A ‘Król’ Finish to the Warsaw Derby

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Polonia Warsaw 1 v 2 Legia Warsaw (30.03.13)

A year can be a long time in football. For Polonia fans the last 8 months must have seemed like an eternity.

An attempted buy out of their Ekstraklasa licence back in July 2012 by Ireneusz Król – the then owner of 2nd division side GKS Katowice – was admirably refuted by GKS fans at the 11th hour.

The prospective buyout would have seen a merger between Polonia and GKS Katowice, with all Polonia players moving south to Katowice. GKS would have had a name change enforced upon them; but would have gained automatic promotion to the Ekstraklasa at the expense of Polonia – who would have folded and become extinct as a result.

As it turned out Król accepted the GKS fans protests; left GKS Katowice in the 2nd tier and took over Polonia who remained in the top flight, keeping their club identity and 102 year history in the process.

Considering the uncertainty, the first half of the season probably went better than any Polonia fan would have dreamed of. Sitting in 3rd place at the winter break, they were ideally placed to mount a serious challenge for the Ekstraklasa title and gain a European qualifying spot when the league re-commenced in early March.

Despite the takeover though, Polonia continued to face serious financial difficulties – unable to sustain the high player wages and contracts inherited from the previous owner. As a result the club were forced to take drastic measures for the second time inside 8 months.

During the winter break, Polonia lost more than half of its first team, and nearly all of the ‘top’ players were given permission to leave on free transfers on the proviso that individual player debt was written off. To make matters worse Polonia’s star players Vladimer Dvalishvili and Tomasz Brzyski joined local rivals Legia Warsaw, and Łukasz Teodorczyk joined Lech Poznań.

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The main entrance to the Trybuna Glowna at Stadion Polonia….

Surprisingly, a month after resuming from the winter break Polonia are still sitting in 3rd place, seven points behind the leaders Legia. Although they have lost a few games, they beat title rivals Lech Poznan 1-0 away, which made this derby day all the more intriguing.

The Polonia coach – Piotr Stokowiec – sounds like he should be manager of the year, after having to completely rebuild the team twice in one season! The latest rebuild has seen him capture talented young loan signings and convert remaining players to fill gaps in team positions. At one point they had only one registered striker and were playing midfielders up front to plug the gaps!

I arrived in Warsaw on Good Friday, the day before the game, and was greeted with heavy snowfall. To be honest I thought i would be facing another pair of capital P’s for this fixture (match postponed) following the disappointment two weeks earlier in Budapest when the Hungarian FA cancelled the entire round of league fixtures across the whole weekend.

By all accounts this was the first time it had snowed at Easter in Warsaw for the best part of 30 years. Good to see it’s not only the UK suffering from a prolonged winter in March 2013. Seems more like global cooling than global warming!

On the Saturday morning my fears were laid to rest, and despite a good covering of snow all over the city the game was called ‘on’ thanks to Polonia’s under soil heating system!

Polonia are the smaller of the two club sides based in Warsaw, and the Stadion Polonia is located close to the city centre and within walking distance of the ‘Warzsawa Gdanska’ mainline station.

The stadium is a 6,200 capacity two sided ground complete with a fans favourite – the athletics track.

Obtaining tickets for top flight matches in Poland has become slightly trickier in recent seasons due to an increase in hooliganism. Clubs have enforced a strict membership policy where fans need to register to obtain membership ID cards to be able to obtain tickets. Overseas fans need to be able to present their passport to be able to pick up a ticket. Your name is then printed on the ticket and you will not be allowed entry to the stadium unless this is backed up with the said identification document. With the exception of the ‘big games’ this shouldn’t prevent you being able to pick up a ticket, either the day before the game or on the day itself.

Ticket prices were doubled for the derby, and a ticket in the main stand was 45 zloty (approx £9). For other domestic league matches tickets are priced at 20 zloty, approx £4!

We were sat in the ‘Trybuna Glowna’ (or main stand), and occupying the narrow ‘Trybuna Kamienna’ on the opposite side was the Polonia Ultra’s who were decked out in colour coordinated shirts that represented the club’s main colours: black red and white, creating a striped effect across the length of the stand.

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The Ultras put on a series of impressive displays and tifo’s throughout the game, ranging from a ticker tape reception as the teams emerged from the tunnel, to the unveiling of a large surfer flag emblazoned with ‘Fanatics Polonia’.

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For some reason the Legia fans had decided to boycott the derby, and the ridiculously small away section behind one of the goals remained empty as kick off approached. It would have only housed about 150 fans if they had turned up!

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The tiny away section (left side)… 

Despite the lack of away fans, it didn’t stop the Polonia ultras creating a decent atmosphere for the game. That was until midway through the second when they decided they might as well start a huge brawl amongst themselves instead. As the in-fighting started the ultras parted like the red sea as fists and kicks were flying in from all directions!

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The centre of the Trybuna Kamienna parts as the mass brawl kicks off….

It took some 15-20 minutes for the ultras to regroup by which time many had spilled out of the stadium to continue their battles with some added attention from the riot police! It turned out that the ‘anti fascists’ section were fighting the ‘nationalists’ section and it had all got a bit out of hand. Before the end of the game all of the banners that had been proudly displayed on the iron railings along the entire length of the tribune were taken down, and a quarter of the fans that were there at kick off missed a dramatic finale to an open and entertaining derby.

POL11Legia pretty much dominated the derby from start to finish, but were very nearly made to pay for a series of squandered opportunities. As so often happens in football the team that creates and misses a host of chances will get punished in the end, and it looked as if Polonia had snatched a late draw, when Piatek headed home from close range in the 86th minute. Cue wild scenes in the Trybuna Kamienna and an unusual ‘press up’ goal celebration from half of the Polonia team!

With the lion’s share of possession, most of Legia’s clear cut chances fell to their star Serbian striker Ljuboja. After missing two clear cut chances in the first half he put Legia one nil up early in the second; side footing into an empty net from close range after the Polonia keeper misjudged a deep cross and was caught in no man’s land from the resulting cut back.

POL17Polonia’s main attacking threat came through their creative No. 11, Jacek Kiełb, who looked a really class act on this showing. Extremely skilful and comfortable in possession of the ball in tight areas he looks to have a bright future ahead of him. He is currently on loan from Lech Poznan, and it will be interesting to see if he breaks into their first team in seasons to come. You heard it here first!

Gauging the Legia players reaction to Piatek’s equaliser (and considering the amount of chances they had to finish off the game) it looked a bitter pill to swallow.

POL13However rather than shutting up shop and seeing out the last 5 minutes, Polonia got caught out on the break. With both full backs massively out of position, Legia managed to work the ball out to the right side of the penalty area, where a quality cross was headed home by substitute Furmen in the 91st minute. An eerie silence greeted the wild celebrations of the Legia players – the Polonia faithful in a state of shock having thought they had just nicked a point a few minutes earlier. Ah the beautiful game and the sweetness of a last minute winner!

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Winning goalscorer ‘Furman’ gives an immdediate post match interview on the pitch!…Sky Sports should give this a go!….

Domestic polish football is probably often overlooked by some ‘snobby’ football tourists in favour of the wealthier bigger names and higher profile leagues found in Western Europe. But if you want a proper football experience, I would highly recommend sampling a Polish domestic game if you get the chance.

Why? Well if you like a game of football with a ‘raw edge’ about it; played in stadiums with passionate, vocal support; in a country that has an independent currency which means ticket, food and drink prices are still really cheap; coupled with access to enough independent polish lager brands to fill a team sheet……need I go on?

Goals:

Polonia: Piatek 86’

Legia: Ljuboja 51’, Furman 91’

Att: 4,500

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