Trying to beat the troublemakers
LEGIA Warsaw earned the sympathy of much of Europe early this season after an administration oversight saw them lose their Champions League qualifying place to a Celtic side which they had just hammered 6-1.
But with the actions of a handful of supporters during a November Europa League clash in Belgium, any sympathy that the Polish champions had may have been lost just as quickly.
Small sections of the travelling Polish support caused a temporary halt to their group stage defeat at Lokeren after they hurled racist abuse at opposition keeper Boubacar Barry, before clashing with police and causing damage to their hosts’ stadium.
For the actions of a minority, Legia were heavily punished: as well as being slapped with a heavy fine, the club were forced to close their stadium for their group stage victory against Trabzonspor.
The same condition applies to the home leg of February’s knock-out tie against Ajax, while fans have been banned from travelling to all away games in the competition for the rest of the season.
It isn’t the first time that the Legia supporters have incurred the wrath of UEFA, explaining the severity of the punishment.
In 2007, the club were booted out of Europe for two seasons after hooligans stormed the pitch of Lithuanian side Vetra Vilnius during an Intertoto Cup game.
When they eventually qualified for the Europa League four years later, numerous incidents, including the display of a large banner reading ‘Jihad Legia’ in Arabic script when Israeli side Hapoel Tel Aviv visited, earned over € 187,000 in fines.
Despite only playing six Europa League qualifying games, that amount was surpassed in 2012/13 as Legia amassed penalties of
€ 198,000 after trips to Latvia, Austria and Norway; mostly for the use of flares and destruction of property.
Last year was no better: alleged racism and the use of pyrotechnics during both qualifying games against Welsh champions TNS earned a
€ 30,000 fine and forced the closure of Legia’s north stand for their play-off tie with Steaua Bucharest.
Despite the punishment, the club’s hardened supporters merely moved to the south stand, where more pyrotechnics and anti-UEFA banners went on display. UEFA handed Legia a whopping € 150,000 penalty and forced them to play one Europa League group stage game behind closed doors.
Further punishments were dished out domestically; most notably after hooligans broke into the away section during a league game against Jagiellonia Białystok, forcing the abandonment of the game. In addition to forfeiting the game, Legia were fined € 24,000, handed a one-game stadium closure and a sixmonth ban on fans travelling to away games.
Legia’s latest charge amounts to a hefty € 105,000. However, the total cost to the club is significantly higher. With the loss of ticket sales and matchday income included, the figure is estimated to be around € 750,000; while over the last 12 months, it has been guessed at somewhere between two and twoand-a-half million Euros has been lost – approximately ten per cent of the club’s yearly budget.
With such a dent to the club’s coffers, owner Bogusław Leśnodorski broke his silence on the matter to call for a change in attitudes.
“As you can see, the consequences of individuals’ irresponsible behaviour can be very large,” he stated in an interview with Polish radio. “I do not understand the reasoning of those people, and do not know how anyone can believe that harming their club is good. Stupidity cannot be an excuse.
“It seems to me that a good way to react is an attempt to hold accountable those responsible in a civil way. I know from experience that a financial argument often works. Claiming compensation from individuals could be a good way forward for us.”
Commenting in newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, lawyer Jacek Masiota stated he could not recall a similar case.
“Sometimes the fan associations agree with the clubs that they will pay the penalties for their actions; but I do not recall the request for compensation for taking part in brawls at the stadium, or for racist chanting.
“You [would] have to go through lots of evidence. In the case of identifying the perpetrators of racist chanting, it is incredibly difficult; while in the case of damages, you need precise proof that a particular person has caused damage.”
While the club is now in possession of video footage from Lokeren’s Daknamstadion, limitations to its coverage ensure it will be almost impossible to trace the source of the offending chants. Leśnodorski has also admitted that they are still not in possession of the names of those who had been arrested in Belgium – many of whom had travelled separately to the official groups.
In recent years Legia have adopted a much more professional approach to running the club, while improving massively on-the-field; yet the troublemakers’ actions still hold them back. If they can find a way to eradicate this final problem, they could be well on their way to dominating in Poland for years to come.
Legia ultras light up the stadium