Morgan Treacy/INPHO Poland will face Northern Ireland at Euro 2016.
# home away from home
'Poland will always be my side, but Ireland will definitely be my second team, it's my home now'
Pawel Skura, who runs a website for Polish football fans living in Ireland, speaks to the42 ahead of their Euro 2016 campaign.

ALMOST ONE IN eight people now living in Ireland comes from abroad, with the highest percentage of non-nationals in the country coming from Poland – one in five foreign nationals are in fact, Polish.

So don’t be surprised to see red and white flags hanging outside windows along with the Irish tricolour this summer for Euro 2016.

In total, there are approximately 118,000 Polish people currently living in Ireland and one of them is Pawel Skura, who is part of the team behind the website, a dedicated site for Polish football fans living in Ireland.

Skura’s supporters group in Ireland have struck up a partnership with the Polish Football Association (PZPN), which makes the bond between the team and its fans in Ireland even stronger.

When the Poland national team comes to Ireland, the Polish fans have access to meet and greet the players, while several hundred Polish supporters welcomed the team to Ireland at Dublin Airport ahead of the crucial qualifier last year.

“When the Polish national team comes to Ireland they feel very welcome. But after the match the Polish supporters like to meet loads of Irish fans who like to sing, dance and drink in the pubs, that’s what it is all about. We want to be together,” he says.

Poland joins Ireland at Euro 2016 after they were both paired in the same qualifying group along with Germany, although Poland must face the World Cup winners again, along with Northern Ireland and Ukraine at the finals in France.

Victory for Poland in Warsaw over Ireland back in October secured the home side an automatic place at Euro 2016, although Martin O’Neill’s side later successfully navigated a play-off against Bosnia to also book their place in France.

The two sides have in fact met on five separate occasions since 2008, with three of those meetings being friendly fixtures, but any Irish fan that attended the matches in Croke Park, the Aviva Stadium or indeed in Poland, would have been struck by the passion and vocal support the Polish fans gave their team.

But now excitement is building here and in Poland for what may happen at Euro 2016.

“I’ve had so many requests from Polish people in Ireland for flags, scarfs, t-shirts and anything to show they are behind their team in Euro 2016.”

Although a lot of Irish fans are cautiously optimistic of progressing from their group, Pawel believes that is the minimum requirement for Poland.

“I think the group will be very tough. First we have Northern Ireland, I think we can beat them. Then we have Germany and Ukraine and they will be tougher, but we need to qualify from this group.”

Poland co-hosted the last the European Championship with Ukraine in 2012, and Skura believes that hosting one of the world’s biggest sporting events was a great honour for his country.

“It was extraordinary for Poland. Lots of people came from all over Europe, it was amazing to see, and allowed us to promote Poland to the world.

“The Irish fans were especially amazing. There is something mad about the Irish fans. Everybody has good memories about them. Every single Irish fan is still welcome back to Poland any time.”

Aaron Cullen / YouTube

Skura has been in Ireland since 2003 and lives in Tullamore but after arriving in Ireland with no English, he now feels at home in his adopted country.

“I came here 13 years ago during the Celtic Tiger boom.,” he says. “It was a chance to make some extra money but I think I’m going to stay in Ireland now with my wife and two kids.”

“I really love it here. The people are very friendly and very welcoming. The country is beautiful too. I love to travel around and see it. My favourite place is Mayo, especially Achill Island, what a beautiful place.”

The financial crisis in Ireland forced many Polish people to seek employment elsewhere.It was estimated that at the peak of Ireland’s recession that that up to 1,000 Polish people were leaving Ireland every week but Pawel is hopeful about his future in Ireland.

“There’s definitely less Polish people than here before, I’ve seen a lot of my friends go home. I was thinking about leaving too but I’m settled here with two children.”

“We live in the 21st century, it’s very easy to go home with cheap flights and to communicate with home via Skype and Facebook.”

As Pawel travels to France to support Poland, he will have more than one eye on the Boys in Green.

“Poland will always be my side but Ireland will definitely be my second team in Euro 2016, it’s my home now.”

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