Montreal's thriving Polish community have been out in force to cheer on their national U-20 team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007. We caught up with one of their supporters, Krzysztof.
Decked out in full regalia including the team cap and shirt, Krzysztof is proudly brandishing the Polish flag and belting out support for his beloved team with cries of "Polska! Polska!". He has come to Montreal's Olympic Stadium with wife Sabrina and four-year-old daughter Julie to see Poland take on the United States. Poor little Julie seems somewhat intimidated by the incredible atmosphere inside the stadium, but her dad is having none of it. "As you can see, she's only four but we're giving her an early introduction to what real sport is about," says Krzysztof, scooping his daughter into his arms.
The family's new life in Canada began twenty years ago when they emigrated from Poland, no doubt unsettled like so many of their compatriots by economic instability back home. Nevertheless, they are unlikely to feel alone in Canada, where more than 800,000 fellow Poles have settled, including some 40,000 in Montreal alone. Understandably then, the Polish contingent were out in force at the city's Olympic Stadium for the 3 July match against the Stars and Stripes. "Look at that," beams Krzysztof proudly as he points out the sea of red and white rippling in the stands, "it's just like being at home! All the Poles in Canada are here, from Toronto and elsewhere. Some have even travelled all the way from Chicago!"
Having already witnessed his compatriots see off favourites
Brazil, Krzysztof gushes with pride as he recalls his team's
opening match triumph against the Canarinhos. "It was a
magnificent sight, and the atmosphere was electric. It was if we
were in Poland," he says, his eyes glistening with excitement.
"There were over 30,000 Poles in the stands...we spent the
whole night on the town celebrating the win, it was extraordinary.
We hadn't beaten them for 34 years, not since the 1974 World
Cup, can you believe that?" he asks in disbelief.
Wave of adrenaline
Die-hard footie fan Krzysztof was born in a small village east of Krakow, close to Gdansk and Sofia. People are football-mad around those parts, and he ventures his own theory for this: "All Europeans love football, it's the best sport around. I follow baseball and hockey, but they just don't give me the same buzz." He worships the national team above all else. "If we get to the quarter-finals, I'll travel all the way to Toronto to see them play, and that's a fact!" he declares triumphantly as daughter Julia looks on, wondering what her daddy is getting so worked up about.
Despite not being familiar with any of the players in the U-20 team, Krzysztof's enthusiasm is undiminished. What matters is that they are wearing the shirt. "These are the new breed, the future of Polish football. Things are looking up for the national team. I don't know much about Krzysztof Krol but I've heard a lot about him," admits the 40-year-old, whose boyhood heroes included legendary Polish forwards Kazimierz Deyna, Zbigniew Boniek and the leading scorer at the 1974 FIFA World Cup Germany, Grzegorz Lato. Clearly rediscovering the raw emotion of yesteryear, when Poland shone on the international stage, he is effusive in his praise of the U-20 team's exploits. "It's wonderful what they are achieving; I can just feel the adrenaline building."
It goes without saying that Polish spirits have been somewhat dampened by the crushing defeat suffered at the hands of the USA. Nevertheless, Krzysztof is still defiantly waving his flag. "We're in a bit of a tight spot, that's for certain, but it's not all over yet," he insists before adding, somewhat half-heartedly, "I hope they make it to the Final..."