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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!