Go to a Manchester City game these days, home or away, and you’ll notice the fans turning their backs to the field and jumping up and down with their arms around their backs after the Blues score a goal. “Let’s all do the Poznan!” is the chant which echoes through-out the ground. For those unfamiliar, this all began with the visit of Polish champions Lech Poznan, to the Eastlands, for a Europa League group stage match. The cheering style of the visitors left such an impression on the English, who at this point only experience the drab, ‘witty’, sarcastic singing of their stands at matches, that they have adopted it in to their own match routine.
Unfortunately, the Man City fans, would most likely be disgusted by behavior from some Lech fans to their own countrymen. In recent days, a CCTV video from the November friendly between Poland and the Ivory Coast has emerged which is causing an uproar in Poland regarding stadium safety. The site was the brand new stadium in Poznan, which was the first of the Euro 2012 venues to open it’s doors. It appeared to go off perfectly, 43,000 people in the stands, and an emphatic 3:1 victory for the Polish team. Now though, the match is tainted with the formerly mentioned CCTV recording.
The monitoring shows the leader of the ‘Wiara Lecha’ (translation: Lech Faithful) and a few others as they stand around a man wearing a simple ‘Polska’ track jacket. It is unclear what is being said, but it is very clear they do not want him in their stand. Shoving turns in to spitting and the man being knocked down. His family appears in the video, and two women attempt to calm things down, they in turn are spit on as well and the family eventually is forced out of the stand. The family has since said they fled the stadium fearing more aggression, and their two young sons, who were Lech fans and enjoyed attending games are now afraid to return to watch more.
The club in the meantime have refused to make any sort of move other then claiming they will “look in to the matter”. Even going as far as claiming that perhaps the family were acting in a provocative manner and that the male member was drunk. As we all know, hooliganism generally stems from hostile and aggressive families. The Polish federation has stepped back, saying the club have to deal with it, while politicians in Poland all say they are disgusted, yet pass the responsibility on to someone else. All the people in charge, are more afraid of getting on the wrong side of a powerful group of supporters, then taking any sort of action to the benefit of our football culture. I expect this to eventually be swept under the rug with most likely, absolutely no consequences involved, not even an apology.
The sad part is that at this moment, Polish football is at a very important crossroads. The infrastructure of the sport is finally being updated after it was allowed to rot in to disarray. Stadiums are sprouting, better fields for youth, and the level of the Ekstraklasa is puttering upwards. Yet in the stands there is still a hesitation to implement European standards. To make it clear, I do not want to see the loss of the amazing atmosphere the ‘Wiara Lecha’ are able to create at Lech games for example, but it does not sit with me to allow these same people to decide who is and who isn’t a “proper supporter”. Lech have enjoyed relative peace in Poznan thanks to working together with their fans, yet as the spitting incident shows, not all is perfect yet.
While there is still a strong stereotype that Eastern European football is overrun with bald-headed hooligans, I want to emphasize in this piece that is not the case in Poland. I attended many league games in my time in Poland and experienced no violence in the stands. While true that this element does exist, much of it has been marginalized. As I said earlier, now is the deciding factor though in which way Polish football goes with setting laws for behavior in the stands. Someone must find the balance to maintain the colorful, loud, atmospheres, while maintaining a high standard of safety for all fans who want to attend, even families. I have an idea for the first law even, no spitting.