The European Football Championships will kick-off later today when Poland play Greece in the National Stadium in Warsaw. The games will begin amongst much anticipation and controversy, most of which was sparked by the recent BBC ‘Panorama’ programme about violence in both hosting nations.
Many of the scenes shown on the programme were disturbing, the racial hatred displayed and some of the scenes of violence were genuinely horrifying.
This article is not intended to try to redress the balance that would not be possible in a post about the experience of a single game. It is however a chance to describe what I witnessed from a personal viewpoint.
Our little group of six keen football supporters and not so keen bloggers were fortunate to be present when Poland unveiled its national stadium in Warsaw. It was a friendly game against Portugal, and although the football was not really exciting, my memories of the evening were of a friendly affair.
The evening started with drinks in a nearby bar, filled with keen Poland supporters, they certainly enjoyed plenty of drinks but they were never aggressive. We enjoyed some banter and shared a few jokes as well as some shots but it was all good humoured and there was never any moment that any of us felt threatened.
We made our way into the impressive new stadium without any difficulties despite the large numbers of people attending and made our way to our seats.
We were seated in an area of mixed supporters; the Polish mixing with the Portuguese and families enjoying sometime together. There was a mass of colour, both sets of fans wearing the tribal colours of their teams. Plenty of scarf waving, flag flying, chanting and of course cheering took place but there wasn’t any violence displayed.
Everybody appeared keen just to enjoy the game and only there to support their team. Football is a game of passion and there was plenty of emotion on display. Every fan in the stadium was totally engrossed in the ‘friendly’ game, kicking every ball, their mood up and down dependent on the success of their team’s attacks.
Fans of national teams are also supporting their culture as the teams are representing their national identities. To football supporters there is no such thing as a friendly, every game is fiercely contested by the fans and they believe should be by their teams.
There are a number of fierce rivalries in football and if on the international stage there can be some historical rivalry which can often add an addtional element to the competitive spirit. Sometimes unfortunately some minority groups use these to ignite hatred and violence.
This game passed without incident however, unfortunately both off and on the pitch. It was not the most exciting game and the magnificent stadium and supporters probably deserved more from the stars on show. It did little to dampen the spirits of the crowd however they were determined to enjoy themselves and nothing was going to prevent that. They mixed freely both on the terraces and at the refreshment areas, buying beers and hotdogs, queuing together no doubt with some light-hearted banter.
There is impossible to deny the shocking scenes portrayed in the Panorama programme, and unfortunately there will always be a mindless minority that spoil the enjoyment of others with their stupidity. The organising countries pointed out that the scenes could have been filmed in any number of European countries. However I certainly cannot remember witnessing such racial hatred, Nazi-style saluting or such levels of violence at stadiums in the United Kingdom.
The BBC has predictably recieved a great deal of criticism for airing this programme especially so close to the opening games of the Championship. The corporation has been accused of sensationalism, inaccuracy and also impartiality of the reporting.
Regardless it appears to me that the vast majority of supporters in Poland at least are genuine; they go to games to support their team, they only want to enjoy the game, soak up the atmosphere and see them succeed.
Whilst I cannot speak from experience of Ukrainian football it seems likely that this is still the case there too.
Let’s hope that this tournament is a great success without any scenes of violence involving supporters of any country. There is not any place for racism in football or the world for that matter. It would be a great shame for both hosting nations and football will be the loser if the ugly scenes displayed in this programme were repeated during the Euro 2012 Championships.
The friendly people of Warsaw and Poland that shared a special night in February with us deserve a successful tournament; they deserve their moment in the sun without fear of it being spoiled by a small group of mindless thugs.