Lech Poznan 2 v 1 Lechia Gdansk (22.03.2014)
After the relative serenity of watching Warta Poznan play in front of 979 other fans earlier that afternoon, it was time for some relative madness; step forward the Lech Poznan experience!
A visit to Lech Poznan had long been on my bucket list. The Stadium Mijeski always looked an impressive but imposing stadium on TV and experiencing it in real life doesn’t disappoint. But the main draw for me was the reputation of the clubs famous supporters. Don’t get me wrong the stadium is well worth a visit in its own right, and the Lech team itself have been playing well of late too, currently sitting 2nd in the Ekstraklasa, but throw in a club with some renowned and passionate ultras and I’m all over it!
Here in the UK the Poznan Ultras are perhaps most famous for introducing Man City fans to the “turn your back on the game, link arms, and bounce up and down in unison” routine. This is a regular feature at Lech Poznan games and Man City fans have since adopted it as a goal celebration after witnessing the Poznan Ultras perform it during their Europa league fixture a few seasons back. On UK shores the routine is more commonly known as “Doing the Poznan” and has been adopted by many other club fans across Europe including Celtic and Valencia.
One of the main ultras group at Lech Poznan is called ‘Kole Jorz’ (which loosely translates as the ‘railwaymen’) and their banner takes centre stage behind the goal of Tribune I. Tribune I, a 3-tiered stand is an amazing sight. Carefully positioned banners along the length of each stand along with thousands of ultras co-ordinated by shirt colour looks impressive to say the least. Bottom tier you get in if you wear white, middle tier if you’re wearing blue.
Stood on a raised platform above the Kole Jorz banner the capo (or Ultras conductor if you like) put a real shift in, expertly choreographing the chanting, bouncing, and scarf throwing by the hoards behind the goal which provided a fascinating backdrop to the on field action. This continued nonstop for the whole 90 minutes and at times the noise was deafening from that end. This style of passionate support is commonplace in Poland, and I’ve experienced similar atmospheres to this at Polonia Warsaw and Legia Warsaw. Not once during an entire match will these Ultras fall silent. It would be amazing to see this level of passion and support creep back into the English game, but far too often now it’s the pantomime boo’s that ring out loudest.
If you want good views of Tribune I (home ultras) and the corner of Tribune IV (the away ultras) then your best bet is to buy a ticket in Tribune III. A front row seat on the half way line costs 55zl (£10) and can be purchased in advance on the clubs website. Not bad for Polish Premier League football and one of the best seats in the house!
There’s not too many British nationals playing professional football abroad these days, and you would perhaps be rather surprised to find one playing out in Poland. But back in May 2013 Lech Poznan signed Barry Douglas, a left back, from Dundee United. Rarely do you see a British player move to an Eastern European club, but Douglas seems to have settled very quickly into the Polish game, and has been a regular at left back this season. He is also one of the club’s set piece specialists taking corners and free kicks from wide positions, and based on what I saw in this performance I don’t think it will be long before he starts popping up on Gordon Strachan’s radar and gets a chance with the Scottish national team.
The match itself was superb. Superb from the point of view of that it was an end to end game with chances galore. The Lechia Gdansk defence did their best to do anything but defend, and it was a back four performance that would have had Messrs Hansen and Lawrenson waxing lyrical about the art of defending. Time and time again Lech Poznan cleverly played between the lines of the Lechia midfield and back four, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a defence turned and facing their own goal as much as Lechia’s. At times it was like watching Barcelona in the way that Lech were able to carve open Lechia with apparent ease, and whilst it wasn’t one for the purists of defensive play it made for a brilliant game.
On another day Poznan would have comfortably been 5-0 up at half time without too much trouble. Four 1 on 1 situations were slotted wide of the post, before Pawlowski scored an absolute wonder goal. Barry Douglas played the ball out wide into the channel on the left flank. Facing the touchline, Pawlowski cleverly turned back in towards goal beating two defenders, and as he entered the edge of the box unleashed a fierce curling shot from the angle that flew into the far top corner.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, but as the match wore on Lechia started to look more dangerous on the break. With Poznan continuing to miss good opportunities it had the feel of a game that could end in tears for Poznan if they didn’t make more of the chances they were creating. In the 61st minute Poznan deservedly doubled their lead through Teodorczyk. Another defensive error as an unchallenged second ball dropped into the Lechia six yard box and Teodorczyk gratefully took advantage and smashed in from close range.
Breathing space for Lech at last, that was until the Lechia Ultras decided to let off a few flares and smoke the place out! Minutes after the flares had flickered into life, the whole stadium was full of smoke. Maybe Lechia fans had had enough of watching their defence get torn apart – out of sight and out of mind and all that – but either way it made for an impressive visual display.
So bad was the smoke that the referee had to stop the game for 3-4 minutes to allow for the smoke to clear!
Lechia did manage to pull one back in the 92nd minute through Tuszynski, and suddenly you could feel the tension amongst the Lech players and the fans as they tried to see the game out for the final 2 minutes of injury time. An unnecessary nail biting finish for the Lech supporters in what should have been a victory of much greater margin.
The win turned out to be a vital one for Lech who narrowed the gap at the top of the table to four points. Legia still had a game in hand, against Piast Gliwice which I would be travelling to watch on Monday night. But at least the ball had been played back into the Polish champion’s court, and with Lech’s next game against Legia in Warsaw the following weekend the pressure was perhaps beginning to build on Legia after a run a bad results.
The city’s Stary Rynek (old town square) seems to be the main draw for visitors, a picturesque setting full of brightly coloured buildings which is also home to loads of bars and restaurants. You would do well to make it around all four sides of the square on one night out, and not least because beer / food prices here are so cheap!
The picturesque Stary Rynek
Trams numbers 1, 6, 13 and15 will run you out to the stadium from the city centre in about 25 minutes and will cost about 3.6zl (70p), and depending on when you arrive you will likely be greeted by hoards of fans decked out in blue and white, all seemingly with a scarf around their neck, or with one or two tied to their wrists.
Just outside the stadium there is an outside bar area that was ironically named the ‘British Garage’. Ironic until I realised it was actually a real garage selling British car parts – it had just had its forecourt converted into an outdoor boozer! Nonetheless a good place to grab a pre match pint – the intermittent sound of firecrackers and bangers going off in the adjacent park all added to the pre match atmosphere and build up.
Poznan is only a 90 minute flight from London and makes for an ideal short weekend football break. Don’t forget 3rd division side Warta Poznan are also based in the city so if you’re lucky you could get 2 games in during the same visit!