As opposed to the US with its baseball and football traditions, Poland is very much a soccer lovers’ land, with almost anyone in the country able to tell you the difference between an off-side (spalony) and a penalty kick (rzut karny). This exciting game has developed to be the prime sport on Polish television, with millions watching the national team being either beat up or victorious (with the latter outcome less of a common occurrence).
In the past, Poland had a rather strong team, with numerous successes at international events, such as the third place at the FIFA World Cup 1974 in Germany, winning the silver medal at the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976, or coming in third at the FIFA World Cup 1982 in Spain. The later years was very much a time when the Polish soccer lost in significance, with many games lost and hopes of many a fan shattered.
The Euro 2012, co-organized with the Ukraine in June 2012 and a major sporting event in the country, appeared to be an opportunity for the team to vindicate its good name, but was unfortunately quickly abandoned by the Poles, causing a wave of national lament, with many singing the ironic grieving song of “Nic się nie stało” (nothing happened/it doesn’t matter) afterwards. On the other hand, however, it should be noted that Poland made a great host, with several new stadiums built and new infrastructure developed so that hundreds of thousands of fans from all over Europe could come and support their teams live. This serious approach to hosting the event gave rise to unanimous praise from international participants and observers.
With the Euro 2012 long gone now, Poles stick to the regular league soccer games (ligowe mecze piłki nożnej) which, although still attracting thousands, can never match the excitement and the interest in the sport demonstrated during the Championships. The Polish “premier league”, referred to as “Ekstraklasa”, is made up of 16 teams with the games taking place in the fall and spring, followed by the Polish Cup (Puchar Polski) and the Supercup (Superpuchar) competitions.
Going to a league game (mecz ligowy) in Poland is very often a bit of a tradition, just like having a Sunday lunch with the family. Obviously, everyone knows all about the game and is ready to offer insights on which team is better and what the score is going to be. Conflicting opinions often lead to serious arguments and people often holding a grudge against someone who fails to share the popular convictions. Most of the stadiums (stadiony) in Poland have been renovated or rebuilt completely in the recent years, so you can watch the game in modern facilities with the usual snacks (przekąski) of hot-dogs and hamburgers widely available from the food stalls. Supporters (kibice or fani) often warm their teams to fight for victory, singing soccer songs (not always very politically correct;)) and hanging out flags or banners on the stands. True, you will also find lots of bald-headed die-hard fans (kibole) there, which may lead to some potentially dangerous situations, with stadium hooliganism and pre-arranged soccer fights (ustawki) an almost regular weekly news item during the season. However, a variety of measures have been taken in the recent years to separate opposing supporters during matches, with an aim to improve the viewing experience for families with children who have recently started to attend soccer games.
Soccer, being a social game and a pastime, seems to be a way to unite people when the national team plays against a common “enemy”, but may also become a tool to stir up hatred at stadiums. Most, however, just love the emotion of watching their favorite team win the game.