EURO 2012: A Final Look In
July 12, 2012
Photo: Rob Uvanovic/CroatianSports.com
Written by Rob Uvanović
I’ve been waiting my whole life to watch the Croatian national team play live – and by traveling to Euro 2012 with my father and having the privilege to watch all three Croatia matches, we were both able to check something off our bucket list. As a Croatian-American that grew up in the US, the Vatreni have always been a mythical figure in our house, so adored they are. Thus, it’s with high hopes that we traveled to Poland for the trip of a lifetime.
Croatian fans certainly didn’t disappoint as they were even louder and more colorful than I’d envisioned from watching on the television, while the squad itself was as brave as we’ve seen in many years.
Prior to the Italy match, there was a story written and published by Fox Sports that can best be described as weak journalism. Ante posted it on the CroatianSports.com with my feedback, as my father and I were both in the Poznan square prior to the match watching the same scenes. I honestly think that the reporter was simply intimidated by being in the square with so many loud, passionate Croats, singing songs that he or she could not understand. Within the article, there were some hysterical lines such as the Croatian fans were: “bare chested despite chilly weather” and “taunted” the minority of Italian fans in the square. Oh no, soccer fans taunting each other? I’ve never heard of such a thing!
Better yet, it goes on to say that “police, some in riot gear, monitored the situation, but did not intervene.” This line is cleverly used by the author to manipulate the audience into believing that the police think something is happening or are concerned. Because of the violence in Poznan square on the day before the Croatia-Ireland match, every single policeman was in full riot gear for the entire two weeks. Saying “police in riot gear were watching” is basically akin to saying that the sky was blue and the bars were serving beer.
Was there Ustaša singing/symbols and Gotovina idolatry? Yes. Every Croatian has their own perspective on that, but in this article it’s clearly being used by the author to draw conclusions about the entire Croatian crowd.
Going into the Italy match after reading that article, I was full of hope that our fans would once again prove that they were the best in the world and show that such examples of biased journalism published back to the States were not justified. Yet, it was the Italy game that really took some of the gloss off the Euros for me and left me torn as a Croatian fan. Hearing Balotelli get racially abused at the match was something that I am not honestly surprised about, but it is one that disappoints me to the highest order. Granted it’s nearly impossible to feel sympathy for Balotelli considering the enigma that he is and the fact that he stands for everything that is wrong with soccer today, with his sulking attitude and free-spending habits bankrolled by oil money. But in the end, no one deserves racial abuse.
It was so disappointing to clearly hear audible racial abuse directed towards Balotelli, but even more concerning was the lack of concern shown by other Croatian fans in the crowd and the general Croatian public in the weeks following the match. Only Bilić and the HNS (which obviously had to) took public action to distance themselves from the abuse. The Croatian news media didn’t really seem to bat an eyelash, in fact, many thought it was a joke.
In Croatian society, people are sometimes afraid to criticize the status quo and speak out regarding issues that go against the mainstream. As a Croat, I want to come out as loud as possible and condemn the racial abuse our fans displayed, which is both shameful and embarrassing to Croats as a people, country and footballing nation. Sadly, in a few years, the rest of the world will look back at the Euros and not remember Croatia as the team that came inches away from defeating the world champions, but the country that was charged by UEFA in all three matches and guilty of what must be one of the first notable instances of racial abuse going on at a major tournament.
Croatia is obviously not the most diverse country in the world, and instances such as Eduardo and Sammir cause serious debate for some Croats who believe that only pure-blood should be allowed to be Croatian, nevermind play for the repka. For what it’s worth, I fully believe that Eduardo is a special case and that Sammir is simply not good enough to play for us. Even though the pure-blood argument sounds almost like I’m reading a copy of Harry Potter again, I can understand the sentiment in not wanting outsiders who don’t appreciate or understand our colors to play for the Croatian national team, as I sure don’t want our national team to just start fielding players like Qatar does with no ties to the country. I simply ask Croats, if you can honestly say that you would feel the same way about Sammir if he was white and Catholic, then great, but hearing the reaction from these discussions about Sammir, it’s obvious there is a racial element as well.
As a CroatianSports.com writer, follower and fan, I condemn the racist behavior of our fans during this tournament. Croatia is a beautiful country – far too beautiful to be tarnished by this behavior of a section of our fans. Racism has no place in society, especially not in soccer. Our fans provide the national team with the best support in the world – there is no doubt about that. Let the rest of the world see that support and enjoy it, for it’s a truly remarkable sight to see.
Fanzone Poland: Final thoughts
Modrić and Mandžukić will clearly get the plaudits for their performance at the Euros, and deservedly so, but for me the breakout player for us at the Euros was Ivan Strinić. I thought the way he was able to be a threat down the flanks was remarkable and think that he has that spot locked up on the squad for years to come.
After months of concern, one can only say that UEFA was justified in awarding the Euros to Poland/Ukraine and bringing the tournament to Eastern Europe for the first time. All the logistical concerns have been washed away and both countries have been great hosts. There were racism and violence concerns about the hosts, but the traveling countries have provided much more challenges to Poland and Ukraine as opposed to their own fans. One must seriously question the decision to bring the World Cup to Russia in 2018 after their fans’ behavior.
If that was a good decision by UEFA, well you are probably thinking what I thought about Croatia’s fine for racism. In a tournament where they declared zero tolerance to racism, I think it’s an absolute joke. Especially when you consider Bendtner’s fine. Yes I get it – they had to fine him a large amount of money to send a message about flashing advertisements and am fine with his amount, but the message it sends to the world about being serious about racism is laughable. How are fans supposed to actually think racism is wrong when the fine is simply a slap on the wrist?
I was in the airport the morning after the Spain match in Gdansk and witnessed the hysterical scene of a sharp-eyed Croatian fan spotting the UEFA referee crew going through airport security. He ran straight up to Wolfgang Stark and chanted “you denied us two clear penalties, shame on you!” in his face. Stark was quickly ushered away, but Croatian fans can rest assured that their anger was at least vocalized to Stark’s face by this one fan.
In the Spain match, I was sitting in the second tier in the Croatian section, about 20 rows from the back of the stadium and nowhere close to the pitch. In the fourth minute, you may remember for the third game running, the referee had to stop the match because of flare smoke. Some Croatian idiot threw a flare from two rows in front of me – which had absolutely no chance of making it to the field. Luckily it didn’t seriously injure somebody on the way down and landed in the stairs on the first tier of the stadium. It’s instances like these that make you wonder why these people are at matches, other than to cause trouble.
I’ve read comments on the site about how it’s security’s responsibility to stop this from happening and to not allow flares into the crowd. I could not agree more and could not believe the response by the Polish security officers who were no more than 15 feet away. They did not even move. Almost every fan is our section was pointing at the fan who threw the flare and yet security did not care in the least. What one would have to do to get removed from their seat by security, I seriously do not know. When you hire cowards to police these matches, you only ask for trouble, which is one of the reasons why some of this behavior was allowed to continue and even flourish during Euro 2012.
To cap it all off, I traveled all the way to Poland to end up randomly sitting next to my good friend and star of Team Croatia at the NYC Cosmos Copa, Andrej Bjegović. It’s a small world after all.