Archive for June, 2012

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.

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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 https://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.

After reading some of the “creative” reporting in the British media regarding events in Poland and the Ukraine off the field yesterday I would like to take the opportunity to tell people what actually happened rather than people believing the usual sensationalist coverage. Thanks to my sources from various Ultras and hooligan groups in Poland I’ve managed to obtain a far more realistic explanation of events.

 

Event one: LKS Lodz hooligans attack pub:

The Daily Mirror reported this story as “Polish thugs have attacked English speaking fans as they drank in a pub in the city of Lodz hours before the opening game of Euro 2012”.

The event was painted as Polish hooligans turning up at a pub full of foreign fans and randomly attacked them. The article even contained references to attacks on innocent fans away from stadiums.

What really happened?

LKS Lodz hooligans did turn up at the pub and launch an attack. That is true. The attack however was in no way random and not aimed at innocent tourists as the report tried to suggest. LKS actually went there to attack a group from Widzew Lodz who are their main enemies from the same city. The reason why they were heard speaking English and Russian is that Widzew were with their friends from CSKA Moscow. The two sets of fans have a “friendship”. Young Poles tend not to speak Russian and Russians tend not to speak Polish therefore English is the natural language they’d communicate in. Russian was obviously heard due to CSKA fans communicating with each other. If you are a normal foreign fan and you travel to Lodz you will not get attacked by groups of fifty masked hooligans providing you behave yourself.

 

Event two: Spanish tourist murdered in the Ukraine

What really happened?

The media have been sick enough to use poor man’s death as an excuse for attacking the choice of host nations for the tournament. Everything suggests that the man was attacked in May and was in the village just outside Donetsk as a relaxing break. It sounds as though he was unfortunately a victim of a mugging/jacking/theft and was then murdered by the criminals. Spain play in Gdansk, not the Eastern Ukraine. Therefore this horrific attack was a result of criminals, not football fans/hooligans. It’s the type of rare, horrible incident that could happen anywhere. It isn’t common and the fan’s death should not be hi-jacked by the sick media and used in their biased arguments against two nations.

 

Event three:  Fighting at the Fan Zone in Wroclaw

What happened?

Regular Polish and Czech fans were drinking together and were attacked by a group of Russian hooligans. The reaction to this has been particularly angry due to it being innocent normal fans who have no interest in fighting. Apparently the numbers in the attack were not so great so luckily it didn’t last too long.

 

Event four: Russian hooligans attack stewards

What happened?

Two unarmed stewards were beaten by Russian hooligans in an unprovoked attack.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7D0fNtIdW0&feature=youtu.be

 

Event five: Claims that Racist flags were flown at Russia v Czech Republic game

What really happened?

There were no racist flags at the game. The Russian far right who are linked to football hooligans do fly the flag of the Russian Empire. This flag was flown at the game. The flag itself however is not racist. The three colours come from the Grand Duchy of Moscow and were used as the nation’s official flag from 1858 to 1883. The fact that it has been hi-jacked by nationalists does not make it a hate symbol.

 

Flag of the Russian Empire

 

 

Event six: Theodor Gebre Selassie racially abused by Russian fans

What happened?

Right now nothing has been confirmed. There have been reports that Russian fans racially abused the Czech right back, We will have to wait and see whether these allegations of disgusting behaviour are proven.

 

Event seven: Russian fan flew the USSR flag

What happened?

During the game between Russia and the Czech Republic a Russian fan flew the hammer and sickle of the USSR. This is deeply offensive to both Czechs and Poles, both of whom suffered for long periods of time under Soviet rule. In Poland flying Communist flags is treated the same as Nazi flags. They are illegal. This act has deeply offended a number of Polish people ahead of next Tuesday’s game between Poland and Russia.

 

Russian fan flies Hammer & Sickle in Wroclaw

 

Other event that has not been widely reported in the press:

 

Hooligans from Miedz Legnica and Slask Wroclaw had a fight with some Russian nationalist hooligans and stole their banner. There’s a photo of them posing with their trophy upside down while mockingly making the Russian closed fist salute.

 

Hooligans from Miedz & Slask with their captured flag

 

What problems have these attacks and insults from Russian hooligans caused ahead of the big game against Poland next Tuesday in Warsaw?

 

Advertisment for Bolshevik Beating

 

The Russians probably don’t realise how angry they have made Polish hooligans, Ultras and even regular people. Ahead of the game next Tuesday there were already plans for Polish Ultras, Hooligans and the far right to meet up for a “march” and then take part in some Bolshevik Beating as they describe it. Now rather than just the most hardcore locals from Warsaw there will be far more Polish people travelling to attend this due to the offense caused by their rivals yesterday.  The flying of the Communist flag and beating of unarmed Polish stewards have further fuelled the already strongly burning fire.

Expect to see some really terrible rioting before the game in Warsaw. The Polish group will not attend the game due to having no interest in “modern football” but will be out in force before the game. The Russians are also planning a pre-game march in Warsaw, which is likely to come under attack. This is going to be a massive challenge for the police due to the sheer number of people expected to take part as well as the pure hatred between the groups, which is stronger than anything you would likely see before a club game. This is the opportunity for two of the toughest hooligan groups in the world to send a message to each other and they will be looking to take it.

Polish Ultras Actions

Posted: June 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

Last week I wrote an article informing people of who the Polish Ultras really are and what the situation is with them ahead of the Euros. Today has seen their first two major actions since the visiting teams arrived in Poland for the tournament. It is part of what groups throughout Poland describe as “solidarity”.

Ultras from Widzew managed to steal the attention during a speech by Donald Tusk in Lodz. He was joined by John Godson a Nigerian born member of the Polish parliament. The purpose was to convince the media that the BBC’s documentary was incorrect and that Poland is a tolerant country. The two men were filmed inside Godson’s apartment eating and talking with his family, which went smoothly. They then went outside to make their speeches for the press. Five Ultras from Widzew were there with flares and a banner that had the slogan “Fuck Euro”. The fans then briefly chanted before leaving.

The second incident was more serious. Members of the Dutch team claimed to have heard Ultras from Wisla monkey-chanting their black players while they warmed up for their open training session at the City Stadium. After running their second lap they then had to move to the opposite end of the field in order to avoid hearing this group again. This incident is particularly embarrassing after the recent media attention the two host cities have received. Both nations have been accused of having problems with tolerance of other races and this does nothing to help the image that Tusk was trying to repair earlier in the day in Lodz. Apparently the Wisla Ultras did not want the Dutch team to be using their stadium for training. They believe that their stadium is only for them. This is the reason for targeting the Dutch national team. On top of the monkey chanting there was also a large anti-Euros banner displayed in the crowd during this training session. It however hasn’t received much attention due to the major incident overshadowing it.

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This may sound like a crazy idea, but what if the purpose of the monkey-chanting wasn’t hatred towards ethnic minority players? What if instead these guys realised the attention the issue has received recently and wanted to exploit it? The purpose of protesting for the Ultras after all is to humiliate Tusk and the Polish FA. They hate modern football and what it standards for. Hence the E on their “Fuck Euro” signs being represented by the symbol for the Euro currency. They hate the idea of this tournament and therefore want to damage or maybe even ruin it. To them this is a good start. What better way is there to make headlines all over Europe and even further afield than racism? This story has already been reported as far away as the USA. If these guys wanted attention then surely they have committed the perfect crime?

While normal fans who have nothing to do with their movement or protests will hate this they could not deny that these two stunts have managed to be effective and gain worldwide attention. By not caring who they offend or upset there are no boundaries to what could potentially be done in order to gain attention for their cause.

Will these protests end here? What is the next step?

Right now it’s difficult to predict exactly what will be done. I very much doubt anything will happen in any of the stadiums during games. It’s easy to target training sessions because entry is free of charge. This is not the case for tournament games and therefore pretty much rules out protests. Outside on the streets appear to be the most likely place. I do not know of any current dates set as of right now.

I do however know of a proposed day of action next Tuesday on the twelfth. It has been labelled as something like “Bolshevik Beating”. On that day the Polish national team play against Russia, their most bitter enemy. I doubt I have to explain the recent history of this situation to anyone. Russia are also known for having some of the most dangerous hooligans in the world. They are one of the few nations capable of challenging the Poles. It appears as though some Russian hooligans will travel to Warsaw for the match and the Polish are looking forward to it.

I will update people when I hear of anything else newsworthy.

Welcome to Poland!

Posted: June 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

Ahead of the upcoming European Champions in Poland and the Ukraine the British media seem to be intent on making England fans afraid to attend with the recent campaign of negative publicity aimed at both host nations. This seems to be particularly targeting ultras groups. These groups have been painted as a threat in terms of both the potential for hooliganism as well as being a danger to non-white fans who it is claimed should fear becoming victims of racist attacks. Fans have even been warned not to risk travelling because their life could be at risk.

I spent roughly one month in Poland during the last year (multiple visits), mostly in Southern and Western Poland. I have visited key cities such as Wroclaw, Katowice and Krakow and met supporters from these towns. All of that time was during the football season where I attended numerous games from less important weekday games with special discounted ticket rates at one end of the scale to the Polish Cup Final at the other end. During my time in Poland I watched games in ultras sectors as well as family enclosures and travelled to games on trains that are organised by ultras groups. This meant interacting with these people and learning about their lifestyle, values, culture and other factors required to understand them.

 My aim from this piece is to inform people about what an ultra is and to explain their role in Polish football. I also want people to understand the recent history of Poland and how it relates to football and society in general. I am going to refrain from being judgmental or telling other people what to think. My aim is purely to offer information and to hopefully allow you to have a better understanding of what these groups do and how Polish football has recently changed. Seeing as there are very few ultras groups in British football (Celtic and Crystal Palace are probably the two largest) and it’s not a culture that most are in the UK are exposed to so I am going to start with the very basics….

What is an ultra? Ultras groups first appeared in Europe in the 1950s. Hajduk Split’s Torcida is the first group of this kind. The culture came to Europe after the 1950 World Cup where Europe fans were impressed by the passion of Brazilian supporters clubs who were known as Torcidas. After starting in what was Yugoslavia this culture of support then spread to Italy and then further afield before becoming common across Europe. Since these early days groups in most countries have established different styles of support or are known for different aspects of their support. For example currently Greek ultras are known for their use of flares/pyrotechnics while Poles are known for their huge choreographies. The one thing that these groups across the continent have in common is their general values related to football.

The most important aspect of being an ultra is that you should stand, sing and support your team for ninety minutes regardless of the score. You are also expected to go to as many games as possible for your team home and away. Your club and group should be your main priority in life and you will do anything possible to get to games. On top of attending matches ultras will typically contribute towards their groups on days where there is no football. The huge banners that are often seen displayed take hours or sometimes days to make. The groups pay to make these themselves (the largest of these often cost thousands of pounds to make) and will spend their own time carefully drawing and painting them.

With the game of football changing so much during the last decade ultras groups have also evolved. One of the main focuses for these groups now is that they are very much against the idea of modern football. By modern football they are referring to what the English Premiership in particular has become. The idea of having an all-seater stadium where ticket prices are extortionately high, where fans are expected to sit down and watch the game without blocking steps or standing for long periods, where bringing in flares and other items that ultras deem necessary can lead to spending time in jail. Ultras groups are fighting to resist their countries following the English model where working class people are priced out of attending games and where the audiences are typically middle class people in replica shirts.

In Poland the ultras see the terraces are the only place where they’re free to speak their mind and they want to protect this and not be forced out. In Poland ultras groups have an amazing history of doing great things to help their country and they still see themselves as being in this position of power although now a lot of people would challenge whether they have the level of influence that they once did. With Europe having changed so much a lot of people believe that football support should change too.

The most famous political impact that Polish ultras had was during the Communist period. The terraces were the only place where people could congregate in such huge numbers and express opinions that went against the agenda of the ruling Communist government. Fans would sing songs such as “A Na Drzewach Zamiast Liści, Będą Wisieć Komuniści…” which means something like “from the trees instead of leaves will hang Communists”. After making these political statements in the stadium fans would then march together after games and protest.

Lech Wałęsa who would later become the first President of Poland is probably the most successful and famous case of a member of the Ultras movement succeeding politically. He was a trade union leader and member of the Lechia Gdansk ultras. He was arrested numerous times for his political actions during the Communist period but eventually succeeded and became a national hero. Current Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk was also active in Gdansk during this period as part of the student activist movement. This recent history of power and political success is arguably part of the reason for why Ultras groups today still see themselves as victims, politically important and necessary within Polish football and society on the whole.Image

Nowadays the political situation in Poland is far more stable yet the Ultras have continued to protest. Up until just over a year ago the terraces were somewhat of a law-less free-for-all with regards to fans bringing banners or messages to games and the lack of control in their behaviour. Stadiums were typically in bad condition and security was somewhat lacking. In 2011 this all changed however. At the Cup Final between Lech Poznan and Legia Warsaw there were riots between fans and the police and it was seen as a national embarrassment. The situation was so bad that even the government got involved in cleaning it up. This meant that at the end of last season away fans were typically banned from games and security inside stadiums went from almost non-existent to what some would describe as being overzealous. Fans were ejected from games for things such as swearing or standing, which was previously almost unheard of.

The banning of away fans from certain games and increased security continued into the beginning of the 2011/12 season. Security began checking messages on banners and refused entry to those which went against club rules. They also searched fans far more carefully in order to find pyrotechnics and other banned items. This became particularly common in the modern stadiums which will be used during the Euros. Legia Warsaw’s Ultras in particular have had major problems with having items confiscated and fans banned from games under the new security rules. Ultras groups from various clubs began working together to make sure that they could attend games in each other’s stadiums by putting aside rivalries or problems and often sharing terraces. An example of this was when Ruch Chorzow played away in Wroclaw and shared the Slask Ultras sector within the stadium even though the two clubs are rivals and would usually be abusing each other rather than standing in the same area.

The conflict between Ultras groups and the Polish FA/government has escalated this season with there being numerous protests by the Ultras against these bodies. They have labelled the association and government as Communists and see these actions as infringing on their freedom of speech and expression. On the other hand the governing bodies see it as a necessary move to clean up the stadiums ahead of the Euros and to create a more friendly and family-orientated atmosphere. The main difference between now and the late 1980s is that the Ultras no longer have the sympathy of the whole nation. Their cause is not seen as being particularly important by most ordinary people while others view them as a nuisance and would like them removed all-together.

With the Euros being the biggest event that Poland has ever hosted outsiders may see these disagreements and conflicts as being a potentially major problem ahead of the tournament. That would however be an incorrect assumption. As I mentioned near the start of the piece Ultras are against modern football. This means that they are against the Euros. There has been a major campaign taking place within most of these groups ahead of the tournament with the main slogan being “Fuck Euro”. As this suggests these types of fans will not be attending games at the tournament and will therefore not cause any problems inside the stadium. The only potential problem that could occur would be if they were to protest outside of the stadium although this would not affect international fans and visitors. Warsaw would probably be the most likely location for this type of protest to take place due to their fans having the most problems with these changes and also the size of their support. At this stage I have however heard nothing concrete about a protest being organised and therefore assumed that there will not be one.

With Ultras boycotting the Euros and hooligans not interested in attending games visiting fans should expect a match day atmosphere similar to what they’d experience in any other nation hosting this type of tournament. The brand new stadiums are up to the same standards as those found in the UK or Germany and the security levels will be even higher and stricter. Fans therefore can expect an enjoyable family experience with no fears for their personal safety. Due to high ticket prices (by local standards) it will be mainly a middle class event and the atmosphere will reflect this.

 

Seeing as the Ultras are boycotting attending games others may have concerns that they will instead attack visiting fans on the streets. This again will almost certainly not be a problem. First of all most Ultras are not interested in fighting. This is a common misconception that the British media seem to have. In Poland there are three main types of supporters who attend games. There is the regular fan that sits in the family sector and watches the game, there’s Ultras and then there are hooligans. Hooligans may dress like Ultras and stand with them in the singing sector but they are not the same as them. Wearing the same t-shirts as normal people and singing with them allows them to blend in more however than if they turned up dress differently to everyone else in the stadium like we used to see in England.

While Polish hooligans may appear to be uncivilized thugs to most observers they actually have a very strict code of conduct with rules that they agree to adhere to. The first and most important rule for any foreign fans to understand is that the hooligans are not interested in fighting with you. Polish hooligans train in the gym and attend MMA or boxing classes and are very big, tough and hard. They have no interest in beating up regular people who would offer no resistance. They like to test themselves against either each other or otherwise against similar people from foreign nations. Typically this will mean making contact with the group they wish to fight and then pre-agreeing on the number of people fighting on each side, a location away from the stadium (and most importantly police) and the rules by which they will play. In Poland the rules are that no weapons should be used and that if somebody is in a position where they are on the ground and unable to defend themselves they are left alone. In league games they have been known to fight inside the stadium however since the new venues have been opened there have not been any problems. Trouble only tends to occur (and it’s extremely that it does) in older stadiums where divides between groups are not as strong and where policing is more challenging.

 

The other threat that the media have highlighted is that of racism. The recent BBC Panorama pictured Poland is a country of anti-Semites who enjoy spray-painting graffiti of white power symbols, Nazi symbols and anti-Jewish imagery all over their cities. It also showed fans taking racist or anti-Semitic banners to games. The examples shown were extreme cases and do not reflect Polish society or even Polish football fans on the whole. There is racist and anti-Semitic graffiti for sure, however it is extremely rare. If you look hard enough for something you will always find examples. Most graffiti that you will see around Polish towns and cities are murals painting by fans that display their love and devotion towards to their own teams rather than hatred towards other people. Most banners people take to games are in support of their clubs. It is extremely rare to see anything racist in a stadium. I imagine this is why Panorama had to resort to showing footage from two years ago that took place at a Third Division East match to shock people.  

The average Polish football fan is the just like a regular person in any European society. They are students, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, miners, factory workers, retail employees, office workers or any other normal type of person you could think of. Just like within any work place, college or town there are people of varying political beliefs. The terraces are probably more right wing than other places, however they are not filled with extremists as the media would have you believe. Ultras groups tend to have a nationalist learning, but on the whole they are apolitical and concentrate mostly on supporting their team and insulting the opposition.

Poles are probably more proud of their nationality than those of most nations. They have had an extremely tough recent history. Poland was invaded by the Nazis during world war two. Towns and cities were bombed and people were executed or incarcerated for being different or for having political opinions that went against the Nazi occupiers. When the Nazis were defeated the Communists then took control of their country and continued the process of eliminating anyone who they saw as a threat. Intellectuals in particular were transported to labour camps or removed from their homes and jobs and put into positions where they’d lose their power. Poland also lost territory with the now Ukrainian city of Lvov and the surrounding region being a key example of this. Because of these actions of previous invaders Polish people are maybe more cautious of outside influences and have stronger beliefs in developing a strong and great nation for themselves after losing control for such long periods. I think understanding at least a little basic history will help outsiders understand why people are maybe more nationalist than in other countries which have had an easier and more pleasant recent past as Western European nations have.

The average Pole does not have a problem with foreign people visiting their country. They also do not dislike people of different races and religions. You should not see their nationalism as a threat to your safety as a potential visitor because it will not be a problem. While ethnic minorities are rare in Poland there are foreign communities that are visible such as African students and foreign athletes. Michael Ansley an African American former NBA player who has lived in Poland for over a decade recently leapt to Poland’s defence. He described Poland as “a country that welcomes everybody” which is definitely accurate in my experiences. As he said “it’s only when you are out of line” you will suffer problems.

I implore you to come, behave and enjoy yourself. See for yourself what a beautiful and friendly country Poland really is! The only people who have anything to fear in Poland are those who are looking to cause trouble. The locals and police do not take kindly to people who are disrespectful or who behave unlawfully. Now you’ve read this you can go out, buy a few Lechs, a kielbasa and a shirt and sing your heart out for your country. I hope you enjoy the show!