FAIRFIELD — Like the white and red threads making up the Polish national football team, soccer is deeply woven into the fabric of the Moczerniuk family.
Tomek Moczerniuk, a Fairfield resident originally from Poland, said he was immersed in soccer from an early age. Growing up with two professional teams nearby, and eventually going pro for a couple years himself, he said he has always loved the sport.
He shared that passion with his children. It was for that reason, he said, that he and his son, Antoni Moczernuik, 13, travelled to Qatar for the first week of the World Cup.
“Just like players dream of playing in the World Cup, fans dream of going to the World Cup,” he said, noting he was able to go to the 2006 World Cup in Germany by himself and the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Tomek Moczerkuik said he had never been to Asia, and while he is well-travelled, there was a little bit of anxiety going to a new place, especially with his son.
“We were kind of afraid to go to Qatar, but the Qataris were kind of afraid to welcome the western members of the world,” he said.
Qatar was a controversial selection to host the world soccer tournament, and the country received even more negative attention in the time leading up to it. Since it was selected to host the World Cup more than a decade ago, 6,500 migrant workers are estimated to have died while building the facilities there, The Guardian reported.
Then, once teams and fans started to arrive in Qatar, the country’s restrictive policies on freedom of expression came into play. Seven European teams were not allowed to wear multi-colored “One Love” armbands during matches, while fans complained they were prevented from bringing items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.
Even with those concerns, the Moczernuiks said they had a good trip. Antoni said it was a once in a lifetime experience, noting they were cheering for Poland, Spain and the United States. He said the people and the facilities in Doha were incredible.
On the first day there, Tomek Moczernuik said, he and his son met two Qatari women, one of whom was the social media manager for the stadium where the Polish national soccer team was playing. He said they ended up spending a lot of time with the women, and it became a kind of cultural exchange.
“We kind of became friends,” he said. “We spent four hours with them that night. They took us to local eateries — not where the normal World Cup fans would go to.”
Tomek Moczernuik said they went to restaurants including the best shish kebab grill in Doha and an Afghan place they really enjoyed. He and his son went to museums and got to hold a falcon, a revered animal in Qatar, adding they had a blast.
“If we didn’t meet them, sure the games would be amazing, but the cultural experience wouldn’t have been as good at it was,” he said. “They showed us around. I didn’t want this experience to only be about soccer. What my son learned in Qatar, I don’t think he’s learned as much about the world in the last few years.”
Tomek Moczernuik said the three games they saw were also fantastic. He said they enjoyed being in the stands with fellow fans, adding they met some crazy people.
Antoni Moczernuik said the best game they saw live was Spain versus Costa Rica, where the former walloped the latter 7 to 0.
“It was just an amazing scene,” he said.
Reflecting on the trip, Anonti Moczernuik said words can not describe the experience, but fantastic was as close as he could come to trying.
The trip was an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10, Tomek Moczernuik said, and far exceeded his expectations.
“Apart from my kids being born and marrying my wife, this was a top three experience in my life,” he said, noting the number one non-family experience was meeting Pope John Paul II and the number two was getting awarded by Polish President Bronisław Komorowski. “Those two things are always going to come first. Then, this world cup was number three.”