Stories and pictures of the beautiful game.
If you are a veteran when it comes to Polish football, you probably won’t find a lot of new or exciting information in this article. You might enjoy the pictures at best, but might already have seen similar imagery. If you are – like me – new to Polish football, you might enjoy my explorations a bit more. Our journey takes us to Szczecin (Germans call it Stettin), just a few miles off the German border and close to the Baltic Sea.
Local team Pogon returned to the first flight of Polish football last season and managed to stay up in the Ekstraklasa. Many of the league’s grounds were transformed into modern arenas in light of the last European Championships. Szczecin’s Stadion Florian Krygier (capacity: 18k) was not one of them – it still embodies the rustic Eastern European charm, that its sterile counterparts lost: gigantic floodlights loom over the horseshoe-shaped ground, and the crumbling stands are only partly covered.
Visitors Legia Warszawa won both matches vs. Pogon last season and also the league. The team from Poland’s capital is on top again at the moment, directly followed by Pogon. Not that that has any meaning on the second day of the season. The football aspect of this experience was not supposed to be in the center of anyone’s attention anyway.
Polish fans are renowned for their regular use of flares and their intense chants. In many cases this comes along with deep hatred and violence between fans of different teams. Polish authorities reacted and introduced the “Karta Kibica” which is basically a system of personalized tickets: everybody who wants to see a game in Poland has to register first and provide personal data. The admission process in stadiums can take quite long – fans (especially visitors) sometimes even miss most of the match.
While those rules still apply for this fixture, the case of Pogon and Legia is a bit different. Both fan groups are united in a friendship that goes so far that both Ultra groups supported their teams from the same stand (usually, away fans in Poland are literally caged in their section). Their chants started way before kickoff and lasted until after the final whistle. Where at most games you hear fans exchange insults, almost all of today’s songs were about the fan friendship between Legia and Pogon. Most songs followed a very elaborate call-and-response choreography where first only fans of one team would sing, until the other group took over. Capos of both groups shared a pedestal from which they worked their magic to conduct their choirs.
Not one of Legia’s three goals interrupted the chants – it was as if the game did not even happen. And if they didn’t pay any attention to it, they also didn’t miss very much: Pogon was very committed but wasted too many opportunities, whereas Legia eventually headed home the lead in the first half after a set piece and added two more from counter attacks in the second half. The only time both Ultra groups commented on the match was to complain about a Pogon player being sent off after tackling the Legia keeper a bit too harshly. I found myself not being able to focus on the game much myself, and whenever I tried, I found myself longing to go back to the Ultra’s section, pacing up and down alongside, enchanted by their melodies. Towards the end, I finally gave up and even missed Legia’s last goal. Something big was in the making.
Ten minutes before the end, the Ultras covered their entire block with a large banner that displayed a wolf holding a megaphone in one hand and a lit flare in the other. And speaking of the latter: some fans used the banner as cover, to completely change their clothes and to mask their faces. A clever approach to prepare for the pyro show – this way the authorities wouldn’t be able to identify them later. Blue smoke announced the final act in this play: the banner was lowered and instantly several flares lit the darkened Szczecin sky, while firecrackers exploded around me.
The show was not only filmed by the stationary security cameras, but also by a photo drone that hovered over the stadium during the match. When I first noticed it, I immediately thought this to be a police drone, watching over the unruly fans. But I was told I was wrong: the drone actually belonged to the fans – they use it to get the best shots of their displays and performances.
Today it certainly recorded some impressive integrated singing, banners and pyro; my first Polish game offered everything I expected if not more. However, as much as I despise violence and like to see (and hear) the great results of people working together rather than against each other – what was lacking a bit were the ups and downs of the actual match getting weaved into the overall atmosphere, the excitement on the pitch transferring to the stands and vice versa. But I suppose that is for another time.
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Check out the Pogon vs. Legia video with all fan chants and the pyro show.