The world the Euro creates for itself is an uncanny one. It is simultaneously sealed and open to the world.
If you’re here, it feels enclosed, understood only by those supporters and journalists travelling endlessly from city to city, stadium to stadium, attuned only to the necessities of travel and lodging, and news about players and teams. If you’re watching it on TV, it’s open to everyone, a multi-part drama, a fly-on-the-wall observation of events in distant places with an array of both stock characters and surprise twists. Villains, heroes and the hopeless.
Herewith a series of memorable moments from both the sealed world of the tournament and the one seen on TV:
Mario Balotelli, shirtless, proud and defiant after he scored Italy’s second goal against Germany in Warsaw. At last, the new Azzurri icon.
An English journalist at a hotel restaurant in Warsaw, braying into his cellphone, “And tell them I’m fed up with this disgusting Polish food. Fed up.” Everybody stared, cringed and all the journalists present wanted the ground to open up and swallow us.
Cristiano Ronaldo terrifying the Netherlands, solo, against a team with some of the best defenders in the world.
All heads turning on a Warsaw subway as it emerged above ground and passed the new national stadium. Awe at what the city now possessed.
Spanish and Irish fans dancing in the miserable cold and pouring rain of Gdansk, after midnight, after Spain beat Ireland 4-0.
Andriy Shevchenko rising to the occasion for his country, ghosting into the penalty area, as he did in his prime, and scoring goals to give Ukraine victory and hope.
Euro poems in Ukrainian and English on the walls of the Kiev subway. Nice touch of art in a city that otherwise seemed devoted to fleecing visitors.
A throng of journalists gathered at the beer stand in the Warsaw media centre, waiting for it to officially open – only allowed when the last press conference ends – and watching Germany coach Joachim Loew talk on and on at his press conference on TV. Someone shouting “Shut up” at the TV.
The refereeing. Generally excellent and blessedly intolerant of diving and playacting by players. Thank UEFA refereeing boss Pierluigi Collina for that.
The bitter disappointment of Polish supporters at Poland failing to beat Greece in the opening game. You could smell, taste and touch the letdown.
The Greek team’s emotional, passionate embrace of the tiny throng of Greek supporters after beating Russia to move on to the quarter-finals. Take that, euro zone.
Andrea Pirlo looking humble and utterly surprised to be voted man of the match after Italy beat Germany.
Italian guys in Azzurri shirts kicking soccer ball around Poznan’s train station early on a sunny morning, and local businessmen in suits joining in, delighted. Not a normal Tuesday workday.
A seriously drunk Irishman asking a taxi driver in Gdansk to take him to McDonald’s, which was at the end of the street and perfectly visible as such. Also, he failed to see the taxi already had a passenger – me. The driver sighing and saying to me, “Football people are crazy. Beer, beer!”
Spain’s tiny, immaculately skilled Andres Iniesta moving the ball forward while surrounded by not one or two Croatian players, but six.
The two best teams in the tournament making the final. No matter what the German team thinks.
Pirlo is as expert at giving quotes as he is at taking penalties: “We haven’t done anything yet. There’s no use going to Rome and not seeing the Pope. We want to go home with this cup.” That’s what he said after beating Germany in the semi-final.
The massive, hostile ‘This Is Russia’ banner unveiled by Russian fans in the game against Poland. Way to get hated even more.
Koko Euro Spoko. Poland’s eccentric theme song for Euro 2012. Sung by a group of Polish folk singers, some of whom are grandmothers. Mad, addictive, spaced-out music and perfect for the event.
The guy directing people to the official taxi stand at Kiev airport on the morning of the final, a full glass of beer in his hand at 9 a.m.