A new type of Hooligan?

Posted: November 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

Last Saturday Zenit St Petersburg’s away game against Dynamo Moscow was abandoned due to an act of hooliganism that was both shocking and rare. The Dynamo goalkeeper Anton Shunin was hit by a banger, which exploded damaging his cornea. This then resulted in the match being abandoned.

The story of what happened instantly made headlines around Europe. People were shocked at how a player who was doing his job became the victim of an unprovoked attack from hooligans. Writers and commentators started calling for all kinds of action against those who committed the offence as well as Zenit due to the perpetrator being a “fan” of their club.

Dynamo’s security authorities and the police immediately investigated the incident with the aim of finding the attacker and bringing them to justice. What was discovered was truly shocking….

The investigators entered the women’s toilets as part of their work. There they found lots of used condoms on the floor which had clearly been used to transport explosives into the stadium. It appears as though female hooligans put the explosives inside the condoms and then inside themselves in order to avoid detection during searches by security personnel when entering the stadium. They then went to the toilets and “emptied” the condoms so they were armed with their bangers ready for the game to start. The game was then abandoned in the 36th minute.

Now that it’s become clear that the aggressors were women rather than big, shaven-headed males we have two major questions that need to be answered:

  1. How could security have possibly searched these women and stopped them from bringing these banned items into the stadium?
  2. Who is to blame for this situation? Is it the fault of Zenit who these women apparently support or is it the fault of Dynamo whose security staff were responsible for the event?

I think the incidents that this most closely resembles are the racism issues during the Euros. Do you fine the national FAs or is it the fault of UEFA and the host as they are responsible for security? Zenit are like a national FA in this case. The fans who attended the game are representatives of their organisation and mis-behaved. On the other hand Dynamo sold the tickets for the away end and their security staff were responsible for policing this sector. Therefore it could be argued that just like national FAs during the Euros; Zenit had no ability or power to affect this situation.

Sadly just like the problems there is no simple solution to this problem…. Everyone wants to talk about how terrible what happened is. They all want action taken. Most seem to blame Zenit, especially those from the British media. Nobody however is proposing any real solution to the problems…..

So how do you find explosives that are hidden in women’s most intimate orifices in a humane manner?

There were reports that apparently female Spartak Moscow fans were forced to perform sit-ups in the most undignified manner by security staff in the Caucuses as a way of checking for contraband being smuggled in this way. This however cannot be a long-term solution to the problem. You cannot humiliate every female fan on the basis of a few hooligans causing problems. This type of security procedure would most likely alienate females from attending games and damage the reputation of the sport as well as the clubs involved.

What other potential immediate solutions are there?

Realistically there aren’t any. Strip-searching would be totally impractical and most-likely illegal without probable cause. It would also be logistically impossible to be done in privacy. There really is no other way….

So if there is no way of preventing women from bringing illegal objects to football matches inside their bodies then whose fault is it that this attack occurred?

This again is a nearly impossible question to answer….

Lots of Western football writers and media types seem to blame Zenit for this incident. Zenit for whatever reason seem to receive a lot of negative press for their fans even in articles that don’t relate to off-field issues. In this instance there is NOTHING that Zenit could have done to prevent this from happening.

  1. Zenit did not sell tickets for the away end to their fans. Dynamo sold the tickets on the day of the game. Because of this Zenit had no way of preventing anyone from entering the stadium.
  2. Zenit did not carry out the security checks at the stadium. The security staff were employed by Dynamo and therefore Zenit had no power over the way they worked of their policing techniques.

On the other hand it is also difficult to blame Dynamo for the incident:

  1. It is illegal to search inside women’s vaginas when they enter a football stadium. Doing so would be a gross violation of their rights.
  2. It would be nearly impossible for stewards to spot the woman who threw the banger at the time that she did it. The item was too small and the crowd was too large for stewards to have done anything to stop her.

When this type of incident occurs we naturally seek someone to blame. Authorities need to prosecute or punish a club or an association in order to convince people that they are doing something to fight the problem. They are also under a great deal of pressure from foreign media, politicians and other authorities to act strongly and to discourage anything similar from happening again.

In reality people who commit extreme attacks on players can only be dealt with in the same way those guilty of racial abuse within the stadium. When they commit their offences, they should be spotted and removed. When the person who has committed the attack has been identified they should then be jailed. They however just like a racist are not easy to search and stop before the incident occurs. We as idealists would all like to see football stadiums as safe places where nothing like this ever happens. This however is not as simple to put into practice as we would like. All we can do is ban those who are guilty of committing the acts, wait for the courts to process (and probably jail) them. We can then hope that through education others learn that this is a bad idea and it deters others from doing the same.

The hooligan and Ultras communities have condemned what happened last weekend as strongly as the mainstream press. Under the hooligan code of honour most people appreciate that attacking players is unacceptable and a cowardly act. Ultras groups believe that pyrotechnics in the stadium help improve the match day atmosphere. They are however barely ever used as a weapon to attack players. Fans of clubs need to work together to make sure that these type of incidents do not occur again as they are the ones with the real power to police themselves. The honour and reputations of their groups are at stake and incidents like this damage both of these. That should be their motivation to police themselves and stop this from happening again.

*I want to emphasise that the incident that took place on Saturday was a one-off. Zenit fans have not committed anything similar. This is why it would be treated as an isolated incident involving a cowardly idiot rather than a problem within their club’s fan base. Their many good fans should not suffer because of one person’s actions.

When Polish champions Slask Wroclaw drew Buducnost Podgorica in the second qualifying round of the Champions League I doubt they could’ve imagined what lay in store for them. There are certain clubs or countries that fans would be weary of travelling to, especially considering the strong reputation of Polish Ultras and the willingness of some groups to challenge them. Montenegro is not one of those places however. Buducnost are known for having a reasonable Ultras group but nothing on the level of the major Balkan nations. Montenegro is known more for its stunning scenery and tourism than brutality and danger for visitors. That perception however wasn’t the reality the thousand or so visiting Polish fans faced.

The trip from Wroclaw is roughly 1,500km and there were no suitable trains so the fans had to travel by road. The major of people don’t have cars so many had to hire mini-buses for the trip. There two main routes that could’ve been taken. Both start by going through the Czech Republic. One takes you through Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia before reaching Montenegro. The other is more scenic and beautiful. It takes you through Austria, Slovenia and Croatia along the Dalmatian coast before reaching Montenegro. The fans who took the direct route arrived in Montenegro without any problems. Some fans who travelled by car however were stuck at the border of Slovenia and Croatia for around ten to twelve hours. The police apparently found large amounts of flares and other pyrotechnics in their car. Eventually these were confiscated and the fans were allowed to pass but it damaged their potential showing the stadium and held them up costing them a huge amount of time.

Roughly five buses of fans crossing the border from Serbia to Montenegro had a different problem. In the Balkans it is common for away fans to be kept outside of a city by the police and then escorted to the stadium in time for kick-off. The Montenegrin police claimed to the Slask fans that this was their plan for them. It didn’t however turn out that way. They were kept in this car park roughly seventeen kilometres from the city and not allowed to leave. When it got close to kick-off the fans became anxious about potentially missing the game so decided to walk to the ground. The police then told the fans to go back to their buses and they would be taken to the ground. The fans naturally did as asked. The police had however lied to them and blocked them in the car park. They then beat fans that tried to get escape and smashed windows on minibuses when fans complained.  These fans never made it to the game and were kept there for a long time before being escorted to the Serbian border and sent home. The fans had travelled for forty hours and did not get to see their team play.

Slask fans decide to walk to the game

This video shows where they were kept and the police officer smash their window amongst other things http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODqoxqWB1IU&feature=player_embedded

Those Polish fans that were fortunate enough to make it Podgorica also entered into a very dangerous situation. Apparently local hooligans had been attacking anybody they heard speaking Polish. The Slask press officer was one of the victims of their violence. There were also reports of even women being beaten. Reports suggest that the police did little to stop the local fans from launching their attacks but reacted violently to Polish people who became involved in the action.

As a result of the problems on the streets a number of Polish fans were also locked out of the stadium and not allowed to enter. They were left on the streets outside of the stadium without any police protection with long gangs still looking for them. Once the fans inside the stadium had heard about this they wanted to leave the game immediately to protect their friends. The security guards and police however wouldn’t let them out. It resulted in many being beaten with batons. One fan was beaten so badly he was left unconscious and didn’t receive any medical treatment from the police or security inside the stadium. He was eventually taken to the hospital. The fans were not allowed to leave the ground until just before the end.

Now famous imagine of a Slask fan hanging off the stand by one arm

During the match the Slask fans were not able to put on the visual display that they had hoped for. As I mentioned earlier they lost a lot of flares at the border of Slovenia and Croatia. They also lost other flares when the Montenegrin police searched their buses. Only around six hundred of the one thousand travelling fans made it into the stadium due to either being held in the lay-by parking area by the cops or due to being refused entry into the ground. They still sung loudly and let off some pyrotechnics which is a pretty impressive showing given what had happened to them earlier in the day.

Fans in the stadium during the match. You can see how much empty space there was due to lots of fans not being allowed in.

Here’s a quote from Slask player Mateusz Cetnarski describing his opinion on the events while being interviewed after the match: (translated by Michal Zachodny @polishscout)

You come out from the locker room full in emotions, but it’s not just a result of the match, is it?
- To begin with, we won this match after a very clever game. It seems to me that the second half was much better than the first. We controlled the course of the match, and the result is an incredible advantage before the second game at home, in front of our fans. And that’s about the match, because it seems to me that is enough. And what had happened before the match, outside the stadium, those voices that came to us – even from fans who have asked before the second half that we should waited for them… Montenegrin police behaved like barbarians. Apparently, they beat the families, children and people who came to the game from Poland. Nearly three hundred people were not let in, while police behaved like in the wild west. With respect to Montenegro, but they should behave like Europeans, and not as people who lived 300 years ago and had to fight with swords for their land. Lets behave as people should, especially as people should. It seems to me that we are brought up in a culture of respect for another person, and what’s going on here … and yet it is the police, I’m not even talking about rival fans, but the police, which is to protect and prevent evil, and at the same time they beat women and children that traveled thousands of miles for the team. It’s not the way it should be. Football should unite and not aim for this, that the police beat our fans, and here a very big minus in the direction of Montenegro. Let’s hope that we will never have to come here again.

Amazingly UEFA have punished Slask for what happened by fining them €40,000 and banning fans from travelling to their away leg for the next round. This is one of the most amazing miscarriages of justice I have heard about in a long-term. I understand that they are not in a position where they can fine the Montenegrin police for causing the conflicts because they have no power over police from any country. They should however have fined the home club and banned fans from attending their next game or two. To fine the victims in this situation is quite remarkable. Even the local Montenegrin hooligans have proudly taken responsibility for attacking Slask and have backed up their claims against the police.

The teams now meet again tonight for the second leg in Wroclaw. The Montenegrin government have warned Buducnost fans not to travel to Poland due to fear of revenge attacks. This claim is justified. As soon as the game in Montenegro ended there were plans being suggested and organised on internet groups for taking revenge. The Montenegrin government did however make a ridiculous claim suggesting that Poland isn’t safe due to the security being inefficient and used Euro 2012 as an example. This is particularly strange seeing as there wasn’t really any trouble at the Euros involved fans. The only major incident was the nationalist march and attacks by rival nationalists in Warsaw which involved mostly people who didn’t attend the football.

Roughly 100 Buducnost fans will be at the return leg

Apparently there are roughly one hundred Buducnost fans in Poland for the game. They police will most likely protect them the whole time to make sure there is no violence. The only change of potential violence is if the hooligans of Slask, Wisla and Lechia attack them on the street and penetrate the police escort. I can’t see much happening however as it wouldn’t be worth their whole to attack such a small number of people.

The return match will take place tonight at 7:45pm UK time (8:45pm CET). Slask are massive favourites to qualify for the next round where they will face the winner of the tie between TNS and Helsingborg which also takes place tonight.

First of all I’d like to apologise for not writing anything recently. There hasn’t been too much action in terms of football hooliganism or fan problems so I haven’t had any exciting news stories to write about. This has however changed during the last week thanks to the second round of the Europa League and Champions League qualifiers, which have matched up some pretty large clubs and also some regional rivals.

One game in particular caught the eye for all the wrong reasons. Levski Sofia’s 1-0 win over FK Sarajevo of Bosnia was a tight game where the Bosnians defended efficiently and countered well while Levski had plenty of possession but maybe didn’t use it as well as they could’ve. Typical early season matchup. I am not going to bore you with a report from on the field as not much happened, however off the field there were plenty of problems.

On the Wednesday when the Sarajevo fans arrived in Sofia the Levski hooligans were on the streets near their hotel trying to attack them. Sarajevo fans also apparently tried to fight and two cops were injured where groups were throwing missiles trying to get to each other. In a separate incident twenty members of Levski’s group “Sector B” attacked twelve to fifteen Muslim Sarajevo fans who were singing songs around a shopping centre in Sofia. These incidents were however relatively minor compared to what happened at the game.

During the match played on the Thursday Levski’s Sector B Ultras displayed a banner aimed at the Sarajevo fans that read “Ratko Mladic and Arkan fucked you, now it’s our turn”.

For those who don’t have knowledge of Balkan politics or recent history I’ll explain why this is such a terrible message….

Mladic (known in the Western media as the “Butcher of Bosnia”) was a Bosnian Serb army general who last year was tried at The Hague for war crimes during the Bosnian war that took place in the 1990s. He has been accused of being responsible for the Srebrenica massacre where over eight-thousand Bosnian men and boys were systematically murdered in what is now officially classified as genocide.

“Ratko Mladic and Arkan fucked you, now it’s our turn”

Arkan (real name Zeljko Raznatovic) was a Serbian gangster who later became the leader of a paramilitary group known as the Tigers during the Yugoslav war. Their focus was in the North-Western region of Bosnia where they fought Croats and Bosnians. He also was accused of mass-murder but never made it to trial due to being assassinated in a Belgrade hotel. He was also a former leader of Red Star Belgrade’s hooligan firm the Delije (Heroes in English).

The message sent out by the Levski fans was the equivalent of Hitler being glorified/praised in a stadium where an Israeli team was playing. The “now it’s our turn part” is a threat to mass murder. The intent behind the message was based on race and nationality and was delivered in the lowest possible manner. Levski are known for having many Neo-Nazis in their group and this message was maybe the most shocking piece of racism I have seen in a football stadium. It is even worse than the Delije’s infamous countdown to Vukovar due to the fact that the opposition were actually from the nation who were the victims of the named atrocity.

Rather than apologising or regretting their actions like rational people the Levski Sector B Ultras took things a step further by releasing a poster which is a threat to the FK Sarajevo fans ahead of the return match in Bosnia. The poster says “knife, wire, Srebrenica”. The first two words clearly state their violent intent to attack Bosnian fans using weapons. The last word is self-explanatory if you read my description of Ratko Mladic’s crime. It’s basically the equivalent of using the word “Auschwitz” to offend or insult Jews.

“knife, wire, Srebrenica”

Most shocking of all these incidents have not been described in the British mainstream media even though they claim to care about racism in football. When racist incidents fit their agenda they will emphasise them to the greatest extent. They will even create racism when it isn’t really there. However when something so awful and so big happens in a country not on their agenda it doesn’t even merit a minor story in their newspapers, websites or on TV reports. The fact is that to the media racism only seems to matter if it involves millionaires rather than at regular games. UEFA are the same. No punishment was been confirmed yet but I doubt they will take any action against Levski other than a minor fine. They are happy to fine every FA represented at the Euros or other tournament because of the spotlight they create yet when something far worse that isn’t in the media occurs nothing is done. This is why racism will always exist in football. Nothing is ever done unless it is politically useful to do so.

Another team who’s fans and employees became victims of hooliganism last week were the Polish club Slask Wroclaw who travelled to Podgorica to face Buducnost in a Champions League qualifying match. For some Slask fans the trip became a nightmare before they even reached Montenegro. They were stopped at the border of Slovenia and Croatia and were held for between ten and twelve hours due to having flares in their car. Those who did make it to Podgorica were attacked by local hooligans many of whom had weapons. Even the Slask media manager was attacked by hooligans. The police were no better. They apparently beat one Polish fan so badly that he ended up in hospital.

Slask fan arrested in Podgorica

When the Slask fans arrived at the stadium many were not even allowed in and were left on the streets unprotected and vulnerable to attacks from locals. Many of the fans who made it into the stadium wanted to leave after hearing this news but were not allowed to by the Montenegrin club’s security and police. They were also beaten inside the stadium by the police during an ugly confrontation.  After the game the Slask team bus was attacked by Buducnost hooligans as it left the stadium with the players on board.

Slask fans during the game

Due to their experiences on the trip the Slask hooligans and UItras have now planned to meet in the centre of Wroclaw before the return leg next week. Hooligans from Lechnia Gdank and Wisla Krakow are also expected. They will be hunting for Montenegrins with the aim of exacting some revenge. This seems to be another situation that could potentially end up out of control. The main positive is that Buducnost fans will not travel in huge numbers so there is not the same likelihood of trouble as there is in Sarajevo.

Buducnost Ultras

Once again I am sceptical as to whether UEFA will take action against Buducnost or the Montenegrin FA for the disgraceful scenes surrounding this game. Something should be done about the policing and security arrangements and the club should be punished for this. It is however very unlikely because the incidents were not at a high profile game so won’t be a priority on UEFA’s agenda.

Another game that had some off-field trouble was Hungarian club Videoton’s trip to Bratislava, to face Slovan. Hungarian right wing hooligans have had major problems with Slovak clubs/fans and the Slovak police since a game between Slovan and DAC (a Slovak League club based in a town with a majority Hungarian population) in the Slovak First Division in 2008. Hungarian far right hooligans from the two major Budapest clubs had travelled to Dunajska Streda for the game hoping to fight against Slovan (Slovak nationalist club) hooligans and also the police. The Slovak cops however beat some of them so badly that they became disabled. The police claimed that the Hungarians shouldn’t have been at a Slovak match and deserved what happened for their violent behaviour. The Hungarians however couldn’t forgive them.

In infamous 2008 game http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLlcDExauZA&feature=related

This match was billed by some hooligans and nationalists as a chance for possible revenge. The main positive here was that Videoton are a relatively small club who don’t have too many travelling fans or hooligans. If Ferencvaros or Ujpest played Slovan instead the problems would’ve been far worse. The Slovak police were also well prepared for any potential trouble. They met the Hungarian travelling fans on the border of the two countries and escorted them to the stadium.

Videoton fans fighting against the police

Videoton fans in the stadium

One Hungarian and several Slovaks were arrested before the game for trying to fight before the game but the police stopped any major incidents from happening. Hungarians hooligans tried to fight against the police in the car park before the game but their efforts weren’t the best so nothing too serious happened. Also due to it raining heavily and the game not been seen as too big by Slovak fans there were not too many people there which mean the atmosphere wasn’t great or too violent. The reported attendance was around 3,400 with nine hundred of them Hungarians.

There was however a hooligan battle where one hundred or so Videton hooligans managed to cross the border avoiding police detection. They then got lost and ended up in a fight with fifty to sixty Slovak hooligans. The police however came and arrested them. Here’s a video showing the end of the incident http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2djWzbQcfpc&feature=player_embedded

It is more likely that trouble will occur in the return leg due to Slovan’s travelling support being pretty hardcore and the Hungarian police being less violent and dangerous than the Slovak police. It’s one to keep an eye on.

One disgraceful incident took place that didn’t involve hooliganism or any type of conflict between fan groups. Dinamo Zagreb’s BBB (Bad Blue Boys) were lied to by their own club. They were told that Bulgarian club Ludogorets had refused them tickets for their away first leg in Razgrad. It turns out that was not the case at all. Dinamo sent back the tickets after taking one hundred or so which they dished out to selected people who they knew. The BBB being some of the most hardcore fans in Europe decided to travel to Bulgaria to support their team anyway. They were however stopped a few hours from their destination and sent out of Bulgaria due to not having tickets. It will be interesting to see what comes of this seeing as they have only just ended their long-running feud with the club’s management. This is maybe the worst lie I have every heard of from a club’s directors to their own fans.

There were a few other incidents that took place. None are major enough to merit writing about so I will show them through pictures, which is probably a more interesting way for people to view them.

Debrecen hooligans giving a fascist salute while posing with a stolen flag from Albanian champions Skenderbeu

Ten members of the Grobari (Partizan Belgrade) were arrested in Valletta. Their fans however boycotted the game during to extortionate ticket prices.

Legia Warsaw took the biggest number of away fans to a game in the 2nd round & delivered an impressive performance through their give

Hajduk Split’s Torcida put an an extremely impressive performance even though they only faced Latvian minnows Skonto

The forgotten fans

Posted: July 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

Euro 2012 is now over and Spain have proven to be our worthy champions and maybe one of the greatest teams of all time. It was a fantastic tournament full of goals, excitement, individual brilliance and legendary players. After the disappointment of the 2010 World Cup the Euros has reminded us all how thrilling international tournament football can be. Another great positive has been dispelling ignorant stereotypes about Eastern Europe that were not helped by the British media before the tournament with biased and unnecessary documentaries such as the BBC’s Panorama and the Sky Sports News Special Report. Visiting fans have learned that Poles and Ukrainians are in-fact extremely welcoming, friendly hosts who do not discriminate based on race or ethnicity.

Lots of empty seats in Poznan for Italy vs Croatia

This is backed up by the stat that not a single racist crime was reported throughout the tournament. Ethnic minority visitors such as Stan Collymore have regularly praised the Ukrainian people while England fans even had a protest against Sol Campbell and his ridiculous pre-tournament comments where he told fans not to travel to the tournament or they could come back in a coffin. Fans in Poland also reported how friendly the locals were with the Irish for example creating a special bond with the people of Poznan.

There was however one major problem with this tournament. Something that has not been reported by the Western media as it hasn’t affected Western fans. This is the issue of ticket prices not allowing access to regular fans from the host nations.

The Polish FA hypocritically allowed a giant flag supplied by a sponsor while banning fans from taking their own giant flags to games in Poland

I am sure everyone reading this has noticed the amount of empty seats at most games during the tournament, including the final. People from Western countries have often reacted with confusion at this or blamed it on the lack of infrastructure in the host nations, especially the Ukraine. There are however plenty of people who would love to see the world’s greatest players in action, but they just can’t afford it.

To people in Britain or Spain paying £53 for a second category ticket to a group game or £61 for a second category ticket to a quarter final game isn’t a huge amount of money or major sacrifice. They’re just typical prices for a league match to watch the likes of Chelsea or Real Madrid. However to watch a top division league game in the Ukraine can cost less than £1 while in Poland league game tickets tend to cost around £4. Just to re-iterate that is the cost to watch the best teams in the country, not for a lower level.

Ukrainian fans were very quiet throughout the tournament

During 2011 the average monthly net salary in Poland was 2,404ZL, which on today’s exchange rate is £456. In Ukraine the average monthly net salary is 2,411UAH, which is £190. That figure was released in April by the Ukrainian government. I also want to emphasise that these stats are averages and therefore include the salaries of the super-rich which can make average people look wealthier than they are. In the UK for example the average net monthly salary is £1,594 (Gross £2,183) .

As you can see from these numbers the ticket prices are extremely high for normal people from both host nations, especially for Ukrainians, which explains why there were more empty seats there than in Poland (the Ukrainian stadiums were also typically larger). Considering most people will have to spend more than half of their salary in rent/mortgage and then have other costs on top for essentials it is almost impossible for a normal people to attend the Euros. Before the tournament begun the British media labelled the fans staging “Fuck Euro” protests as being hooligans intent on destroying the tournament. In reality they were normal fans who genuinely love football but had been priced out of attending what should have been the highlight of their year.

I think it’s clear to see from the lack of atmosphere in stadiums that normal fans had been priced out while seats were taken by middle class people who cared more about being seen on TV than the actual game. The atmospheres have been so bad that we had people doing Mexican waves within twenty something minutes of the final kicking off. We even saw images of “fans” literally asleep in stadiums during games. Only two nations had particularly impressive fans in terms of creating an atmosphere. This was Croatia and Ireland. Both were eliminated in the group stage. From then onwards we were left with great footballers playing huge matches in front of audiences that would fit more with a theatre performance than a football match.

Fan asleep during the France vs England match

It’s a shame because both countries have really amazing fans who genuinely have a passion for football. Polish clubs in particular have arguably the best fans in the whole of Europe. They have however been driven out of international football by ticket pricing leaving them to feel bitterness, hatred and distain towards a tournament that should have been about them. UEFA always claim to do what’s best for football, but in reality they do what they can to make money and appease their sponsors rather than to give access to their product to fans from all over Europe. If you are going to have a tournament in Eastern Europe then you should price tickets at rates that are affordable to people from this region rather than at Western European rates.

Amazing Polish club fans

It looks as though in the future pricing and access for regular fans will get even worse along with the on-field product. For the 2016 tournament in France we will see a watered-down version of the tournament with an extra eight teams qualifying. This means that three from four will qualify from group stages leaving us with the same amount of teams in the knockout stages that we started the 2012 tournament with. In 2020 Michel Platini is proposing an even more ridiculous idea where games would be hosted in various cities all over Europe. He believes that fans can afford this because fights on budget airlines are cheap. This shows just how out of touch he is with the fans.

The fact is that Eastern European league football has already been destroyed by UEFA by not being given access to European competitions due to inviting more and more teams from the Western European leagues. The next step of Platini’s plan to make UEFA rich is to further isolate fans from poorer, less developed nations in order to milk the TV money and ticketing money from major Western European markets. Sadly I see no end to this cycle of greed by the game’s governing body as the most powerful clubs, associations and organisations are getting rich from their plans and therefore will not question or take action against them. European football is being taken further and further from the real fans and becoming more and more like elitist American sports.

Sources:

Statistics on salaries in Poland http://www.stat.gov.pl/gus/5840_1890_ENG_HTML.htm

Statistics on salaries in the Ukraine http://www.ukrstat.gov.ua/

Statistics on salaries in the UK http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2067258/Best-paid-jobs-2011-Tables-official-figures-UK-salaries.html

Racism

Posted: June 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

It seems as though racism has been the key issue to be reported throughout this European Championship tournament. Before the tournament there were exaggerated reports of potential threats to visiting non-white fans. Since the tournament begun there have been numerous relatively small scale incidents that have been reported relatively frequently. Now the key question being asked by so many members of the Western media is why Nicklas Bendtner was fined more money for wearing sponsored underwear than many football associations were fined as punishments for fans from their nations committing racial abuse.

The amazing thing about all of this is that nobody seems to be offering any legitimate solutions to the race issue or crowd problems in general. All we seem to hear is how football associations should be fined more and more money because of the behaviour of their fans. It is almost as though people are missing the point when it comes to this problem. Money will hurt the FAs if fines are large enough but it will do absolutely nothing to tackle racism at international football tournaments.

This is a UEFA event, not an event organised by the Croatian or Spanish football associations. UEFA are the ones who have dealt with ticketing and security for the tournament. They are the ones who have put together the training programmes for stewards. UEFA are the ones who should be responsible for how people behave at their events. They have claimed on numerous occasions that they want to stamp out racism and even have advertising boards with this message at their games. They however have done nothing about it.

Sadly UEFA’s security arrangements for this tournament have not been adequate. The steward was beaten up in Wroclaw because he had no backup from other stewards and nothing to protect himself with such as pepper spray or a baton. This season in the Polish league there had been no problems at that stadium all season. Ultras from two rival clubs even shared the same terrace during one game without incident. The reason for this is that the club (Slask Wroclaw) provided the security for league games. They did this to an adequate level where stewards and security teams work in groups and are armed with self-defence weapons as a deterrent. They also made sure that those used were professionals who were trained for the job.

At the Russia v Czech Republic game the steward (who was attacked) was expected to go into the section containing the most hardcore Russian fans and tried to eject one for lighting a flare. This is what caused the beating. Any sane person who understands the tribal behaviour of football fans would know that this was a ridiculous idea. To remove a fan from a hardcore sector would require a whole team of armed security personnel or otherwise the police. Fans always become involved when security try and eject one of their own. It would be obvious to any professional that this would be the case here. The most intelligent solution is to let it go during the game and then arrest the perpetrator after the game. This is common place in the Polish league. When the guilty party is arrested he will then receive a banning order and possible a criminal prosecution. He will then not be able to commit the same offense at other games. To send in one or two unarmed men to take this kind of action can never work and will inevitably result in them being removed rather than the offender. To send in the riot police or security forces to baton anyone blocking the fan’s removal would escalate the incident and damage the tournament’s image further so is not worthwhile for something as minor as lighting a flare. Smart policing of events is the key.

Banana thrown on to pitch when Mario Balotelli played Croatia

Racism has to be dealt with in a similar manner. The individuals who commit race-related offenses need to be punished. UEFA need to send a message to those who behave in this archaic manner that they are no longer welcome at their events. They need to use footage from TV and CCTV and pick out those who join in with monkey-chanting or similar behaviour. Those people should then be given bans. It is not something that can happen overnight. It will be a slow process that can transform stadiums all over Europe. It will be a process that teaches people that they need to change their behaviour or otherwise face the consequences.  If people know that monkey-chanting could get them banned for years they wouldn’t do it. At the moment they know that they as individuals will not be punished and therefore there isn’t a deterrent.

Fining FAs is actually one of the dumbest punishments that could possibly be handed out. Fans in most countries dislike their national FA. A lot of groups would actually take great pleasure in getting them fined as much money as possible. It’s almost like a revenge for the problems associations have caused to fan groups, especially in Eastern European leagues. Deducting points from national teams is also a stupid idea. Players have no control over who is sold tickets to watch them play. They are the ones who would suffer if fined, not the perpetrators.

It would also be a mistake to send in the security guards or police like many idealists have suggested. To remove a few hundred people from a stadium would require the riot squad and would turn any game ugly. Those committing the offenses clearly have contempt for the authorities and would not peacefully leave the ground, especially considering the high ticket prices paid. If riot police entered terraces at this tournament and beat people with batons in order to remove them it would send the sport’s image back thirty years. It wouldn’t be good for viewers, players, fans, UEFA or anyone else involved.

Say no to racism campaign

People don’t want to hear this, but there is no short-term cure for racism and there is no short-term solution to people dishing out racist abuse at football matches. While many idealists are complaining about Bendtner’s fine and comparing other fines given out for racism the realists need to sit down together and come up with a real solution to this problem. As well-intentioned as organisations like FARE may be they do not have the ability to make large-scale changes in this area on their own. UEFA are the only people who can. In domestic leagues the national associations and clubs are the only people who can change things. It is down to them to weed out those who abuse players for the colour of their skin and to ban these people from football. Until the abusers are removed we will continue to have these problems and these organisations will continue to blame everyone but themselves. Education is important but most people already understand the theory. Action is what’s needed and it’s the area where the sport’s governing bodies have been laziest.

It is easy for competent security personnel to search people entering a stadium for banned items such as weapons, bangers or flares. It is however impossible to find a racist in this manner. The only way to find out who these people are is by watching their actions, discovering their identities and punishing them. There is no set way for a racist to dress or act and he or she isn’t easy to spot in a crowd when not speaking of their beliefs on this issue. The removal of racists and racial abuse from football grounds isn’t a cheap or easy thing to do. It also can’t happen overnight. It is something that national associations, UEFA, FIFA and clubs need to work together on. Sadly it is clear that this area hasn’t been taken seriously by the responsible people. This needs to change for the good of the sport that we all love. Fining FAs is an easy way out and an excuse made by UEFA for their own incompetence. UEFA need to step up like men and take responsibility for their role in this mess.

War zone in Warsaw!

Posted: June 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

On Tuesday the Euros were predictably making the headlines globally for all the wrong reasons. There were clashes between Russian and Polish nationalists all over Warsaw with more than a hundred arrests and quite a few guys were hospitalised. The mainstream media have reported the fighting and showed some of the incidents that took place in Central Warsaw in the area between the stadium and the museum where the Russian march began. A lot of reports I have read appear to have laid the blame on the Polish. I am going to do my best to put together the picture of what actually happened and will let you make up your own mind on who’s to blame.

The first point we need to address is who was involved. The mainstream media reported the story as being Polish hooligans attacking innocent Russian supporters. I have seen those exact terms used in multiple sources. There were some regular supporters beaten up from both sides. Some of them were innocent bystanders who were unfairly attacked by hooligans. Other regular fans became involved in the violence due to the emotions and excitement of the event. The majority of people who were involved in the fighting from both sides however were hooligans or right wing nationalists from both nations.

A Russian marcher trying to provoke Polish hooligans by flying the Communist flag of the USSR

I know for a fact that hooligans from various groups within the firms of CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg (the three biggest and best in Russia) were active in Warsaw. On top of those guys there were hooligans from smaller Russian firms as well as nationalists. On the Polish side Legia Warsaw were the largest firm active on the day. A number of their members however were arrested before the troubles began. As well as Legia there were firms from smaller Polish clubs active in the city. There were also members of the Polish Patriots who are a right wing nationalist group. Some of these guys are linked to football clubs while others are just right wing Poles who had a problem with the Russian march.

A middle aged Polish man peacefully protesting against Communism and the Russian march

I think it’s important for people to understand the difference between Eastern European hooligans and those that readers who are mostly from the West are familiar with. Hooligans from the UK, Netherlands, Germany or Italy are typically fairly normal looking guys who enjoy drinking; maybe smoke and some will take drugs. They tend to fight in the streets and use whatever is around as missiles in their confrontations. The violence between these groups at international tournaments is usually spontaneous and can often be the result of alcohol and taunting each other. Polish and Russian hooligans are quite different. They work in organised groups which consist of men who train usually either boxing, kickboxing or MMA. Usually these guys train together in a gym all week. Steroid use is also common amongst them. Smoking, alcohol consumption and drug use (other than the steroids) are frowned upon. These guys train like professional fighters rather than being regular guys who enjoy the odd scrap at the weekend.

Legia hooligans with stolen banners. Have one from Spartak’s Fratria firm, some Russia banners/scarves and a Polish banner that is against racism.

The most common type of fight that they take part in is called an “ustawka”. This is where two groups pre-agree the amount of men on each team and a location. The two groups will then fight here under fair play rules, which mean no weapons and no attacking people who are out on the ground and unable to defend themselves. The winner is the group who finish off every member of the other team. The only way it can end before this is if one group runs or quits. This style of fighting is also common amongst firms in the Ukraine, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. The street fighting that we witnessed on Tuesday is actually very rare for Polish hooligans. We occasionally see them fight in the stadium but these days it’s not easy because of improved security so most incidents take place well away from grounds.

The only other big of background information required before reading the events is why the two groups wanted to fight each other so badly. I wrote a piece on Monday night detailing this. I also predicted that this would happen. If you are interested in this then please go here http://ceefootball.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/36/

Special police unit wearing normal clothes making arrests

So what actually happened yesterday?

The media concentrated on the scenes surrounding the Russia Day march, which took place between the museum and the National Stadium in the centre of Warsaw. This was definitely the most high profile location where violence occurred, but there were actually altercations all over Warsaw.

Polish hooligans

The march began relatively calmly and violence didn’t erupt at the initial location. The marchers were flanked both sided by the police in order to provide them with security. Many brought flags, most of which were just regular Russian national flags or Russian Imperial flags, which are common wherever Russian fans travel. Sadly some of the marchers once again brought with them Communist flags. Russian football fans never fly Communist flags in their own country and there isn’t a single professional club known for having a left wing fan base. These flags were flown purely to provoke the locals who had suffered for a long and recent period under rule of the Russian controlled Communist government. This had been done already in Wroclaw where Russia previously played and was one of the key factors in attraction so many members of the Polish far right to Warsaw for this event.

A Polish fan showing his wound after being shot by the police with a rubber bullet

As the march begun moving Russians were chanting the name of their nation as well as other phrases signifying their national pride. It was after all Russia Day. There were some anti-Polish slogans said too, but they weren’t the focus of the march. Everything was relatively peaceful until the five thousand marchers reached Poniatowski Bridge. This is the point where the Polish hooligans attacked. From what I have heard the attackers at this point were not the top hooligans from Legia who were elsewhere. They had avoided the march due to previous arrests of their members before the tournament and also on the streets on the day due to being suspicious. Therefore they avoided the spotlight.

The two groups of hooligans engage

The people here were apparently a mixture of members of smaller firms and some drunk normal guys. They tried to get to the Russians while the hooligan element within the march tried to get to the Poles. Eventually some of them broke through the police line and fought each other. Rather than being two massive groups charging it ended up with people almost paired off or otherwise fighting in smaller groups where the marchers moved on with the cops and others hand left and become engaged in conflicts. This continued the whole way up to the stadium while the cops did their best to break fights up and arrest people involved. There were ten people hospitalised up to this point. One Polish guy was shown unconscious on the bridge. I am not sure what happened to him. Apparently one person was in a serious condition although it didn’t say where he was from.

Unconscious Polish fan on the bridge

Once the march reached the stadium the Russians with tickets then went inside leaving the Poles with nobody left to fight apart from the cops. The Polish people there were typically from Ultras and hooligans groups both of which are boycotting the Euros. Therefore these members had nowhere to go. The police were all around the perimeter of the stadium trying to calm things down while some guys from this group attacked them. Some waiting around while the game was played wanting to attack Russians again after  it ended while others headed off to the fan zone in Warsaw.

Hooligans fighting one on one after the groups had broken off

The fans who moved on to the fan zone then engaged in another confrontation there. It wasn’t as publicised as the fighting on the march but was apparently more dramatic and more dangerous. The target here wasn’t the Russians, it was the cops. Police Ultras groups, nationalists and hooligans often complain about the police and their behaviour. Some claim that they are hooligans themselves or at least behave in this way. Others dislike them because they see them as corrupt, which isn’t as crazy a suggestion as some might think. This is why the groups claim that the cops are legitimate targets. (A common phrase used amongst Ultras groups all over Europe is ACAB which stands for All Cops Are Bastards).

Hooligans being arrested by riot police

The fighting at the fan zone was particularly crazy as while it was taking place there were thousands of frightened regular fans trying to work out what was going on while always trying to stay safe and out of trouble. It apparently lasted for a whole hour and at times the hooligans managed to drive the police backwards and force them to re-take their positions. The main style of fighting was fans throwing any objects they could get their hands on while the cops replied with rubber bullets, tear gas and baton charges. The fans eventually tired and gave up but the cops did have difficulty dealing with them.

Fighting in the street

After the game the conflicts between the toughest and most dangerous groups from both sides took place. These were the battles between the real top hooligan firms from both sides while the earlier riots had been with large numbers of people, but a lot of them were not real hooligans or were from smaller firms. Both sides took lots of banners, scarves etc. with most battles being pretty even. The Polish groups probably took more because of greater numbers but the Russians fought well and won quite a few battles themselves.

A lone Polish woman protests against abortion in Russia

The most high profile smaller numbered fight was outside a café. Legia’s hooligans had earlier in the day tried to organise an ustawka between them and a mixture of hooligans from the firms of Spartak and Zenit. The groups had tried to organise a meet somewhere but the Russians decided not to go due to the police presence everywhere. Because of this Legia then went and found them at a café and attacked.

Russian fans displaying the Hammer & Sickle at yesterday’s match. Also an “Anti Polska” flag in the background.

There were loads of other incidents all over Warsaw between different groups. Some of them were pre-arranged and others were spontaneous. I don’t have any information on most of them as they didn’t go reported or were not filmed. On the whole from what I heard very few regular fans who didn’t want to fight were attacked. It sounded as though there were almost segregated areas for hooligans and fans to be with their own types. I don’t mean that literally of course, just that they were apart. There were also no major problems at the match, which was expected and positive. On the whole the events around the stadium and fan zone were shameful. The scale of things there definitely gave a terrible impression and required the full force of the six thousand police officer operation. It’s just a good thing that not too many innocents were attack and that nobody lost their life.

Superman came to save the day!

I hope that UEFA do not take action against the football teams of either nation for what went on yesterday. The game was really exciting to watch and the atmosphere inside the stadium was mostly safe and calm. The football side of things went well. The nationalist march and violence on the streets mostly involved people who had no interest in attending the football and were not real fans. To punish two teams for the actions of people who did not watch them and had no interest in their game would be completely unfair. The Polish police should come down on those involved with the full force of the law. Neither FA however should be punished as nationalism and sport are two different issues. Just because one group tries to hi-jack the other group’s interest it doesn’t mean that the two have any major link. The people who watch the match in the stadium were not violent thugs even if the violent thugs wanted to pretend that they were in some way linked to the game. I hope UEFA can see this and let it go. This has been the most exciting international football tournament I have seen and it shouldn’t be spoiled because of the two groups of thugs. Hopefully people will focus on the positives and the off field problems will soon disappear from their memories. If the thugs do not get attention or are not seen as heroes then they have no power, which is what they crave most.

Members of the Polish Patriots group displaying stolen banners and scarves.

I apologise if people think I used too many photos. I added them to give people as good an idea as possible of what happened. Below I will post links to the best videos I’ve seen:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTqrmzUFOpc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAAd3Iy-WVg

http://www.trthaber.com/videolar/taraftarlar-birbirine-girdi-7641.html

http://www.interia.tv/sport,4043,,1,1808659

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSsjnW2rFZE

http://warszawa.gazeta.pl/warszawa/10,88291,11921532,Zamieszki_w_centrum_miasta_podczas_meczu_z_Rosja.html

If anyone has any questions or feels I haven’t covered something please feel free to contact me either on the feedback posts for this blog or via Twitter!

Witamy w piekle!

Posted: June 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

Since the start of the tournament last Friday lots of people’s perceptions of Poland and the Ukraine appear to have changed. Before the tournament many people were afraid of visiting the two host nations due to sensationalist propaganda in the British media. We were told that both countries had massive hooligan problems and racism was a massive issue in both nations. Apparently this was going to be a violent and dangerous tournament where fans could possibly return home in body-bags, especially those of non-white ethnicity. So far only minor incidents have occurred and most appear to have been caused by Russian visitors rather than fans from the host nations. Feedback from fans has however been extremely positive. I’ve read/heard numerous people stating how this tournament has the potential to be the most exciting in a long time based on what we’ve seen so far. Tomorrow the second round of group stage games will begin. One match in particular catches the eye, not just for its on-field importance, but also for the potential off-field problems many expect to see.

Hundreds of peaceful fans enjoying the atmosphere in Warsaw before Friday’s game

This evening Russia are due to play against Poland in Warsaw……

Poland has had an extremely tough recent history. It was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1939 and was occupied by the Nazis until 1945 when World War II ended. Rather than this being a reason to celebrate it turned into a long-lasting nightmare. The Soviet Union took control of Poland and stayed in control for nearly half a decade until 1989. One of the first things the Soviets did was take a large amount of Polish territory and claim it as part of the USSR. The Soviets also oppressed the Poles. They had to live without freedom or free speech, struggled to find food and lived in poverty. The people were unable to protest out of fear and intellectuals or others who could’ve potentially been a threat to the regime were sent away to work in places where their influence was limited. Some were murdered or sent to labour/death camps in places such as Siberia. It is estimated that a million Eastern Europeans (excluding those from the USSR where the estimate is put at 20m) were murdered by the Soviet controlled Communist regimes.

The leader of Legia Warsaw Ultras proudly displaying his anti-Communist scarf at a game earlier this season

In 1989 Poland for the first time since 1939 became a republic. The Communists were finally defeated and after half a century the Polish people finally had their freedom back. Lech Walesa was appointed their first President and was seen as a national hero for his role in the revolution as a trade unionist in Gdansk. That was only twenty two years ago and in this time the infrastructure, quality of life, wealth, freedom and other key aspects that define quality of life have improved greatly. Poland is now an EU member state and one of the most developed members of the former Eastern Bloc. Quality of life has improved immeasurably and continues to improve. Being given the hosting rights for the Euros is a sign of how far this great nation has come.

A banner made by Polish Nationalists earlier this year to advertise a different anti-Communist march

While older people still remember what it was like to live in such a terrible society as Communism most youngsters have grown up in a prosperous, developing nation. They do however understand their history and are fiercely patriotic in part due to the painful recent history of their nation. It is something that bonds people and fuels their desire to make sure nothing so awful happens again. The Polish government have gone as far as to make flying Communist flags or celebrating Communism a crime. It is listed alongside Nazism as a banned political ideology and one that cannot be displayed in public. The displaying of these banned political symbols has not been a problem. It would be nearly impossible to find a Polish Communist supporter while even the extreme right in Poland reject Nazism due to the amount of their people murdered during occupation.

Sadly during the Euros the Russian fans have not been as respectful towards these Anti-Communist rules. Numerous USSR and CCCP flags were carried by their fans during their first game in Poland and also on the streets. They also took part in the majority of violent acts in the tournament so far. During their first game in Wroclaw a large number of Russian fans violently attacked unarmed Polish stewards. Russians also fought with locals in the fan zone in the city. On top of this there have been fights between Russian and Ukrainian fans in the other co-host nation. The largest reported problems outside of Poland were in the city of Lvov. While these incidents have been unpleasant another larger one will take place today.

A banner created by angry Polish fans which shows the Hammer & Sickle being flown in Wroclaw while their anti-Communist banner was banned in Gdansk

Today is Russia Day. Russia Day is the celebration of democratic reforms that saw Russian become a free state. It’s a national holiday and one where people like to celebrate their nationality. The Russian far right particularly like this day as it gives them the opportunity to march and celebrate their nationalism. A large amount of Russian football supporters also support far right movements. The display of the Russian Imperial Flag in football stadiums they visit confirms and celebrates their allegiance to the right wing. Because they are outside of Russia on this national day of celebration they have decided to have their march in Warsaw. They have formally applied for (and had approved) and licence to march in central Warsaw which will end with them reaching the National Stadium in Warsaw.

Many Poles have questioned why this march is allowed to take place in their capital city and have seen the march as a provocative act. While Russia is a different state to the USSR many Poles associate Russians with the Communists who oppressed them for so long. They see a march by these people in their own capital city as being a huge insult to the suffering and history of their nation. The fact that Russian fans have flown Communist flags already in Poland during the tournament has increased the anger. The violent behaviour of Russian fans in Wroclaw towards Poles is another face that has increased anger amongst the locals. The Polish media have also stroked the flames of this fire by comparing today’s match to the victorious 1920 battle where the Poles beat the Bolshevik army which is known as the “Miracle on the Vistula”.

Advert for today’s “Bolshevik Beating”

Initially only local hooligans and members of the Polish far right were planning to attend a counter-protest in Warsaw. However due to the events in Wroclaw hooligans and nationalists from all over Poland will now be converging on Warsaw. Regular people who are usually not aligned with football Ultras groups, hooligan gangs or the far right are also likely to be there to protest. The planned course of action for the hooligans has been referring to as “Bolshevik Beating” by the organisers. The aim is to stop the Russia Day parade from taking place.

Security manager Ewa Gawor has claimed that the march by the Russians will purely be a celebration of football and the game and will have no political context. Polish FA Head Grzegorz Lato has also played down fears. He has described them as “apolitical” and has accused the media of trying to create an atmosphere that doesn’t exist. He believes that “it is a sport spectacle” and nothing more. With the security organisation and FA trying their best to play down fears you can’t help but believe that their words will fall upon deaf ears. With both sides organising their actions already it will be nearly impossible to change the plans of their side or to dissuade them. The best we can hope for is that the heavy police presence and police actions can stop any large scale violence from occurring. It is however very unlikely that they will succeed.

Russian Nationalist march

The march however is not the only potential problem that we face. Due to the game being part of the Euros rather than a regular qualifying or friendly match fans will not be segregated in the stadium. It is extremely unlikely that any of the more violent or hardcore Polish fans will attend the game. As I previously wrote in my pre-tournament explanation Polish Ultras groups are all boycotting the tournament and have continued with their “Fuck Euro” campaign since the tournament begun. There is however a chance that they will be outside the stadium looking for Russians breaking off from the march who are entering the stadium. There is also a chance that regular fans will become emotional or angry if there is violence outside the stadium before the game. In the Russian fans behave the way they did in the stadium in Wroclaw it is likely that there will be some violent incidents. Rioting however is extremely unlikely.

I really hope that tomorrow’s incidents are not as bad as many fear. At this stage sadly I can only expect the worst. From talking to some contacts I have in Legia Warsaw’s firm it appears as though violence is inevitable. I can only hope that the events will not overshadow what has so far been one of the best international tournaments in recent memory. I hope that people can appreciate that this march and reactions to it are not related to football. While the football has brought the fans to Warsaw, nationalism from both sides and the marches related to this ideology are separate. It is a political event and not a sporting event. I also hope that the police can stay calm and not cause any trouble due to excessive force, which can often lead to problems escalating. So far the people of Poland and the Ukraine have made a mockery of Panorama and the accusations levelled at them from the British press. I can only pray that people will see Poland in the same positive light after tomorrow’s events. Hopefully we will witness an exciting match and football can once again unite people peacefully.