The Panorama documentary on Monday shocked me.
I can’t comment on life in the Ukraine, I’ve only been to Lviv on a four day trip, but I am a lifelong Tottenham supporter who has been living in Poland since 2002; working as an English conversational teacher and in my experience during this time – hand on heart – the vast majority of Polish people are nothing like the cretins you saw in those clips.
The Panorama documentary shocked me, not so much the sight of rival Polish thugs displaying their anti-Semitic and racist banners, or their tendency for violence, depressing though it was …but the fact that the BBC could show such a one-sided piece, and pass it off as a some sort of public information warning, a message that this hell is in store for visiting fans of all nationalities when they visit Poland next week.
Equally shocking was the reaction after transmission, on Twitter and the bloggersphere, from a lot of people, most of who have never been to Poland, who actually believed this message, and now think the majority of Polish people are like that!
I’ve been to club and international matches across the country and personally not witnessed any violence, but I’m not denying it exists.
I don’t know what it is about the English media, but they really love trying to put you off going to these kinds of tournaments.
Before Germany 2006, we had speculation that “ultras” from Italy, Poland, England and Germany would all meet up and that there would be riots every day. And what happened? Fans had a good time.
Before South Africa 2012, we were told don’t go, you’ll get mugged, raped, murdered. And what happened? Fans had a good time.
Let me make it quite clear I have no qualms about the footage shown on Panorama, it was genuine and very sad to see. However the producers failed to present a more balanced picture.
Yes there is that kind of behaviour at some games in Poland, but it’s certainly not at all of them and always trouble from a very vocal and aggressive minority, plus it’s at club level, usually at derby matches in major cities like Lodz and Krakow. It doesn’t happen at European or
international games, the neanderthals don’t go anywhere near those matches, they are well policed and they pass off peacefully.
The problem at club level is primarily lack of infrastructure, plus old rundown stadiums, poor security organisation from top to bottom, there’s no cameras at most Polish league stadiums, weak punishment for offenders so they keep coming back, no club membership schemes, you get the picture.
Having said all that, here’s what you didn’t see on BBC1 on Monday.
Panorama didn’t show the Polish fans respectfully cheering the visiting Cameroon team as they beat Poland 3-0 in Aug 2010, and the standing ovation Samuel Eto’o got when he left the pitch having put on a fantastic display and scored two of the goals.
Panorama didn’t show the Polish fans clapping respectfully during Germany’s national anthem, when they visited Gdansk last September.
Panorama didn’t report that in the last five years teams like Barcelona, Fulham, Werder Bremen and Spurs have played in Poland and there were no reports of violence in or around the stadiums. In 2008 my beloved Spurs played away against Wisla Krakow in the UEFA Cup, quite a few of my friends came over for the game, there was no trouble, no racist or anti-Semitic chanting, and we all had an enjoyable few days.
While Poland’s citizens are predominantly white, there are plenty of black students, workers, tourists, enjoying life in Poland’s major cities. If you believe Sol Campbell’s unhelpful and thoughtless soundbites, how is this possible? Why aren’t they all dead or being chased out of the country?
Yes I’m white, so you may say, “ah well your experience will be a different one” but I’ve had black and Asian friends come over to Poland, I’ve shown them the sights, taken them to pubs, and they’ve had a great time. In the town where I live, Krosno (pop. 50,000), in the southeast of Poland, we have mixed race students and teachers from the USA and across Europe, including Turkish, Greeks and Portuguese here on an exchange program. Their contracts run for around nine months and I’ve not witnessed, or heard of, any racist-related problems during their stay.
There’s no denying Poland still has a lot to do to combat the morons who do go to club games, it has to go through the same painstaking process, the same vast financial investment, changes in security and stadium infrastructure, every step by step that England went through after the dreadful Heysel disaster. It will take time, money and political will, but progress is being made.
From time to time I visit a Polish website about racism and anti Semitism in Poland, Nigdy Wiecej (Never Again), the owner of the site was featured on the Panorama programme.
On his site he’s linked this English article on racist fans in Poland and Ukraine, written by the UK based Hope Not Hate.
It’s equally startling, and again mostly highlighting the negatives, but it’s a more balanced article than the programme you saw, I hope you take the time to read it.
Also can I also recommend Michal Zachodny’s article which The Independent posted yesterday, giving you a Polish perspective.
In conclusion, if you are coming to Poland next week, enjoy the wonderful Polish scenery and hospitality, while it’s always possible the rats will try and poke their heads out of their holes, I have full confidence that the Polish security forces will keep them well away from the festival of football, a festival which I sincerely hope you will enjoy!
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