Rain Stops Play

October 17, 2012
Rain, Rain Go Away

Swampy-wet Pitch

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.

Bog-standard Conditions

Bog-standard Conditions

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…

Poland.

Flippin' Hell!

Flippin’ Awful Game

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.

Poland's Red Card

Red-faced Poland

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.

Light-hearted Spirit

Light-hearted Spirit

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 situationsThe 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.


Most Important Event

December 6, 2009
Soaring Eagle?

Soaring Eagle?

It occurred to me that it has been twenty years since Poland regained its freedom way back in 1989. Twenty years of ‘transformation’ (as Polish people like to call it) have fashioned the country that we now call Poland. I wonder whether everything that has happened over these twenty years is a consequence of the baggage of communism. Could some things have been avoided? Could Poland have taken a different route? Below is a list of (what I think to be) the most important events in Poland of the last twenty years (in chronological order):

Defining Moment?

Defining Moment?

Round Table Talks (5th April 1989)
A constant bone of contention between Law and Justice (PiS) and Poland’s other political parties. This is the moment when the communists decide to sit down and discuss with Solidarity the future of Poland.

Rydzyk Radio (9th December 1991)
Radio Maryja is founded in Toruń. After a mere three years this local Catholic radio station, the patron of which is controversial cleric Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, obtains a licence to broadcast nationally helping it later become the voice of right-wing Polish Catholicism.

War Upstairs (4th June 1992)
Jan Olszewski’s weak minority government is toppled by President Lech Wałęsa who, fearing a backlash and possible coup d’etat following Antoni Macierewicz’s much-maligned Vetting Act, decides to put an end to the Olszewski-Kaczyński-Macierewicz madness.

Charitable Change?

Charitable Change?

Orchestrating Help (3rd January 1993)
Jerzy Owsiak sets in motion what will later become the largest and most celebrated charitable event in Polish history. The very first Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity raised $1.5 million, an unprecedented sum in a country new to such events.

Russians Leave (17th September 1993)
In what turns out to be a major coup for Lech Wałęsa and a welcome surprise for Poles, Russian President Boris Yeltsin agrees to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland. In mid September, President Wałęsa bids farewell to the last of the Russian soldiers.

Poland Joins NATO (12th March 1999)
Finally, after years of oppression, Polish people around the world breathe a sigh of relief when Minister of Foreign Affairs Bronisław Geremek signs Poland’s NATO membership agreement.

Changing Europe?

Changing Europe?

Poland Joins EU (1st May 2004)
Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leader and Prime Minister, Leszek Miller signs the paperwork in April 2003, the referendum takes place in June 2003 and within less than a year, Poland becomes a fully-fledged member of Europe’s finest club.

Death of Hope (2nd April 2005)
The death of John Paul II marked the end of an era for many. During his papacy he travelled to more countries than any previous Vicar of Rome. For Poles, his death also marked the passing of their chief flag-bearer, spiritual leader and beacon of hope.

Poland Going Euro (18th April 2007)
Much to the amazement of all concerned, Michel Platini, head of UEFA, announces that the joint bid by Poland and Ukraine to host the European Football Championships in 2012 is victorious. Poland’s future is looking brighter…

Soaring Higher?

Soaring Higher?

Buzek Tops (14th July 2009)
Former Polish Prime Minister takes the helm of the European Parliament becoming Poland’s first ever President of the European Parliament. Although not a particularly powerful post, it demonstrates Poland’s increasing influence in the EU.

It occurred to me that it has been over twenty years since Poland regained its freedom way back in 1989. Twenty years of ‘transformation’ (as Polish people like to call it) have fashioned the country that we now call Poland. I wonder whether everything that has happened over these twenty years is a consequence of the baggage of communism. Could some things have been avoided? Could Poland have taken a different route?

Some may argue that such questions are always futile and lead to nothing but frustration. I disagree. They may help us re-evaluate the reasons why certain decisions were taken, why leaders, politicians and media personalities did what they did, how this affected society, and how, in the future, we might be able to avoid some of the needless mistakes that were made.

Below is a list of (what I think to be) the most important events in Poland of the last twenty years (in chronological order):

Event No. 1: The Round Table Talks (5th April 1989)

A constant bone of contention between Law and Justice (PiS) and seemingly Poland’s other political parties. This was the moment when the communists decided to sit down and discuss with Solidarity the future of Poland.

Event No. 2: Rydzyk Radio (9th December 1991)

Radio Maryja is founded in Toruń. This local Catholic radio station, the patron of which is controversial cleric Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, obtains a licence to broadcast nationally three years after being founded later becoming the voice of right-wing Polish Catholicism.

Event No. 3: The Change Upstairs (4th June 1992)

Jan Olszewski’s weak minority government is toppled by President Lech Wałęsa who, fearing a backlash and possible coup d’etat following Antoni Macierewicz’s much-maligned Vetting Act, decides to put an end to the Olszewski-Kaczyński-Macierewicz madness.

Event No. 4: Orchestrating Help (3rd January 1993)

Jerzy Owsiak sets in motion what will later become the largest and most celebrated charitable event in Polish history. The very first Great Orchestra of Christmas Help raised $1.5 million, an unprecedented sum in a country new to such events.

Event No. 5: Russians Leave (17th September 1993)

What turned out to be one Lech Wałęsa’s major coups and much to the joyous surprise of the whole country, Russian President Boris Yelcyn agrees to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland. In mid September, President Wałęsa bids farewell to the last of the Russian soldiers.

Event No. 6: Poland joins NATO (12th March 1999)

Finally, after years of oppression, Polish people around the world breathe a sigh of relief when Minister of Foreign Affairs Bronisław Geremek signs Poland’s NATO membership agreement.

Event No. 7: Poland joins the EU (1st May 2004)

Left Democratic Alliance (SLD) leader and Prime Minister, Leszek Miller signs the paperwork in April 2003, the referendum takes place in June 2003 and within less than a year, Poland becomes a fully-fledged member of Europe’s finest club.

Event No. 8: Death of Hope (2nd April 2005)

The death of John Paul II marked the end of an era for many. During his papacy he travelled to more countries than any previous Vicar of Rome. For Poles, his passing marked also the passing of their chief flag-bearer, spiritual leader and beacon of hope.

Event No. 9: Poland Going Euro (18th April 2007)

Much to the amazement of all concerned, Michel Platini, head of UEFA, announces that the joint bid by Poland and Ukraine to host the European Football Championships in 2012 is victorious. Poland’s future is looking brighter…

Event No. 10: Buzek Tops (14th July 2009)

Former Polish Prime Minister takes the helm of the European Parliament becoming Poland’s first ever President of the European Parliament. Although not a particularly powerful post, it demonstrates Poland’s increasing influence in the EU.


Silesians Want Autonomy

September 21, 2009
We, the Nation

We, the Nation

An interesting thing happened during a recent Ruch Chorzów football match. A section of  fans hung a large flag over the fencing of part of the Chorzów stadium. The flag created such a stir that the Polish Football Association (PZPN) decided to ban this flag from being hung at future Chorzów games. What could possibly have infuriated the officials at the PZPN to have made them take such a drastic decision? Did the flag use abusive language? Racist language? Did the flag incite violence? None of the above. Quite simply, the flag was in German.

Huliganeria Oberschlesien

Huliganeria Oberschlesien

It’s not unusual for Ruch Chorzów fans, like most fans around the world, to fly various flags proclaiming their excellence and superiority above all other fans. No surprise there. However, Chorzów fans also have a propensity for declaring their nationality. A conspicuous section of Ruch fans often make it clear they are Silesians, that they belong to a Silesian nation. The PZPN has never previously got involved in the Silesian flag-waving of these fans. But the straw that broke the PZPN’s camel’s back was the use of the German word “Oberschlesien” (Upper Silesia).

Republic of Upper Silesia?

Republic of Upper Silesia?

Obviously, Ruch Chorzów fans have been quick to protest against the ban. They believe it contravenes the constitutional right of minorities to use their own language (Silesian is a Polish dialect interspersed with German). Those who uphold the ban are quick to point out the roots of Ruch Chorzów: a Polish football team which supported Poland in the Upper Silesian plebiscites in the inter-war period and supported a Polish Silesia. They believe the “Huliganeria Oberschlesien” are trying to do away with the club’s traditions. Many older Ruch fans are downright disgusted with the flag and the idea that certain followers of Chorzów could even think of associating themselves with something as abominable as German or German Silesia. During the plebiscite and WWII, the German aggressors and occupants often adorned buildings and walls with “Oberschlesien” to highlight what they believed to be Silesia’s ‘Germanness’.

Schliesen - Back in the News

Schliesen - Back in the News

The other side to the story is just as fascinating (and complicated). The Ruch Chorzów fans responsible for the flag as well as those aligned with the idea of being ‘Silesian’ believe it to be a mark of their distinctness from other fans and other parts of Poland. Internet fora have been flooded with messages from Silesians claiming that Poles are racist, bigoted and intolerant and are not giving Silesians the right to be heard. It is interesting how what might appear to be a simple sporting discussion has turned into a discussion on political self-determination, perhaps even independence. The Silesian Autonomy Movement has also been quick to react and ‘go political’ turning the situation into a Tony Harrison-like ‘Them & [uz]’ battle. The question, however, is whether this really is a them-against-us fight…


Monkeys, Jews and Poles

June 25, 2009

The Culture of Polish Fandom

The Culture of Fandom

What do monkeys, Jews and Poles have in common? Very little actually but go to any Polish football ground and you’ll hear hundreds of hooligans making disgusting monkey gestures at any black players on the pitch and shouting a whole variety of Jewish insults at the players of the opposing team. With the whole of Europe working towards stamping out racism, Polish football has become somewhat of an anachronism.

Institutional Racism
An unbelievable racism-related story hit the Polish headlines this week. The Prosecutor’s Office in Kraków-Krowodrzy decided to throw out a case filed by the local Jewish community. During the Kraków derby (Cracovia Kraków vs. Wisła Kraków) Cracovia fans made monkey gestures at Wisła’s Brazilian-born Cleber. Wisła fans, on the other, shouted “to the gas chamber” at Cracovia’s Maciej Łuczak as well as “f##king Jews” and the suchlike at Cracovia’s other players and fans. The justification for throwing out this (obvious) case (of racism and anti-Semitism) was the police’s inability to stop these racist and anti-Semitic chants. What is more, Prosecutor Dorota Kuk-Turek astonishingly claimed that these racist and anti-Semitic chants “were not criminal in character”.

Football Phantom

Football Phantom

Historical Reason
It gets better. Kuk-Turek outdid herself by claiming that there are historical reasons for the anti-Semitic chants of the Wisła supporters and said that the antagonisms between the two Kraków teams reach back to 1906 because Wisła had always been traditionally “Catholic” and Cracovia traditionally “Jewish”. She continued, saying that Cracovia’s best players had traditionally been “of Jewish extraction” whereas Wisła had traditionally never taken on “non-Catholic” players. These stereotypes, she claimed, have survived until today.

Criminal Innocence
Seemingly unaware of how ridiculous her reasoning might be to the rest of the civilised world, Kuk-Turek went on in her justification to say that the crime of inflaming racial hatred and racial abuse is premeditated in nature. She was not able to ascertain whether the racist and anti-Semitic chants committed by the hooligans were premeditated or necessarily targeted at a particular race in which case they were not a crime. She also dug herself another hole by ridiculously claiming that the anti-Semitic chants were not targeted at the Jewish nation but rather a particular player of the opposing team. Kuk-Turek’s decision is causing controversy in the media but the questions beg: why is this woman still working in the legal profession? Why isn’t someone doing something about this?


Time’s Up for Beenhakker

March 30, 2009

On His Way Out?

On His Way Out?

After Poland’s dreadful 3:2 defeat to Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, the clouds are gathering around Poland’s Dutch manager Leo Beenhakker and the future looks dim for the former Feyenoord coach.

Polish Roulette
It was always going to be a gamble for the Polish Football Association (PZPN) and the appointment of Beenhakker looked to be a wise choice when Poland qualified for the European Championships for the first time ever. But the cracks appeared when Poland went through the whole tournament without registering a single win together with a host of poor performances. Now the gamble looks to have completely back-fired.

Polish Trend
In group 3 of the World Cup Qualifying group Poland are fifth, one spot above minnows San Marino who prop up the group. Poland’s performances have been significantly under-par in recent games and looking at their games from the start of the qualifiers, it is easy to see the trend: Poland are playing worse, and getting worse, with every game. In such a tight group, chances of qualification for the World Cup in South Africa look slim.

Polish Style
What the majority of Polish football fans are annoyed about is the style of football being played. The national team are lacklustre and slow. They look confused and tired. Performances lack passion and energy. There is no heart and more importantly, there seems to be no talent. The remarkable 3:2 victory over Portugal which Beenhakker masterminded in the qualification for the European Championships is like a distant dream fading with every game.

Dutch Courage
Thankfully, the PZPN has several options. The simplest two are to stay patient and keep with Beenhakker. The other is to sack the Dutchman and begin anew, give the players a fresh start. Of course, the PZPN can also decide to re-structure and set up a system by which the national coach is but one element in the whole footballing machine, not the be all and end all. What Poland does not need now is a revolution, however, Polish football does need a change.


Another Kick in the Balls

October 24, 2008
Football Dissociation

Football Dissociation

“We don’t need no recreation, we don’t need no sports control”. This could well be the war-cry of the Polish Football Association (PZPN). Realistically speaking, Poland’s footballing governing body has been on a slow slide ever since the fall of communism in 1989. Jerzy Domański took the helm in 1989, then legendary Poland manager Kazimierz Górski took over, followed by infamous Marian Dziurowicz’s ill-fated term of office (which coincided with a quantum leap in corruption).

The Listkiewicz Years
Since 1999 there has been one President, Michał Listkiewicz, and a record number of four caretaker/custodians who have been drafted in by the government due to legal irregularities, most recently at the beginning of October. For almost a decade this bloated, bureaucratic beast seems to have been on the verge of exploding. The post-communist corruption ‘paradise’ made it easy for players, managers, referees, club owners and PZPN officials to take part in the free-for-all bribery fest that took on gargantuan proportions in the Listkiewicz years.

Taming the Beast
Michał Listkiewicz, however, cannot be entirely blamed for the malaise now threatening to bring the PZPN down. He has simply been unable to control, shackle and tame this wild monster. Despite numerous referees, players, and even clubs being fined, imprisoned, penalised and banned, the grotesque footballing chimera that is the PZPN is still on the loose and in its current form will probably never be tamed.

The End is Nigh
The recent news that the Tax Office has filed for the PZPN’s bank accounts to be blocked due to the non-payment of over 18.5 million in taxes may be the monster’s death knell. Once the accounts are blocked and the money is cut, the PZPN well may begin to wither as its life blood is slowly sapped away. Unlike UEFA and FIFA, most of the Polish population is on the side of the government and wants football to be cleaned up. Perhaps now, bankrupt and shattered, the PZPN will finally give up the ghost and make way for people who actually want to help football in Poland.


Bubble Bursts

June 16, 2008

White EaglePlayed 3, lost 2, drawn 1, scored 1, conceded 4. This Polish team was simply woeful and perhaps the worst team of the tournament. Poland lost 0-1 to Croatia who after qualifying for the next round decided to rest practically their whole team and play a reserve side. However, Croatia’s reserve side outplayed and outclassed a dreadful Polish side that simply did nothing.

Why?
40 million or so Polish people were convinced that the national side would be able to put up a good performance against Germany, beat Austria and grind out a decent result against Croatia. But why? Why was the whole of Poland so convinced this would happen when reality demonstrated to us that Poland were never up to the task. In fact, the Poland that turned out at Euro 2008 looked a far worst team than the one at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The reason for this misplaced optimism arose from the now historic victory against Portugal in the qualifiers. The sad truth, however, is that Poland never actually looked a good team and that one victory against Portugal seemed to spur the Poles on and believe in something no more than a pipe dream.

Success in Failure
The much-maligned, tainted and corrupt Polish Football Association (PZPN) needs to have a long, hard look at itself. On the backdrop of what has been going on in Polish football in recent years – corruption, dodgy refereeing, bizarre decisions by the PZPN regarding promotions and relegations (with rules changes every year and sometimes even mid-season) – then the Polish national side have done unbelievably well. In fact, their success in the qualifiers is unprecedented when compared to the quality of domestic football and respect has to go to Dutch coach Beenhakker for his work on and off the field.

Quo Vadis, Polonia?
Artur BorucIt would be foolish to sack Beenhakker because, as I’ve mentioned, Poland were never going to pull up trees and suddenly become world beaters. They simply didn’t have the quality, speed, guile, passion or know-how to win a game. This will be particularly worrying and personally deflating for Leo who now completes his THIRD international tournament without winning a single game. But Poland can take heart from the fact that they did qualify for this tournament in the first place, they are hosting the next Euro tournament and they have, in their goalkeeper Artur Boruc, a player who will no doubt go on to greater things and, God willing, will be a shining light for Polish football for the next ten years or so.