Henry Wizgier

Off the Pitch Battle: Legia Warszawa vs UEFA

Off the Pitch Battle: Legia Warszawa vs UEFA

Following the playing of a suspended player fiasco, Legia Warszawa have found themselves in trouble with UEFA yet again.

But this time it’s the more familiar problem of crowd behaviour and the Pepsi Arena’s notorious Zyleta end. In the UEFA Europa League match against FC Aktobe the terraces were lit up by hundreds of burning flares which in itself has become a ‘play a match behind closed doors’ punishment. But it’s a massive flag showing a pig with the word UEFA and € signs all over its shirt, and banner beneath saying “6-1 because football doesn’t matter, money does” which throws a different light on it.

Legia fans are still smarting from what they consider to be a harsh punishment which was inflicted on the club for what can only be described as a minor technical infringement. And like most Polish football fans they are convinced that the club’s relatively low status within the European football empire, played a part in their appeal being rejected out of hand. Many believe that outright ejection from the world’s most glamorous club football competition would not have befallen a ‘big name club’ like Real Madrid, Manchester United or Bayern Munich. And they do have a point because despite UEFA’s so-called Fair Play campaign to force clubs to live within their means, they appear to turn a blind-eye to goings on at clubs like Manchester City, Paris St Germaine, Monaco and many others who compete in the glamour leagues of Europe.

Another one of Legia’s arguments against ejection from the UEFA Champions League is based heavily upon a remarkably similar situation which occurred in a 2010 UEFA Europa League match when Debrecen fielded an ineligible player for the last few minutes against Litex Lovech. The following was UEFA’s reasoning for accepting the Hungarian club’s defence.

“Peter Mate was fielded in good faith as a substitute in Bulgaria when Debrecen were leading 4-1 on aggregate. UEFA ruled that Debrecen had no interest in fielding this player for the three last minutes of additional time, when the score was so clearly in its favour.”

The comparison between the situation in Lovech and Edinburgh are almost identical, except for one technical detail. Debrecen’s substitute Mate was ‘ineligible’ where as Bereszynski was ‘suspended’. Either way neither should have gone on for the last few minutes but Debrecen were clearly shown sympathy by the UEFA panel whereas Legia’s appeal fell on deaf ears. And as the Hungarian club can in no way be described as   ‘glamorous’, it defeats the Polish accusation that they pick on the lesser clubs.

The suspicion is that UEFA simply see Legia Warszawa as troublemakers because their list of misdemeanours is not something to be proud of. And, as nearly all of their previous sins have been committed by the Zyleta end kibice, this latest incident really does not augur well for the club when it comes up at Thursday’s meeting of UEFA’s disciplinary board.

It’s less than a year, October 3 against Apollon, since Legia last played behind closed doors for what some thought was a harsh punishment then, because the flare-burning incidents had been committed by fans in Wrexham Wales, not Warsaw. It’s a known fact that whenever Polish clubs play in Great Britain a large number of Poles who live in that country turn up to support them and those flares could well have been lit by them. But this would not have interested UEFA who seemed even then, before these latest transgressions, to deal with Legia Warszawa as a court of law does with a serial miscreant.

Another, perhaps even more severe punishment is expected. However the fact is that even UEFA cannot pretend that this was simply another act of hooliganism. It was clearly driven by a deep genuine sense of anger at the sheer inequality caused by greed, that has taken over European football.

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Henry Wizgier

Henry Wizgier, PSN Columnist, is a football writer and currently a semi-retired freelance jouralist. His pre-PSN resume includes writing about football for various British and Australian newspapers and magazines.

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