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Wessex League Attendances 2016/17 Part 4: The Biggest Games

23 Jun

In the previous parts of this series I’ve looked at the averages, but now it’s the turn of individual games. Across the whole of the Wessex League the attendance ranged from a high of 488 (Sholing v Bournemouth) to a low of 6 (Folland Sports v Laverstock & Ford)

For each division I’ve compiled a list of the ten fixtures which drew the biggest crowds. In the Premier Division Sholing scooped the two slots thanks to their fixtures against Bournemouth and Brockenhurst, which were both billed as free entry community days.

Largest attendances Prem div

Granting a one-off free entry to a game to pull in the punters has been a strategy which has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, particularly among non-league clubs. And it does work – as Sholing have demonstrated, generating 450+ crowds on both occasions and being the only Wessex League club to break the 400 barrier. (Incidentally I wrote a short piece on free entry games for WSC a couple of years back)

Largest attendances div 1

Also guaranteed to get the crowds flocking is the prospect of a derby. For me, the beauty of the Wessex League is the sheer abundance of local derbies. As for the biggest… that award goes to the Isle of Wight derby between Cowes Sports and Newport Isle of Wight which drew 359 fans to Cowes’s Westwood Park Ground and some 267 to Newport IoW’s St George’s Park. Another derby which set pulses racing was the New Forest Derby, between Bashley and Brockenhurst which achieved a crowd of 268 – the fourth highest crowd at any game in the Wessex League (the return fixture, though not in the top 10 was nevertheless Brockenhurst’s highest gate of the season attracting 181 fans to Grigg Lane. Similarly in the top 10 list of biggest Division One gates derby games also feature. Top of the list is the North Hampshire derby between Alton and Andover New Street which saw 154 people pass through the turnstile, followed by the Salisbury area derby between Laverstock & Ford and Downton which was watched by 138 spectators.

Prem div 200 plus

The clubs which featured most though were the ones with consistently high attendances, in the Premier Division Portland made the top 10 three times with games against Bemerton Heath Harlequins (243), Team Solent (231) and Bashley (222) none of which could really be considered a local derby whilst in Division One Alton v Totton & Eling (136) was the third highest gate and again a game which could not be considered a derby. That said however, nothing quite matches a Wessex League derby day so next season it’s well worth booking a ferry ticket for the Island derby, or taking a day in the New Forest for one of the New Forest derbies.

Wessex League Attendances 2016/17 Part 3: Wessex League Division One

21 Jun

Back in 2015-16 Portland stormed to the top of the average attendance league with an average crowd of 134 as they also took the Division One title on the pitch, earning them promotion to the Wessex Premier.

For 2016-17 no clubs managed to reach the dizzying three figure heights of Portland’s 2015-16 average and the average attendance crown goes to Alton FC who posted an average attendance of 86 – one lower than their figure for the 2015-16 season in which they had finished as attendance league runners-up to Portland. By way of comparison Alton’s 86 would put them in 9th spot in the Wessex Premier, between Fareham Town (87) and Hamworthy (78)

Wessex1 Attendances

Following closely behind Alton are Totton & Eling who recorded an average of 80. This represented quite a large increase from their 2015-16 average of 62 and was, along with Laverstock & Ford, the largest average attendance increase seen within Division One – though this is excluding Hamble Club and Baffins Milton Rovers who were both in the Hampshire League in 2015-16.

One key difference between the averages for Division One and the Premier league is the size of the gap between the leaders and the chasing pack. In the Premier the difference between top club, Portland, and fourth placed Andover Town was 63 spectators per game, whilst in Division One the difference between Alton and fourth placed Romsey Town was only 19 spectators per game. As well as the average I also calculated the standard deviation (a measure that is used to quantify the amount of variation, or dispersion of a set of data) for both divisions and the standard deviation for the Premier is 40, whilst it is 19 for Division One, suggesting that on the whole there is much more variance in average attendances across the Premier Division.

At the very he rear of the attendance table are United Services Portsmouth who managed to draw an average crowd of just 21. Like Team Solent in the Premier Division US Portsmouth are a club who receive backing from an institution – in their case the forces – and therefore don’t have a developed support base. One other point is that it’s not the most straightforward ground to get into as Hopping Around Hampshire found in 2013:

You need to walk all the way to the far side of the naval playing fields to the entrance of HMS Temeraire, where the sentries at the barrier will let you in if you say you’re going to the match. From here, walk to the left, through the car park, up a short flight of steps, around the large building on your right, down another flight of steps and through an open gate to the athletics/football stadium.

Tied with US Portsmouth in bottom place, also on 21, are Fleet Spurs, a club which occupies a space on the geographical fringes of the league and who in 2017-18 will be competing in the Combined Counties League.

The bottom three is completed by Folland Sports who attracted an average of 23 spectators per game. Having a works team background Folland’s have never had the best attendances, but in 2016-17 the club suffered several blows when it came to enticing the crowds through their turnstile. Relegated at the end of the 2015-16 season and usurped by up-and-coming neighbours – and eventual Division One Champions – Hamble Club Folland’s average attendance shrunk from 51 in 2015-16, the biggest decline among the Division One clubs.

Wessex 1 Changes

Hamble Club were just one of four clubs promoted into the Wessex League for 2016-17. Joining them from the Hampshire Premier League was Baffins Milton Rovers whilst Weymouth Reserves and Shaftesbury came from the Dorset Premier League. Of these clubs all made the Division One average attendance top ten with Shaftesbury reaching the highest position, finishing in fifth place with an average attendance of 64 and Hamble Club the lowest of the group in 9th spot with an average of 50. All except Weymouth Reserves achieved promotion to the Wessex Premier in their first season.

Wessex League Attendances 2016/17 Part 2: Wessex League Premier Division

16 Jun

Salisbury’s departure for the pastures of the Southern League means a new champion at the head of the Wessex League average attendance table…. step forward Portland.

avg att WSX Prem

Like Salisbury Portland completed a double of not just securing the highest average attendance, at 169, but also the league title and also in their first Wessex Premier season. There however, the similarities end for rather than being a fallen giant who has hit rock bottom, Portland entered the Premier Division from below, through Division One which they in turn only first entered in 2015 previously stepping-up from the Dorset Premier League. Impressively too Portland are in geographic terms rather out on a limb which may limit the number of away fans wanting to make the journey.

In a close second place were Bashley who averaged 165. The Bash have an illustrious Wessex League history – winning the inaugural title back in the 1986-87 season and the village team spent a number of years mixing it with the big boys in the Southern Premier League only to have recently fallen on tough times. The result of all those years at a higher level however, means the club has a good support base – of the kind who go to games wearing scarves, hats and badges. Bashley is also at the heart of the Wessex Premier New Forest/Waterside nexus which meant well attended derby fixtures against the likes of Brockenhurst (268), Lymington Town (240) and Blackfield & Langley (233)

Third placed Sholing, with an average attendance of 130, offered an interesting case as the club have this season experimented with free entry and community days as a method of engagement. Entry was free for games against Brockenhurst – where before the game teams from across the club posed for a combined photo – and the game against Bournemouth, which was combined with a community fun day. In terms of getting the crowds in both events were a success with the Brock game pulling in 464 and the Bournemouth game 488 –the two biggest crowds across the whole league. These two games have boosted Sholing’s average significantly (A rough calculation shows that disregarding these games Sholing’s average would have been 94, putting them in sixth place, between Cowes Sports and AFC Portchester) and it will therefore be interesting to see if Sholing, or other clubs do something similar next season.

At the other end of the attendance table are Team Solent who averaged just 24 spectators over the whole season. The ‘Sparks’ as they are known suffer from something I call works team syndrome. Although not a factory team Solent are broadly a similar case in that they enjoy the support of a large institution as a benefactor – in this case the University – for whom they are named after. It is often the case that the price of this is the lack of interest from the local community who may not feel the club represents them, whilst for their part ‘works’ teams do not need to maximise their spectator numbers so often community links go undeveloped. In Solent’s case this is a little bit of a shame as they are a good footballing side who on the three occasions I saw them last season played an exciting attacking style of football – perhaps the neutrals and groundhoppers best kept secret.

Promoted to the Wessex Premier as last seasons Division One runners-up Amesbury Town struggled on the pitch this season, finishing one spot above the relegation places in 19th. This may be a factor behind their low attendances which saw an average crowd of 29 at their ground – down from 50 in the 2015-16 season. Another factor could be the fact that promotion to the Premier meant the loss of two derby games against nearby Downton and Laverstock & Ford which attracted 74 and 72 spectators respectively in 2015-16. Finally, third from bottom are Bournemouth FC with 31. Like Amesbury Bournemouth had a tough Wessex Premier Season finishing in 17th place.

One interesting point to note is that Moneyfields, this season’s runners up who were also promoted to the Southern League, failed to entice many spectators to their Copnor ground with an average of just 55.Whether the club attract more playing at a higher level remains to be seen.

Change from 2015-16 by club

As we saw previously the average for the Wessex Premier as a whole dropped fairly significantly between 2015-16 and 2016-17, from 107 to 76.

This was mainly as a result of Salisbury’s promotion. Looking at a club-by-club basis it is clear to see that the biggest losers this season had either a close proximity to Salisbury, or else were clubs with low crowds and therefore with an average which was more sensitive to a sudden influx for one game. In 2015-16 Team Solent for instance saw a crowd of 387 for their game against Salisbury, whilst this season their biggest was 45 for the visit of Alresford Town. The loss of Salisbury was also keenly felt by near-neighbours Bemerton Heath Harlequins who saw 620 spectators squeeze past their turnstyles for the derby-day visit of Salisbury in 2015-16. The promotion of Amesbury Town meant that though Bemerton would have a game which they could regard as a local derby which drew a season-best crowd it could not realistically fill the Salisbury sized gap and attracted only 102 spectators.

Change in avg wsx lg

Only seven clubs in the Wessex Premier improved their average attendance. Heading this group was Portland United. Having been in Division One last season granted immunity from the Salisbury effect and it seems that playing at a higher level has brought an average of an additional 35 fans to each game.

Sholing boosted their average by 20 from 2015-16, chiefly as a result of the very high attendances from the free entry games against Brockenhurst (464) and Bournemouth (488) which more than made up for the loss of the 407 fans who had visited their ground to watch Salisbury the previous season. The third biggest gainer was Fareham Town who boosted their average by 14. Again Salisbury may have had an impact as in 2015-16 Salisbury recorded one of their lowest on-the-road crowds at Fareham with only 156 spectators turning up.

I was unable to obtain the figures for Bashley’s average attendance for last season in the Southern League South & West, though I did manage to find a figure of 109 which was for only part of the 2015-16 season. If this is the case then their figure of 165 for 2016-17 represents a huge improvement.

On the road

On the road WSX lg

Finally I decided to take a look at how teams compared when it came to the crowds they attracted whilst on-the-road. As you can see, compared to the home attendances there is much more similarity which suggests that significant travelling support is a little bit of a rarity in the Wessex League. Brockenhurst top the table having attracted an average of 103 fans to their away fixtures, largely helped by that free game against Sholing. The free game at Sholing also sees Bournemouth near the top with 83. In second though are Bashley who saw 91 people on average turning out to watch them take on the home side. I crossed paths with them myself at Brockenhurst and can confirm that Bashley do indeed have a reasonable away following. In third are Sholing with 87 – and I believe from what I’ve seen that Sholing do make an effort to encourage their support and offered coach travel to Portland in 2016-17

Wessex League Attendances 2016/17 Part One – The Overall Picture

15 Jun

Long-time readers will know that if there’s two things Row Z can get enthusiastic over its attendance stats and the Wessex League, so I’d like to thank the Wessex League for providing me with the attendance stats for the 2016/17 season which has allowed me to indulge these two interests.

My interest though is not based on any claim to geekdom, but is more about how important I feel attendance stats are for revealing certain things about the game and clubs, or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Since getting the figures I’ve been looking them over and creating all manner of graphs to try to see if I can pull out any interesting tidbits. There are, it can be said, a few and it’s been a bit of a headache to think about how best to present it all without it all becoming a mish-mash, or even a 5,000 word borefest so I’ve opted to release it in parts. Here goes part one….

The overall picture

Wessex Overall Avg

Overall in 2016/17 the average attendance at Wessex League Premier Division games was 76 and for Division One clubs the figure was 48.

For Division One this represented no real change from 2015/16 where the average had been 49. The same cannot be said of the Premier Division which enjoyed an average attendance of 107 in 2015/16.

The reason for this reduction in the Premier of over a quarter can be put down to one main factor, which I’ll call The Salisbury Effect. In 2015/16 the Wessex League was joined by Salisbury, a new club which replaced the dissolved Salisbury City. A whole book could be written about Salisbury’s recent football travails, but the essence of the story for attendances is that traditionally Salisbury are a bigger club who entered the Wessex Premier as the starting point of their journey back to full health – rehab if you like.

It was just a few years ago that Salisbury City graced the Conference National and the club retained a relatively big following. Helped by a celebrity manager in ex-pro Steve Claridge Salisbury attracted crowds which were in Wessex League terms extremely large, averaging 707 over the 2015/16 season (for comparison the second highest average for 2015/16 was Andover Town with 130.)

The club also boasted a relatively large travelling support so the impact was felt not just on the overall Premier Division average, but across the averages for many clubs who back in 2015/16 cranked the programme printing press into overdrive and ordered extra sausages, tea bags and white rolls in advance of Salisbury’s visit.

Having won the League at the first time of asking however,  Salisbury gained promotion to the Southern League for the 2016/17 season leaving turnstiles across the Wessex Premier that little bit quieter this season as things returned to an equilibrium.

 

The Big Five’s Lost Decade of Attendances

22 Dec

I had a conversation with a friend recently about the merits of watching a game live at the ground, versus watching from the sofa, or a barstool. I’ve always been a bit of a purist where these things are concerned, feeling that football has to be experienced in the flesh, up close, whilst my friend was perfectly happy watching it all on TV.

He had some good points – notably that watching on TV is considerably cheaper and more convenient. Still, I maintain there is nothing like being there in person. For me the whole matchday experience from the moment you take the first step on the trip to the ground to when you exit in a tide of your fellow supporters, sharing either joy, or despair is something to be savoured. It’s why I follow things like attendance stats. For me it’s almost a given that attendance at games is a good thing and growing attendance something to cheer us, like hearing that more books were borrowed from a library this year than last.

This is why something about this graph, based on average attendance data from the European Football Statistics website, alarms me. What it shows is that over the past decade average attendances have remained relatively static across all of the so-called ‘big five; leagues (Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1).

big510yr

In the case of Serie A attendances have experienced a dramatic slide over the past thirty years, so some stability is, perhaps, to be welcomed, but for The Premier League, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga the trend over the last 10 years is in sharp contrast to stunning growth all three experienced over the 1990s (and in the case of the Bundesliga on into the early noughties). Just to take the Premier League the figures show average attendance grew from 20,757 in 1989-90 to 30,757 in 1999-2000, a growth of 10,000 spectators per game. Between 2005-06 and 2015-16 however, average attendances have fluctuated around the 35,000 mark (Unfortunately the website only has figures for La Liga from the 1999-00 season so it isn’t possible to see any earlier trends.)

big520yr

So what common factors can be behind the trend which has emerged in all five over the past ten years? The economic crisis of 2008 emerges here as a prime suspect. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that in the UK mean household income stopped growing and then fell between 2006/07 and 2007/08, really recovering only between 2013/14 and 2014/15. Given the expense of football tickets it doesn’t seem far-fetched to link a slowdown, and decline in disposable incomes to a slowdown in the attendance of football matches, but this is to exclude the fact that the flat-lining trend in England, France and Spain seems to pre-date this, whilst Serie A was already by this point in the grip of a long downward trend.

Stadia capacity is another potential factor. Both the Premier league and the Bundesliga have capacity issues with many grounds operating at, or near capacity. The only way around these is to invest in stadia however, such projects are expensive, convoluted and as a result inherently risky – not least in a time of economic uncertainty. History has shown too that without either external pressure forcing clubs (i.e the Taylor report) or external funding sources (i.e public funds ahead of a major tournament) projects of this kind are few and far between (a question I’ve asked before is are clubs investing enough in stadia). The capacity argument though fails to account for a slowdown in growth in Serie A, or La Liga whilst in Ligue 1 there was a considerable investment ahead of the Euro 2016 tournament.

A third possible common factor is the growth of the amount of football available on television. In the Premier League broadcasting now generates more revenue than matchday revenue. It is therefore little surprise that now fixtures are organised (and changed) to suit television schedules – allowing for more games to be shown live. Across Europe more people than ever have access to the means of watching games broadcast on a pay-tv platform of one kind, or another. Could this easy-availability mean more people – like my friend – are now opting to watch at home instead of going to the ground? This is a point which is subject to debate – and the rise in broadcasting coincided with the Premier League attendance boom of the 1990s, but there is some evidence that live-broadcasting does have a negative impact on attendances and in a 2008 paper published in the Journal of Sports Economics researchers looking at data from Scottish football found that live broadcasts reduced the numbers of ‘pay-at-the-gate’ home team supporters by 30%.

On top of these common factors, there are also likely to be a number of local factors in each case which exert an influence over attendance trends – certainly Serie A’s trajectory has been very different to that of the Premier League, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga and owes at least part to circumstances particular to that league. What though of the prospects for the future – what will attendances look like in ten years time?

If like me you believe that football is best enjoyed at the stadium there are at least some grounds for optimism. Attendances have proved resilient to economic crisis – they may not have grown, but, Serie A aside, they haven’t declined either. In the Premier League and Bundesliga, although growth has been dramatically reduced and is subject to fluctuation, there is a sign of a weak upward trend in average attendance. Importantly too in the Premier League capacity is rising. West Ham have increased their capacity since moving to the London Stadium and construction is currently taking place at Tottenham’s new stadium which will create yet more capacity whilst a number of other projects are in development. Perhaps the real issue though is with judging attendances by the yardstick of the recent past which was, in many ways, a spectacular period of positive adjustment for most of the big European leagues and quite simply could not be sustained over the long-term.

Data from European Football Statistics

Season Ending Ger Eng Spa Ita Fra
2016 43300 36461 28568 22162 20896
2015 43526 36179 26835 22057 22250
2014 43499 36670 26955 23310 20953
2013 42624 35921 28237 23234 19211
2012 45116 34600 28796 22466 18870
2011 42665 35294 28221 24306 19742
2010 42500 34151 28286 24957 20089
2009 42565 35614 28276 25045 21050
2008 39426 36076 29124 23180 21841
2007 39975 34363 28838 18473 21940
2006 40745 33864 29029 21698 21552

The rise and rise of 5-a-side

21 Jun

Thursday evening at an outdoor 5-a-side centre and a crowd has gathered around two sides of the corner pitch. Peering in through the protective mesh fencing the object of attention is one Matt Le Tissier. Playing at his customary pace the splendidly languid Southampton legend receives the ball and resists the attentions of a younger and fitter opponent by gently nudging it behind his standing leg. His opponent succeeds in getting something on the ball, but it’s not enough. Seemingly out of nowhere, Le Tissier fires off a fast angled ball which instantly transports those watching the back to some point in the 1990s and which a teammate fully does justice to by converting into a goal.

The most unusual thing about the scene is the spectators. Aside from a brief period in the 1980s when Soccer Six attracted large crowds and appeared on television, small-sided football hasn’t ever really taken off as a spectator sport. As a participation sport however, the small-sided game, and in particular 5-a-side, has grown significantly over the past fifteen years to the extent that it is now the way in which most of us experience actually playing the game.

Figures from Sports England’s Active People survey for 2014/15 reveal that among those aged 16+ who reported playing football at least weekly 740,200 participated in small-sided outdoor football, whilst an additional 292,600 reported participating in small-sided indoor football. This compares to the 598,000 who reported participating in 11-a-side in the same period. Moreover whilst the number of those participating in 11-aside on a weekly basis has declined by over 100,000 and the numbers playing small-sided indoor football have dropped by around 150,000 since 2009/10 – the first year in which the survey differentiated football by type – the numbers playing small-sided outdoor football have held relatively firm.

There are several interconnected factors which can be implicated in this shift in how we play the game; technological, economic and social. In terms of technology, anyone with experience playing on pre-3G astroturf, and all the bloody knees and elbows that entailed (known affectionately as astro-burns), would find it difficult to disagree with one supplier of 3G pitches who describe 3G as “the most significant and successful development in synthetic surface technology designed for football and rugby at both competitive and recreational levels.” 3G proved a real game-changer in providing an all-weather surface which could be played on again and again with little of the wear demonstrated by grass pitches and which also provided a pleasant playing experience.

3G could of course equally be used for 11-a-side, however to build 3G pitches requires finance. Initially his investment would not come from under-pressure public bodies who owned and operated the majority of existing grass pitches, but from the private sector. The simple equation is that outdoor small-sided pitches, taking up much less space, offered such investors a much better return as more games and paying-players can be squeezed into a smaller area. The sheer scale of this private sector investment in small-sided football cannot be underestimated; One of the market leaders, who specialise in outdoor small-sides football, Goals soccer centres, boasts on its website that it operates 500 pitches which play host to over 130,000 players a week.

The final factor is social change. In general explanations offered for declining participation centre around changes in working patterns, less free time, or the growth of more individualised leisure pursuits. The influential academic Robert Putnam famously observed that in the US that, between 1980 and 1993, whilst the number of people bowling had been increasing, league bowling experienced a sharp decline, of around 40%. It may be that small-sided football, is perhaps better placed to weather such pressures than the 11-a-side game which tends to be based almost exclusively around competitive leagues and which requires an overall greater level of time commitment than small-sided football.

There are signs however, that the growth of small-sided football may have reached its limit. The Sports England data show that numbers playing outdoor small-sided football has stabilised over the past few years, whilst in March of this year it was reported that Goals Soccer Centres had posted its first annual pre-tax loss in 12 years. Against this there is also some evidence that 11-a-side 3G pitches are beginning to attract grant funding, particularly as many grassroots leagues have approved the use of 3G for competitive games. For now though it still appears true that while we may not particularly enjoy watching small sided football, we do prefer playing it.

Euro 2012 – A legacy?

13 Jun

Back in 2012 ‘Legacy’ was a word which was used quite a lot in connection with the London Olympics. There was a clear desire that once the main show packed up and left town that there would be lasting change, that in the long term, decades on, there would be more to show than a handful of underused, decaying stadia fit only for the bulldozer – that there would be instead a revitalisation of areas, of sports, and of lives.

Aside from the London games there was also another major sporting event in 2012 – The European Football Championships, jointly hosted by Poland and the Ukraine – and as we sit on the eve of the latest 2016 edition to take place in France it is perhaps a pertinent time to see what legacy, if any, Euro 2012 left for its host nations.

One of the key investments made for any major sporting event, whether it’s an Olympics, or Football Championships is the cost of the physical infrastructure needed to stage the event – the stadia, the transport connections, hotels and so on. Euro 2012 involved the construction of no fewer than five new stadia and the extensive renovation of a further three. The new stadia were constructed in Warsaw, Wroclaw, Gdansk, Donetsk, and Lviv.

One discernible legacy of such bricks and mortar investment can be seen in improved attendances for those clubs based at the stadia as enhanced capacity and improved facilities attract more spectators to games. Using data from the European Football Statistics Website it is possible to plot attendance trends in Poland and the Ukraine both before and after the Euros.

POLUKRattendances

It’s possible to see in both host countries a discernible rise in average attendances around Euro 2012. In the 2012/13 season attendances for top flight games in Poland and the Ukraine averaged at 8,409 and 12,547 respectively. These were up from 5,247 in Poland and 8,943 in The Ukraine for the 2009/10 season.

What happened next of course was to cause the Ukrainian average to plummet. This was down to the political situation in the Ukraine, one consequence of which was the exiling of one of the Ukraine’s biggest clubs Shakhtar Donetsk. In 2014 the club literally had to get out of town, leaving behind the sparkling Donbass arena, constructed in 2009. Whilst the club, backed by a wealthy owner, has continued to prosper on the pitch – reaching the semi-finals of this year’s Europa League – in the stands the dislocation from its fan base is obvious in attendance figures; Playing home games some 780 miles away in Lviv attendances have slid from 33,226 in the 13/14 season to 8,833 in the 14/15 season.

Meanwhile in Poland a wave of stadia renewal has been continuing post Euro 2012. The Ernest Pohl Stadium, home of Gornik Zabrze, the Bialystok City Stadium, home of Jagiellonia Bialystok and the Stadion Widzewa, home of Widzew Lodz are amongst grounds which have recently, or are currently undergoing major reconstruction, or complete rebuilding. This replacing of outdated facilities has unsurprisingly led to attendances continuing to rise, ensuring that in Poland at least the legacy of 2012 continues to be felt.

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