World Cup Countdown: Germany braced for invasion of Polish hooligans at finals

Armed with knives, neo-Nazi Polish gangs pose the greatest threat for violence at this summer's World Cup, Brian Alexander writes
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Martin is a fan of Cracovia Krakow, one of Poland's oldest football clubs. He is a rare breed: an anti-fascist skinhead who deplores the use of knives. Dressed in bovver boots, combat trousers and with his head shaved, he has some chilling stories to tell about the Polish hooligan culture.

"Ten years ago people used their arms and fists to fight. Now kids just use knives," he says. "Most kids carry a knife to provide victory if necessary. They are reacting against authority. Kids want to be involved with this family, so they carry knives to impress others. They keep a knife to make victory possible."

Martin blames Poland's high unemployment and the angry, disaffected youth of the country. He also blames drugs. "Amphetamines are common here. Regular life is tough here. The drugs help you to be tough. The drugs cost about 20 Polish zloty a gram. That's less than £4. Depends how pure it is. During communist times in the 1970s, amphetamines were sold easily in the chemist shop. Doctors prescribed it to the miners."

Eight young supporters of Cracovia and their near neighbours Wisla Krakow have been knifed to death in the past 12 months. The latest was earlier this month when a Wisla skinhead was dragged from his car outside the ground after a game. This is Polish football 2006. It feels like English football 1986.

Martin is talking in a dingy bar a few yards from the Cracovia stadium. A noticeboard by the entrance is splattered with stickers bearing Nazi emblems and anti-Semitic slogans. "It's not as bad as it looks," says Martin, "but I take down the bad ones. I am anti-fascist and a skinhead at the same time. I try to cover up the bad stuff. I don't like that bullshit.

"There's a crew called Teddy Boys from Legia Warsaw. They are neo-Nazi. They are pretty rough. And there are about 40 Wisla guys who are very violent. They wear balaclavas and they carry knives."

Martin's views bear out the widely held view in Germany that the Polish fans are the ones they fear most at this summer's World Cup finals, all the more so since the two countries, with their resonant historical past, are drawn together in Group A. "Polish fans are very aggressive," said Kai Nolle, a major in the German Police in Berlin. "We wish the Polish authorities had the same banning order powers as in Britain, but they don't. So we have a problem."

Most of Poland's problems have been between rivals fans, but Piotr Zygo, the president of Legia Warsaw, a club that has had serious problems with extreme right-wing fans, admitted: "Polish people are warriors and they will respond if they are attacked at the World Cup. I am really worried about the right-wing Nazi extremists from Germany, Italy and Poland."

A chilling sign of what could happen came last December with a fight between Polish and German fans near the border town of Briesen. "They organised it by using mobile phones," Nolle said. "They used baseball bats and many were injured. This time there were no knives."

Christian Sachs, of the German Interior Ministry, said: "The Polish National League has a problem, but we are confident of containing it. There has been a good transfer of knowledge with the Polish authorities."

But Martin put the Polish threat into context. "I hope it won't be a war, and it might not be. People here don't have enough money for that kind of holiday in Germany. OK, it is not far and hotels are cheap on our side of the border, but Polish fans fight each other, not other countries."

Rafan Pankowlski, of the Polish anti-racist organisation Never Again, is more pessimistic. He says that for Poles this is the nearest thing to a World Cup in their own territory. "If you go to a normal game in Poland you will experience a neo-Nazi atmosphere with fascists recruiting young people. A lot of Polish hooligans will be happy to test themselves against the infamous hooligans from England and Holland.

"There is little or no mechanism to deal with this in Poland... The authorities have no control over the problem. I don't see how they can control it in Germany, either."

Brian Alexander presents a Sport on 5 Special Report, World Cup 2006: The New Hooligan Threat, on BBC Radio 5 Live, tonight at 7pm