• Official language: Polish
  • Interesting facts: West Slavic, big on diminutives, big on word-formation

After playing at Liverpool and Real Madrid, Polish keeper Jerzy Dudek remarked that the language of football was richer in England and Spain than in Poland.

He’s well-placed to judge, of course, but there’s certainly no paucity of expression in Polish football. Consider the “free electron” (wolny electron) who is given licence to roam, the guy who has a chance to win a game and has “three points on the leg” (trzy punkty na nodze), or the self-deprecating players who happily refer to themselves as “leftover coffee grinds” (fusy).

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

What the Polish language is like

Polish is from the Slavic family, so expect some almost-mutually-intelligible cussing when the team meets the Ukraine, and if they cross paths with Russia, Croatia, Czech Republic or Slovakia.

It often seems as though the language is governed by its whispering sz, zh and cz sounds, but it is equally big on growling, rolling R noises. They also love a diminutive, formed in all manner of ways, from to  –ka to –czka to  –enka to –ek to a dozen or so others.

Pronunciation can be a tricky beast. Borussia Dortmund clocked this, so when they signed Jakub Błaszczykowski they decided to make life easier for the German public by having the nickname “Kuba” on his shirt. Incidentally, you say it like this.

On dyed foxes

Nationality is a fluid concept in football. While Poland hasn’t experienced huge waves of immigration, the national team has dabbled with foreign-born players, known as “dyed foxes” (farbowane lisy).  These have ranged from the naturalised Poles Emmanuel Olisadebe and Roger Guereiro (from Nigeria and Brazil, respectively) to players from across the diaspora – known as Polonia – including Ludovic Obraniak and Damien Perquis.

The inclusion caused some soul-searching in Poland, and on the players’ side there were struggles with language, assimiliation and, in the case of Olisadebe and Guerreiro, some rancid racial abuse. Olisadebe and Guerreiro at least enjoyed a modicum of on-field success; the rest, less so. The experiment looks to be on hold.

Choice phrases

Poland is into fish – take a look at their Christmas traditions – so it’s not too much of a surprise to see a pike (szczupak) – “to score with a header”and “flounder” (flądra) – a goalkeeping howlerin the lexicon.

Meanwhile, back in 1901 FC Southampton keeper Jack Robinson played a blinder in a 3-0 win against Slavia Prague, following which the Czech press gave the name Robinzonáda to any spectacular save. It caught on across the border, where Polish equivalent robinsonada is still in regular rotation.

So a pike and a flounder, but in Robinson’s case certainly no flappers (I’m not even sorry).

Onwards. We come to the very pleasing “the referee is a boot” (sędzia kalosz). During a match against Czechoslovakia in 1931, a watching dignitary was so disgusted by a refereeing decision that he lobbed his boot at the hapless man in black. A count went cold-footed, and a chant was born.

Coaching cliches

There’s only so much a manager can do for a player before he has to flap his dainty wings and fly for himself. Czesław Michniewicz – the “Polish Mourinho” – summed it up better than we ever could with the oft-quoted “being coach is like a pier – eventually it comes to an end” (praca trenera jest jak molo – kiedyś się kończy).

Songs they sing

As the fusy shows, the Polish do a nice line in self-deprecation:

  • Nic się nie stało, Polacy nic się nie stało:  “Nothing has happened, Poles, nothing has happened”. Usually sung immediately after conceding a goal. When the team was faring particularly badly it became a cliché to sing it, no matter how heavy the defeat.

But they’re also not afraid of a little tub-thumping:

  • Już za 4 lata, już za 4 lata Polska będzie mistrzem świata: ”In just 4 years, in just 4 years, Poland will be the champions of the world”.  Not sung as often of late, but it was once popular after a decent showing.

Rivals

The strong feeling isn’t entirely mutual, but Poland used to consider that neighbours Germany had the hex on them. After a 2-0 victory in 2014, though, the curse is lifted.

The Polish word for German is Niemcy, and, as in Russian, it comes from the word niemy, meaning “mute”. One theory is that, being Germanic, the German language was totally different from Polish and the Poles could not understand them at all. They weren’t used to this as other neighbouring nations (Czechs, Slovaks,  Ukrainians) speak in a tongue that is at least vaguely similar to theirs, hence the Germans were just plain dumb.


With thanks to Maciej Nakielski at Ekstraklasa, Rob Slomka, Piotr Kajak at the University of Warsaw, Dr. Urszula Chowaniec at UCL and Beata Kaczmarek .