Saturday, February 10, 2007

Polish football – could things get any worse?

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!


Anonymous said...

Just let some Americans buy it.

If Mrs. Paul's fishsticks can jumpstart baseball in Poland, I suppose some other rich Yanks can save Polish soccer. Doing wonders for the English league, Liverpool, now Arsenal, heh wot ol' chap?

Anonymous said...

I thought you said Brits need strong drink, not prawn sandwiches, to enjoy themselves.

Are the Polish ultras the ones who put up racist and fascist banners? Or are they the hooligans? I'm not so sure the two can be so easily seperated.

beatroot said...

Why do the Brits get so uppity when a foreigner buys a football club? One of the reasons Chelsea are so unpopular is that they are owned by a Russian - hence Chelski! Some Man U fans sent their American owners death threats!

The obvious question is: what are all the British rich bastards doing with their money?

Answer: buying over priced prawn sandwiches at football grounds.... maybe they should try buying football clubs instead.

Anonymous said...

Polish football is in a sorry, sorry state as far as organisation goes, which is a pity cos the national side are on one of their most promising runs since the glory days of Lato and Boniek. I sincerely hope the good work done by Beenhakker isn't undone by a FIFA overreaction to a genuine attempt to tackle the corruption issues.
As far as banning Polish sides from European club football goes, would this actually affect anyone? The comparison with the fallout from Heysel isn't too valid for various reasons; mainly though I'd point to the fact that English teams were arguably the strongest in Europe at that period, whereas Polish teams are a long way from threatening the English/Italian/Spanish hegemony at this time, let's be honest.
As for the chuligans, rather than looking purely at the British model of all-seater stadia and draconian stewarding, perhaps Polish teams could look to Dutch football, which has managed to remove many of the unwanted elements (the Feyenoord away trip to Nancy that resulted in UEFA Cup expulsion recently was a bit of an anomaly as French police totally ignored warnings from the Dutch club) without destroying atmosphere. This has been achieved through schemes such as graded supporters clubs, where 'promotion' is won for good behaviour and the like, and rewarded by cheaper tickets and earlier priorities.
And lastly, although I agree atmosphere in English stadia has calmed down slightly since the Taylor report (recommending the move to all-seaters), I don't think anyone misses the 'urinal' in the away end at the old Den...

beatroot said...

Hi Prostak

graded supporters clubs, where 'promotion' is won for good behaviour and the like, and rewarded by cheaper tickets and earlier priorities.

We are probably not far off the time when the TEAMS get promotion/demotion for good/bad behaviour. The most insidious development in European football recently has been the election of Platini as head of UEFA…he was the guy, remember, who not only got FIFA to ban tackling from behind but wanted to ban tackling full stop!…tackling was a bad influence on the kids at school, or whatever…

The thing about the ban on English clubs after that bit of bother at Heysal was that whereas English clubs dominated the European Cup in the 1980s (well, Liverpool did) when they came back they were RUBBISH…football had moved on but English footie hadn’t.

But there again, Polish football is rubbish now, so there is nowhere to go but up, I suppose…

Martin said...


No matter the state of Polsih football, consider yourselves lucky you do not host the Old Firm.

Some years ago, a policeman told me that whenever Rangers and Celtic play, 25% of Strathclyde Police Service's membership are deployed to secure life and property aroubd the match.

Anonymous said...

In the US, kids in "house" leagues typically are not allowed to tackle whereas with kids in "travel" leagues, it's pretty much anything goes. It's not even so much a matter of a legit tackle being based on the defender getting his foot on the ball; may refs refuse to call fouls on the basis that the defender was "going for the ball." Consequently, I've seen too many kids, including my own 10 year old who is leading his league in goals, get run over and tripped up from behind by defenders. I don't like that none too much so I'm all for prohibition of that kind of defensive play for kids. But of course, for adults it's what it's all about. That said, for the most part, while I now prefer football/soccer over baseball in terms of watching my kids play, I hate watching professional football/soccer games." It is typically sooooo freaking boring. Highlights I love, but the whole 90 minute game, arrgh. No wonder the fans seek out so many other diversions.

beatroot said...

Geez - I hate watching professional football/soccer games." It is typically sooooo freaking boring.

And there lays a massive cultural difference between north America and the rest of the world.

US sport is based around short bursts of play, followed by little stops – or in the case of basketball, one end to the other stuff. I am sure it’s designed for TV ad breaks, but anyway.

In football/soccer, who have continious play for 45 minutes. During that play there are lots of subtle things going on – it’s not all about a score – which your sport is based around.

A cultural difference and one that will always prohibit the growth of soccer where you are…

As far as tackling from behind goes – fair enough to ban it, as it can be very dangerous – although I managed to get through school playing a lot of it and seemed to get away with no real injuries at all – apart from numerous scars on shins and knees…

Anonymous said...

point taken on the effect of the post-Heysel ban, English clubs still aren't quite up to speed with Italian or Spanish clubs, tho I spose 3rd best league in Europe ain't bad...
I think one thing that can be said in support of Polish football, the unpredictable and more competitive nature of the Ekstraklasa (cf. the relative rises and falls of Polonia, Ruch Chorzów and Legia over the past decade or so) as opposed to the Premier League or Serie A where it's always gonna be the same 3 or 4 competing at the top.
I do have a question tho - why, when socio-political situations of recent years are quite similar (though of course with notable differences), are the Czechs so very very good at hockey and football, yet Poland and Slovakia for that matter are really punching below their weight? Is it just a case of money, and slightly more cultural freedom?

Anonymous said...

Continuous play for 45 minutes? I'm sorry but I wouldn't call 45 minutes of pittering and pattering continuous play. I think that Monty Python Greek vs. German philosphers skit pretty much makes the same point. For long periods of play, there's hardly anything happening. Then all of a sudden, there's a breakaway. Short bursts of excitement punctuate extended periods of pattycake. Subtlety, my ass. I'd venture there's a lot more subtlety and complexity in American baseball and football than in soccer. Sorry. And at least with kids, there's always somebody continually challenging the player with the ball. In professional soccer, the defense is too laid back to generate any kind of excitement. That's why I much prefer hockey over any other spectator sport these days, especially with the new NHL rules which have eliminated much of the hooking, stick slashing, and jersey grabs that never used to be called as fouls by refs -- so now it's a faster and more skills driven sport, also leading to a lot more goal scoring. I also much like the introduction of a short 5 minute sudden death overtime with a three man shootout following that if there's no scoring in OT.

beatroot said...

I'm sorry but I wouldn't call 45 minutes of pittering and pattering continuous play.

I have heard similar comments from many Americans…but hasn’t ever occurred that either you are missing something about the game, or that the rest of the world has…?

I think one thing that can be said in support of Polish football, the unpredictable and more competitive nature of the Ekstraklasa (cf. the relative rises and falls of Polonia, Ruch Chorzów and Legia over the past decade or so)

That is certainly true. In England it’s the same three clubs who could win it…in Spain its two…

Germany seems to have a pretty dynamic league (bayern are in big trouble at the moment).

Maybe what is happening in Poland is what happens to my club in London, Crystal Palace…anytime they get decent players they get bought by decent clubs. So Polonia has a decent crop of players and then they all get bought by clubs abroad…so they slip down the league…

why, when socio-political situations of recent years are quite similar (though of course with notable differences), are the Czechs so very very good at hockey and football, yet Poland and Slovakia for that matter are really punching below their weight?

This is the 64,000 dollar question, Prostak. Poles themselves go on about their inability to organize things…team games, sporting associations, that kind of thing. Certainly, the main successes in recent years (excluding the relative success of the handball team last week) has come in individual sports…sky jumping, boxing.

Anonymous said...

I have heard similar comments from many Americans…but hasn’t ever occurred that either you are missing something about the game, or that the rest of the world has…?

>>> I've been playing soccer off and on since the 1960s and only recently gave it up after giving it one more try coz the 50 year old plus bod just could not take it anymore. Mostly, I was done in by the extensive windburn from all the young whippersnappers zipping past me.
I've followed international soccer over the years so I know a bit about strategy, tactics, behind-the-scenes drama and all that. So my conception of soccer is not that of the typical American. But the only time professional soccer was really exciting for me was when the NY Cosmos were in their prime. Of course, that petered out rather quickly. A great documentary movie was made about the events of those years,too. I doubt that Beckham will generate a similarly sustained and sized spike in American interest as Pele, et. al. did back although ticket sales should go considerably up wherever he plays. And in the US, folks interested in soccer spend most of their time carting their kids around to several practices and a game or two a week pretty much year-round which doesn't allow much time to attend professional matches (or much of anything else unfortunately). And like I said, I find kids playing lots more exciting than the professional even as I marvel at professional highlights showcasing skill, speed, dexterity, teamwork and all that. I just can't stand the constant rope-a-dope as it's called in boxing. Nonetheless, my kids have pictures of professional soccer stars up in their bedroom. I even let them put up the likes of Brits like Rooney and Beckham, although of course they root mostly for Polish players. And go figure, they especially like Celtic with Zurawski and Boruc.

beatroot said...

I feel really sorry for Celtic - Zurawski, Boruc et al....they are in a one team league!!! In the old days in Scotland it used to be a ...two team league, what with rangers. But now Celtic start the season in front and then jjust keep going in front. It can;t be much of a challenge for them...

Still the Americans will be delighted to learn that they have Beckham coming to LA to play footie ad show them his latest line in mens underwear, ot whatever he will be marketing this summer...

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that other great British export, his wifey: Posh Spice!

Martin said...


The Old Firms' ability to outspend every other team in the SPL means that to all intents and purposes the real SPL champions are those who come third.

The Old Firm go through sporadic cycles of dominance. The only side to have consistently broken through that during the last 40 years was Aberdeen under Alex Ferguson - and it's doubtful whether that particular combination of manager and team (Miller, McLeish, Strachan, McGhee, Cooper, Leighton, Black - their names might not mean much to many, but by God they burst the Old Firm time and time again) could ever be assembled again.

This has absolutely hee-haw to do with either Scottish or Polish fitba', but the most genuinely interesting development about the sport in recent weeks has been Beckham's transfer to LA Galaxy. Leaving the rock & roll and the $128m paycheque aside, he could still credibly gain a longish term contract at any major European club; and one finds it hard to believe that this move does not show massive ambition on the part of Major League Soccer to improve not only the profile but also the quality of the American game.

Martin said...


With all due respect to their founder, the late Steven Ross, and all the world class players who turned out for them, the New York Cosmos were to association football what the Harlem Globetrotters are to pro basketball - an exhibition side.

NYCosmos was tycoon's fantasy football at its very worst - not even Roman Abramovich, easily the world's wealthiest football club owner, could try and pull off a similar stunt now.

Brad Zimmerman said...

On ultras/hooligans/hooliganism here in Poland: I can't wear my Wisla shirt or scarf or anything with the Wisla logo on it because there is the firm probability that I will get an ass-kicking from someone who supports Cracowia.

I can put my Wisla shirt on when we are basically in front of the stadium with large numbers of other Wisla fans.

Those facts are both absurdly sad and stupid.

Yes, yes, we all know that the ones causing the problems are, for the most part, not the ultras but just assholes who like to fight. Unfortunately, since both camps (ultra supporter and ultra hooligan) call themselves ultras it's kind of hard to tell the difference between the two.

Hooligans are why we don't go to matches and why most people I know don't go to matches (or even like football). It's in the football clubs' best interests to work to eliminate the hooligans but allow/encourage "fervent supporters".

Anonymous said...

Yea, well, the Globetrotters are fun to watch, as were the Cosmos, unlike most all the World Cup games I watched this past year. And the Cosmos weren't a comic act like the Globetrotters, at least not on the pitch although they certainly fit the bill off it:

Why were the Cosmos such a bad thing, Martin?

Brad: I was a Wisla fan until I read about the team allowing racist and fascist banners in the stadium. My kids have Wisla scarves, which I now don't let them wear after I wrote the team owners and other folks on their website about the issue without getting any reply. I really don't think the folks who run the team give a doodly-squat about controlling the hooligans. And aside from the Nigdy Wiecej folk, I don't see any more mainstream folks getting upset enough about it to organize against the BS.

Anonymous said...

just came across this:

nike deserves some credit on this one...

beatroot said...

Ferguson - and it's doubtful whether that particular combination of manager and team (Miller, McLeish, Strachan, McGhee, Cooper, Leighton, Blac

I remember them all Martin. But that was an aboration. But I donlt remember a ONE TEAM Scottish league. It’s sooo boring for the Scots.

the New York Cosmos were to association football what the Harlem Globetrotters are to pro basketball - an exhibition side.

Problem is, that in the last couple of seasons Beckham’s team, Madrid, has turned into the Spanish Globetrotters – which just proves that football is the most amazing team game, not a collection of individuals.

There is no doubt that there are racist football supporters in Poland. I was involved in a film about them last year: we have a big problem with that film – one of the main contributors was Simon Mol. If he gets sent down there is a bit of a credibility problem with him.

Martin said...


The Cosmos weren't bad - how could any team, with both Pele and Beckenbauer in it be bad, for goodness' sake? - it was just that its existence perhaps gave soccer prone Americans the grossly unrealistic expectation that all teams were packed with that degree of talent, when the grim reality is that they most certainly are not.

What you write about the lack of reply from the owners of Legia is telling.

Now, I have to be very careful about saying this, but despite what their respective owners' say, and, in fairness to them, the ongoing measures they have taken to combat it, the reason both Celtic and Rangers thrive in the way they do is because of sectarianism. Sectarianism always has been and always will be the Old Firm's money fuel. Nobody buys shares in either Celtic or Rangers, or joins their management, without knowing that the real name of the game is the desire of some of their supporters to refight the Battle of the Boyne four times a year.

The tribal antipathy between them is so strong that some Celtic fans hace taken to brandishing PLO flags while some 'Gers have responded in kind with Israeli flags.

This is Glasgow. Go figure.

Perhaps Legia's owners aren't unsympathetic to the ultras' agenda - which means I applaud your decision to keep your children away from its filth.


That you are unable to put on your Legia shirt until you're outside the ground is bad - sounds like home from home - how many murders are there after matches?

In Glasgow, we're standing at about 8 in the last 10 years, all of Celtic fans' at the hands of so-called Rangers 'fans'.


You miss my point. Celtic won nine consecutive league titles between 1966 and 1975; Rangers repeated the trick between 1989 and 1997.

Know which British team was the first to compete in the European Cup? Hibernians, League champions 1954-55 (the FA wouldn't let Chelsea play). Dundee won the league in '62, etc.

Although Dundee Utd, won the league in '83, that Aberdeen side were the only ones to consistently break the Old Firm.

Being grossly disinterested in either side of the Old Firm (I am a tribal outcast from one side of the sectarian camp, and once had the misfortune of having to draw a paycheque from the the other) there is plenty of action and competition outwith those two to keep anyone fitba' fan going.

Right now, Celtic are going through a sporadic period of dominance - let's hope somebody else picks up some silverware along the way.

My graetest wish for Scotish league football is to one day to see Jose Mourinho managing Hamilton Academicals.

Then, by God, we'd see a league...

beatroot said...

Celtic won nine consecutive league titles between 1966 and 1975; Rangers repeated the trick between 1989 and 1997.

No, I do take your point. But I think that if you look through the league tables of those years of dominance then difference between celtic and rangers, or rangers and Celtic, was not a huge as it is now. It was still competitive between two teams. It isn't now.

and I really feel sorry for Celtic - it can;t be a big challenge in that league. Maybe they should be allowed into the premiership?

Anonymous said...

Martin: I didn't write to Legia, I wrote to Wisla Krakow.

Don't forget, the Cosmos didn't always win the NASL championships in their heyday. And things in the US come and go pretty quick as a matter of course. I think everybody had a sense this was a once in a lifetime deal so folks had to go check it out while they could while the getting was good, whether or not they knew anything at all about the game. If you get a chance to see the movie about the whole phenonemon, I think you and any soccer fan will really get a kick out of it (no pun intended). I've also read that one of the guys who made it are planning to do another feature length documentary on Maradona. There's a website from the Cosmos movie that has a trailer you can watch:

BTW, what do you think about the likes of Boruc and Zurawski in Scottish football these days?

Anonymous said...

BR: You might want to pour acid on that film with Mol just as a precaution. My guess is that it will do much more harm than good if it ever gets out.

Anonymous said...

Anotherr thing about the Cosmos being a flash in the pan...

If it wasn't for them, the burgeoning interest in soccer as a participant sport in the US would never have been spawned. I don't have any stats on hand but my guess is that soccer has overtaken baseball as the sport of choice for kids playing in organized leagues within the past five years.

Within 15 miles of where I live, there are now 3 indoor soccer facilities that are packed and solidly booked through the late fall and into the spring. During the warm months, just about every town in the area sponsors "house" leagues that play in either the spring or fall and sponsor select travel teams that play year round. In some towns, 4 or 5 travel teams are even sponsored in the same age bracket, playing in different level leagues. And really, for those of us who like soccer in any capacity, the Cosmos have to be thanked for the games' spectator popularity today.

I just read, too, that the new Toronto FC team in the MSL has over 12,000 season tickets sold for their brand new stadium which will seat about 20,000, a lot of the sales coming right after the announcement of Beckham coming to the LA Galaxy.

Finally, looking up some reviews of the Cosmos' flick, I noticed that the filmmakers were Brits, for whatever that's worth.

Cygan said...

Heh..all you football suporters.I`m Polish and Im damn proud of the fans in my country.Theres no one like us now maybe only Croatia can go to a football ground in England and only in few of them you will hear singing or see a flag or two in Poland you will see everything from flars songs and hundreds of flags and you can say what you want but I didnt hear anything about massive hooligan problems .Ok there are some but were not killing each other everyday.And even if they do fight sometimes so what ,,It`s a man`s game,,

Polak said...

Dont forget Poland is free just from 1989!

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