Way too much fo…

Aside

Way too much football on here right now…don’t worry I’m not gonna bother commenting on Euro12. Next up are stories from travels, love, music and news and various views on stuff. The summer’s work is now arranged and so from it’ll all become more regularised 🙂

See you soon

Bluebirds on our shoulders

While gathering myself to cook tonight, Fake Empire the opener for The National’s Boxer album came into my head and from there the album and the band became the theme of the afternoon as I chopped, fried and simmered the food for everyone tonight. Fingers crossed but I am happy to start with. The more you listen to this album, the greater you love and appreciate it. Its gonna be a nice day 🙂

Balkans Battles Part 2 – Sarajevo Derby – RK Sarajevo vs Zeljeznicar Sarajevo

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I’d never been hit by the police until this game. In the past, the police merely questioned on the street occasionally. But it always irritated me. That interaction was all about to change when we got to this game. It was the Saturday following the Red Star game and on the advice of our friend Addy, Jan and I were stood with the SK Sarajevo Ultras near old-town Sarajevo drinking before the local derby against Zeljeznicar. Frky introduced himself and chatted away, asking about us, why we were there. Frky was a law student at the university and asked me about the Newcastle Sarajevo game in 2002. I couldn’t actually remember it. He talked about what happens before the games, where the meeting point was and not to worry about being in the fans’ north end. The others were generally more circumspect though they took great interest in my Newcastle United tattoo. Once they knew we were friends with Addy, they relaxed somewhat.

We met up with Alam and Diego and walked to the game. The walk to the stadium for a big game is always exciting. It was a derby game dividing central and eastern Sarajevo. Similar to the game in Belgrade, the league was gone. RK Sarajevo had to win to get a Europa league spot and local pride on the line. Reaching the stadium, we bought tickets from the office for 2.5 euros for the ultras end. I was taking my SLR. I wanted the pictures again and figured we’d be safe enough. We had Frky on our side but the real dangers were outside the ground.

Firstly a riot policeman thought I shouted an insult as he passed. He stopped, towered over me and said something with a real sneer. I replied ‘tourist’ and ‘no Bosnian’ but he took this for a Bosnian being clever and continued his words. (Thanks to the RK fan next to me who failed to own up to his comments and let me take the look!!). Soon after while queuing up, the police arrested a fan. When the police van arrived, another fan slapped the side of it shouting ‘ultras, ultras’. In a second, the police descended on the queue. panic ensued and everyone turned to run. I turned only to meet a policeman running my way and he slapped his truncheon across my back as I jumped down a ledge. The policeman stood over me for a second then walked away breathing heavily. Jan got hit too after avoiding two attempts. The storm passed quickly and soon enough we were in the stadium but the adrenaline was still pumping.

Inside we sat down and I looked around. Its noticeable how few fans wear the club shirt, mostly prefer their own dress or various club-related t-shirts, bought from markets. The fans were a mixed of men, kids and young women. Everyone knew the songs which like the Red Sar game didn’t relate to the match. Few commented on what was happening. Joints were being smoked. There were more women, more young fans in the stands. The atomsphere was more jovial than the previous week.

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The game was good, finishing 2-2. RK blew a 2-0 lead but finished the game stronger and could have won it. When they scored, flares were lit and riotous joy broke out. Similarly to the Red Star, the supporters actually have a cheerleader at the front who organises the chants. And again around the 50th minute, tens of flares were lit, obscuring any view of the game. We filed out into the evening warmth, meeting up with Alam (who thought we were crazy to go in the north end) and Diego. I needed some water and to de-stress.

That evening we drank and stayed out late. I woke up the next morning and checked my back. I was kinda disappointed I didn’t have a war wound! Alas I still had the rakija hangover!

Joint Responsibility

Last night Panorama did a program about racism in football stadiums in Eastern Europe in the run-up to to Euro 2012. Various England players are reportedly not bringing their families to the tournaments for fear of racist abuse. After the Sven debacle, I thought we all thought that was happening anyway. No one condones hooliganism or racism. This should be dealt with and yet again its UEFA that is failing to take the lead. After all, it is their tournament. They have consistently failed to chase down clubs with racist chants. Racism is of course a universal evil but UEFA have failed to deal with clubs and leagues with issues. Banning them from the Champions League or Europa Cup would be a simple and financial hurtful punishment. There would be rapid movement after this. But UEFA has acted as slowly here as it does on goalline technology. Platini did complain about the lack of hotel rooms for the France game though! If only it was that simple here.

The program was surprised by violence and politics involved in tribalism. The use of anti-semitic language (ie. calling each other jews as an insult) is hardly a surprise. I rememeber being at a Sunderland game a five years ago when the Sunderland fans sung against Spurs that ‘at least they have a foreskin.’ No arrests made. I’ve also heard the word gay or homo thrown as an insult around in every public place. Football is a tribal, generally lower-class game. Tickets for the games in Sarajevo and Belgrade were less than 10 euros, 2.5 euros in Sarajevo. I should add I never saw anything beyond the usual celebration of tribe and giggling about serious violence which in itself seemed stupid).

Europe with its ethnic issues is far behind in understanding racial issues. Eastern Europe after its shock economics (thanks Sachs!) and a loss of leadership amongst modern leaders is even further back. In Western Europe, it might be the colonial mind-set still in play. In which case, its racist. But in Eastern Europe, it is the vacuum of political leadership, a lack of jobs, a loss of direction for young men all to be filled by ignorance and resentment.

One of the reason Dalglish was fired was for misunderstanding American senstivity to race issues. Backing Luis Suarez when he failed to shake the hand of Patrice Evra after calling him ‘black’ 8 times in 2 minutes was a huge, personal statement but for Dalglish to support Suarez after the game revealed his understanding was as dated as his tactics. And yes, the countries, Poland and Ukraine, should have dealt with this issue or made to by UEFA rules. Turkey which has had some problems in the past is now moving on the issue. The Turkish FA recently banned Emre, one of its star players, for two games for racist abuse to Zokora.

However, my issue with the program is it openly defines the nation. The story was sensationalised and tars Poland and Ukraine as places other people can’t go. Some of the comments on blogs convey how disgusted they are by these countries. This is a mistake. Most people in Polannd and the Ukraine will be embarrassed by all this. The strength of the program might be to embarrass. some of the scenes were shocking and dsiturbing. However ideas the nation is unfit for the tournament are weak. There was little comment on the Olympic Games being given to China in 2008. Or F1’s continuing whoring itself to repressive regimes. Or the celebrating in football or horse racing of despot’s abuse of its countries wealth.

Having lived in Poland I can confess to not seeing a single black person but I did meet numerous other ethnic minorities (especially Vietnamese for some reason. I also however amusingly never met anyone with longer hair than myself for 4 months!). What we see are backwards values by a tiny minority and the polie have failed to enforce laws that exist, possibly for lack of complaint, complicity and/or manpower. Nones of these excuses (rather than reasons) are good enough but they need to be understood.

The media has highlighted a problem, a social evil that ultimately leads to forms of racism. The trajectory of institutionalized racism condoned by the state is well-known especially in a time of economic depression. Take a look back at history and it’s ugly. That is not the case here. We have minority racism in highly-charged, tribal venues that must be highlighted, condemned and stopped. But don’t leave it open that this is condoned by the nation or this defines the nation. There was no attempt to talk to a government minister or UEFA official. Most people there will be embarrassed by all this but angered by the generalisation. It was incomplete journalism, a sensationalist side, something the BBC was meant to avoid.

The media has done great work but in its programming, it has an equal responsibility to be fair to the nations as a whole. UEFA needs to actually understand and tackle social problems that manifest at its games. Poland and the Ukraine need to deal with this stain on its nation rather than seek to contain it or as in Ukraine’s case today deny it. Football might be just a game but that happens on the pitch. What happens off the pitch is for all of us to deal with.

Balkan Battles Part 1 – Partizan Belgrade vs Red Star Belgrade

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My mate LP, a very talented footballer used to play in the leagues of Melbourne. The teams are formed along ethnic lines. Australia, being an immigrant country has absorbed a lot of Balkan migrants and they brought their divisions with them. LP told me some games would have 25,000 at them, coins would be thrown, players spat at etc. The anger or the opportunity to express historical contempt was too easy to pass. Football is often used as a modern alternative or metaphor for war. This area of the world has had too many real examples but after going to the Eternal Derby in Belgrade, its clear this tribalism still hasn’t changed gone away.

We were in the Red Star end for the ‘Eternal Derby.’ The game was pretty boring involving many mis-laid passes and passages of sideways play. But the endless chanting, rattling of the fences, stealing of the game ball, attempts to get into the opposition fan areas, fires started, flares let off and sheer vitriol kept you entertained the whole game. Initially overwhelmed, a first half has never lasted so long. The game was won in the 92nd minute by Red Star blasting home a corner. The place went nuts. So did we, jumping up and momentarily hugging. Men cried and hugged, called their friends with huge grins. Then the chanting started again at the final whistle. Partizan fans disappeared quickly but Red Star stayed for 20 minutes, saluting their players.

While I would say English football has more knowledgable ‘football’ supporters than at this game, the passion the fans showed for their cause was beyond any English fan. In England we can truly say ‘its just a game’ and a metaphor for rivalry. We walk home together after, banter in the pub and shake hands at the end for the most part. Our clanship is a private matter.

In Belgrade, the game is secondary. Victory is won amongst the supporters within and outside the stadium. I’ve never seen a section of supporters chanting so continuously, usually songs loaded with derogatory comments about the opposition and its supporters. The game is watched from the corner of your eye. More foten you watch each other. A shot on goal isn’t noted by any crowd reaction unless it goes in while fouls draw a small but very angry condemnation of the ‘others’ cheating. What actually happens on the pitch is totally secondary until something really does happen. The closest I can compare is Rangers -Celtic in Scotland.

That clan tribalism displays who they are and what they represent. What they represent I still don’t really know (or fear to say) but as a statement of power and a willingness for a cause it was pretty impressive. It is when this tribalism congels into actual violence we need to worry. It didn’t feel too far away and there were fights in the centre later that evening. A reading of Balkan history reveals tribal violence, institutionalised and then militarised is what the area has seen too much of.

Lawless

So Nick Cave, Australia’s true musical artist has written a new film. Set in the US Prohibition era, it tells the tru-ish story of various families battling for control of the illegal alcohol trade in a state county. Looking similar to The Proposition and reminiscent of some of this albums. The cast and budget is far more impressive. Dark, malevolent and dirty I’ll be watching.

Thoughts of times

  • And so it occurred to me when I write or even when I think I am writing to you.
  • And I look for you each and every day. (sounds like a lyric from Arcade Fire but I am not sure)

These words, thought up and written down (along with other far more ridiculous phrases) as I tried to ignore a women-hating fascist in the hostel (my patience didn’t last long) will be expanded on in the next few weeks.

Before that there will be posts about the US and the Balkans, university graduation and the future while I work through the summer and all the commotions.

Needless to say, I am tired, ready to be rejuvenated buthappy.