Tag Archives: football

Euro 2012 – a tale of two nations

Just a couple of weeks to go and the world’s attention is turning to the Euro 2012 Championships. Much of the press coverage from the UK has been negative, first focussing on the poor preparations of England’s training ground and recently on racism in both Polish and Ukrainian football. The BBC’s Panorama programme recently covered this in a lot more detail, trailing racism in both countries in the press with former England footballer Sol Campbell warning fans not to go to either Poland or Ukraine or risk ‘coming home in coffins’.

I’m a normal bloke who’s proud to have lived in one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world for most of his life, who’s been to enough games at Wembley and travelled half way around the world for the world cup in South Africa. I’ve also been to more than a few Polish football games in my time to boot. I can only tell you my impressions on the people of Poland and how they will welcome visitors and try to avoid sounding either like an apologist or a scaremonger.

Poland is an overwhelmingly white country. With most polls putting white Catholics at around 97% of the population there can be plenty of days when you don’t see anyone of any alternate nationality. I’ve seen racism too. As I documented in my blog ‘Welcome to Warsaw’ on previous occasions, I’ve seen a man make monkey noises at the substitution of a black player in a Legia Warszawa game. I’ve seen the white power symbol and SS twin lighting flashes scrawled on walls and worn on T-shirts. I’ve spoken with a half Nigerian girl who told me she’d been abused twice the 18 years she’d lived in Poland. This is a country in which overt nationalism and a racism we would find shocking can be found relatively easily – and it’s abhorrent. But the picture is more complex than the recent headlines and reports have credited.

Poland is a land of contrasts: Growing cosmopolitan cities surrounded by a countryside which can sometimes look and feel as if the last 100 years have passed it by unremarked. Young or old, religious or non-religious, educated or uneducated, those who have benefited from Poland’s quite stunning economic growth since it won its own freedom or those who haven’t – there are many polarised ends of the spectrum in Poland. For young uneducated Poles from the countryside and on the margins of Poland’s success since it won its freedom in 1989, the heady togetherness found in a mix of martial arts, tribal league team support, aggressive nationalism and fear of the outsider (driven by Poland’s unfortunate position as the cricket ball between Germany and Russia) can be powerfully seductive.

After the Allies carved Poland into an ethnically homogenous country at the end of the Second World War it lost forever the multiculturalism which had previously made it quite exceptional in Europe (with a population of some 3 million Jewish people, 10% of the population and many other ethnic mixes besides). Subsequent stoking of anti-Semitic feeling by successive Communist Governments led to the last few Jewish people
leaving for life abroad. A thousand years of relatively comparatively undisturbed Jewish life wiped out.

In the turbulence of Poland’s transformation in the early 90s the racist skinhead culture grew powerful as rampant inflation took hold and for many it looked like Poland would turn into an economic basket case like other former Communist occupied countries. That it didn’t is partly down to the work ethic and discipline of Poland’s people who worked desperately hard for a better life.

People like my friend Marcin. A guy who as a child was forced to stand in line to queue for bread before school. Who suffered deprivations most of us from the West can read about but not comprehend. A man who has built his own company up from the ground and is now enjoying the success of this hard work. For many professional Poles like Marcin the future is bright and the (occasional) racism found in Poland is both repellent and embarrassing. And yet, Marcin sits in the same football stands as those same men who wear white power beanies and polo shirts. From the same background, but with a different outlook on life.

Poland shouldn’t be afraid of the world’s attention. We should be glad the world is holding a mirror up to this wonderful country. Now let’s show the world its true reflection.

I say to someone from an ethnic minority wanting to join the 10 million plus visitors to Poland each year this summer, please come and visit us. This is a wonderful country and Polish hospitality is without equal. The national team’s supporters are not the same supporters of league games you’ll see on TV and in the press with all their virulent tribalism. They’re families, they’re hard working people who take pride in their country and want to show the world how much it has changes and how much potential it has. The Polish Government has taken the policing and security of this event extremely seriously – they know how important it is to Poland’s reputation. You should take the same care you’d take visiting
any unknown city as a tourist, but not more.

Which reminds me of my trip to South Africa for the World Cup. The UK media spent a lot of time talking about the rampant crime, terrifying HIV rates and extreme poverty in the run up to the football- saying some England fans were ‘virtually certain to die.’ But not one England fan was arrested or killed in that month. But proving the media wrong about South Africa doesn’t prove them wrong about Poland –  that’s up to everyone Polish person when kick off begins.

Poland has to show the world the success it has forged after so many years of oppression in its recent history. Poland has to give those within it who fear the world outside the chance to believe things should be different. That is what UEFA means when it talks about the power of football to change lives.

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Polandian Predicts – 2011

It’s that time of year when Mystik Monika rolls her palms over her crystal ball and tries to foresee what the future holds. The Polandian crew found a few spare złoty down the side of the couch and asked her to cast her eye over what lies in store for Poland over the coming year. Here’s what she had to say:

January – Donald Tusk will start campaigning for the October parliamentary elections early by announcing that he would like Poland to “become the new Laos, Belize, Tajikistan… someone…?!?” After trying to be the next Ireland didn’t turn out to be the dream he wanted, he will latch onto any country as an alternative option. However, this will back-fire as the voters will not react well to his flip-flopping, and he will spend months trying to repair the damage.

February – The football season resumes after the winter break, and a surprise team charges to the top of the Ekstraklasa table with Arbiter FC picking up 3, 4 or 5 points in every game they play. Some notable results sees the referee send off all eleven players for Lech Poznań when they play the Arbiter side. In another game, the referee awards a world record 24 penalties as Arbiter FC wins 25-1 against Wisła Kraków. Suspicions arise but the official response from FIFA was “Meh, whatever!” as Sepp Blatter walks away with a few złotys drifting out of his pockets.

March – Following successful treatment for her boyfriend Nergal, Doda becomes a nun, claiming that a prayer to God had saved her boyfriend in his darkest hour. Her payment in return would mean her becoming a nun. However, 4 hours later the stunt is revealed to be a hoax, as Doda just wanted to dress up in a nun’s outfit for her new music video.

Nuns on the run?

April – Prima Aprilis is celebrated once more on April 1st, and the PKP decide to play an April Fool’s joke by releasing a whole new train timetable, effective from 00:00 on April 1st. An example of the fun includes trains being scheduled to travel between Wrocław and Gdańsk with a detour through Lublin. The Minister for Transport is fired.

May – On April 30th, Germany finally opens its borders to all of the ‘new’ EU countries allowing their citizens to work there without needing a visa. 200,000 Poles move to Berlin, then realise there are no jobs there, and that they miss pierogi and barszcz too much and have returned by the end of the May holidays. In the Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf, Doda and Nergal perform a rock duet, finishing a close second place to the “Sexy Robot Singers” from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

June – Poland prepares to take over the 6 month EU presidency. Police run drills with batons and water cannons as thousands of protesters are expected to complain about the hundreds of millions of złoty that it will cost to hold the presidency.

July – Poland takes over the EU Presidency. A record heat-wave of 2 weeks reaching almost 40 degrees Celsius turns most Poles into zombies, unable to function as normal. Police use batons to smash lumps of ice into more manageable sized pieces while water cannons prove hugely popular as an option to cool off.

Refreshingly cool!

August – With a census taking place between April and June, the results are finally released in August, and it turns out there are 8 million foreigners living in Poland! Most have been hiding out and speaking only a few sentences of Polish to get by – enough to order bread, meat or a beer. A new political party called ‘Poland for non-Poles’ is set up to make the most of this revelation.

September – The return of the school year brings controversy as the political parties get involved in electioneering. One political party calls for more school uniforms, hoping to win the teachers vote. Another calls for less school uniforms to satisfy the parents. One foolish party calls for mandatory black tie wear while in school, aiming for the ‘too cool for school’ crowd while forgetting they are too young to vote.

October – As the parliamentary elections finally arrive, the voters have been whipped up into a frenzy, and it results in a record 90% turnout to vote. It seems the threat of a party called ‘Poles for non-Poles’ stirred a few fears in Poles, although most forgot that foreigners could not vote anyways…

Who did she vote for?

November – In the final football match for the national football team of 2011, a friendly is arranged against Liechtenstein – presumably to allow the Polish players confidence to rise before facing the might of Spain, Holland and Germany in Euro 2012. However, the plan backfires as Poland lose 2-1 in Warsaw with Hermann Pfarrfenknuggen the hero, scoring two goals for Liechtenstein. Poland immediately withdraws from hosting Euro 2012 due to shame, citing the lack of investment in roads, hotels and other infrastructure as the reason.

December – 2011 ends with a language confrontation. With the economies of Ireland, the UK, the United States and other Western countries continuing to suffer, more and more Polish emigrés return home. However, with many millions having gone to English speaking countries, a campaign has arisen for Ponglish to be used as the second language of Poland. The official campaign spokesperson said “Szur, it sims diffikult at fyrst, but ju get just to it”. Efforts to adopt it as a second language falter with the older generation though, who feel more comfortable with the Cyrillic letters of the Russian alphabet.

That was it from Mystik Monika for this year. She’ll probably be back at some time in 2012!

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Sports that make Polish people angry

White men can’t dunk. White men can’t jump. Some of the white race can race, take the front man here, but facing the facts: It’s ebony that rules, not ivory.

Said that, let’s stay with the Caucasian crowd. [By the way, if the race gets sited in the Caucasus, then Poland seems in Northern Europe to me.]

Question: Why can’t Poland stand out from the sportscrowd? Stand firm and winning for a time long enough to make any discipline look our national major?

Well, one possibility would be: The Polish nation is inferior. But as we’ve had racism here already, let’s try: Polish sport education sucks. There are promising youngsters in all disciplines, who get badly trained, who then go abroad where they don’t suck (re-trained), or they stay home and walk away from any fulfilment of the promise. (True, walk is one Polish major. I meant, one Pole’s major.)

There is the third group: sportsmen I call supernovas: the gifted — with achievements despite their education. Whenever, by strange twists of fate, a supernova shines for more than a season, we can expect a new national thrilldom. Whenever there are more than three supernovas in one discipline at the same time — we call it: the Polish school of that given discipline.

The Polish school of boxing, for example. School? Feliks Stamm could have been an ace coach had he left any “how to” book. Unfortunately, one of his opinions was “coaching can’t be taught”. The wisdom of another coach, Kazimierz Górski is often quoted, including:

— Every game you can win, or lose, or draw.
The ball is round and there are two goals.

Well, if you can’t pass on your knowledge to any next generation, why you call yourself a coach? Or don’t I have a clue what the coaching’s about? Well, how could I? Stamm did his job 50 years ago, Górski: 30 years ago, that time I don’t remember.

Those were the grim times of PRL, life was grey, and people needed be appreciated. But much of the inferiority complex has survived till today, I’d say. What hardly dies in the die-hard fan is his (her? – not frequently) desire to un-grey their life. Poles still need much applause – and if they can’t get it personally, they nominate proxies. We barrack for our supernovas and steal some luminosity. It’s not about enjoying a game, it’s substitute war waging. It’s the “we’ll show them” attitude. Remember Alamo. We mean, Monte Cassino. We’re proud to be Polish. And the end justifies the “we”. “We” may include an adopted / adapted (?) Pole. (See Olisadebe. But only after he starts scoring for Poland.) “We” may include a non-Pole. (See Beenhakker. But only after he proves worthy.)

Where no supernovas show up in time, there are other ways to prove we’re world’s top badasses. There are football wars, for instance. (It’s better when warring hooligans are just imbeciles. It’s worse when they’re criminals. So says not me. So say the elderly gentlemen of the old and true school of fans – who’d take their grandsons to the grandstands, but can’t expose their grandprogeny to swearese, brutalese, chaos. Yes, you may get stabbed or clubbed for showing wrong FC’s colours on your scarf.)

The non-football fan is lazier, or busier, or just had less testosterone for breakfast. But the complex is there, nevertheless. So, the fan is likely to change disciplines, when supernovas show up in unexpected places. Stay vigilant: What should I do now, when Małysz is not as high and far as he used to? — Bet my love on Domachowska or Radwańska? — Is it time to start being keen on swimming? — Let’s adore race driving? — Any new table tennis players? — Is it fencing or foil fencing that I love now?

Tired, the fan is likely to take a rest, diving in memories of many Polish victories. Indeed, Poland has always been victorious, it’s just that some our victories need adjectives:

POLISH IMMIGRANT VICTORY: When non-Poles score for Poland, they’re Polish.

POLISH EMIGRANT VICTORY. Example: You think Germany beat us in 2006? No way! Podolski and Klose won — and they are Polish, only in one subtler way.

MORAL VICTORY: Example: You think West Germany beat us in 1974? No way! We were (morally) victorious, forced to play in a pond of mud.

FUTURE VICTORY: Example: You think Germany will beat us in 2008? No way!

PAST VICTORY: Ages ago, long enough for fan(atics) only to remember. Example: Tomaszewski, the Man That Stopped England:

DENIED VICTORY: referees were bribed, referees were blind, referees were German, or Russian, our anthem was played out of tune, the crowd whistled and booed, the wind was too strong, the wind was too weak, the grass was slippery, the grass was green, an offside position, where’s the yellow card, where’s the red card, we were tired, we were served bad food the night before, shoelaces were too loose, boots were too light, legs were too left, the opponents didn’t play fair, they didn’t play like they’re supposed to, and so on, and so on. Yet, had everything been like it should have, we would have won. So, we would win. So, we won, actually.

USELESS VICTORY: to be covered in the next episode.

Stay tuned.

 

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If you wanna pick a duel, I’m here, too.

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