations, England, Italy and the Netherlands.
As well as the unofficial followers of Ireland who were neither invisible nor quiet.
Bars that resembled British pubs were draped with flags and banners as they spread their good-natured banter. The Bar Nic Nowego was engulfed by the craic.
At the Hard Rock cafe, puzzled staff were introduced to the green-and-white hoops of Scottish champions Celtic and the Catholic connections that bound them all together.
At times, it was difficult to find more than a few England fans and barely more than one Italian family.
The Dutch, like their national team, struggled to make an impact except via their orange shirts on match days and by yesterday were packing to leave. Winless and disjointed, they will not be missed greatly.
“We love football and we love Poland,” said one of a tumultuous group of local Polish supporters before Saturday’s humbling defeat by the Czechs, five hours away by motorway in Wroclaw.
“To have the Euro Championship here is great moment for Poland...”
Invaded and occupied many times, like much of southern Poland, Krakow was also home for 40 years to Pope John Paul II.
His face adorns walls, windows and doorways in the old city, a reminder of Krakow’s character and Poland’s experiences, a royal residence and former capital and seat of government.
It was occupied by Czechs, Tartars, Austrians and Russians until World War One in 1918 ended 146 years of foreign rule.
The city’s reputation for stubborn bohemian melancholy is no surprise.
Krakow’s defiant partisans played a key role in the restoration of Poland, providing leading political thinkers, administrative staff and soldiers.
Blonia, where more than 12,000 gathered on Saturday, was the site of a parade of the cavalry of the Second Republic of Poland on October 6, 1933.
A famous painting of that event is one of an estimated 2.5 million registered works of art on show in the medieval old town, Wawel castle and Kazimierz, home to the Jewish quarter.
Krakow, which survived the atrocities of Nazi occupation from 1939-45 and post-war repression by the Soviet Union, has more than enough art, faith and intellectual dignity to survive an invasion of fans.
With Wisla Krakow, multiple champions, and Cracovia, their great rivals, playing at grounds separated by the field of Blonia, just as Liverpool and Everton are divided by Stanley Park, Krakow also has enough football in its heart to survive a snub by Euro 2012. — Reuters