Here’s a guest post by Eastern European fan culture guru Ed Gibbons on the unseemly hooligan incidents which took place at tonight’s Legia Warsaw-Jagiellonia Białystok game and whether anything could be done about the issue of hooliganism, one that continues to haunt Polish football.
This evening’s match between Legia and Jagiellonia was abandoned due to a hooligan brawl between the two sets of fans in the away sector. The cause of the incident seems to be Legia ultras displaying a massive banner they’d previously stolen from Jagiellonia Ultras at the end of the first half, an action taken specifically to taunt their rivals. Both sets of fans then tried to break down the fences that separated them which resulted in Legia breaking through and entering the away sector. The groups then proceeded to fight until Jagiellona were pushed back and retreated. The police and security services finally entered the stand and separated the groups and the match was then abruptly abandoned.
Legia hooligans proudly display their stolen Jaga flag (Photo courtesy of Paula Duda)
What provoked such a ruckus between the fans? The answers can be found in the recent history of Legia-Jagiellonia fan encounters. Last year Legia’s hooligans stole every banner Jagiellonia owned from their storage shed after attacking those who looked after them. Displaying the stolen banner today was a reminder of their strength and how they’d defeated them previously. Legia’s actions were a planned provocation and also a challenge laid down to their Jagiellonia hooligan counterparts and, like most hardcore football fans, Jaga felt duty bound to defend their pride and honour.
Security authorities must bear some responsibility for tonight’s events. Whoever carried out the security assessment for the match appears to have missed or forgotten about the previous incident. In addition when Legia hooligans circled around the stadium to attack the away end (something that would have appeared on CCTV cameras) and Jagiellona responded by also trying to break down the fences a group of security guards appear to be standing at the bottom of the stand watching.
These guards knew they were helpless to intervene and attempting to do so would have resulted in personal injury. Stadium authorities could have avoided this by employing more security personnel. This would have allowed them to get between the two hooligan groups and stop the conflict until riot police could have taken more firm actions (i.e seperating the trouble-makers).
One cannot simply look at this incident as your typical drunken spur of the moment football fight between two groups. This ‘incident’ was most likely pre-planned in depth. Legia ultras planned when to unveil Jagiellonia’s lost banner, when to attack their sector and even how to do so. Their hooligans were clearly organised and moved as a unit while the flag was being displayed to taunt the visitors. Their Ultras had also managed to get the banner into the ground through security, another issue for which blame must fall on those organising security at tonight’s game. In Poland all flags and banners are inspected upon entering stadiums so the authorities should have been aware of this provocation before it occurred.
The after-effects of tonight’s incident are likely to be serious. Most people involved in Polish football seem to want Legia to be deducted points and have their stadium closed for at least a few games. It is clear that they made a number of huge errors including planning how many security workers were needed to police this match. They also should not have allowed the stolen Jagiellonia banner into the ground (although these kind of mistakes are common at most stadiums, not just Legia’s). Legia are also the most despised club in the country (as well as the largest with one of the top hooligan firms) which is perhaps why this incident is highlighted more than other riots and attacks.
The key though is whether these potential punishments would make a difference. Most of those who come to fight are not regular fans who attend most games. They’re often gang members or people from local boxing or MMA gyms who come with the express purpose of starting a fight. These groups will often show up for the biggest games against Wisla, Ruch or Lech where there’s potential to employ violence to try and prove their group and city are the strongest. These groups don’t really care too much about football.
Usually I would argue that a stadium closure would be a waste of time. However Legia’s next two home matches are against Wisla Kraków and Lech Poznań, their two biggest enemies. After what happened today there is next to no chance of fans being allowed to attend either match, which makes complete sense.
I however don’t think a points reduction will have any effect on the groups who perpetrated violence at tonight’s match. The only way to stop this type of activity in future is by dealing with the actual problem which is in my opinion the rampant gang culture in Poland. Authorities need to tackle these gangs and decrease the power of those who crave violence within their football clubs and in greater society. Until they remove this aspect of Polish football culture the level of security in stadiums will not really matter. The fact that Jagiellonia fans tonight were happy to shield a Legia hooligan who’d just been attacking them from the police shows the level of contempt fans have for the authorities. Until concrete actions are taken against the culture that creates such contempt there is little chance of finding a solution to the problems that exist.
Thanks go to Ed for writing this post, you can follow his take on Eastern European fan culture here