Posts Tagged With: Avram Grant

Stadiums of Hate and my trip to a place worse than hell

Last Monday Panorama’s Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate aired on BBC One showing “shocking new evidence of racist violence and anti-Semitism at the heart of Polish and Ukrainian football“. The show caused controversy and met criticism from officials and many other viewers in both countries for being sensationalist and misrepresentative.

White Legion graffiti in Warsaw

The programme documented violence towards policemen and stewards and anti-Semitic and racist chanting and banners in Poland whilst in the Ukraine fascist ‘Nazi’ salutes were seen at every match as well as more anti-Semitic and racist chanting, a far-right group of hooligans and a racially motivated assault on a group of students by fans supporting the same team. With the exception of a reference to a specific banner displayed by fans of a Polish team in Rzeszów two years ago that read “Death to hook-noses” everything in the programme took place during a month long visit in the run-up to the European Championships being co-hosted by these two countries. It makes for extremely uncomfortable viewing.

Shaun in This is England

Jamie Stokes in the Krakow Post stated last week that “the image of this country (Poland) portrayed in the documentary does not reflect the one I know“. Whether Panorama’s coverage was as balanced as it could have been or not, most English viewers should be aware (despite the fears of many in the host nations) that the incidents shown do not mean that everybody in Poland and the Ukraine is racist, nor that all football fans in these countries are racist not least because it is not so many years ago that football in England was regularly marred by incidents of overt racism and hooliganism as well as pockets of highly questionable right-wing politics. Worse than that we were the ones that invented most of it; it is unmistakably linked to the so called English Disease that still rears its ugly head from time to time although thankfully not to the same degree as previously.

John Barnes kicks a banana from the pitch (1988)

Despite, or even partly because of this however, the severity of the scenes from Panorama happening in the present day are deeply disturbing. As Sol Campbell explains in total exasperation as he is shown footage of anti-Semitic chanting in Poland “I know it was (like this in England) at one stage but in the 21st century this is on another level“. The fact that this assessment comes from somebody that was still playing in 2011 and suffered racist and homophobic abuse as well as death threats at points during his career in England gives an idea of just how shocking some of the footage is.

Campbell is also somebody who has played for and against Tottenham in derbies where anti-Semitism has been seen in England with the added complication of Spurs fans referring to themselves using the ‘y-word‘, something confronted by David Baddiel and Kick It Out last year:



Campbell goes on, understandably, to question UEFA’s decision to award such a prestigious tournament to countries where football is suffering so overtly from various problems with so little apparently being done about it. Ukraine’s Euro 2012 director Markian Lubkivsky has described Campbell’s comments as insolent and stated that he does “not understand the aim” of Campbell’s comments before betraying his ignorance with the following astonishing quote:

“Nazi symbols can be seen at… any match in England, but does it mean that fans should not come to London for the Olympics?”

– Markian Lubkivsky (Ukraine’s Euro 2012 director)

For me however, this is not primarily about the Euros at all; as Michał Zachodny (who quite aside from this issue is well worth following on twitter: @polishscout) suggests, Panorama may have “proved to misunderstand the differences between club and international football” in Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate. That said, The Netherlands had to complain to Uefa over racist chanting during their training session on Wednesday, ruining hopes of a racism free Euros before the first match had even kicked off.

Michał Zachodny explains in his blog for The Independent that whilst there is in fact much to praise about Polish football…

“Unfortunately, there is also the bad side. There is the right-wing side, strongly politicized, wanting to influence young minds of those flowing into the stands of stadiums in Poland. The nationalism is preferred among ‘ultras’ groups, the country is seemed as the greater good, while the main assumptions are, indeed, too close to what was shown on the BBC on Monday night.

Yet this is still only a minority. This is not coming from someone that tries to disagree with the real evaluation of the problem, but a person that knows it too well and tries to understand it and then solve it; not just make cheap sensation out of it…

Though there are issues regarding flags used by different groups of fans, their activity and chanting throughout each game, the most worrying thing is the attitude…

There are only rare actions taken by the football authorities in Poland against the biggest, yet decreasing, problem. There is no cooperation with fans, there is no encouraging them to report incidents, there is no idea how to punish those who are repeating abusive chants. Even after the Krakow derby, which was shown in the programme, Wisła and Cracovia were given relatively average fines for awful scenes throughout the ninety minutes. This is the real problem.

HCAFC in Krakow

This brings us onto the part of Panorama’s footage that I personally found most troubling; that of the Krakow derby. This is because in 2010 I travelled to Krakow on the kind of stag-do-esque football tour that probably gives the residents a justifiably dim view of us Brits, football fans or otherwise, and of course had a fantastic time. The city centre was beautiful, the people were mostly friendly and we even played some football! We all left Poland in no doubt that Krakow was an excellent place to visit.

(Although there was a hairy moment when it quickly became apparent that we were less than welcome on a certain section of a nearby beach, an incident when a policeman attempted to fine us an extortionate trip-ending amount of złoty before being bartered down to a fraction of his opening offer, the fact that we were staying in a place called the ‘Goodbye Lenin Hostel’ that sought to show “the absurdity of Poland’s communistic years ‘through colorful and optimistic glasses’” and we also stumbled upon what appeared to be a bizarre Nazi memorabilia market at one point…)

During our week there some of us, despite the light-hearted nature of our trip to Krakow, decided to make the short journey out of the city to visit the infamous Nazi concentration and extermination camps at Auschwitz. It is a trip that many England players themselves made today.


Avram Grant says that after a person has visited Auschwitz for the first time “they are not the same after“, something I would certainly agree with. The Stalin quote about a single death being a tragedy and a million being a statistic, whether he said it or not, is all too true and even though we all knew of the camp until you actually visit it it’s almost impossible to begin to comprehend the atrocities that took place there. Around one and a half million human lives were taken at Auschwitz by fellow human beings. That’s one and a half million. Most of them were Jews.

It’s an almost unfathomable truth that slowly sinks in as you see the camp, the gas chamber, the crematorium, the medical experimentation block, the execution wall, the suitcases packed by the prisoners who didn’t know where they were being sent, the two tonnes of human hair cut from gassed victims that was to be sold to textile factories, the piles of thousands of victims’ shoes and glasses…

Victims’ hair, glasses and shoes at Auschwitz

As they got off the train to visit Auschwitz last week Avram Grant said to Dan Walker “and now we go to hell” before reflecting later that “hell is a nice word” for that place. Grant’s own father was a Polish Jew; a man who saw his family decimated by the holocaust, burying his own sister and father with his bare hands whilst at least fifteen other relatives perished at Auschwitz.

Avram Grant under the “Arbeit macht frei” sign (‘work will set you free‘)

Krakow is just 30 miles from Auschwitz. Oskar Schindler’s factory, also visited by England players, is in in the city of Krakow iself. Yet in the words of Nick Lowles from Hope Not Hate “anti-Semitism is very strong… as we saw tonight people had (anti-Semitic) T-shirts on, people were not being confronted by stewards“.

It is worth remembering also that not only were a large proportion of the Jews murdered at Auschwitz Polish but that tens if not hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Poles were among the victims too.

Goodbye Forever‘ a Wisła fan’s T-shirt at the Krakow derby

The existence of any iota of anti-Semitism in such a place is appalling, the fact that the authorities have done so little to deal with it is even more so and is intensely troubling.

“…when Polish hooligans label their enemies ‘Jewish,’ they are doing pretty much the same thing that the average, middle-class Brit is doing when he calls his friend’s trousers ‘a bit gay.’”

Jamie Stokes (Krakow Times)

Views like the one expressed above, however apologetically conveyed, are disgraceful and only serve to exacerbate the problem.

Plaque at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Perhaps part of what has ruffled feathers in Poland and the Ukraine is that whilst Markian Lubkivsky may be wrong about the profligacy of Nazi symbols in English football, they have certainly been seen in other big ‘western’ leagues in recent years as well as racist chanting including incidents that forced Samuel Eto’o and Marco Zoro to walk off of the pitch in La Liga and Serie A respectively. Racism is clearly still a problem in football across Europe.

Despite this it is hard to believe that the situations in the host nations are not particularly bad cases (whilst appreciating at the same time that that Poland and the Ukraine are two very different countries). For me though it is the unchallenged anti-Semitism and extreme right-wing displays in Poland, especially in the South, given the context of what happened there in the last century that stand alone as the most shameful and disgusting state of affairs that I have been aware of in my lifetime as a football fan.

(left to right) Di Canio gives a fascist salute, Lazio fans with swastika banner in Italy, Real Madrid fans with swastika banner in Spain, anti-Semitic Hansa Rostock banner in Germany

For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945

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Champions League Final Build-Up (3/3): Planning for Penalties

It’s 2008 and at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow Avram Grant’s Chelsea have taken the Champions League final against Manchester United to penalties. Luckily Avram has received the following advice for this very situation:

  1. Van der Sar tends to dive to the kicker’s ‘natural side’ more often than most keepers do. This means that when facing a right-footed kicker, he will usually dive to his own right and when facing a left-footed kicker, to his own left. Chelsea’s right-footed penalty-takers therefore have a better chance if they shoot to their ‘unnatural side’, Van der Sar’s left.
  2. The vast majority of the penalties Van der Sar stops are kicked to a mid-height and hence penalties against him should be kicked just on the ground or high up.
  3. Christiano Ronaldo often stops in the run-up to the ball. If he stops, he is likely (85%) to kick to the keeper’s right-hand side. He also seems to be able to change his mind about where to put the ball at the very last instant. That means that it is crucial for Čech not to move early. When a keeper moves early, Ronaldo always scores.
  4. If you win the toss you should choose to go first. Teams going first win 60% of the time.
Now that you’re aware of these instructions, here’s the penalty shoot-out that decided the 2008 Champions League Final… (The audio begins 10 seconds in.)
Chelsea lost the toss and (although not in the video) as Rio Ferdinand asked the bench what to do John Terry did in fact offer to go first. United unsurprisingly knew better and took the opportunity to go first themselves. As the shoot-out progresses Chelsea clearly follow the advice to great effect even though Ashley Cole very nearly ruins it all by ignoring point 1 and hitting his left-footed penalty to his ‘natural’ side (the keeper’s right). His penalty does creep in however, perhaps due to it being kept low as point 2 advised (all the initial Chelsea penalty-takers aim either high or low). With Čech following point 3 perfectly to thwart Ronaldo these simple instructions would have seen Chelsea crowned champions of Europe if only John Terry had not slipped.

85% of the time, he hits it there every time

The instructions were written by Basque economist Ignacio Palacios who was put in touch with Avram Grant by a professor of economics and mathematics at an Israeli university who knew them both. As the shoot-out goes into sudden-death Kalou is also able to follow the advice to the letter to beat Van der Sar with ease but by the seventh penalty the pressure was on. Chelsea’s first six had all gone to the United keeper’s left and although they varied in height, this repetition is approaching what economists call a ‘pure strategy’ and the problem with pure strategies is that they are predictable. As my girlfriend said straight away when I showed her the instructions: “Won’t the goalkeeper work out what they are doing?“.

Whether Cole putting his left-footed penalty to Van der Sar’s right would have thrown the Dutchman off the scent or whether he would equally have noticed that every penalty had been placed to the ‘unnatural’ side is hard to say but by the time Nicolas Anelka steps up, Van der Sar is onto them.

If you missed this the first time you have to go back and watch it because it’s simply brilliant: as Anelka is preparing to take his penalty Van der Sar actually points to his left, to where Anelka has been told to hit his penalty…

This undoubtedly fazes the Frenchman who hits a tame right-footed penalty to Van der Sar’s right at a mid-height, the type of penalty that Van der Sar is statistically most likely to save and the exact opposite of what Anelka has been told to do but he only did it because Van der Sar had let Anelka know that he knew that Anelka knew that he usually dived to the right against right-footed penalty-takers…

from Get Him To The Greek (Click for gif)

You would of course expect any team to do their research although this is usually primarily made up of working out what certain penalty-takers are most likely to do. A famous example of this that was also interlinked with some shameless mind games took place during the penalty shoot-out in the World Cup quarter-final between Germany and Argentina in 2006 where German keeper Jens Lehmann consulted a piece of paper from his sock before every Argentinian penalty!

As it turned out, the sheet featured hardly anyone that took one but it did for Ayala (“waits longtime, long run-up, right” i.e. keeper’s left) and after getting close to the other penalties, by the time Cambiasso stepped up to keep Argentina in the game he must have been wondering what on earth that piece of paper said about him! It said nothing at all but possibly still did enough to allow Lehmann to make the stop that put Germany through.

Crazy Jens with Andreas Köpke’s cheat sheet

Mind games aside for a moment, a good penalty-taker is of course neither as predictable nor as easy to stop as such ‘cheat sheets’ suggest. Long before advising Avram Grant, Ignacio Palacios took a sample of 1,417 penalties from 1995-2000:

Penalties to taker’s ‘natural’ side & keeper goes wrong way = 95% success rate (5% miss)
Penalties to taker’s ‘unnatural’ side & keeper goes wrong way = 92% success rate
Penalties to taker’s ‘natural’ side & keeper goes right way = 70% success rate
Penalties to taker’s ‘unnatural’ side & keeper goes right way = 58% success rate

This means that to maximise their chance of scoring a penalty-taker should shoot to his ‘natural’ side 61.5% of the time and to their ‘unnatural’ side 38.5% of the time. The players in the sample placed 60% to their ‘natural’ side and 40% to their ‘unnatural’ side – almost perfect.

The goalkeepers meanwhile should dive to the kicker’s ‘natural’ side 58% of the time and their ‘unnatural’ side 42% of the time. The actual figures?: 57.7% and 42.3%.

To be what economists call a true ‘mixed strategy’ however, penalty-takers must also alter their placement in a random sequence with no pattern at all – when looking at regular penalty-takers (those involved in more than 30 penalties in the sample) Ignacio showed that, unbelievably, players are capable of exactly that! It is impossible to predict which way a regular penalty-taker will decide to place their penalty.

Franck Ribery: subconscious game-theorist

The most impressive thing is that these players follow such perfect theory seemingly intuitively. Franck Ribery, to bring in a protagonist from tonight’s match whose penalties follow the theory, apparently doesn’t know which way he will shoot even once he has started his run-up!

This is not to say however that all penalty-takers are as unpredictable, the beauty of the penalty shoot-out is that it drags players who are not regular takers into the fray as well as, if it goes on long enough, players who don’t want to take one or have little aptitude to do so. When the penalty-taker is not an expert, they are far more likely to simply place it in their favourite spot and far less likely to make it un-saveable, meanwhile the pressure of the occasion may even have the same effect on even the most clinical penalty exponent (looking at you Cristiano!).


I’ve been watching the tapes of Bayern’s games. I’ve seen everything I can but in the end it’s all about the moment and whether the penalty taker is strong enough to keep calm and place it well. If he does that then the keeper has no chance, so in a shoot-out you try to force people into mistakes.

In 2008, we had plenty of information about Manchester United penalties. We’d lost to them in a shootout before but you can’t always rely on what you’ve seen. You need to rely on your instincts.

Petr Čech

I always prepare myself for such situations, Our goalkeeping coach, Toni Tapalovic, showed me on his laptop before the match (the semi-final against Real Madrid) how Ronaldo usually takes his penalties. I learned that Ronaldo prefers to send the ball low to his left. In the penalty shoot-out, I was convinced that he would aim for his favourite spot.

Manuel Neuer

Whether Bayern are aware of the work of Ignacio Palacios is impossible to tell but it seems unlikely that Chelsea would employ such a bold team strategy in a Champions League Final shoot-out again (assuming even Ignacio could come up with pointers for facing Neuer!) but having won only 2 out of 9 penalty shoot-outs in the last decade if tonight’s match were to be all square after 120 minutes then Chelsea fans will certainly be wanting to win Pedro Proença’s coin toss!

Information primarily taken from:
 Why England Lose & other curious football phenomena explained by Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski

Related Posts:

Champions League Final 2012 Build-Up (1/3): The Stats

Champions League Final Build-Up (2/3): The Robben Final?


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