Collective disobedience by eastern European fans against the local authorities in both Poland and Ukraine will serve to permanently tarnish the tournament as a whole. There remains a distinct disregard for the well being of those who hope to ensure that the European Championships are not tainted by the actions of those in the stands. This is, however, a truly complex situation which suffers from the inherent conflict which exists between eastern European fans and security forces in football grounds.
Russia, for example, regularly finds itself immersed within violence and tension between fans and policing authorities. A sense of injustice exists in the mindset of many fans who feel as though they are dealt with in a particularly heavy handed manner. This, in turn, helps to provoke a reaction of a rather extreme magnitude. One look at the severity of fines that Russian clubs receive on a weekly basis during the course of a season, as a consequence of their fan’s actions, and the struggle that presently exists begins to become ever clearer
The balancing act that needs to exist, in order to ensure the safety of each individual within a stadium at any given time, is one that sits all too precariously – and more often than not falls on the side of chaos. The tribalism that is rife across the east is one that remains deeply entrenched in the fabric of each football club. Each team represents a political and social ideology and to separate the sporting institution from its fan base is a painfully difficult process. Generations of fans have been brought up to believe in the just cause of their side, and as such have developed the desire to spit bile and hatred to those whom they perceive as being the enemy.
The manner in which Russian fans reacted to the stewards, in the wake of their nation’s match against the Czech Republic, is quite simply unsurprising. It has since come to light that the mass brawl that ensued came as a result of the ‘heavy handed’ measures taken by the stewards in dealing with rowdy Russian fans. This led to the abandonment of civility and the introduction of fists. In the build up to the tournament much of the continent’s eyes were on the supporters of the co-hosts who, as has been widely reported, suffer from a certain degree of hooliganism. However it would appear as though the potential actions of visiting fans were forgotten in earnest.
Accompanied by allegations of racial abuse, towards the Dutch squad during an open training session, the European Championships have suffered from a particularly difficult start, with the tournament still rooted firmly in its infancy. With hundreds of thousands of fans still yet to fill the Polish and Ukrainian stands it would appear as though these early signs could well point toward a difficult few weeks for UEFA, in particular.
With the bidding for the Euro 2020 tournament beginning to take shape it will be interesting to see whether the governing body will wish to see the competition placed in the arms of a ‘safe’ pair of hands. This would point to the Celtic bid – made up of Wales, Scotland and Ireland – being placed in pole position, ahead of the more unstable environments of Turkey and Georgia and Azerbaijan. However as representation continues to remain a key facet of potential host nations, the Celtic bid could potentially suffer from the French tournament of 2016.
It is certain that crowd trouble is not merely an issue isolated solely to Eastern Europe however, and this is a point that does not appear to have been stressed enough. There can be no nation who can claim to have struck a perfect balance whereby conflicts between fans and security forces are nonexistent. As such the establishment of a successful ‘one size fits all’ model of policing football matches has yet to be formulated, and is unlikely to ever come to light. In such a situation one size certainly doesn’t fit all, and so the regional discrepancies of each individual issue must be taken into account in order for the eradication of violence at football grounds to become a reality.
Eastern Europe will likely bear the brunt of the western tabloid storm; however the tournament will hopefully provide more positives than negatives over the coming weeks. Much attention will now be placed upon how fans behave in and around the host cities, however hopefully they will not all be solely focussed upon both Poland and Ukraine alone.