Śląsk Wrocław’s ultras have lost their club huge sums of money after Sunday’s pyro-show prompted the closure of Stadion Wrocław for Saturday’s clash with Lech Poznań.
The decision to close the stadium was made by the regional government, who opted to follow police advice on the matter.
Matches with Lech Poznań normally command a large attendance around the 20,000 mark. Given Śląsk’s good form this season, ticket sales could easily have hit 25,000.
However, as a result of the ultras letting off flares, firecrackers and fireworks during Sunday’s match against Legia, the local authorities have stated the match must be held behind closed doors.
Considering the average price of a ticket and the expected attendance for Saturday’s game, we estimate that the ultras have cost Śląsk at least half a million złoty. That figure will rise later today when the club are inevitably fined by the Polish Football Association (PZPN).
Śląsk were also punished by PZPN in September as a result of fan misbehavior during a cup tie in Łódż. WKS fans were banned from away travel until the end of the year, while the club’s next cup match must also be played behind closed doors.
Before this season even got underway, it was estimated that the ultras had cost Śląsk over 1 million złoty in financial penalties.
The lost income means WKS, who are publicly owned and therefore funded by taxpayers, will once again lose vast sums of cash that could be used for player recruitment or youth development.
Meanwhile, posts on fan forums and social media unsurprisingly reveal the ultras are unapologetic about the stadium closure.
Some blamed the situation on Lower Silesians who elected a “leftist” PiS/Bezpartyjni Samorządowcy coalition. However most fans, in a similar vane to the way they follow the choreographed chanting in Sector B, merely repeated the Ultras’ “football for fans” slogan.
The phrase does appear to be somewhat ironic given the fans ability to see the football was restricted by the ultras on Sunday, initially due to the referee taking the players off the pitch, but also as a consequence of all the smoke from the pyrotechnics.
Although most Śląsk fans were delighted to see such huge numbers turn up for the Legia game, it appears some ultras were not that enthused by the new arrivals.
Numerous posts on a popular fan forum show fury at the lack of chanting from huge sections of Sundays 32,000-strong crowd. Several Śląsknet posters branded spectators in sector C and the corners of sector B as “picnic” fans, as they didn’t join in with the singing enough.
A few fans have criticised the ultras on social media for overdoing it on Sunday, however they have been quickly shot down by the hardcore WKS support. The ultras argue that they follow the club through thick-and-thin – no matter the weather, the time, the cost or the form of the team. They say that the penalties the club receive are almost nothing given the support they have shown WKS for decades.
There is absolutely no doubting the unwavering support that comes from the Śląsk ultras, so the above argument does have a degree of merit. That said, when you start thinking about their actual financial contribution to the club, the hooligans could arguably be more trouble than they are worth.
The ultras attend the stadium to show their power, create noise and chant from the first minute to the last. It is not in their culture to eat snacks at half time or sit in the stands with a beer. Therefore they don’t spend a lot of cash when they are in the stadium. They also pay lower ticket prices. On top of that, some of the ultras only buy t-shirts and sweaters produced by the ultras themselves, which results in lost merchandising revenue. Last but not least, the price of policing and securing the ultras sector is higher too.
The boards of a few Ekstraklasa clubs have fallen out with their ultras at various points in the past. Even so, none of them have completely cut the chord, considering such a move to be too risky.
However the Polish Football Association decided to do just that in 2012, and they have not looked back since. In a highly controversial move ahead of Euro 2012, PZPN chose to ban organised singing for Polish national team games. The change enraged ultras groups across the country, making Poland’s already unpopular footballing body as toxic as ever.
Despite the criticism, which continues to this day, Polish national team games now regularly pack stadia. There are little to no disturbances and fans of all ages are happily snapping up tickets that cost 5 to 6 times more than Ekstraklasa matches.
Having superstars like Lewandowski and Milik certainly helps to achieve such big crowds, but the different atmosphere plays a significant role too. The fans react to the events on the pitch and sing when they want to, not when they are told to. Critics say the games feel like a picnic and have no atmosphere, but that is difficult to say about some of the dramatic games at the national stadium – not least the amazing victory against Germany.
Of course, it would be a high risk and ballsy move by the WKS board to follow PZPN’s lead and ban organised chanting. The likelihood is that the status quo will continue, meaning pyro-shows like last Sunday’s are destined to be repeated.