Legia Warsaw are steadily building themselves quite a reputation around Europe, and it’s not one most clubs would be proud of. They’ve had experiences in Europe this season, such as the one against Real Madrid where the game is marred by several incidents between their supporters and police, things were getting very ugly.
It’s not the first time they have been in the news for such behaviour and it certainly won’t be the last. It is a problem that’s ingrained within the club and footballing culture in Poland. Yet, it’s something they seem to take pride in.
It is May 27 2015, the day of the Europa League final between Dnipro and Sevilla in Warsaw, Poland. The city centre is dominated by sprawling mass of football fans wearing blue, white and red, with UEFA representatives sticking out among them looking to somehow make their official tyre sponsor seem relevant.
There is a jovial and expectant mood in Poland’s capital city, with the two sets of supporters mingling without issue and engaging in chant-offs in the Old Town Market Place.
But a few kilometers to the south, a dark cloud hangs over the Ujazdow district. Here, being a football fan means something entirely different. Here, Legia is the ruling power.
With the Europa League occupying most of the city’s thoughts, it is a quiet morning just downstream from the impressive Narodowy Stadium where the final is due to take place.
Obscured by apartment blocks and trees, Legia’s Stadion Miejski seems somewhat detached from the safe and family-friendly world that UEFA painted for the final.
There are reminders everywhere that this is Legia’s territory. As you walk down Rozbrat towards Lazienkowska – the road which runs parallel to the stadium – you pass under a highway and ‘ultra’ propaganda is everywhere.
Graffiti, which looks way too elaborate to have been sprayed on by your average Grzegorz, is prominent and, while initially quite impressive, you begin to realise that these are no ordinary ‘fans’.
The splitting of the word “patriots” on one automatically draws your attention towards the second part, while a masked and shirtless man wielding two flares is depicted blow. On others, “WFH” is painted. It stands for “Warsaw fans, hooligans”, knowledge soon attained from the club’s stadium tour guide.
Tagging on to a tour for school kids and a couple of Germans, the guide immediately made his way pitchside after charging the equivalent of about £2.50. A few photos here, a few there. Posing in the dugout seat of then-coach Henning Berg. But then he pointed out to the left where the club’s ‘ultras’ ordinarily sat.
This is when his passion was truly laid bare. He chanted: “Warsaw fans, hooligans!”
With arms flailing and fist clenching, our guide – presumably employed by the club – spoke more about the Legia’s ultras’ backstory than he did about the actual team.
“Warsaw fans best hooligans in Poland,”
He proudly acclaimed this several times in partly-broken but perfectly understandable English. He pointed to the CCTV cameras aiming down from the fencing which kept the ultras in the stands and not on the pitch, but it was difficult to believe that they weren’t just there for show.
The impressively-stocked and pristine club shop had plenty of ‘hooligan’ propaganda, too. Even Adidas banners in the store were decorated with small illustrations connoting violence; swords, knuckledusters and even severed arms.
And therein lies the problem.
UEFA will forever be fighting a losing battle against such clubs with regards to hooliganism because it is a part of the fabric of the club. Of course, a good tour guide should have a knowledge of the fan culture surrounding the particular team they work for, particularly if it is famous or notorious in any way.
But if the club doesn’t make an effort to detach or distance itself from such groups, they will always be a problem when they clash with other cultures which simply act differently.
With the club failing to sufficiently take itself away from the groups, the approach authorities should take to clamp down on hooliganism should perhaps follow the model of targeting the spine of the groups. CLICKON followed Manchester City hooligan, Carl Moran, who described how it’s difficult to organise and architect the violence due to banning orders.
“Out of 10 football fights, only three-to-four will actually happen… the police will shut it down, or the other firm will mess you about.
“The big change is banning orders; I can’t go to town, or to the centre of the city because I’ll be breaching my ban. Organising a firm where you can’t go to your own centre is very difficult”
Where this becomes more apparent is targeting the banning orders to certain age brackets of the firms. For instance, the way British police tried to control hooliganism was to target the 20-29 age group who appear the most prone to violence.
Carl himself eludes to how it is the youth who are going to keep the groups alive. The demand to be part of the violence drastically declines after the age of 29. Why? Family commitments, the appreciation to not take part in selfish acts due to other people depending on you.
“I’ve got a five-year-old daughter, and another kid on the way. I’m 27, it’s time for younger people to go and sort of do it, we’ve done our bit; I mean we don’t get involved as much anymore”.
To suffocate any developments of groups, is to target this age group. The motivation to participate in violence declines with age, so banning orders and clamping down with harsher measures should be thrown behind this age bracket amongst Polish support.
If the club aren’t going to do it, it seems the authorities are only going to be the answer for UEFA.