Football hooliganism in Poland
Football hooliganism in Poland first developed as a recognised phenomenon in the 1970s, and has continued since then with numerous recognised hooligan firms and large-scale fights. Until 1997, the number of related incidents rose, according to Przemyslaw Piotrowski of Jagiellonian University. The problem of hooliganism related to soccer has been compared to what he described as the dark days of football hooliganism in Western Europe in the 1980s. Hooliganism in Poland is comparable in its scale to countries such as England. Many Polish football clubs have the so-called firms associated with them. The most violent confrontations between firms occurred in Kraków, where the firms of Cracovia and Wisła Kraków (reportedly the oldest clubs in Poland, both founded in 1906), wage the long-standing Holy War. There have been reported fatalities.
The first reports of clashes between fans during football games date back to the 1930s. On 2 June 1935 after a game between Cracovia and Ruch Chorzów, the police had to "intervene and surround the field". On 15 June 1936, the Przegląd Sportowy daily sports newspaper published an appeal by the management of Śląsk Świętochłowice, asking their fans to "control their behaviour and maintain order". During the occupation of Poland in World War II, the Nazi German occupiers banned all sports. However, "illegal" games were played on regular basis. During one of these matches in Kraków on 17 October 1943, fans of Cracovia and Wisła Kraków interrupted the game and started fighting which spread onto the streets of the Ludwinow district in Kraków. The fighting lasted for several hours.
After a match on 29 September 1947 in Sosnowiec, between RKU Sosnowiec and AKS Chorzów (ethnic rivalry, derby) fighting broke out resulting in the death of one fan and scores of others injured. Sosnowiec won the match 3-2, however in the first leg AKS Chorzów had won 3-0, meaning they were promoted to the First Division. After the match, 20,000 home fans were slowly moving out of the stadium, pushed by firemen and Milicja Obywatelska. Skirmishes broke out, and the Milicja Obywatelska functionaries, with guns, lined up on the pitch and attacked the fans with bayonets and the fighting lasted for two hours. Sosnowiec fans tried to attack AKS's players, the referees and the Milicjants. Although incidents from the 1920s to the 1960s were numerous, there was no organized hooliganism in Poland.
There is no official information about football related violence in the 1970s as any incidents that happened were not reported by the Polish media which was compliant with the policies of the Communist authorities in the People's Republic of Poland. Sporadic incidents took place, usually in the streets near to stadiums, near railway stations. By the late 1970s there were about ten hooligan firms, mostly connected to Polish First Division clubs. Few Polish football fans travelled to away matches.
The common name for Polish football fans is scarfers (szalikowcy in (Polish)). It is unclear when the first scarfers appeared. As the number of scarfers grew, the Polish Football Association tried to curb these groups. The renowned referee and journalist Grzegorz Aleksandrowicz initiated the so-called "Fan Clubs", but this idea disappeared at the beginning of the 1980s, due to martial law in Poland and Aleksandrowicz's death.
In the mid-1970s, friendships between some groups began. Probably the oldest still active alliance is the one between fans of Śląsk Wrocław and Lechia Gdańsk which dates back to 1977. Other alliances, such as that between Legia Warsaw and Zagłębie Sosnowiec and that between Polonia Warsaw and Cracovia date back to the late 1970s. Usually, alliances were (and still are) created by firms of clubs that are located a considerable distance from each other. Firms of neighbouring clubs, especially in the same city, are in most cases enemies.
The early 1980s saw a rise in the number of hooligan firms and in the number of hooligans. On 9 May 1980 Legia Warsaw faced Lech Poznań in Częstochowa in the final of the Polish Cup. The match was won by Legia. However, it is remembered by many as one of the biggest clashes between fans. Fighting, which involved hundreds of fans, started in the streets of the city before the game. A number of people were seriously injured. The Communist government of Poland concealed all the facts about the incident. Since that game, fans of both sides have regarded each other as enemies.
The first reported incident of football hooliganism by the media happened in 1981 during a match between Widzew Łódź and Legia Warszawa which was shown live on Polish television, when Legia fans invaded the pitch. As it was transmitted live on television, the government was unable to cover up the incident. The number of incidents during games grew in the 1980s. Although the statistics in this period are incomplete, between 1984 and 1988, 99 cases of disorder were reported, most of them in big cities. Two football fans were officially reported to have been killed in the 1980s due to football hooliganism.
Hooligan firms in Poland seem to be organised quite formally, and are influenced by the skinhead subculture. Some skinhead members of firms are described as "official hooligans", and their role is to take part in disturbances at the stadiums. They often use weapons, such as wooden sticks, bats, baseball bats and knives.
In Poland, the 1990s saw a gradual increase in football-related violence and development of the football hooligan subculture. Hooligan incidents in Poland gained more media attention in the 1990s, at a time when fanzines started to be published, which included details of incidents and what was described as the "Polish hooligan league". From the early 1990s, Polish hooligans were heavily influenced by the skinhead, UK and western hooligans culture. Data from the Komenda Główna Policji (Central Command of the Police) showed a steady increase from 1991 to 1997, although there was then a decrease in the subsequent years. Fights became more organized, and started moving away from the stadiums - Ustawka fight. As the decade progressed, fights would be organised by mobile phone and over the Internet. The 1990s saw a rise in the number of hooligan firms up to about 70 or 80.
Often hooligans would join forces to attack the police, as happened during a World Cup qualifying match between Poland and England on 29 May 1993 in Chorzów. Feuding between Polish hooligans escalated when, before the match, hools from Cracovia stabbed a Pogoń Szczecin fan to death. Polish hooligans from Lechia Gdańsk, Katowice and Legia Warszawa fought each other before, during and after the match. Other hooligan disturbances followed the Polish national team, with incidents in Zabrze in 1994, and abroad in Rotterdam in 1992 and Bratislava in 1995.
Also in the 1990s, Polish hooligan violence spread through the lower leagues and into more urban areas of the country. In May 1997, fans of Fourth Division club, Sandecja Nowy Sącz clashed with the police, and 54 fans were detained.
Even though the Polish government tried to erase hooliganism, incidents were still common in Polish stadiums. However, like hooligans in Western Europe, Polish firms now pre-arrange their fights, which in Poland are known as ustawka, and are mainly fought in meadows, rural terains, far from city centers and cops. In December 2005 a huge organised fight took place in a forest outside Frankfurt between Polish and German hooligans. The Poles won the battle, after which they were arrested by German police. It was feared that the fight was a warm up for more fights during the World Cup which was to be held in Germany the next year.
In 3 May 2004 Ruch Chorzów was playing a match with ŁKS, arch-rival of Widzew which hool's have friendship with Ruch firm Psycho Fans. Planned riots erupted in halftime. A lot of fans of three clubs were injured also policemen (55 hospitalized), 12 police cars were devastated. Despite the capture of many hool's (over 100) Policja are still looking for participants in brawl.
In March 2006 a Wisła Kraków fan was dragged from a car and stabbed to death, the eighth stabbing murder in twelve months of football hooligans in Poland.
Football violence is still present even in city centres. In May 2006 over 50 police functionaries were injured, with over 30 hospitalised and 230 hooligans detained after disturbances in Warsaw following a match between Legia Warsaw and Wisła Kraków. Thousands of Legia fans had converged in the city centre celebrating the club winning the Polish League title, where they broke into shops, damaged cafes and restaurants and attacked the police with stones. The police had to use water cannons to contain the hooligans.
Before the 2006 World Cup in Germany, German authorities and some of the European media were concerned that Polish hooligans would try to disrupt the tournament. Reports stated that Polish hooligans were ready to do battle with fans from England and other countries in Germany. However, no major incidents were reported, with isolated clashes taking place such as drunken German and Polish fans clashing in Dortmund resulting in 300 arrests, half of whom were Polish.
It was stated in 2006 that the current football hooliganism in Poland is far worse than the dark days of English football hooliganism in the 1980s, with nearly every Polish professional football club having a fan base rooted in hooliganism. A match between local Warsaw rivals, Polonia Warszawa and Legia in April 2006 saw over 1,300 riot police, armed with CS gas and rifles with rubber bullets fail to control 3,000 fans. Instead of keeping the two sets of fans apart, the police shepherded them all into the city centre where running battles ensued. A common feature of Polish hooligans is also ambushing rival fans then stealing their scarves and flags, before tying them to railings in the stadium and set on fire.
In July 2007, UEFA banned Legia Warsaw from European competition for one season and also for one more season should they qualify for any European competition in the following five years, following riots during an Intertoto Cup match in Lithuania against Vetra Vilnius forced the game to be abandoned. With Vetra Vilnius winning 2-0 at half time, several hundred Legia fans, out of the 2,500 Polish fans present, wrecked the stand they were in and invaded the pitch, where they attacked 200 police officers, throwing concrete, bottles and flares at them. They then ripped up advertising boards in an attempt to prevent the mounted police, tear gas and baton charges by the police. A total of 26 Legia fans were arrested, with ten later released. Seven fans were later jailed for between five and fifteen days and fined.
Due to long communist rule in country and overall Polish society's social conservatism, Polish football supporters are on the right-wing political spectrum. Huge majority of the ultras are also far-right activists. Usual displays and chants during the games are patriotic and right-wing oriented. Polish football firms (also known as a hooligan firms) are well known to be on the far-right, such as Śląsk Wrocław, Lech Poznań or Legia Warsaw. Stadiums serve also as a recruiting grounds for the nationalist organizations.
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