Flagging up problems

15 06 2011

If my existing worries about the European draw weren’t bad enough another worry has crept into my mind; will it be safe enough to put my flags on display?

The flags of the Jet Set have a certain political stance and while the flags are tolerated in Britain’s septic isle (through support, bewilderment or indifference) I wonder if they would gain the same reception “on the continent”.

Flags have many purposes; assisting military coordination, signaling, identification and representing nation states and national groups. Flags have “varied, wide-ranging interpretations”. The  “varied, wide-ranging interpretations” of flags gets straight to the heart of my worries; flags have a tendency to excite the emotions, from pride and defiance to anger and revulsion. In football the use of flags can be political – both left-wing and right-wing fans use flags for example. Take this example;

UEFA’s Disciplinary Committee had fined FK Dinamo Zagreb 20,000 Euros because Zagreb fans had waved the Macedonian flag!

The Croatian public are stunned by this bizarre punishment and can not believe the European footballing body would be this unprofessional and racist. Dinamo Zagreb fans waved the Macedonian flag in their UEFA match against Greek based club PAOK”

The Dinamo Zagreb fans were obviously using the Macedonian flags to make a point.  (The Greek government disputes Macedonia’s right to call themselves Macedonia. Hence Macedonia has to be called The “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” in the United Nations.)

It’s not just in this general sense that you should show caution. My own experience has shown that you have to be careful with flags “on the continent”.

– In 2006 I was prevented from displaying this flag in Graz because a steward told me it was “too politisch!!”. It was probably my fault, Wales were playing Trinidad & Tobago and I should have realised that Jack Warner didn’t want his eyeballs burned.

– In 2003 I was waiting for another member of the Jet Set outside the San Siro when two Carmarthen fans walked past displaying their flag. Two muscle-bound ultras tried to steal it. Fortunately their leader forced them to return it.

– In 2007  I went to watch Shelborne v Dundalk on the eve of the Ireland V Wales match in Croke Park and I was nearly the victim of a theft;

“Did anyone come across any Welsh at Tolka?? “

– “There was a ‘llandudno jet set’ flag at the corner of the riverside and ballybough end”

“That the s.kooligans spent the whole half planning to steal…”

And then there was the Montenegrin experience of our friends at Ffwtbol;

“You might want to get in early.You might also want to keep your flags until you’re inside the stadium. The Ultras value them as trophies and this photo emerged of the stolen Welsh flags being displayed upside down after the game – the Ultras message that they “won” the fight.

I’ve heard that some were taken by Dickensian street urchins being paid by the older mob to dive and run off with the flags hanging outside bars. Other stories suggest the Ultras were a bit more brazen and simply beat up anybody who protested.”

Therefore caution is needed in the display of flags;  you never know who’ll take offence, or even just take it. I don’t want to become the victim of a  vicious attack and I don’t want to cause a diplomatic incident. I sense my flags could cause offence if we drew the wrong club. Two of the flags feature the hammer and sickle, if you look at the list of cubs that Bangor can draw you will notice that half the clubs are from “behind the iron curtain” as we used to say;

BATE Borisov Belarus
Maccabi Haifa Israel 
Dinamo Zagreb Croatia
Rosenborg Norway
APOEL Cyprus
Wisła Kraków Poland
Litex Lovech Bulgaria 
Viktoria Plzeň Czech Republic
Slovan Bratislava Slovakia
Sturm Graz Austria
FK Partizan Serbia
HJK Helsinki  Finland
Ekranas  Lithuania
Maribor Slovenia
Zestafoni Georgia (country)
Malmö FF  Sweden
Shamrock Rovers Republic of Ireland

The fans of these clubs might see the flags as an unwelcome reminder of Stalinist tyranny. My protestations that the hammer and Ssckle has other connotations –  Anti-Stalinist POUM in the Spanish Civil War or Eurocommunism –  probably wouldn’t placate irate ultras shouting in a language I can’t understand.  On a similar note one of the flags contains the Palestinian flag and if we drew the Israeli club I can imagine that the display of this flag wouldn’t go down too well. (Whether I’d go there in the first place is a moot point).

With this in mind I thought it sensible to check whether the fans of the clubs we could draw would have a problem with my socialist flags. (I will then hope to avoid them in the draw.)

My research has shown the following clubs may have “problem fans”;

Dinamo Zagreb

“It was brought to the attention of Celtic Fans Against Fascism that there have been increasing numbers of Dinamo Zagreb’s hooligan gang – the Bad Blue Boys – making visits to Glasgow and following Celtic in Europe in recent seasons. Much of the information available about the Bad Blue Boys suggests that they are predominantly right-wing in political outlook and have an extreme nationalist and Nazi element among their support.

On at least two separate occasions over the years the BBB have attacked our anti-fascist friends from St Pauli at Celtic’s European matches (in Zagreb and Budapest). The attacks were politically motivated. The BBB know St Pauli’s anti-fascist reputation and attacked them because of it.”

 Wisla Krakow (and this is from a Krakow tourist website.)

“Unfortunately there is a dark side to Polish football. The rivalry between Wisla and Cracovia is so bitter and idiotic that it often descends into bouts of intense violence amongst the supporters, sometimes involving unlucky bystanders, so take our advice and try to steer clear of any fans on derby days! In general, avoid red-and-white stripes (Cracovia) or stars (Wisla) on your clothing, too. An additional blot on Polish football is that the few black players plying their trade here are often subjected to mindless verbal abuse from the fans. It’s a sad reminder that there is long way to go before we kick racism out of football (or the country in general).”

Slovan Bratislava

“On Friday 20th April (2007) a group of supporters of SK Slovan Bratislava displayed a banner to celebrate the birthday of Adolf Hitler.

The banner carried the words Alles Gute Adi (“Happy birthday Adolf”) and a smiley face in a form of Adolf Hitler. The letter S in this sign was replaced by a sigurnia – a symbol used as a sign for SS units.

This incident took place at the league match against FC Senec (1:1). Slovan supporters also were chanting “racist, fascist, hooligans, repeated several times.

This was not, however, an isolated incident connected with Slovan Ultras supporters. They are infamous for their similar racist and fascist behaviour – at a match with Artmedia Petrzalka on April 7th, in Bratislava, the same group of ultras chanted monkey noises directed at the German-born Karim Guede, who playes for Togo and as a defensive midfielder for Artmedia.

The approach of club officials and players is also quite disturbing. Players of SK Slovan greeted and clapped their supporters after the match. Slovan Ultras also published an article describing their meeting with club officials, which took place a couple of days after the match with Artmedia. The article says that the meeting was held in a very friendly atmosphere and they have been praised for their support for the SK Slovan team and received support for their activities from the club officials.

Not a word about the racist chanting, which happened at the same match, and not a word about the nazi symbols.”

And there’s this from November 2008;

“Bratislava – More than 50 people were injured in nationalistic-fuelled violence at a football game in south-western Slovakia. Thirty-one people were arrested in Saturday’s rioting – 18 fans for the home team in Dunajska Streda, one of the most important centres for Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarian minority, and 13 from the away team from Bratislava, a police spokeswoman in Bratislava said.

Violence had been feared ahead of the championship game between AC Dunajska Streda and Slovan Bratislava as hundreds of football hooligans and neo-Nazis from Hungary were expected to travel to the match. “

APOEL (taken from Nicos Trimikliniotis’ article; “Preventing racism, xenophobia and related intolerance in sport across the European Union”)

“Despite the ethnic division of the country for the last years, even to this day the ‘left-wing’ teams (Omonia, AEL, Alki and Nea Salamina) retain supporters amongst Turkish-Cypriots, whilst the ‘right-wing’ teams (APOEL, Anorthosis, Olympiakos, Apollon) are generally seen as nationalistic and some their supporters carry the Greek Flags to the matches, whilst in their banners one may often see far right-wing symbols.

The display of Greek flags causes tension with left-leaning fans; 

“AN OMONIA FC fan burnt the Greek flag on Sunday during the Nicosia football derby with archrivals APOEL, seemingly worsening the overly hostile climate between the supporters of the two clubs.

At the capital’s GSP stadium it appeared as if two different worlds had met: on the APOEL side — whose fan base is traditionally right-wing — there was a plethora of Greek flags being waved while on the Omonia side none were on display by its mostly left-wing supporters.

That was until an Omonia fan pulled out a Greek flag from his pocket and proceeded to light it on fire. The incident occurred just a few minutes into the….”

There is also this;  

“APOEL is known to be a bastion of Disy supporters, the right-wing party now in opposition. An unofficial website proclaims the team is “100 per cent anti-communist“.

FK Partizan

It’s difficult to find evidence like the above but  it’s probably safe to assume that becuase their ultras bare the name “The Gravediggers” – and have sub-groups called “Anti-Romi” or “Irriducibili NBG” – some fans probably aren’t too liberal.

The other clubs in the draw don’t seem to carry baggage like this. For example Malmo FF’s supporters are like this;

“MFF Support describes itself as “an idealistic and non-political association working against violence and racism“.

Now I need to make a decision, based on the flag situation, about which club I’d like Bangor City to draw. I think it’s possible to deduce the following;

1. The left-wing connotations of my flags could enrage so this rules out Dinamo Zagreb, Slovan Bratislava, APOEL, FK Partizan and Wisla Krakow.

2. The Palestinian flag could enrage so this rules out Maccabi Haifa

3. The hammer and sickle could offend so this rules out the clubs from ex-state-socialist countries; BATE Borisov, Dinamo Zagreb, Wisła Kraków, Litex Lovech, Viktoria Plzeň, Slovan Bratislava, FK Partizan, Ekranas, Maribor and Zestafoni

4. Sturm Graz is ruled out because of the over-zealous stewarding

The choice we have left is; Malmo FF, Shamrock Rovers, Rosenborg and HJK Helsinki.

I think I’ll go for Shamrock Rovers. (I actually don’t care which of the four it is, as long as the draw means that we play the second leg away.)

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One response

13 07 2011
Craig Broadbent

Ah so it’s your flag’s I can see! I’ve been watching the BC v HJK match wondering why the left-wing flags (which I support by the way!!). I was wondering if the club were left wing or if it was just that set of fans.

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