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?

 

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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!