Photo by Ian Stenhouse
In the 80th minute on Tuesday night, a Pogoń Szczecin (pronounced Stettin) corner was headed calmly out by the goal scorer, and Dominic Peitz's replacement as 1.FC Union's sechser, Markus Karl. It went straight to the twinkle toes of Santi Kolk who immediately laid it off JFK style (back, and to the right) to Torsten Mattuschka. The captain took a touch near the touchline, still well inside his own half, looked up and saw that Kolk had already turned, slipping his marker, and was haring towards the halfway line. He caressed a ball into the path of the Dutchman, who was now all alone in the centre circle. He advanced with lightning pace; the Szczecin midfield had been shredded and momentarily looked about as coherent as some of the words that their fans had been singing all evening.
Chinedu Ede, who had had a very good game so far, was just ahead of him to the left. The newcomer and, dare I say it, intellectual (he reads books!) Patrick Zoundi was to the right. Kolk had an embarrassment of riches to choose from, choosing to slip the ball through to Zoundi whose shot flashed across goal, just wide of the far post. It was a devastating break that deserved a goal, and a sign of the more adventurous brand of football that Uwe Neuhaus wants to bring to the Alte Försterei this year.
It was a shame that nobody was paying attention.
All eyes were instead trained on the away end, the corner of stand behind the goal, which was filled with a few hundred, skinheaded Polish fans. If they weren't clad in black they were topless. If they weren't stereotypical, East European hooligans, they certainly looked the part. Their guts heaved up and down as they split into two groups separated by the, now empty, terrace between them.
Gesticulating and singing at each other across the divide, at an unknown signal they charged into each other, pogoing maniacally like it was 1978 and Sham 69 still seemed like a good idea. "If the kids are united, they will never, be divided,” indeed. The Sportsdesk had never seen anything like it since the Oi! Records summer barbecue and kids day out (okay, that never happened, but you get the general idea).
To say the atmosphere inside the stadium was poisonous would be well wide off the mark, but rarely do friendlies generate such a spectacle, and such noise. The kick off had been delayed by half an hour to allow the Polish fans' delayed buses to arrive, but, according to the excellent Textilvergehen, some had immediately tried to storm the ground. Some of those who did try to pay the entrance were offering zlotys (the Polish currency). Was this the reason for the "Fuck Euro" banner draped in front of the stand at half time? “Fuck Euro” what? I didn't fancy engaging in a lesson on the finer points of grammar during the break so we'll just have to assume that they are rather fond of the zloty. By all accounts it could have been pretty ugly. It took the best part of the first half for the stand to fill up.
Karl's 57th minute headed-goal set the Polish fans into raptures. Like a former hippy on holiday, the flares came out immediately. Bangers rang around the stadium and a couple went on to the pitch forcing the referee to put a temporary halt to the game while the stewards and police calmed the situation down. It seemed that it hadn't mattered who scored, nobody was going to travel back eastwards with any unused fireworks.
Opinions were divided. Many of the Union fans cheered and sung in solidarity that setting off fireworks does not make fans criminals. It is a recurring point in German football, one that will run and run. But there were others who were not so sure. Pogoń had set their stall out on the pitch immediately, and within the first two minutes Christopher Quiring and John Jairo Mosquera had been brutally clattered.
An older journalist I bumped into at half time told me that he worried that their tactics would "have consequences for some“. I took his cryptic comment to mean that the atmosphere didn't need ramping up any further, and concurred. This was supposed to be, if not friendly, then at least a friendly. The disgusting, stone-aged monkey chants at Mosquera suggested otherwise.
I left confused. Had the Pogoń fans brought life to an otherwise meaningless game, or were they merely harking back to a time that is best left well behind in the civilised world? I'm pretty sure of my opinion, but am certain of one thing. They sure can dance.