Football has moved on in recent years: better-behaved fans, better stadia, even perhaps a better all-round experience. Football is big business. Football is a machine. A well-oiled, money-making global machine. But perhaps not in Poland. The failed first attempt at playing the Poland-England World Cup qualifier is perhaps indicative of what Poland is all about. The Poland-England cancelled game is Poland in a nutshell, warts and all (but mainly warts). A hour or two before the planned kick-off it was already apparent that the game would certainly not go ahead. The sight of the referee emerging from the tunnel and throwing the ball at the huge puddles that had already appeared on the pitch well before the game’s KO was laughable. Seeing England manager Roy Hodgson standing on the Polish National Stadium quagmire soaked through was a sad advert for Polish organisation, Polish preparation and, to be frank, Polish football.
Panic, embarrassment and absurdity engulfed the stadium, the fans and people at home watching the TV. Jerzy Dudek, who was commentating for Polish TV, was visibly irritated at the complete incompetency of the organisers in their inability to: (a) take a firm decision, (b) close the roof, and (c) inform the fans what was going on. Again, the referee came onto the pitch (bog?) in order to check the consistency of water and the physics of balls in puddles and disappeared deep in thought. The Polish Football Association (PZPN), FIFA, the referee and both teams (who took the decision not to play under a closed roof) could have been blamed for the sorry state of affairs but for those of us who live in Poland, we all know what was to blame…
This could only happen in Poland. How could the pitch of a spanking, sparkling new stadium possibly be unplayable? This centrepiece of Polish football was unable to host an international football game but several months before had hosted the continent’s premier footballing competition. How was this possible? And in this answer is the key to understanding everything there is to know about Poland. In times of trouble and stress Poland always comes out on top. Take the Solidarity movement and the fall of communism as an example. Take Poland’s situation during the global financial crisis as another. Take Euro 2012 as yet another. With their backs to the walls, Polish people are phenomenal. They can really be relied upon and are a model to the rest of the world. But the Poland-England World Cup qualifier wasn’t a political demonstration, nor was it an über-prestigious tournament that the whole continent was watching. It was just another football game. And there lies Poland’s downfall.
Two words were bandied around by Polish commentators and experts in the hours that followed the farce: bylejakość and olewactwo as typical Polish demons. The first can be loosely translated as ‘mediocrity’, ‘poor quality’; the second as ‘not-giving-an-arse-ness’, ‘not-treating-seriously-ness’. These demons were firmly behind the reason to: (a) decide not to spend more money on a better pitch drainage system; (b) ignore the weather forecast, (c) decide not to close the roof (for fear of forfeiting the manufacturer’s warranty); (d) not inform the fans what was going on; (e) not have a plan b for ticket refunds; (f) not have the balls (forgive the pun) to take responsibility for one’s mistakes.
But not all is lost for Poland. The positive side to this embarrassing tale is the ability of Poles to make light of difficult and absurd situations. The internet was rife with talk of Poland’s new ‘National Swimming Centre’, the economic feasibility of Poland’s National Stadium to double-up as a paddy field as well as news that Poland’s goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń will be replaced by Otylia Jędrzejczak, Poland’s Olympic swimming champion. The match may have been cancelled, Poland’s ability to host an international event may be tarnished and the Polish Football Association may be a laughing stock but the ability of Poles to laugh at themselves is well intact.