Euro 2012: an early apology. Perhaps, just perhaps, it's all going to be OK.
Waking up in Poland on Saturday morning, there was a sense of expectation at eastern Europe's first major football tournament having been not just surpassed by a free-scoring, snag-free and above all largely peaceful opening day, but giddily so. After a five-year buildup menaced by economic, political and social woes, this is a tournament that entered its delivery stage already braced in trauma position. Organisational meltdown, racial tension, 12 nil-nil draws in a row: all this may be yet to come, but the atmosphere inside and beyond Wroclaw's Municipal Stadium during Russia's bravura 4-1 defeat of the Czech Republic on opening night suggested a tournament capable of gathering a reassuringly straightforward sense of momentum. Jammed together on the city's meandering tram system in the hours after the match, Polish, Russian and Czech fans formed a boisterous but largely benign vodka-soaked crush of red, white and blue, expanded in the old town into a remarkably sustained and garrulous display of extreme public drunkenness.
Wroclaw may have awoken awash with the hungover, the still-drunk and the temporarily amnesiac, but the collateral damage was limited. Four stewards at the stadium were injured after being attacked by Russian fans. A Russian man was treated for stab wounds in the city centre.
More worryingly, a small amount of racist chanting towards the Czech right-back, Theodor Gebre Selassie, was reported by an anti-racism body (this was inaudible to the English journalists present).
But on the pitch – what unexpected riches. After a round of opening matches that produced goals, drama and, in patches, wonderful attacking play, the Polish press could be forgiven a little operatic triumphalism. Gazeta Wyborcza's sports pull-out carried the headline "HEAVEN. HELL. PURGATORY", a succinct doctrinal summary of the emotions of a nation treated to the kind of contortions usually associated with a tearful late-stage exit, rather than the formalities of a tournament opener.
Rzeczpospolita also adopted the triple exclamation, this time "Happiness Drama Draw", while the tabloid Fakt went with: "We are still playing. We don't give up." Inside the possibility of Wojciech Szczesny going from Beckham-ish golden boy to Beckham-ish red card klutz was given a prod along by the award of zero out of six for his rather frantic performance and the comment "All the pressure will be on him now".
Przeglad Sportowy produced a 31-page section that even housed 200 words on England, the first part of which was taken up discussing the Queen's jubilee. While away from the pitch Gazeta Wyborcza addressed the peculiar case of Krakow, Poland's most picturesque city, reduced to scrapping for the peripheral dollar at these championships. "KRAKOW: CELEBRITIES AND FOOTBALL" was the rather apt-sounding headline of a piece that noted Krakow has "found a way to gain out of Euro 2012", beneath a picture of England's gilded stars posing before training. It was also here that Poland's real fear for these championships surfaced rather nervously: "Unfortunately it [Krakow] also has hooligans who can destroy everything."
Ah yes, hooligans. In Poland the notion of the "Ultra" has been politicised by the prime minister Donald Tusk's own "declaration of war" on those considered footballing undesirables. Hence the birth of the f**k Euros movement, a visible presence at these championships. On the tournament's opening day the periphery of the Wroclaw Stadium was defaced with f**k Euros graffiti (key line: "Hate Tusk Love Ultras"), voicing an animosity that has its roots in new security rules, aggressive policing and fines for what was previously deemed acceptable behaviour. Ticket prices are locally prohibitive. Banners and flags are banned. The hurling of a flare during the Russia v Czech Republic match led to the game being halted by referee Howard Webb while a furious – and furiously camp – PA announcer commanded: "Stop this disgrace at once. If you do this with flares you will be removed. And arrested. And prosecuted."
This side of Poland's support can be a frightening prospect: often drunk, sometimes violent, certainly in some sections guilty of racism and antisemitism. Mathew, a Wroclaw native, was working in a cafe just metres from where the Russian supporter was stabbed on Friday night. His view is, nonetheless, so far so good. "The atmosphere is unique, and everything was generally very happy," he said. "I was very worried about the Russian fans but we are also not so nice, we have our own ultras, and I am more concerned about how it will go with the residents. It's a big step for Poland."
A step that has at this earliest of stages – and with all fingers crossed – been taken with some confidence.