This week the Northern Ireland football team flies to Poland where it faces its most important World Cup qualifier in a generation. Nigel Worthington’s men will play the first of three games which could, conceivably, send them to the finals in South Africa next summer.
It’s a scenario so exciting that even the Sunday Life might have developed an angle worth reading, without resorting to the contemptible piece of scaremongering which adorned its front page yesterday morning.
“’Psycho’ fans looking to kill Northern Ireland fans during Poland clash” wrote Ciaran Barnes, graduate of that classy school of responsible journalism, the Andersonstown News.
The reporter has visited Chorzow, the venue which the Polish FA finally chose to host the match, in order to chat to its hooligan gangs. Obviously a photographer tagged along, as we were treated to an image of a machete wielding hooligan, clad in FC Ruch Chorzow colours.
Traditionally the Sunday Life leads, most weekends, with an article about a loyalist paramilitary. So offering the oxygen of publicity to mindless thugs is not a foreign concept to ’Northern Ireland’s colour Sunday’.
Still, publicising a mixture of boasts and threats from ‘Krzysztof’, whom the paper claims is a Polish ‘gang leader’, represents a rather cosmopolitan approach to the Strife’s scum fetish. We are told that this luminary has a good job, although he lives in ‘Chorzow slums’. Still Ciaran wouldn’t bend the truth, would he?
Well, to be honest, he might. After all, nine people were arrested following violence at Northern Ireland’s home match. But they weren’t ‘mainly Polish’ as the reporter claims. They were all Polish. He should revisit his own newspaper group’s reports of the arrests for confirmation. And, contrary to Barnes’ contention that most away fans are travelling from Berlin because they ‘fear trouble’, the German capital is the closest large city to the venue, in north west Poland, which was originally scheduled to host the match.
It is true that this tie has been considered a potential ‘high risk’ fixture since the riots in Belfast. The Irish Football Association, the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs and the Polish and British authorities have worked hard in order to make it a safe trip for travelling fans. Comprehensive arrangements have been put in place in order to minimise the possibility of trouble. Not that Barnes’ article wastes words acknowledging this less sensationalist angle.
Ironically, having thoroughly frightened Northern Ireland supporters, and even more pertinently, their spouses, parents and friends, the Sunday Life then offers more prosaic travel advice on the availability of cheap food and drink, inside the paper. ‘Whilst trying to avoid being stabbed, fans might like to enjoy a Zywiec and a tasty piece of Polish sausage’. (I paraphrase).
It doesn’t, by a long stretch, allow this shockingly substandard newspaper to climb out of the gutter.