By John Brewin, Senior Editor at ESPNSoccernet
As an event to shake liberal principles, being robbed must rank near the top. That moment of deduction, when it becomes clear that your property has been taken from you, is one of crashing emptiness, anger and impotence.
Just about everybody has been a victim of crime and might well be able to relate to those feelings. So please forgive my self-indulgence. Perhaps the deepest anger is derived from the memory of realization approaching. These are seconds of self-doubt, a fear that you might have gone mad. This cannot be happening. Then, the worst comes to be true. It's all gone; you won't be seeing any of it again.
Then come the hours of frantic administration conducted in the afterglow of violation. Shock and anger are shrouded in disbelief until a feeling of defeated resignation takes hold. Next comes suspicion and helplessness. And these are hard to shake off.
An evening watching England's defeat of Sweden with friends in Warsaw's Fanzone is all but forgotten, tarnished by my return to my hotel room. The door had not been forced. That only heightened the confusion at the lack of the laptop I had plugged in to charge. Instead, someone had circumvented the hotel's keycard system, let themselves in, and then set to work on my valuables.
They were systematic. Their method of entry meant they had time to be so. Each electrical item's power supply went with it as did the various protective sleeves. They didn't even make too much of a mess. Credit cards were left, as were passport and accreditation pass. They didn't bother rifling through an increasingly smelly clothes bag. I can't blame them for that, at least. Those omissions register as small but important mercies, though gratitude hardly feels applicable.
I wasn't alone; another guest had also been stolen from by the same method. An "inside job," they called it. The plainclothes policeman was sympathetic, the hotel staff defensive. This had never happened before, apparently. No one else could have been in my room. The computer system said so. Had I been drinking? I had, but have rarely felt as starkly sober.
Two hours were spent down at a Polish police station, giving evidence through an interpreter. Sat on a rusty chair, in a room stained by tobacco and time, with wallpaper peeling from plaster, I told a corpulent cop what had happened, what had gone, what I knew. The answer to the last was very little. I have little hope of ever knowing much, either. A sleepless night ensued. Perhaps I was foolish to take such things to the tournament. But then again, I am here for a month in which there are long hours of downtime and travel. Should I have used the safe? There wasn't one in the room. The thief or thieves would have got to it anyway. The clock ticked on in fevered thought.
I shall never meet the perpetrator but it would be an interesting encounter. If moral superiority were to allow me to be circumspect rather than vengeful, I would like to ask them some questions. Why and how, of course, lead the list. Did they experience any sense of guilt? How do they circumvent feelings of conscience? Are people like me, from a richer country, just fair game to them? Does not knowing me mean that this is almost a victimless crime to them?
And beyond that, how are they getting on with my record collection? Are they big fans of The Fall too? Are they confused by an iPod memory that ranges from Jason Donovan to Popol Vuh? Bill Orcutt: genius or dirge? Did they too enjoy reading the story of the Pogues, as told by accordionist James Fearnley? Do they wonder why I don't read fiction? Why do I have such a large collection of books about Brian Clough? Of course, my iPod and Kindle are probably wiped by now and I must travel across Poland and Ukraine without anything to read or listen to. First-world problems, but a pain nonetheless.
The hotel's defensiveness soon turned to frantic apology. I was shifted to a suite, had plates of fruit delivered to my room, was offered the run of the mini-bar and a free meal. They paid for me to be driven to buy some new equipment. My thief had more than one victim; a professional reputation had been sullied.
And there is a further casualty. I had developed good feelings about Poland, a place that prides itself on hospitality and providing a warm welcome. Now, sadly, I find it hard to be so well-disposed. Whatever happens at Euro 2012, a truly excellent tournament played in some very friendly places, the memories are tarnished. I do not plan to continue to wallow in self-pity -- and apologies for doing so here -- but any wide-eyed excitement is unlikely to return.
Saturday night saw me walking home amid the aftermath of Poland's exit from the tournament. Their fans were still singing in sorrowful defiance. My sympathy went out to them and still does. Their support was truly exemplary. But as I walked, I began to hope that my thief was a big football fan. And if he or she was Polish, had suffered a really bad night.