A feature of Euro 2012 so far is the smuggling of bangers and flares into stadiums, in particular by fans of Russia and Croatia, triggering hefty fines for their football associations.
The controlled use of flares or fireworks in some countries’ stadiums has helped reduce their illegal and risky use however, while satisfying some fans’ appetite for big bangs and sparks, some supporters say.
A Gdansk group set up to liaise between the city and fans of local club Lechia Gdansk plans to debate whether to allow flares at their club later this year.
Danish and Norwegian football clubs already allow a carefully orchestrated firing of flares and pyrotechnics, which has reduced the problem of fans using them dangerously, according to Darius Lapinski, who runs liaison work between local fans and host cities across Poland.
“When flares are banned outright they are often used as a protest action,” he said. “But there have been successful results in Norway, Denmark and Austria, where they are allowed.”
Ask a band of young Lechia Gdansk fans why they enjoy flares and they break into smiles.
“I think it is in our character to enjoy the flares. If you have a group of people who have had special training in how to use them, and they are used before the opening whistle of a match they can enhance the atmosphere,” said 28-year-old Michal Nowosad, who works with the “Gdansk Fan project” liaison group.
Talks on allowing flares are just one of the ways the group is working to counter hooliganism and help fans feel they can have more input and control.
“Another project we had was setting up drawing classes for some of the Lechia Gdansk ultras with local art students. They learned how to draw figures in proper proportion, and now use these skills in painting banners,” said Nowosad.
Others are involved in the “fan embassies” across Poland, where local supporters welcome foreign visitors.
Prior to the tournament, images of racist abuse and soccer hooliganism in co-hosts Ukraine and Poland as well as in wider Eastern Europe loomed large. Both have also featured during Euro 2012.
More than 100 Polish hooligans were arrested for attacking Russian fans marching to Warsaw’s stadium and Croatian fans directed racist abuse at Italy striker Mario Balotelli.
“We still have problems which will need time to resolve but change is in progress,” said Lapinski, who believes that hooliganism was simply neglected in Poland for too long.
“Hooliganism emerged in the 1970s, simmered for a long time in the 1980s, and then things deteriorated during the transformation from communism.
“In the 1990s Poland had other things to do. We left the police to deal with hooligans. Now the country has reached a certain level of economic development, fan culture has evolved, and violence is reducing as we take a wider approach to the problem,” he said.
Helping channel the energy of young fans, particularly those who might otherwise feel attracted to violence, is a crucial way of eradicating hooliganism and helping people feel self-worth.
“Fan projects and fan choreography have become very popular,” said Lapinski. “Only a few things are needed to get the ball rolling and then it can really help some marginalized individuals feel a part of society.”