The rejuvenation of the East
|BettingExpert/Betfair Euro 2012 blog correspondent entry profile|
|Domm Norris was born and bred in Manchester but has become a passionate follower of Russian and Eastern European football. He blogs about it at his site Football-Globe.|
|Twitter : @DommNorris|
|Website : Football-Globe.net|
Not since the collapse of communism has eastern Europe witnessed such prevalence within football. Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union produced a string of teams, players and occasions that continue to live long in the memory - even now in a world that has changed incomprehensibly since the inaugural European Championships of 1960.
That tournament served to be a true coming of age for eastern European football, as the Soviet Union ran out as eventual victors, beating both Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia on their way to lifting the trophy. The Soviets may not have bore the unquestionable talents of the Hungarians who tore apart a stunned English side several years earlier, however it remains a side firmly etched in the volumes of history.
The very same history teaches us that life works in cycles, particularly in football. Teams rise and fall, nations come and go, while individuals burn brightly and fade away - to paraphrase a famed Neil Young song. Such a process of progression has, for a number of decades, haunted the east, as the region has waited with bated breath for itself to rise from the ashes of communism to become true contenders to the powers of western Europe and South America. Developments over the past several years, as well as those appearing on the horizon, perhaps point to the east's time of darkness transforming into a fresh, new dawn.
It's difficult to overlook the fact that the European Championships will help to provide the tournament's co-hosts, Poland and Ukraine, with a significant opportunity to redevelop their sporting infrastructures, which had previously been dwindling. Such potential improvements are not limited to mere sporting connotations however as the transitional nature of both Poland and particularly Ukraine will serve to provide a strong platform from which the economic climate will take a considerable boost thanks to the influx of spending during the tournament itself.
This is a chance for eastern European football to truly make a mark on their own territory. As well as Poland and Ukraine; Russia, Czech Republic and Croatia will also be seeking to overturn the western powers and restore the authority that the east held during the 1950's and 60's. Of course, it will take a monumental effort to see the host nation's progress to the latter stages of the competition - however Greece's escapades during 2004 will no doubt provide the perceived 'lesser sides' with a sense of impetus.
This decade remains a monumental one for eastern sport, particularly in regards to Russia, as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup attest - and Euro 2012 is simply the precursor for what is to come. The improved infrastructure that hosting major competitions brings is such that it will undoubtedly lead to a swell of interest, and in turn a growth in the national pool for a variety of sports. Russia, for example, has witnessed a decline in the popularity of football since the collapse of the Soviet Union thanks to a wide degree of social and political implications. The World Cup will, it is hoped, re establish a love affair with a sport that has long been divided by nationalism, racism and violence.
Both UEFA and FIFA remain keen to stress that hosts of their major international competitions must benefit from a 'legacy' through which nations can better themselves thanks to the process of welcoming the world to their lands. For both Poland and Ukraine the benefits will be widely felt thanks to the regeneration of their national infrastructure - it is this betterment that will ultimately be apparent to those who wake, eat and sleep in these eastern nations.
However the east continues to be beset by the agendas of the fans who flock to domestic matches. Both Poland and Ukraine, the former in particular, have garnered reputations for possessing particularly tribal and militant fans who persistently seek altercations with security and opposition fans. Nationalist agendas plague the domestic game and have served to provide the football with an image that is frankly ghastly. Legia Warszawa were famously prohibited from entering European competition in 2007 due to their fans rioting during an Intertoto Cup match, while in the same year Wis?a Kraków fans murdered a Korona Kielce fan. It is a worrying trend, and one that will continue to linger during the tournament itself.
The European Championships will ultimately provide both of the host nations with a strong platform upon which to undergo a process of domestic development. An improved national infrastructure will help to aid the daily lives of the general public, while also improving the state of the game of football. There are issues, however, that the competition simply cannot hope to rectify and these are the major problems that each government much focus upon in order to ensure the security and future of the game. Euro 2012 is the beginning of a brighter future for eastern European football - as long as the mistakes of the past are rectified.
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