Euro 2012: Panorama paranoia

29 May

AAS editor Jamie Forsyth is travelling to the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, and will be providing a series of blogs from the tournament. He’s starting early with a look at the reaction provoked by Monday night’s Panorama special, Stadiums of Hate, which looked into the reception foreign fans may get from supporters of the host nations.

MASS hysteria greeted the Panorama documentary into the violent, right-wing thugs lying in wait for England’s supporters during next month’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
In truth, the film did provide some disturbing moments, but for the most part, did not tell seasoned, educated football supporters anything they did not know. We could all have tuned into Danny Dyer’s Real Football Factories five years ago and seen exactly the same thing, except accompanied by some hammed-up cock-er-ney phrases like “proper nawty” and “I’m well out of my manor” instead of “Bloody hell, bloody hell I’m getting out of here”, Chris Rogers’ entirely understandable but charmingly British reaction to a fight occurring in the row of seats behind him at a Metalist Kharkiv game. Not the environment a former Newsround presenter thrives in, that.
For example, we are aware that Poland and Ukraine, along with much of Eastern Europe, a largely homogenous region where whites make up the vast majority of the population, has a section of society with right-wing views. We know there is a problem in some matches with violence between rival gangs. We did not need a BBC documentary two weeks before the finals to tell us this.
What Panorama failed to consider was that violence in domestic league matches does not directly correlate with the risk of violence in one of the most prestigious competitions on Earth.
Firstly, the Ultras that are striking such fear into the hearts of Monday night’s viewers, will be priced out of the game. It is sad to use the term “priced out”, speaking as we do about a working class sport. But the football fan has long since been a secondary consideration for the likes of Blatter and Platini as they look to dedicate great swathes of stadia to corporate tickets and the “football family”. Those tickets that are left, whilst reduced in price to make them “accessible” to the Ukrainian and Polish public, are still a minimum of 30Euros for a group game, rising higher for the knockout stages. We could compare this “pricing out” of troublesome groups to the English game. Just because hooligans and racists cannot afford a ticket to Premier League fixtures, does not mean they do not exist in our society. I know they do because I bumped into a coachload of EDL activists at a service station on my way to an away game at Morecambe in February. They were not going to a football match, but they must have been going somewhere.
Even if some do scrimp and save for a ticket, the demand for seats and the way tickets are sold by UEFA will mean the ultras cannot just gather together in a section of the stadium of their choosing to demonstrate their unpleasant displays and song repertoire. Games in the Polish and Ukrainian top leagues are rarely sold out and indeed clubs often encourage the Ultras, paying for their travel or for their colourful displays – as they are the die-hard fans of the club and therefore the lifeblood. So inside the stadium, the level of danger will be no more than a top flight game in England.
Having been to a game in Poland (at one of the clubs featured in Panorama, Wisla Krakow), I unintentionally ended up in the stand with the Ultras due to confusion with the language at the ticket office. It was an unnerving experience, but there seemed to be no racist chanting directed at the black players on show (there were a couple). There were no Nazi salutes or fights, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, myself included.
Outside the stadium, of course there will always be a risk that you could wander into the wrong place at the wrong time. As could any visitor to London, where far more violent crime occurs than in any of the host cities of Euro 2012, during the Olympic games. Isolated incidents may happen but the police and tournament organisers will know the eyes of Europe is on them, and waiting for them to slip up. Competence by the authorities did not come exactly shine through in Panorama, but at least we should be reassured they are making an extra special effort for this tournament – even if that is of little comfort to the group of Indian students they spectacularly failed to protect during the documentary.
Panorama failed to showcase any of the benefits of hosting the tournament in Poland and Ukraine. The fantastic stadiums, many built from scratch for the event, the unique experience of travelling to countries that are not on the usual tourist trail, cheap and high quality beer (the awful UK staples Fosters and Carling will be blissfully absent although Carlsberg is an official sponsor so there may be no getting away from that), not to mention the beautiful women.
There is no getting away from the fact both countries have problems with racism and anti-Semitism, but for Sol Campbell to advise black and Asian fans they may be returning in a coffin on the strength of a documentary that clearly worked to a negative agenda is rash and over the top. Sol, you are deserving of respect as a great defender and former England captain but you are not the Foreign Office (which does advise supporters from ethnic minorities to take extra care – it does not tell them not to travel).
Let’s not forget the overwhelming population of both these countries are friendly and welcoming. They love football and see the tournament as a fantastic opportunity to provide infrastructure and new facilities in countries that arguably need them more than Western nations. Having visited both countries, my feeling is the biggest problems faced by England fans will be border queues if travelling into the Ukraine from Poland, trying to buy a train ticket at a station in the Ukraine (it’s a real experience if you speak no Russian or Ukrainian), possible hot water shortages in some of the hostels that are springing up for the tournament, or being ripped off by unscrupulous taxi drivers looking to make a quick buck from the “rich” Westerners. None of which are especially likely to end up with you returning to Blighty in a coffin. I’ve got my tickets, the flights are booked and I’m still raring to go, no matter what the BBC says.


3 Responses to “Euro 2012: Panorama paranoia”

  1. jonathan May 29, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Have a great time! I live in Ukraine and this documatary managed to cherry pick the very worse of the worse of the worse of the country. The other 99.9% of the time it is a great place to be, and an excellent place to host the Euro. Cheap beer, and a lively and dynamic society with lots to offer.

    My site is accesscrimea – if anyone has any questions about ukraine whatsoever, contact me through it!

    • allatseafanzine May 29, 2012 at 11:51 am #

      Hi Jonathan,

      Thanks for your comment – I had a great time when I went to Kiev a few years back and am really looking forward to going back to Ukraine, great country.

  2. TheVodkaYeti June 5, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    Good article Jamie!

    I’ve been living in Poland for ten years now and wrote my opinion of the Panorama programme here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: