Tag Archives: Ekstraklasa

Chuls vs. Politicos

Welcome ladies, gentlemen and general onlookers. We’re here at the pre-fight weigh-in with two formidable fighters lining up for this heavyweight clash to claim the Polish championship crown. This one has been building up for some time, with parties from each camp locking horns in minor skirmishes, but this looks like being the big one.

But firstly lets have a look at the two contenders, with the vital statistics to follow:

Chuls (aka Hooligans)

Number: Unknown, large enough to be a nuisance, small enough not to be noticed most of the time

Based: Various locations over Poland

Favoured stamping ground: Their local football ground,

Speciality moves: With training in infamous forest battles, they are good at wielding sticks. However, it remains whether they will get the carrot of notoriety, or if they will back down under pressure.

Top dog: No one leader – chop the head off and another grows to replace it.

Secret weapon: The only thing hated more than Polish roads are its politicians. If the Chuls can succeed in the battle to win the public over (even public neutrality will be seen as a victory), they will be halfway to winning the war.

Politicos (aka Politicians)

Number: Variable, can seem like millions when a vote is needed, and invisible when political change is required.

Based: Various locations in Poland, with headquarters in the Sejm, Warsaw.

Favoured stamping ground: Alternate between day-times in front of the cameras, to nocturnally finalising deals in smoky shady rooms.

Speciality moves: The Hot Air Balloon. Give the politico a favoured topic and they will drone on until their opponent is bored into submission.

Top dog: Donald Tusk has done his hard time, knocking back challengers in order to be in a position for this vital showdown.

Secret weapon: Legislation. The Politicos can call on Lady Law to tag-team most opponents. However, whether this will work against the Chuls is debatable, with most hooligans believing they are above the law.

 

And onto the action:

For the past two weeks, the two camps have been taking little jabs against each other. It all kicked off in innocuous circumstances in Bydgoszcz on May 3rd. The Chuls hit the first blow as Legia Warszawa defeated Lech Poznań to win the Puchar Polski for the 14th time. However, when fans invaded the pitch at the end, it started to all go wrong. Only the intervention of water cannons used byt the police could quell the Chuls.

With news of this action spreading fast, and international news sources such as the Times of India, FOXSports and The Canadian Press reporting on the story, Donald Tusk decided to hit back quickly. With a sharp flurry of jabs, he used a combination of police power to check camera surveillance and also political hot air to berate the chairmen of the football clubs. The final blow in the sequence was to ban clubs from playing games at home for a time, thus impacting them financially. The pressure was building on the Politicos to hit back, with an away day a few months ago in Lithuania having similar rioting, and with the impending Euro 2012 football championships, every black eye becomes one for Poland in general.

At the end of this tie, it looks like a stalemate though, and it seems likely that further fights will take place – all leading up to next summer. The Chuls have taken a few hits, but landed a few meaty blows themselves. Meanwhile the Politicos have tried to stay on the front foot, regularly appearing in front of the media, and providing sound-bites how this issue can be resolved for once and for all. The Politicos appear to be on top for now, but they are warily looking over their shoulder for the next possibility of an attack from the Chuls.

Coming soon: Chuls vs. Politicos – The Rematch!

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Book Review: Behind the Curtain – Travels in Eastern European Football

It was Christmas Eve and all through the house, nothing was stirring – because everyone had eaten too much barszcz, carp and cake during Wigilia dinner. When the time came to look under the Christmas tree for presents, little Decoy’s eyes lit up, as he saw what Santa Claus had brought. Mikołaj knew that Decoy liked reading books and also liked football, so it was a pleasant surprise to see books about football wrapped up neatly.

One of the books received was ‘Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football’ by Jonathan Wilson. Wilson is a football journalist who writes for Sports Illustrated and the UK-based newspapers The Independent and The Guardian. He specialises in writing about football tactics and also football based in ‘Eastern’ Europe – i.e. those countries lying behind the Iron Curtain before 1989/90. His articles analysing tactical nuances on the Guardian website prove particularly popular with readers there.

His love affair with Eastern Europe began as a child with summer holidays to Slovenia, and he especially enjoys assessing the former Yugoslav countries in the Balkan regions, and how football has experienced peaks and troughs over the years. However, in this particular book he also considers other countries and regions and he aims to look not only at football, but how it plays a part in the social fabric of life, as most countries look to rebuild and develop after the fall of Communism. Thus, there are chapters called ‘Playing the System’ (covering Ukraine), ‘More Bricks than Kicks’ (Hungary), ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’ (the former Yugoslavia), ‘Chaos Theory’ (Bulgaria) and ‘Fallen Idols’ (Russia).

The chapter in which Polish football is covered is titled ‘The Ugly Daughter’. In it, Wilson tries to analyse the role in which football has played in Poland’s short- and medium-term past. His opening anecdote sums up the perception of football in Poland. He describes being in a car journey driving to Warsaw and the car he is travelling in hits a huge pot-hole and he is lucky that no serious damage is done. When meeting Jerzy Engel – the former national team coach – a few days later, he is informed that the main thing that Polish people believe is bad in Poland are the roads, but the national football team comes a close second.

Following on from this introduction, Wilson then delves into the glorious golden days of Polish football and looks at the success of the Polish national side in the 1970’s and 80’s, with characters such as Jan ‘The Clown’ Tomaszewski, Grzegorz Lato, Kazimierz Górski and Jacek Gmoch all featuring. The question then arises, how Poland could be so successful in the period from 1972 (achieving a gold medal at the Olympics football tournament in Munich) to 1982, which included third place finishes in the 1974 and 1982 World Cup finals. However, the simple answer appears to be that the period was a one-off, by having a group of exceptional players and a coaching setup that allowed them to blossom. When those players retired, Polish football reverted to the ‘norm’ of low expectations and low achievement.

Towards the end of the chapter on Polish football, Wilson then moves to cover club football in Poland. One point that should be noted here is that the book was published in 2006 (and thus probably compiled and written in 2005). This means that his perspective then was different to what it might be now. He talks about how Poland generally doesn’t take football seriously, and doesn’t have much of the governmental budget assigned to it, and that availability of pitches and other resources is lower than most other European countries. Thus, this is where his phrase of football being the ‘ugly daughter’ originates. He quotes Marcin Stefański, the league director of PZPN in 2005 as saying “In Poland, football is like a very ugly daughter. The parents say “Ok, we have it, so we have to have it”, but they don’t really want it”.

Behind the Curtain does provide an interesting insight into football and culture in Poland (and other countries in the region). However, what I found most interesting was how it showed how much could change in the 5 or 6 years that the book was written – and yet it also showed how little changes in the larger scheme of things. To highlight the first point of there being many changes, Wilson refers to the ‘Big 4’ in Polish football (at the time) as being Wisła Kraków, Legia Warszawa, Groclin Dyskobolia Grodzisk and Amica Wronki. In 2008, Dyskobolia merged with Polonia Warszawa and in 2006, Amica merged with Lech Poznań in both cases seemingly to boost fan numbers and thus finance. So now they do not even play in the top 2 or 3 levels of Polish football. However, in the bigger picture of Polish football, it seems little changes. The national team flatters to deceive, the clubs produce a spark of shining brilliance once in a while (such as Lech Poznań in Europe this year), but the league is at a low level. The hope is for Euro 2012 to push improvements, but with 18 months to go, it is difficult to see where they are happening, apart from remonty in 3 or 4 stadia.

Overall, in my opinion, Jonathan Wilson wrote an interesting book. The topics described could possibility be expanded so that each country could have a book of its own assessing football in the various locations, but as an introductory book, it covers football in ‘Eastern’ Europe very well. And by highlighting various aspects of Polish football, Wilson has summed up the best and worst of it, even if it may have been unknown to him at the time.

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