THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

29 March ~ A few months before the 1996 European Championship in England, the German weekly news magazine Focus – whose easily parodied slogan at the time was "Facts, Facts, Facts" – ran a piece about how violence among fans was set to ruin the tournament. "The whole of London will be reduced to rubble and ashes," one German hooligan was quoted as saying. But he had reckoned without the healing powers of Skinner, Baddiel and the Lightning Seeds.

Every major tournament comes equipped with bi-annual speculation about its ability to play host, with questions about a country's readiness to counter terrorism, crime or hooliganism raised in parallel with concerns about transport, stadium and hotel infrastructure. With regard to Brazil and Russia hosting the next two World Cups, expect those discussions to continue right up until opening day. In the short term, Poland and Ukraine continue to worry UEFA just 14 months ahead of Euro 2012.

Poland travel to Greece tonight for a friendly, but the country's pessimism at their team's prospects after losing 2-0 in Lithuania on Friday night will have been overshadowed by their rowdy fans. The Lithuanian news agency Delfi reported that 200 Polish followers rioted in the streets around the S. Darius and S. Girenas Stadium in Kaunas, pelting police with fireworks, stones and bottles, and hospitalising one policeman. Numerous arrests were made after the police countered with dogs and tear gas. It follows violence surrounding Poland's 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign in Belfast (11 policemen injured, nine arrests), and Slovakia (seven policemen and several fans injured, 16 arrests).

Following the trouble in Kaunas, a poster at the Polish Soccer blog commented: "These fools are my biggest worry for Euro 2012 since Poland and Ukraine will be receiving national spotlight, and... [they] will be at the centre of attention instead of our football team and glorious country. I hope the Polish police have something planned out for them."

According to the German daily Die Welt, there is indeed "something planned" – electronic ankle tags, to replace the current policy of known hooligans reporting in at a police station on match days. "With these tags, we can check if the fans concerned really are at home," said justice minister Krzysztof Kwiatkowski. However, the measure has yet to be approved by parliament for the 1,850 fans currently banned from Polish stadiums.

There is a difference, of course, between reportedly drunken fans going wild on an away trip, and a concerted effort to disturb a closely policed tournament in your own country when an outside body – in this case UEFA – takes over whole areas of a city to provide a sanitised match-day experience for those who can afford to go. UEFA president Michel Platini confessed last week that he'll be losing sleep about the 2012 tournament "until the final whistle is blown", and said he was sorry that Ukraine, whose stadium- and hotel-building programme will go right down to the wire, was ever chosen as co-host. But it's likely that, with enough cajoling and threats from the governing body, Euro 2012 will follow the pattern of the past decade and ultimately pass without major incident.

The end result for visiting fans, however, is that major tournaments are becoming increasingly similar to resort holidays in the developing world, where tourists are isolated in walled compounds to sunbathe on the beach in peace from any troubles that might lurk beyond. UEFA will demand from both host countries next year that they do just enough to present a veneer of normality. Stadiums must be shiny and pristine, guests made secure and comfortable, and troublesome locals must be confined to their homes.

Then once that final whistle is blown to Platini's relief, football ships out, and it cares very little about what happens next. To paraphrase Sepp Herberger, after the tournament is before the tournament. Once the final's done, the next question becomes: How safe will fans be in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup? Ian Plenderleith

Comments (6)
Comment by sbloxham 2011-03-29 12:26:12

Ian, there appear appear to be a couple of errors in your 'bit' concerning Lithuania, and also I think some of the points could do with some clarification.

Firstly, there would be quite a bit of cultural/historical 'baggage' concerning any meeting between Poland and Lithuania in a sporting event. Both countries have a long 'history' with each other and were part of a Lithuanian-Polish commonwealth that was the dominant power in this region for a long time, and over time Poland became the dominant partner in the commonwealth. The present Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, was given to Poland after WWI and Kaunas became the temporary capital .This has led to a great deal of 'antagonism' between the two countries/populations even though a large part of the Lithuanian population would describe themselves as ethnically Polish. Kaunas is viewed as a very 'Lithuanian' city as only a very small part of its population is ethnically Polish or Russian.

Vilnius was always seen by Lithuanians as the football city and it was with some surprise that after Vilnius's (actually Zalgaris's) stadium was declared unfit for internationals the Lithuanaian FA moved to Kaunas and to the Darius & Girenas stadium. There is no Zalgaris satdium in Kaunas. Vilnius Zalgaris was seen as a manifestation of Lithuanian nationalism in Soviet times and their fans still have, what Danny Dyer might call, a 'rep'.

If ever there was a country whose football (structure, history and style- the country's national obsession is basketball but they produce woeful goalkeepers) needed an in-depth WSC investigation/report it would be Lithuania and I'm sure some Hearts fans would throw in their tuppence worth. Possibly closely followed by a certain Lithuanian some-time Edinburgh resident's libel lawyers.

Comment by imp 2011-03-29 13:24:06

Stadium name corrected - apologies. Many thanks for the spot, and for the historical background too. Ian.

Comment by Efficient Baxter 2011-03-29 14:54:24

"The whole of London will be reduced to rubble and ashes."

Well the IRA managed Manchester just before the match between Russia and Germany, but I don't think that's what that hooligan had in mind.

Comment by donedmundo 2011-03-29 15:37:16

Fans don't have to stay where Platini and friends hang out. If they do they will pay a fortune and learn nothing of the country. Far better to organise your own trip. A group of us have done this from France '98 onwards (excepting Korea/Japan). Choose somewhere a little distance from the games. Get a mobile home, gite, apartment, house etc and just travel in each day.

Comment by jasoñ voorhees 2011-03-29 16:24:59

[i]Both countries have a long 'history' with each other and were part of a Lithuanian-Polish commonwealth that was the dominant power in this region for a long time[/i]

Grand Duchy of Lithuania...Superpower of the 1300's BABY !!!

Ask the Teutonic Knights what happens when you try to pass the Duchy.

Comment by jasoñ voorhees 2011-03-29 16:36:49

"Get a mobile home, gite, apartment, house etc and just travel in each day."

I'll never forget Braga in 2004 for the Latvia-Holland game. For 2 days, there was 100% Holland supporters crowding the square and streets, with nary a Latvia shirt in sight. However, I finally ran into a Latvian from Boston who said the Latvians were there, only they were camping in the mountains.

Sure enough, thousands came pouring out of the forest and onto the streets during the afternoon of the game. That was as close to a feeling of getting invaded by barbarians that I've ever experienced.

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