Tuesday, April 17, 2007

KP Legia Warszawa – Arka Gdynia (14-04-2007)

I had to be for business in Warsaw, Poland, so I had checked whether it would be possible to see a game during the weekend. Although I had hoped to make a true groundhop, and see a team like Gwardia, the work schedule only allowed me to see the big team of the city, Legia Warszawa. However, just before I left for Warsaw my American-Polish colleague informed me that their opponents, Arka Gdynia, were under investigation for match fixing and would probably be suspended. When I arrived on Thursday afternoon, we met up and headed out on a chase for tickets for the game, which was not at all an easy task. In fact, we had to go to some small newspaper shop in the center, where we were told that Arka was “unsuspended” and the game was on. As Lega is well known for its hooliganism, and we would go in a group with inexperienced football spectators, we decided to go for the expensive tickets, i.e. covered seats at the Trybuna Kryta for 84 zloty (ca. 28 euro) per person. All tickets have to be sold on name of the person who is going to occupy the seat, so you have to give your name and birth date, but you don’t have to show identification. Despite the insistence to the contrary of the girl who sold the tickets, we did also not have to identify ourselves at the stadium (and thus, this was another good example of a useless anti-hooligan measure).

On Saturday afternoon we sped out our workshop at 17.30 to take the taxi to the Stadion Wojska Polskiego im. Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego. Fortunately, it was a short ride and we arrived well in time for the 18.00 kick-off. There were quite a lot of people around the stadium, most wearing Legia scarves and/or jerseys, but even more striking was the massive police presence (wearing bullet proof jackets). All people were also frisked upon entrance, although not very solidly. Whether this is the reason for the absence of violence, and radical right symbols, at this particular game is hard to say. The fact that the away team had brought only some 30-50 fans, who were strictly segregated and heavily guarded, might also explain something.

I had expected a team like Legia, which is allegedly Poland’s biggest football club, to play in a much more imposing stadium; in fact, the website mentions that they are building an ultramodern new stadium. The (old) stadium holds only 13.278 and for this game, which was played in very nice weather (19 degrees and sunny), some 8.000 had showed up. What they lacked in numbers, they made up in singing. From the beginning the two main stands would sing in unison, which created a very pleasant atmosphere. This was helped by a very quick Legia goal, 1-0, after fairly dodging defending and goal keeping from Arka. Actually, for a team under investigation for match fixing, they didn’t seem too concerned to prove people wrong. I was simply amazed by the lack of commitment of the Arka players. As Legia didn’t move beyond the pace of senior citizens for most of the first half either, 1-0 was still the score after a quite uneventful first half.

Despite the seducing smell of grilled sausages, I didn’t get tricked into eating one. I still remember the many stadium sausages in the Czech Republic and Slovakia that didn’t live up to the smell. So, with increasing hunger my colleagues and I watched the second half unfold in a very similar way as the first half had dragged along. It’s difficult to compare the level of play to something I have seen recently, but probably a game between two teams from the bottom half of the Belgian Premier League would be similar. Only the pace of the game and the players was (even) lower this evening; maybe because of the summery circumstances. To be fair, Arka redeemed itself a bit and at times actually seemed to care about the game. This notwithstanding, it would be Legia that would score its second, some fifteen minutes before the end of the game, again after weak defending. A couple of minutes later it would be 3-0 after a very soft penalty. Surprisingly, during whole this poor game the Legia fans remained cheerful and happy with their teams performance.

It’s difficult to evaluate the evening. Somehow I was a bit disappointed by how ‘normal’ the whole Legia experience had been. There were no gangs of violent, right-wing extremist hooligans fighting with the police and shouting nationalist slogans and racist abuse. At the same time, this was also very pleasing (particularly given the fact that I was not alone). But even the stadium was unimpressive, let alone the level of play. Still, for a postcommunist game there was a decent attendance and a very good atmosphere. Although I would prefer to go to a game of Gwardia, or possibly even Polonia, next time, I could easily go to another Legia game. At the very least I’ll have a guaranteed nice atmosphere again.

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