Up to Standard – Republica in the Inferno

Posted: June 5, 2009 in Euro jaunts, Fan Culture, FC St. Pauli, Republica Internationale FC

Amay, Belgium, May 29-31, 2009

Until now the  anti-fascist supporters’ network centred on FC St. Pauli has always held its annual tournament in Hamburg. Now called the Alerta! network tournament, this year’s event was the first to be held outside Hamburg, and was hosted on the last weekend of May by that stalwart  Belgian anti-fascist group, the “Ultras Inferno” of Standard Liège FC. They had very kindly timed it to start on my birthday, and it was a great place to celebrate !

We have met this really friendly, totally sound group of ultras before at the St Pauli tournaments, and they even invited Republica to a tournament at their place 2 or 3 summers ago, which we were unfortunately unable to attend because there was just so much else going on that year…

At Republica we have always dreamed of finding the ideal tournament venue somewhere in the Yorkshire countryside. A local version of the Berendrecht woods in Northern Belgium, perhaps, where Lunatics FC have now hosted us at four tournaments. All we need is a  small football club, far enough away from local residents to be able to camp and party into the early hours without anyone complaining.

When we arrived at the venue in this very different, French-speaking part of Belgium, we saw right away that the football facilities were ideal – the town football club in the small market town of Amay, 30 km from the host city of Liège. There were four full-size football fields, on the best two of which, four 6-a-side pitches were laid out with a modern grandstand in between. On two sides beyond, there was a beautiful nature reserve full of wild flowers and even wilder waterfowl, leading down to a lake and the valley of the Meuse, one of Belgium’s major rivers. But on the other two sides we were surprised that it was so close to the houses of the town centre, which stood just 100 metres away across the train tracks. For the Friday & Saturday nights music was programmed in a marquee till 2 a.m. The first night the music was mostly rap & hip-hop style, the second night mostly ska and punk, culminating in a 2-hour set by the famous Los Fastidios from Spain who we’ve enjoyed at previous Mondiali tournaments in Italy.

Not only did none of the nearby local residents complain, not only did we not see a hint of a police officer all weekend, but even when we invaded a local’s 50th birthday party in the town square after the tournament had ended on the Sunday evening, we were still welcomed with open arms ! Cathy B, Anna and friends ended up doing karaoke versions of  “One Step Beyond”and “Tainted Love” on a small stage outside the bar in the town square… and still nobody complained! It must be something in the water. Or perhaps something to do with the nearby nuclear power station ? No, seriously, the townsfolk were wonderfully welcoming and about 100 of us drank & danced outside their bar till after midnight on that Sunday night!

Football-wise, it was a laid back 6-a-side tournament, with 6 groups of 5 teams each on the Saturday, the usual knock-outs on the Sunday, and not too many teams taking it excessively seriously. The St. Pauli women’s team were perhaps disappointed that there was no women’s tournament (nobody had told them), and they were drawn in quite a tough group of all-male teams. We were luckier in our group, being drawn with another mixed German team (the famous Rhinish Resistance group from Fortuna Dusseldorf). Only 3 of us had travelled from Leeds, but our Israeli friend Eyal, who we first met at the St Pauli tournament 4 years ago, had arrange to join us, giving us some young legs in midfield – he was fresh from showing his skills at a futsal tournament in Holland and it showed ! We recruited various St Pauli women to form a strong squad with a great spirit, proudly wearing the new limited edition Republica AntiFa team strip as designed & manufactured by Blue Screens Inc. of Holbeck.

In our group on Saturday we beat Bordeaux 1-0, drew 1-1 with the Dutch team Breda Rats (Blue scoring after a quick free-kick), beat Dusseldorf 1-0 (Blue again) and were eventually a bit unlucky to lose 1-0 to the highly competitive reigning tournament champions, St. Pauli Skinheads – They had one shot on target while their keeper had to make some good saves!

So we finished second in the group, and in the top half of the knock-out on the Sunday we drew 0-0 with Bergamo Antifa from Italy. In the penalty shoot out Blue did all she could to put us in the quarter finals, saving 2 penalties and scoring 1 … but no other Rebublicans could hit the target. My own shot came back off the bar so hard that it came to rest on the penalty spot at the other end of the pitch. We then lost 2-1 to Athletic Bilbao (Eyal scoring a goal he had deserved all weekend), beat Bayern Munich (Schikeria) 3-1, and it’s not often you can say that is it (Blue 2, I think) ? Finally we lost 1-0 to another French team, Horda Metz, to finish a very creditable 14th in the tournament out of about 30 teams.

In the final the “Green Brigade” from Celtic (who’d beaten an excellent Sampdoria side in the semis) lost to the home side, Ultras Inferno, a very atmospheric match during which around 100 ultras in the stands let off smoke bombs and the inevitable red flares, while they chanted non-stop for the home side.

It is interesting, as we’re always assessing our own capabilities for hosting our own major tournament before too long, to compare the aspects of the tournament that were well organised with those that were a bit more laid back.

The Venue. Excellent for camping, no complaints about shower or toilet facilities. Plenty of portaloos to complement the changing room toilets.

Bar. An excellent open-air bar plus another one in the bands marquee. Great if you wanted beer, and let’s face it, most people did. The local brew, (Jupiler, 5.2%) flowed endlessly at 1.5 Euros a half pint, as did the Kriek cherry beer, and the wonderful Belgian bottled beers like Duvel, etc. were good value at 2 Euros a bottle. However, they didn’t supply any bottled water at the tournament. Luckily the supermarket was 10 minute stroll.

Food. Was basic. Coffee and rolls for breakfast on Sat & Sun. Nothing for brekky on Monday. From Friday afternoon to Sunday evening there was a barbecue with hot-dogs, shish kebabs and rudimentary salads. Basic pasta (meat or veggie options) was served on Saturday & Sunday lunchtimes. With the right venue, we could easily do a lot better (as we did at Hipperholme). Again, lucky the town facilities were close at hand, and your Republica representatives felt we had to sample both pizza and Chinese take-aways from the town during the weekend, as well as a few goodies from the atmospheric street market on the Saturday morning. All in the name of preparing as full a report as possible, you understand.

Football. Very well organised after an initial delay setting up the  goals. Good rules (= no Ds. Have I ever told you how much I hate Ds in 5 or 6-a-side? Don’t get me started). Some brilliant trophies at the end, each team bringing along their own unique troph, and the organisers again deciding which team best deserved each one. There were special awards for the Hapoel Tel Aviv and Omonia Nicosia ultras groups as “best freaks” and “best smokers” respectively.

Politics. Compared to the St. Pauli tournament, where there are always a lot of meetings updating us on fans’ issues across Europe, the situation for refugees in various countries, etc, there was relatively little here. Apart from the informal “AGM” of the Alerta! network itself, there was just one really good talk about the worsening situation for anti-fascist supporters groups in Eastern Europe, in Ukraine, Belarus, and above all in Russia where there have been a lot of attacks and murders of anti-fascists. We heard how anti-fascist Ultra groups are often persecuted, both at the stadium and in their daily lives in those countries, and watched the start of quite a depressing underground film made by Russian anti-fascists. (This was really interesting for me personally because I’m going to Ukraine in June with a Liverpool supporters’ team, and if nothing else it means I’ll make sure we convey our solidarity with local anti-fascists while we are there ).

Music. A generally impressive selection of bands on the Friday & Saturday, with a good PA in the marquee. The only band to receive much more than their expenses were the “big name” of the antiFa footy scene, Los Fastidios, who were paid by a 3 Euros per head charge and some of the beer proceeds too.

Travel. The wonderfully high “Standard” of Liege hospitality hit us as soon as we started planning our trip – they offered to meet us at the airport and drove us 50k to and from the tournament, and the same for every other team that flew in to Charleroi or Brussels !! At the airport on the way back our driver Robbie even offered to change my unused tournament beer tokens back to Euros !! Maybe it was ‘cos he was grateful that we’d saved him an unnecessary wait at the airport on the first day, by helpfully pointing out that the Celtic supporters team was coming on a flight from Glasgow not Dublin ! The hosts wouldn’t even let us pay for this shuttle bus service, which meant that overall, with a £45 flight all-in, I think it was the cheapest travel of any overseas football trip I’ve ever been on, and despite the current unfavourable Euro rate maybe the cheapest ever trip overall !!

Green-ness. Not much in the way of separation for recycling … but maybe they separate the rubbish after collection in Belgium ? Oh and despite us flying, many participants did arrive by train … at the train station literally 200 metres away !

The weather. Almost ideal for camping around the footy pitches where there was very little shade, sunny but definitely not the real “inferno” of heat that we usually face at the Mondiali in Italy ! Unfortunately our arrival also coincided with a high wind swirling through the grassy meadows of the Meuse valley, and so possibly the worst pollen count some of us had ever experienced !!

Souvenirs. One of the best tournaments ever for stickers, pennants, etc ! Good tournament T-shirts, too. My only regret is that I didn’t buy the network’s “Refugees Welcome” T-shirt; recent events make me determined to wear that slogan this summer – perhaps I can get one at the Mondiali in Italy?

Overall this was a brilliant tournament, one of the best ever, and we certainly left on a high, inspired for the ongoing anti-fascist work that Republica will doubtless be continuing in the face of the BNP’s sinister gains. No pasarán !

There was a fair amount of disappointment, especially from our St. Pauli friends and from the hosts, that not more Republica members could attend, but hopefully there’ll be more of us when the tournament returns to Hamburg next year. It is planned to alternate from now on, one year in Hamburg, then one year outside Hamburg. Come on Yellow Brigades (the Cadiz Ultras), you know you want to host it in 2011 !! (No that’s not a rumour, at the moment it’s just wishful thinking on my part, dreaming of footy in Andalucia).

Postscript: inspired by this event, we started looking as soon as we got back for a suitable site to host our own big international tournament next year. The very next weekend we thought we’d found a decent venue at Lepton, near Huddersfield, but when they finally said “no”, several weeks later, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. By the end of August we’d found the ideal venue at Rufforth near York.  YAWC 2010, here we come !

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