Archive for July, 2012

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.

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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