7 wrz 2011

The silence that hurts

They used to lift players’ spirits. They used to give them extra strength, feel them unbeatable or at least as good as the opposition. There was no match for Polish fans in full voice during our national anthem and then constant chanting. When Poland have played against Germany in 2006 (Dortmund) and then in 2008 (Klagenfurt) both stadiums were shaking, even though players struggled to get anything out of these games.

Yes, Polish fans used to be and are a worry when away. Out of control, drunk and taking pride too seriously, they haven’t made exactly the best image of themselves so many times, as it was even documented in latest ZDF material. When Poland was given hosting rights for Euro 2012, alongside Ukraine, the biggest doubt was not about stadiums and cities but hooligans and that wasn’t helped last season, when Polish Cup ended with fans clashes with police on the pitch and Polish authorities decided to close stadiums of several teams. Poor and rightly criticized decision that was but… last season Polish fans were also remember for the good reasons – Lech’s faithful may not be creators of the specific goal celebration will be probably for long known as “doing the Poznan”.

It’s not all bad. Taking only the ninety minutes of the games of Polish national team, there was no support that could match the voice of Polish fans. Even during the World Cup in Germany, when the media’s campaigns prepared local communities for hordes of drunken hooligans, there was nothing like that – the reputation of the fans that came to Germany from Poland was certainly better one than of the Polish team.

That’s why so painful is the silence witnessed tonight in Gdansk. There could be such noise that would even tangle legs of those that know how it is usually done in Dortmund. There was no organized support, no groups of fans that came to make the noise rather than watch closely how Poles are outplayed but fight to get out of a draw, that in end could have been even a historic triumph. But we expected that. Polish Football Federation probably knew it as well.

The signs that the grand opening of the stadium with an international friendly could be a disaster were shown in last two games. Against Georgia in Lubin, fans couldn’t fill the stadium with much lower capacity than the Gdansk one, also the game played with Mexico last Friday wasn’t a sell-out. At both occasions the atmosphere was largely reminiscent of a picnic and nothing similar to what happens at most of the Ekstraklasa’s stadiums. If someone will recall the match against Argentina’s third string that Poland won few months ago, will remember that it was even worse.

This should be blamed not only on ticket prices. Polish national team always attracted large crowds, even when they were playing badly – the game against Slovakia in Chorzow back in 2009, when snow and prices pushed the fans out of stadium and only odd thousands watched how we end World Cup qualifying campaign on frozen pitch and in embarrassment.

Years have passed and the reputation of Polish national team was never affected by fans’ feelings towards domestic federation, even though abusive chants were present at every game, and probably will be for the rest of the regime of the current president, once-legend-turned-villain, Mr Grzegorz Lato. Team never suffered all those affairs, corruption, devastating image of the game in Poland – that was separate thing, even knowing that there was not even a glimpse of faith toward football authorities in Poland. Fans were well trained for years not to know and recognize now, when they are treated like something odd, not needed. Polish FA worked hard for that kind of reputation, deserved the place at the top of every rank among nation asked who they simply don’t trust, shared with politicians by the way.

The plans for creating official fan club of Polish national team were prepared for years, no one really believing that the laziness among FA’s authorities will move it even a step closer to the end. Somehow, it was achieved this summer and introduced spectacularly with extras in role of fans, chanting the name of Grzegorz Lato, who, all in smiles, invited the true fans of the team to the club under FA’s rule. The priority in the sale of tickets, loyalty system based on points… all this to gain the full control over people entering stadiums during national team, not to repeat the horrible scenes from Kaunas when Poland lost to Lithuania in another friendly.

Full ID control, creating fans database and all this was introduced to push hooligans out of games of Polish national team, to create positive image of Polish supporter. But that not only pushed them out of stadiums, also those that were loud in their protests against Polish FA, also loud in support for their teams during league games. They were organized every time, creating unforgettable atmosphere, jumping, chanting, singing… Yes – they are not without a fault as well but they shouldn’t be blamed for the silence in Gdansk, Warsaw and Lubin – Polish FA worked hard not to be trusted and only those that don’t care about being a part of the all evil.

It’s a choice of an individual to belong to the official fan club, the same goes with chanting during the games – and I’m not the one to judge whether a singing fan is a better one to the silent and sitting one – to be fair, no one is. But the national team should be for all of us, not only the ones that belong to Lato’s supporters club – without a precise number, a percentage of the tickets going to the general sale or any idea how to create the noise at the games, this ambitious project prepared for good cause after all, will fail. I'm sure that even a year ago, if Poland would lead against Germany in dying seconds, the fans would create the noise unheard yet in the country - tonight we couldn't hear a thing, even a "Thank You" chant that was sung even after defeats to cheer up Polish players. The difference is staggering.

For now, it seems that the official line of the party is one – fans are fantastic addition, created as good atmosphere as always but nobody that watched the game will be fooled by it. Even if it came from Franciszek Smuda during his after match press conference in Gdansk tonight.

The good thing is that Grzegorz Lato couldn’t pick the fans that will be at games of Polish national team next summer in Warsaw and Wroclaw. UEFA’s mysterious system did just that and the stake, emotions and expectations will once again make everyone chant and jump. The good times will be back, even though for the short spell only.

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