It’s a dismal time to love the ‘beautiful game’ in Poland, but potential remedies could kill off a vital part of the game.
Tomasz Kuszczak will be in goal for Manchester United today as the first pick goalkeeper is injured. There are a lot of good Polish soccer players playing in the British leagues, and they always seem to be popular with the fans.
And it’s not surprising all the talented players get out of the Polish game as soon as they can. Football here is in a sorry state.
Corruption runs through all levels of the game – 70 players, officials, managers are involved in criminal investigations. Things got so bad that in January the government stuck its boot in and suspended the Polish football association. FIFA reacted by warning the government to keep out of the internal affairs of the association as this breaks its rules on government interference in national football affairs.
Add to that the disgusting state of most grounds in Poland, a chronic lack of money and a hooligan problem that makes the current problems in Italy look like a Sunday picnic, and it all adds up to sporting disaster.
But what to do? Many think that FIFA should ban Polish clubs from international competitions for five years or so, as they did with English clubs in the late 1980s after successive hooligan trouble.
English clubs and the British government reacted to the ban by making far reaching changes to football stadiums and the structure of funding the leagues.
Both Italian and Polish football are studying the English example, which introduced often draconian controls over supporters – named tickets, CCTV cameras in every ground, all seating stadiums, etc.
Getting tough could kill off more than just hooliganism
There is much talk in the press at the moment about the Italian ‘ultras’ – which the Guardian, for instance, claims have been responsible for the violence inside and outside stadiums lately.
‘Italian clubs have sucked up to their hooligan element for years, but now they have no choice but to get tough.’
The ‘ultras’ have become synonymous in journalists’ minds with hooligans. But this seriously misunderstands the role of the ‘ulras’, which are not gangs of hooligans but unofficial supporters clubs which aim to keep alive football fans culture on the terraces. As spiked football columnist Duleep Allirajah writes this week:
If all you know about the ultras is what you’ve read in the newspapers, you might be forgiven for believing that they are some kind of hooligan mafiosi led by sinister capi (bosses). In reality they are little more than semi-official supporters’ clubs who make huge flags and banners, organise pre-match tifos or choreographies, run social clubs, arrange away travel, and produce merchandise. There are invariably some tifosi who enjoy the odd punch up but to use the word ‘ultra’ as a synonym for hooligan is just lazy journalism.
The worry is that if the Poles and Italians follow the English example they could risk robbing the stadiums of the intense atmosphere that they currently enjoy. Go to a game at Arsenal these days and you will experience an atmosphere about as exciting as a hospital waiting room. British stadiums have become as quiet as public library reading rooms.
Meanwhile the antics of Polish football fans and the atmosphere they create when the games are in play is often extraordinary. fans really are part of the game here, not just spectators.
So I hope that Poles and Italians do kick the corruption and hooliganism out of their stadiums, but leave us some of the atmosphere, please! Let’s not turn Legia Warszawa’s ground into a British one, full of prawn sandwich eaters who would be better off going to the theatre for their entertainment.
Appro to nothing in particular, see this Youtube clip of the campest ref you wll ever see in your life!