Poland’s neighbors are a football desert. They took place in Burundi
- Basketball is the most popular sport in Lithuania, in which the national team and clubs are achieving great successes. Crowds are watching basketball matches
- Football is discipline number 2. About 30,000 registered. According to journalists, more children play football than they do basketball
- In the last matches on the bet, the Lithuanian football team lost, among others with the Faroe Islands and Luxembourg
- There is a shortage of seniors, good coaches and a training system, although there is a collaboration with Anderlecht Brussels
- The union lacked money, but not scandals. One of the most important figures was a repeatedly convicted criminal
- The stands of stadiums, including the recently opened modern one in Kaunas, are empty. No club even averages 1,000 spectators!
- More interesting stories can be found at Przegląd Sportowy Onet
A goalless draw in sparring with Greece should be considered accidental, because in recent years the results of Lithuanians in betting matches have been disastrous. Let’s take a look at the current Nations League season. In Division C, they faced Türkiye, Luxembourg and the Faroe Islands and drew at home against the latter. They are still waiting for the relegation match with Belarus next year. They will not be favorites, similarly in the Euro 2024 qualifiers. It will not be easy to get out of the middle of the second hundred of the FIFA rankings.
Yes, Lithuania, which became independent three decades ago, was never a soccer powerhouse, but now it has sunk to the bottom of Europe. just why? – There are many reasons for this, from the coaches’ infrastructure to our federation, where scandals break out constantly. 15 years ago we could have competed in Europe, but we fell so low it’s hard to get back up again. Because of the scandals, there is not much money in Lithuanian football – says Lukas Gentautas, who runs the football podcast “PadkaStas”.
“Football has a very bad reputation in our country because of scandals. Recently, for example, the most important figure in Lithuanian football is Arūnas Pukelis, who has already been convicted of serious crimes several times. As a result, football has been badly received by politicians. And the fans. Fans have turned their backs on the national team, their sector is almost empty at the national team’s matches – adds Marius Bagdonas from 15min.lt. Pukelis became famous (if this word can be used) because, for example, in revenge for an insult to his wife, he took the son of a well-known mafia into the forest And he beat him severely, which cost the victim, among other things, the loss of several teeth.
Crowds but in the hall
Indeed, we should not be surprised that Lithuanian football lacks people, money and interest. You don’t need to know anything about sports to know that Lithuania is a basketball country. On the dance floor, she won medals at the Olympic Games, European and World Championships. The entire nation has a population of around three million people, so it might seem understandable that they are unable to “produce” enough players to have good representation in two sports (though Slovenia could argue here).
Several years ago, a journalist from Przegląd Sportowy contacted a Lithuanian daily newspaper asking for an interview with a football specialist. “Please try again later, because the gentleman has left,” he heard. “How did he not come out?” So you only have one? – he was surprised, because the editorial offices of Poland and other countries he knew well employ a dozen or so. And at that time the Lithuanian national team was in the 100 best teams in the FIFA ranking, which is much higher than it is today.
This anecdote fits well with the prevailing view that hardly anyone in Lithuania is interested in football and the national team, and its consequences are the subject of ridicule. – Probably somewhere next to countries that no one has heard of, – one Lithuanian basketball journalist now answers when asked if he knows where the national football team is ranked in the world. Others are not particularly knowledgeable either. Yes, it can be considered that their interests do not include football and the geography of East Africa, where Burundi is located.
But attendance in both disciplines seemed to confirm the thesis about the specialized nature of Lithuanian football. The state-of-the-art Žalgirio Arena has hosted nearly 15,000 people in Žalgiris meetings this season. viewers. There is only one football facility in the whole of Lithuania, which can accommodate such a number of people in the stands. This is the Darius and Girenas stadium in Kaunas, which opened last year after a long reconstruction (with the participation of Polish companies as well), where Žalgiris also plays, but the football field.
A beautiful stadium with a capacity of 731 people
When we go to a Lithuanian A Lyga football match (played in spring and autumn system), the pre-war, but renovated Žalgiris junior basketball team meeting also known as Darius and Girenas hall, stands next to the stadium. The atmosphere and cheering in the hall for the hosts is loud. Almost 1,000 spectators are seated in the stands. Fewer people chose to visit the beautiful stadium on a hot afternoon. According to official data, 731.
Spread over 15,000 square metres, fully covered. The chairs are separated from the court by a jogging track. The somewhat calm atmosphere is more like that of a third or fourth football league in Poland, although the surroundings are certainly more pleasant. And the prices in the only open bar are higher, because you have to pay almost 5 euros for a non-alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink with bubbles. Same for snacks.
The only goal for the hosts was scored by Spaniard Xabi Uzmendi, who played in the fourth Spanish league directly before moving to the Lithuanian league. The spectacle only started towards the end as Dainava Olita desperately tried to equalise, only to have referee Robertas Valikonis add a few minutes into the second half. After the long-awaited referee’s whistle, it’s time to say thank you to the fan clubs of about 20-25 people from both teams.
Despite the 0:1 defeat, fans from Olita, an hour’s drive away, seem to have a more sophisticated selection of songs. The locals focus on their favorite song “Alya Balta”, which means green and white, because these are the colors of Ælgiris. A famous song from the hall. Spectators wearing the club’s colors mostly brought in basketball. Even the rookie wears a sweatshirt with the inscription Žalgiris Basketball, and Žalgirinis, the Vikings mascot who supports the basketball players, saunters around the crowd.
They watch, but on TV
In Kaunas, this contrast between Lithuanian basketball and football is most pronounced, but in other cities we won’t see crowds at football matches either. The average from the entire league this season is about 500, and the leader is Dainava – the average is currently 889. That’s two times less than the BC Wolves basketball team that also plays in Olita.
In Kaunas, they hope to be promoted to first place in this category in the near future. A big stadium that offers opportunities. It was previously 500 seats. It so happened that only a few dozen people came to no less interesting meetings!
Lithuanian football specialists argue that the interest is not as bad as it seems in the case of the Premier League and the national team. “We don’t have a tradition of going to football matches. The main reason is that the stadiums are old and poor,” explains Bagdonas.
Besides, the level is low, even in comparison with the Polish Ekstraklasa (and in comparison with the level of Lithuanian basketball). When there is an opportunity to see a better scene in European cups, the number of viewers increases obviously. Last year, the national champion Žalgiris Vilnius managed to gather more than 5,000 people in his stadium during the Champions League qualifying match with the Norwegian FK Bodø / Glimt!
Lithuanians prefer to watch football on TV anyway. The payment stations show the matches of the most important Western European championships and the Champions League, and the matches of the local league are also broadcast. Football in the media is the second most important sport after basketball. There are many weekly football podcasts and video shows that are getting a lot of attention on the internet.
They watch and kick the ball too. There are about 30,000 registered in the country. guys! – In terms of mass, football is superior to basketball. Many young children take part in the exercises – Bajdonas and Gintautas argue similar statements. We don’t have the data. Children can be seen dressed in club clothes in the stands of the stadium in Kaunas, and during the break they kick the ball in the hallway. Also girls.
It was well after the Soviet Union, and then …
The problem is the level of training. “We don’t have enough coaches to develop young players. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, our national team was at a good level for some time, because the players grew up in the previous system. When a generation of players like Edgaras Jankauskas, Tomas Danilevičius, Deividas Šemberas and Marius Stankevičius left, A hole has been created, – Bajdonas notes.
If you look at the newly recruited players and their foreign clubs, there are no big names there. However, we will find well-known players from the Polish Ekstraklasa. However, the hope for the future is certainly 19-year-old Gvidas Gineitis from Naples.
We must start from scratch. We need to know the real profile of a Lithuanian footballer, we need to create our training program by taking good things from other countries, but we shouldn’t do what we used to do with Anderlecht Brussels, for example,” says Gentautas.
In 2019, the Lithuanian federation signed a three-year contract to implement the system from Belgium in a dozen or so clubs. – The program may be good, but we have to adapt it to our level. I also think we should invest more in preparing coaches who work with children, Gentautas adds.
Another thing is that our interlocutors pointed out that the Lithuanian authorities – including the sports authorities – and their commitment are not entirely reliable. And the results of their ideas can be … different. An example is the construction of the stadium in Vilnius, which began in 1986. It was partially hindered by the collapse of the Soviet Union, because at that time it was necessary to suspend activities.
It was resumed in 2008, but to date the work has not been completed. We could write a separate long text about quarrels – including quarrels in court – in connection with the construction and its financing. The effect was such that the team played at LFF Stadium with several thousand people for years. Now you will use it in Kaunas. The first qualifying match will be held at this venue in June against Bulgaria.
“The new generation of coaches looks promising,” says Bagdonas. Changes in the Lithuanian Federation are also good news. The union issued new regulations and people with criminal records could no longer sit on the authorities. The aforementioned Pukelis resigned, and the other people in trouble with the law were eliminated.
In March, 35-year-old Edgaras Stankovicius, who has been successfully engaged in basketball for a long time, became the new president. This seems to be a step in the right direction, namely towards restoring a good reputation for Lithuanian football. Burundi is overtaken.