Category Archives: Poland

Dispatch from Poznań — A More Panoramic view than Panorama

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There was no sign of any trouble in Poznan on our first night here. Far from it — the town square was packed with Poles, Irish and Croatians mingling and singing long through the night. I was told that riot police moved in on Friday night, nervous at the first sign of mixing of fans but they quickly stepped back. The Poles have been great hosts, entering into the party spirit with gusto and seizing on a great opportunity to showcase their country. Most visiting fans have most likely adopted Poland as their second team and the crucial match against Russia on Tuesday should be a cracker.

The football so far has been excellent, with the hosts and the Greeks giving great battle in the opening match. The Poles will be disappointed they didn’t make more of their first-half possession but it all could have been much worse if Przemyslaw Tyton didn’t save a penalty with his first touch of the ball. The performance of the tournament so far was the Russians, a brilliantly fluid and sophisticated display with Dzagoev and Arshavin in particular excellent. How good they are is hard to gauge, as the Czechs were quite poor but it will cause Dick Advocaat some alarm that the Russians surrendered the initiative for 15 minutes early in the second half to a reshaped Czech formation. Poland and Greece will have taken comfort from that.

The group of death has just got even deathlier. The Netherlands are now in a precarious position having to beat both Germany and Portugal to be sure of going through. They actually played quite well against Denmark although their defensive shortcomings were badly exposed on several occasions, including when Michael Krohn-Delhi cut inside Gregory van der Viel far too easily for the goal. The Dutch will also be aggrieved that they weren’t awarded a penalty at the end for handball but you have to doff your cap to the Danes, who turned in a superb defensive performance. Going forward, they were much less confident and the final ball was often found wanting. Three points on the board is more than anyone expected of them after the first game but getting out of the group will still be a huge task, as four points will quite likely not be enough.

Germany were as we have come to expect — solid in attack, much less so in defence where Philip Lahm and Jerome Boateng bailing out Badstuber and Hummels more than once. The winner was courtesy of a splendid Mario Gomez header, the first time he’s ever looked the part in a tournament match. It’s a bad start for the Portuguese but they’ll probably be thankful the second game is against the Danes and not the Dutch, even if Denmark did defeat them 2-1 in qualifying in Copenhagen last October.

Today is Ireland’s big day and the green army are feeling confident. I don’t expect to see a very expansive game even though Slaven Bilić is threatening an attacking approach to get points in the bag first off. It could well be the tournament’s first scoreless draw but I am keeping my fingers crossed for an Irish win by the narrowest of margins. The other match could be the one that gives an insight into Spain’s chances of completing that elusive three tournaments in a row. I don’t think they’ll beat Italy and they may even be on the back foot by eight o’clock local time tonight.

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Predictions

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I expect a tournament with one or two surprises but which will ultimately see the established order prevail. For winners, it’s hard to see beyond Germany. The Mannschaft have been building up a head of steam since Jürgen Klinnsmann’s days in charge at the 2006 World Cup. After being frustrated twice by Spain in past tournaments, they now look a more assured, more streamlined side. Not that they are without defaults though; none of the combinations of Badstuber, Mertesacker, Howedes and Hummels make a fully confident centre-half pairing and they rely on support from the wing backs as well as Khedira and Schweinsteiger in front of them. But going forward, Germany are irresistible, with Mesut Özil now one of the best attacking midfielders in the world. Scoring goals is rarely a problem for the Germans but the wild inconsistency of Mario Gómez can throw up a few problems too. It’s hard to see how Joachim Löw can justify starting him ahead of Miroslav Klose.

Joining the Germans in the semi-final will probably be the Netherlands, who are still as strong as two years ago, while shedding some of the less savoury abrasiveness they displayed in South Africa. Though I have speculated on Spain having a shock early exit, if they get out of the group, they should reach the semi-finals too. A stern test from one of the Dutch or the Germans will probably be the undoing though of a heavily fatigued side. Rounding off the semi-finalists will be Italy, whom I expect to hit the ground running in the tournament, their poor form in friendlies notwithstanding.

The surprise package is likely to be Poland, who have a very manageable group and also some exciting young talent in Robert Lewandowski, Wojciech Szczesny and Jakub Blaszczykowski. They will fare better than co-hosts Ukraine, who have been looking only weaker than ever in the run-up to the Euros and who will need more than home advantage to seriously trouble Sweden, France or England. The French should impress too but they are probably still two years off being a fully formed side. The quarter-finals is likely as far as they will go.

As for Ireland, I am trying not to tempt fate. An incredibly difficult group makes it hard to see how they can advance. That said, I think they will acquit themselves well and, in one game at least, provide more excitement than many people expect. Four points from the three games would be a good tournament, even if it proves to not be enough to get through.

Posted by Oliver Farry

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Myopanorama

I had meant for my first post to deal with the BBC’s Panorama investigation – if a month-long research trip which draws no conclusions other than ‘Polish and Ukrainian football both have problems with racism’ merits that title – but felt compelled to turn it over for a little longer lest I came across as contrarian. With the benefit of an extra day’s consideration, I still feel that the programme was flawed on almost every level, and conveyed far more about the shortcomings of the contemporary TV documentary than about the issue it purported to address. Moreover, it emblematised lazy thinking about Central and Eastern Europe: dogged by its unwillingness to supply a political or historical context for the behaviour it (rightly) condemned, it managed to ignore the fact that the racist and anti-semitic convulsions it represented are the perverse outcomes of the factors that mean the Euros are being held in Poland and Ukraine in the first place.

First of all, though, something has to be said about the style of the documentary. In a lineage of televisual treatments of football disorder which goes back at least to Donal MacIntyre’s strangely priapic infiltration of the Chelsea Headhunters, Chris Rogers’ film was edited and soundtracked in a manner which virtually demanded vicarious participation in the adrenalised spectacle of hooliganism. Long panning shots of choreographed Nazi saluting and jump cuts between various clips of drunken paggering were interspersed with ‘brave’ interviews with self-confessed race warriors: make no mistake, the audience were told, we got right in the thick of it. Oddly, this documentary vocabulary is almost identical to the one employed in the much-maligned Danny Dyer’s The Real Football Factories. The difference, I think, is that Dyer – a long-time straw man for advocates of ‘intelligent’ media in Britain – almost always attempts to provide some form of social or historical rationale for violence, something Rogers didn’t find time to fit into his schedule of going to football matches and looking shocked.

A second criticism, which moves firmly in the direction of my real gripe with the programme, centres on the its lumping together of Poland and Ukraine into a homogeneous Ryanair Ruritania. Hey, there’s a tram! There’s some decaying brutalist architecture! The policemen wear funny hats! Although a certain ideational blurring of national characteristics is inevitable when countries co-host tournaments (Switzerland and Austria were transformed into a United States of Heidi in 2008; 2000’s general iconography was of beer, chips and featureless landscape) the differences are, in this case, hugely important. Poland is a Central European country in which the Catholic Church continues to play a fundamental ideological role: geopolitically, it tends to lean westwards or towards nations with a comparable economic and historical profile such as Hungary. Ukraine is Orthodox, much poorer than Poland, and far more ethnically heterogenous, with a significant Russian population  hinting at its long history of governance by its eastern neighbour. At this point, one might wish to point out the to makers of the documentary that the temperature and character of nationalism varies according to particular cultural determinants.

However, one of the primary determinants in both countries, and in fact in nearly all of the nations which once constituted the Warsaw Pact, is the legacy of an antagonism between state-endorsed communism and the (western-sponsored) drive for the recognition of national singularities. The pro-democracy movements of the 1970s and 1980s were often propelled by ideological liberals, some of whom fitted the western media’s agenda of generic humanism (many, of course, had to conceal socialistic leanings in order to appeal). However, popular support was often generated through the stirring up of chauvinistic resentment: communism became linked in a schematic sense to Russia, and Russians were cast as the inevitable enemies of the patria. The Party and its functionaries became simplified as nationalists were encouraged to think of themselves as constituting a noble opposition.

The end of communist rule throughout Eastern and Central Europe left reservoirs of nationalistic feeling with nowhere in particular to go. ‘Independence from Moscow’ had largely been achieved, yet the rush of rebellion proved addictive. Having been legitimised as romantic outlaws by the democrats who were taking governmental positions in the wake of elections, nationalists began to locate new arenas in which to express what, ultimately, was a combination of unadulterated anti-authoritarianism and narcissism. Football was an obvious sponge for this machismo, and the new governments – many of whom found it expedient to play down their links to the political right – were ideal in a nationalist imagination seeking new agencies to disobey.

Racism is driven by a very peculiar motor in the countries discussed by Panorama. While the groups which espouse it undoubtedly pick up members by providing extremist ‘solutions’ to socio-economic problems, it doesn’t react as – say – the BNP or the Front National do to the perceived threat of large-scale immigration. There isn’t any large-scale immigration, in fact. What Rogers unanalytically portrayed was a more general hostility to government which turns (often with horrific results) on minorities because liberal politics are seen, surreally, as the new heels which grind down ‘real Poles’ or ‘real Ukrainians’. In many respects, the nationalist groups are the monsters of pro-democracy Frankensteins.

The hype around the Polish-Ukrainian tournament has tended to disregard this. Euro 2012 is, in a manner which is admittedly rather subtle, being painted as a triumph of westernisation. The stadiums in Poland and Ukraine are no longer the imposing constructivist edifices, all angular concrete and blazing floodlights, in which ‘crack Eastern European outfits’ used to outwit Melchester Rovers on their European Cup awaydays. Instead, they’ve largely been built or remodelled to match the expectations one has of a modern British or French stadium, namely bright colour – the chromography of choice and diversity – and gentle curves embodying late capitalist flexibility and openness. On the whole, the tournament is a slightly belated welcoming of Eastern and Central Europe into the fold of core EU values. It’s unacknowledged that the flip side of the establishment of those values is the racism and xenophobic violence Panorama picked up on last week.

Posted by Joe Kennedy