The power of touch: I miss football hugs. Now I long for a fetid, boozy embrace
Icrave a footie hug – or even better, what we Manchester City fans call the Poznań. The football hug is a strange beast – usually, it involves a number of people, some of them strangers. It tends to be a bit stinky (BO, booze and fags) and is sometimes painful (when it goes wrong, it can go very wrong – you may end up in a different row, or even on the floor). Yet, despite the fetid, occasionally life-threatening nature of football hugs, they are a thing of wonder.
There is a shared ecstasy when the ball hits the back of the net – an unleashing of joy, passion, scarves and primal screams. You probably have nothing in common with your fellow huggers apart from supporting the same team and wearing identical replica shirts. In fact, you may dislike them in real life, and there is a good chance that you will never see them again. It is an extraordinary, unlikely bonding.
But the Poznań is something else. Fans of the Polish club Lech Poznań introduced it to Manchester City supporters during a Europa League match in 2010. They turned their backs on the game, wrapped their arms around the shoulders of the supporters on either side of them and repeatedly jumped up and down on the spot in unison. It was a beautiful sight – random, surreal, rhythmic, funny, collective – and utterly senseless.
The history of the Poznań is much debated. Some say it started in Poland in the early 60s as a protest by fans against club management; others say it originated in Turkey and Greece, and was known as the Grecque. For Manchester City fans, though, it will always be known as the Poznań. After that match against Lech Poznań, we paid homage to its supporters by stealing their crazy hug-dance. We customised it by chanting “Let’s all do the Poznań” to the tune of Do the Conga.
It was open to any number of meanings or none. We Poznańed in triumph after scoring, we Poznańed when we were bored, we Poznańed when we were rubbish. Turning our back on the football could be interpreted as supreme confidence (we knew we would win), despair (we knew we would lose) or indifference. Sod the footie, we were there for the craic. It was ludicrous, but it was also an act of love, trust and solidarity. A Poznań did not allow for party-poopers or mavericks (even though it was a maverick act). If one person broke the chain, the Poznań was ruined.
Even pre-lockdown the football hug was in danger of disappearing. VAR (the video assistant referee) has taken the spontaneity out of football: rather than hugging when our team scored, we started checking the TV screens to see if a goal really was a goal or just another shattered hope.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has robbed us of the opportunity to Poznań. Indeed, common sense may dictate that we never see it again. But football being football, and City fans being City fans, I have a sneaky feeling that when we are finally allowed back into football grounds, we may just celebrate with the most audacious, prolonged Poznań ever.