As famous Liverpool manager Bill Shankley once said, „football is not a matter of life and death…it’s much more than that.” These words encapsulate the feelings of the average Brit when we take into consideration the world’s favourite sport. It is inescapable in Britain to avoid the world of football. In offices, shops, streets and pubs the discussion is continuous about the teams’ progress or a players row with an agent. The media are relentlessly creating and spreading rumour and gossip in order to maintain the spotlight on a game that has surpassed sport and moved into the mainstream of culture.
The TV brings us non-stop games, action and highlights from the multiple divisions, Europe, youth and Women’s football, so much so as to have a match every day of the week! In contrast football in Poland is pushed to the outer edges of society, a game associated with hooliganism and adored by plebians. In the offices when football is spoke of it is mostly centred around top European teams and not the Polish league. In fact the Polish league is often ridiculed and when I ask about preferences of team in Poland the response is too frequently brushed aside. That’s why it took my interest and as a lover of the beautiful game, I decided to start supporting Polish football.

When I moved to Poland I didn’t have much idea about the standard of football and my only real knowledge of Polish football was from the famous match at Wembley in 1973. Through my general knowledge of football I knew that Lato scored the most goals in the 1974 world cup and Tomaszewski was called the ‘clown’ of goalkeeping. After these facts I had little perception of the game in the country. The first major difference I noted though would be newspaper and television coverage of sport in general. In the UK an important match or transfer would feature on the main news bulletin at the start of the program. Newspapers have significant football news on the front page not back. However, in Poland there was a marked difference, sport being a separate program after the main news and only ski jumping, cross country skiing or formula one getting any attention (unless Poland’s national team played). Discussing these issues with Polish colleagues I discovered that the average Pole is disillusioned with soccer, the national team a shadow of its former self, corruption widespread and any decent player leaving the country for the big money of Western Europe. However, even though many feel this way there are those who still revel in watching their local team. These include my wife’s family, for example, who have season tickets at Legia. Once I was finally persuaded to go to a game I was more than impressed and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, the beauty of live sport is its atmosphere and passion, this can be created by 50, 000 people in an international stadium or by 5 in the local park. Either way, I noticed many differences between attending English premier league games to Polish ekstraklasa matches.

One of my favourite moments whilst watching football is the build up. The pre-match atmosphere is always something that excites and bewilders. The mixture of anticipation, nerves and emotions never change no matter where you go around the world. Thankfully, pre-game rituals in Poland tend not to differ too much from English ones. In the pub, drinking beer is international, surely. True to form though, in Warsaw vodka is also a favoured tipple. I assume this is for two reasons, firstly, to fight off the cold and secondly, to keep you singing through the 90 minutes. Then comes entrance to the ground, which before the new stadium was built you were greeted by imposing steel, revolving gates, these are now replaced with state-of-the-art electronic passes. Strangely, it is more difficult to enter the ground now, whether that’s because there are more people or the sophisticated system doesn’t work very well, your first experience at the stadium is frustration (good that the vodka/beer is starting to kick in!). Finding a seat is not a problem, there isn’t one. In the UK stewards are everywhere checking your seat number and escorting you to your seat. In Poland there is no such luxury, pick a place and stand there until someone bigger than you asks you to move. When I ordered my season ticket I booked a seat, which I have never seen. I like this aspect of unruliness as it means that I can choose which perspective I want for each game. Big games behind the goal and normal games in the corner. Also it means that I don’t have to sing for the entire 90 minutes if I don’t wish to and sometimes, being an old man, its just too tiring.

The biggest difference between watching football in Poland to the UK comes when the game begins. In England we like to sing our songs, scream and shout. During the course of the match every so often a chant will come from the fans and between this will be occasional outbursts from various fans. In England comments can be savage and hateful, directed at one opponent with such brutality that it’s sometimes shocking and gratuitous. Unfortunately, this is common place. Mainly there is an air of independence, people make comments, most of them bad but you choose to laugh or join in. Songs are sporadic, as it is difficult in the modern stadia to coordinate supporters into definite songs, mostly there are 4 to 5 songs which are sung repeatedly, also there are always a few chants to cheer on individual players or to put them off. In contrast Polish fans are reminiscent of a philharmonic orchestra. At the front of the stage there is a conductor with megaphone or microphone who leads his choir. There is never a moment for a rest, the songs are sung throughout the game and he motivates those who tire and berates those who don’t join in. He is relentless and works as hard as any player on the field, tirelessly motivating the supporters to back their team. The supporters in turn respond to his direction, occasionally breaking the flow when a goal is scored or conceded, however, the conductor is unceasing even at such moments, celebrating a goal or rallying the troops. During my first game this proved a shock to me, why is nobody verbally attacking the players? When can I rest my voice? Only at half time can we seek solace and only after the match can we reflect on the game.

The differences in style of watching matches are almost an analogy of our societies, the English spontaneity reflects the events on the pitch. Therefore a good match has a good atmosphere and a bad match is met with no noise from the crowd. English people are more independent of the group and their comments are to the field of play and not with each other, it’s ok to make a spectacle of yourself, it’s acceptable. One person can start the whole stadium singing, 40 000 people, regardless if he is the ‘top boy’ of the ultras or a 12 year old child carried away with the match. It means everybody can be special…or sometimes ignored. In stark contrast, Poles are organized to constantly support. Sometimes you feel pushed to do this even when your team is losing and playing badly. It is as if there is a need to be led by someone strong, the biggest and most powerful otherwise the faithful won’t follow, this person must be the authority and the fans must respect him. It is unheard of to break from the pack and the songs are about the club in general rather than the activities on the pitch. Comments made by fans are restricted to their own clique of friends and only occasionally shared if genuinely funny, as if this remark needs approval. Therefore at the game the atmosphere is always fantastic but as an Englishman I can find it hard to continue supporting a group of players who have quite clearly underperformed or played badly. However, it makes me think would these people listen to a 12 year old boy? And, how would they react without the conductor?

Ex-England footballer Jimmy Greaves once said, “it’s a funny old game” when asked about his thoughts on football. Support for the same sport can differ no matter where you go. The reality is that when we consider this sport between Britain and Poland you can see such vast extremities. Britain is the quintessential modal of how to run the sport. A business machine, watched by millions around the world and commanding the highest prices and money in all aspects of the game. The infrastructure is in place so that millions of kids can play everyday and in any place around the country. Our supporters privileged to watch only the finest. In Poland the opposite is true with so many problems and obstacles still to overcome. However, even though the contrasts of the sport are so different this doesn’t dissuade the average football fan from watching their team and nor should it. Just because the money is not so high doesn’t mean that the football played is of a terrible standard. The passion of the fans is testimony to how football is the true global sport. Even after Euro 2012 has been and gone the faithful Warsaw fans will still support their team and still dream of better days. The mark of a true fan is one who supports his team through not only the golden era’s but also through the low ebbs.

Christopher Moore

Tłumaczenie: Mateusz Pazdur