Dignity, honour and integrity – those are some of the words being used by Legia Warsaw, its supporters and former players when calling on Celtic to reject their place in the play-off round of the Champions League against Maribor.
Legia’s campaign against UEFA to hand them a 3-0 defeat, after they breached UEFA regulations, turned from claiming a simple clerical error to begging then an orchestrated PR campaign to show Celtic as the bad guy in this whole fiasco – a fiasco solely down to Legia Warsaw failing to adhere to UEFA’s rules and regulations which they signed and agreed to at the start of the year before kicking a ball in anger.
There is no denying that in football terms alone, Legia Warsaw deserved to go through as they hammered Celtic over the two legs. But what also cannot be denied is that Legia Warsaw breached UEFA rules covering European football and were therefore punished by the only punishment available – a 3-0 defeat handed to them in forfeit.
They were not thrown out of the Champions League, they were not banned and they certainly were not kicked out in favour of the more fancied Celtic as some – even in Scotland – are claiming. Legia were handed a 3-0 defeat and with that added to Legia’s 4-1 win in the first leg – the tie was 4-4 after UEFA’s decision – therefore Legia went out on away goals.
IF Legia Warsaw had scored those two penalties that Charlie Mulgrew gifted to them in the first leg, you wouldn’t be reading this article, Legia would be preparing for Maribor rather than begging to anyone that will listen – how they have been wronged by UEFA and Celtic.
There is no denying that the Champions League is a financial gold mine for not only the clubs participating, but also UEFA themselves and they do treat the big teams differently to that of the ‘provincial’ and smaller clubs. However, we have known this long before last week’s decision and yet some are still surprised at this?
Celtic are not a big club in European football – despite the rhetoric from the club’s PR staff – they cannot compete with bottom of the EPL clubs nor top half championship teams in terms of wages. Last season proved that against quality opposition they can be beaten and humbled also.
Celtic is not a cash cow for UEFA – neither is Legia Warsaw – but it seems that Legia want UEFA to ignore their own rules to favour the Polish champions over a club who adhered to the same rules that Legia breached and now want ignored.
If UEFA does change their mind on this decision then it sets a dangerous precedent in which clubs can use to their advantage over their opposition – if that is the case why have rules in the first place?
You may be surprised to hear that it is not the first time that Legia have fallen foul of UEFA and bumped their gums about it.
After ANOTHER Champions League qualifier, this time in July 2013 against Welsh champions The New Saints, Legia Warsaw were fined 30,000 euros (£25,700) and ordered a partial stadium closure for their European home game against Steaua Bucharest because of the racist behaviour of their supporters.
Legia breached Article 14 of the UEFA disciplinary regulations on racism, other discriminatory conduct and propaganda, in relation to incidents in both legs against TNS.
In response to the sanctions imposed, Legia Warsaw fans displayed a banner with the message “Ultra Extreme Fanatical Atmosphere” and lit flares and fire crackers in an explosive protest before the opening kick of the match against Steaua Bucharest.
There was no apology for the racist behaviour of their fans.
Controversy has never been far away from Legia – again all of their own making.
Earlier this year a match between Legia Warsaw and rivals Jagiellonia Białystok turned into a battle between rival Ultra fans, causing the match to be abandoned. Not only that these ‘halo’ wearing Legia fans also attacked Celtic supporters in a Warsaw bar before the first leg tie between the two sides.
However, the biggest piece of evidence that proves that Legia are hypocritical when they call for sporting integrity to win out, is their part in one of the biggest match fixing scandals in Polish football history.
Anti-corruption journalist Ben Wheatland recently wrote: “When the stakes of qualification are so high, the stakes for missing out become even higher. Spending money usually puts a club in with a better chance of winning and therefore qualifying, but even this is not a guaranteed method. So then, why not make sure you win the league another way, by paying referees to give a favourable decision in a crucial game, or paying rival players to throw games.
“This is what happened with Widzew and Zagłębie in 2007-08, and both Legia Warsaw and ŁKS Łódź in 1992-93, where they both lost out on the title to Lech Poznań after having match results disqualified for match fixing. Legia Warsaw’s 6-0 win at Wisła Kraków on the last day of the 1992-3 season was wiped out due to match-fixing.”
The Polish FA are also far from lily-white in this scandal also.
Polish authorities in 2005, began investigating widespread corruption with the game. A year later the Polish sports minister criticised the Polish FA for failing to take proper steps in their fight against corruption and launched an investigation into the running of the association itself.
Polish FA board member Wit Zelazko was arrested by Police in January 2007 on corruption charges, but when the entire FA board was suspended FIFA stepped in demanding they be reinstated – despite the widespread allegations of corruption surrounding them. With threats of sanctions, the authorities backed down and the Polish FA board was reinstated.
A year later, the Polish Olympic Committee demanded the Polish FA be suspended for a second time, claiming they were guilty of “violating its statutes in a continuous and flagrant fashion.”
After they were suspended once more, FIFA stepped in to give them another reprieve.
By 2009, 200 people had been arrested by the Polish authorities, including referees, observers, coaches, players as well as some high-ranking officials of the Polish FA.
Zagłębie Lubin, were relegated from the Polish top flight due to corruption, along with Widzew Łódź who were also charged with corruption and match fixing – but were relegated through poor performances on the park anyway.
According to reports in Poland, a total of 75 Polish football clubs have been suspected of match fixing and corruption over the years.
Corruption is still rife in the game despite the authorities best efforts.
Legia Warsaw may ‘no longer be the friends of Celtic’ but they certainly cannot lecture or dictate what Celtic should do after they simply kept quiet and let UEFA deal with the situation according to their rules.
The club asking for Celtic to uphold sporting integrity and doing what is best for the game, not only were found guilty of widespread racist behaviour and hooliganism – but also corruption to fix games in a bid to win the league title.
Legia are certainly not a club that should be lecturing anyone about ‘sporting integrity’.
In Legia’s own words: “It’s not just about the money, it’s about what football stands for, the values of honesty and honour.”
It’s a pity that they didn’t care about the values of honesty and honour, as well as what football stands for when they bought referees and fixed matches to win the Polish league title.
Whatever UEFA’s decision is on Wednesday, one thing is clear Celtic have nothing to be ashamed of in this whole mess and as I wrote last week, not one club would have rejected that place in the next round of the Champions League qualifiers – if the shoe was on the other foot do you really think Legia would hand over the keys to potentially qualifying for the group stages of the competition for the good of the game and with the thuggish and racist fan base that they have?
As Gordon Strachan said: “That’s the rules and you have to deal with it.”