The Last Word: Euro 2012 - A tournament as great as this... you have to be there

Poland had the nerve and belief to skim light-footed along the precipice

Wednesday looks bad enough. The first rest day. A first glimpse of the despair that ultimately beckons, the morning after the final. This time, moreover, it's going to be worse than ever – with millions about to share a meretricious hysteria that may prove rather more instructive about the fragility of democracy than any Olympic ideal.

It would be particularly galling, then, if the BBC decided to cover proceedings in Poland and Ukraine from beneath a Salford railway arch in order to preserve its budget for the bronze play-off in the handball. Whatever the reason, the failure to fund a set in Warsaw represents a fairly scandalous dereliction of duty in the national broadcaster. Its hierarchy has clearly failed to comprehend how the viewing medium itself becomes integral to communal memory of a World Cup or European Championship.

ITV understood that these tournaments are embedded in the national psyche not only by climactic moments on the pitch but also, so to speak, through the pattern of the bedroom wallpaper. That's why many eyes will moisten on hearing Peter And The Wolf for the last time; when the swifts of Castle Square shriek their farewells through the warm dusk behind the throbbing cerebrum of Roberto Martinez. Unless, that is, you prefer weary MOTD panellists, immured 900 miles away, bestowing precious benediction upon "new" stars whose achievements with the likes of Dortmund or Juventus count for nothing, plainly, when measured against the honour of Alan Shearer learning how to pronounce your name. It is to be hoped that any wealthy, arrogant suitors out there – roused from an obtuse torpor of their own – will find themselves thwarted by the sort of gratifying example set by Dortmund, in recently agreeing a contract to 2017 with Mats Hummels.

In the meantime this tournament is redressing the pernicious theory that international football has been eclipsed by the Champions League. Among the elite – as well as, mysteriously, certain England players – this can be a self-fulfilling heresy. It is true that Ronaldo keeps lesser company in a national shirt than with Real Madrid. Moreover the folly of permitting eight teams worse than Ireland into the 2016 finals will presumably extend a perfunctory quality from the qualifiers to the group stage. For now, however, it is precisely the self-regard of the top clubs that prevents them matching the unfettered dash that has already made this a classic tournament.

For could anyone remotely pretend that the stakes were higher in the Champions League final, a match that exasperated neutrals throughout the continent, than when Poland played Russia? Yet where the elite clubs tend to become most tense, most averse to risk, Poland took on exorbitant odds – the weight of bitter history and a relative deficiency in talent – with a performance that disclosed the nexus between exuberance and courage.

Contrast the one joining pragmatism and fear, which had secured England an identical result against France. Cowards and heroes, remember, have fear in equal measure. Bravery is not absence of fear, but its conquest. Poland were not reckless; they just had the nerve and belief to skim light-footed along the precipice. And, in view of the malign atmosphere outside the stadium, they extended that infinitesimal grasp of tolerable risk to their manners. In fact, bar one brief misunderstanding late in the game, both teams manifested marvellous responsibility. Players even stopped to apologise before the referee had blown for a foul.

It so happened that I spent the first day of the tournament in a Bavarian spa town, on the banks of a green-blue river swollen with Alpine meltwater. At 11pm a convoy of cars drove around the town, sounding their horns: Russians, celebrating their big win.

Next day, the Munich train was boarded by a gang of youths in football shirts, off to watch Germany's first game in a fan-zone. They were drinking beer, making plenty of noise. But they were respectful to the other passengers, and full of laughter. Perhaps this same train had been the one on which two Chelsea fans covered each other in blood on the way to the Champions League final.

Of course, English fans do not have a monopoly on visceral aggression. Nothing like. There were vile scenes in Warsaw, even as the players set that impeccable example. But this tournament presents this island a challenge, on the eve of its great big Olympic ego trip. From the viewers to the players themselves, the English must look at the options distilled by their two broadcasters and decide: are we detached and insular, or engaged and adventurous?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York