Warta Poznan 1 v 3 Calisia Kalisz (22.03.2014)
I’m sure close friends and family think I’m mad. About a week before my short trip to Poland where the itinerary already included 3 games in 3 days spread across the cities of Poznan, Wroclaw and Gliwice, I decided to delve into the lower echelons of Polish Football to see if there were any other ‘pilka nosna’ offerings to be had.
A quick scan of footie map (one of my favourite footballing websites) revealed that Poznan has a second team – Warta Poznan. As I then hastily checked soccerway.com (another of my favourite footballing websites) the footballing gods must have been smiling upon me, as not only were Warta playing at home that weekend, their kickoff time was perfectly scheduled to enable a return of an old ‘Look at These Scenes’ favourite – 2 games in one afternoon! If that’s madness cart me off to the clinic!
Conduct a Google image search of Warta Poznan and you will be presented with more than just a few pictures of a rather attractive blonde woman, some with her posing in a Warta scarf, and others in not much more than her birthday suit!! Is Warta Poznan ironically the name of a Polish woman who likes taking her clothes off as well as a Polish II Liga West football team? Surely not?
Surely not indeed, as the said attractive blonde lady is Izabela Lukomska-Pyzalska – the Warta Poznan president and a former Polish Playboy cover girl!
Her takeover of the club back in January 2011 more than raised a few eyebrows across the football fraternity and for a short while certainly put Warta back in the spotlight again. Although Warta Poznan are one of Poland’s oldest football clubs their glory days are well and truly behind them. Not since the heady days of the 1920’s and 1930’s which are generally regarded as the club’s most successful period and included their 1929 Polish League title win, will they have received such coverage.
From a PR and marketing perspective the club couldn’t have played it any better really, and it won’t be too often that Warta takes up more column inches than its bigger brother Lech Poznan. But for a short while the name Warta was catapulted across the globe and this small club suddenly had feature space in magazines such as World Soccer, and made the headlines in numerous English newspapers.
The profile gained from the takeover was huge, but for Warta’s longer term future there had to be more to it than just a pretty face and a good body. Put into context, this was the English equivalent of Kate Moss taking over at Brentford! And whilst Kate Moss might still have a lot to offer football you can imagine what the coverage here would have been like if that analogy was real.
Luckily for Warta there seems to be a lot more to Izabela Lukomska-Pyzalska than just that pretty face and a few former naked photo shoots. Since her modelling days, she has become more Karen Brady than Kate Moss, and prior to the takeover had carved out a successful career working in the real estate and construction industry for one of Poland’s leading property development companies.
Fast forward to today and some three years on, and Warta seem to be doing ok. Currently sitting 6th in the table and 4 points off 2nd place with 14 games to play, the club and its small following will feel they have a realistic chance of gaining promotion this season. Most importantly though, stability seems to have been bought to the club and the threat in recent seasons of relegation and a fall down the Polish football league pyramid seems to have passed.
Warta Poznan play their home games at the easily pronounced ‘Stadion przy Drodze Debinskiej’, a temporary 3-sided ground with a capacity of 4,000. The stadium is located on ‘Droga Debinska’, which is close to the city centre, and is a 10-15 minute walk away from the Stary Rynek (or old town square).
As you walk up Droga Bebinska a steward policing entry to the small club car park will mark your arrival at the ground. On the corner there is a small white building with ‘Kasa’ written above a closed door. This is the ticket office, and as you walk inside you enter a small room with about 8 people sat behind small wooden tables. With my own levels of Polish bordering the non existent, it was a slightly bizarre moment as I stood there with 8 people staring at me. So in true ‘Brits abroad’ style an “anyone speak English” plea from yours truly was met with some head turning, a few giggles, a snigger, and then luckily a younger girl put me out of my misery. For 15zł (£3) and a quick flash of your passport you can easily pick up a ticket which will have your name, block, row and seat number hand written on it!
Just along from the ticket office is the Sector 25 entrance. Although numbered 25 this appeared to be the only turnstile to enter the whole ground through, and for the visit of Calisia Kalisz it was only the ‘main’ temporary stand on that side of the ground that was open. As you walk in, there are two small gazeebo’s set up at the corner of the pitch that act as the club shop and the bar. The bar complete with some picnic tables and serving beer at 8zł a pop (£1.50).
Despite the recent flood season in the UK – it looked like the drought season had hit Poznan! The playing surface was more brown than it was green and looked dry and bumpy (see above). I could have been watching a game in Burkino Faso in the height of the summer season, and not one of the first games back after the Polish winter break!!
Warta’s opponents Calisia Kalisz are currently languishing near the bottom of the table and as the first half got underway the form book seemed to prevail as Warta dominated the game. An early goal from Rasiak (8’) was the only highlight of a pretty drab first half. Having said that, Calisia’s stand out player seemed to be their Nigerian right winger Nnamani, but his constant ‘left leg step over and take the ball to the right routine’ became far too predictable. If I had known the Polish for ‘one trick pony’ I would have been giving him a bit of stick from the stands!
Half time then, and as the Calisia manager walked down the touch line to the dressing room he was summoned to the waist high perimeter fence by what I can only assume was a rather irate club chairman. You didn’t need to speak Polish to see the frank exchange of words and some gesticulating was the chairman’s way of letting his thoughts be known on the first half performance, and the tactics needed for a second half improvement.
Cardiff City fans thought they had it bad with Vincent Tan, at least he does it behind closed doors!
That frank exchange of words must have had some impact though as what followed in the second half was nothing short of unbelievable. Calisia had averaged less than a goal a game in their previous 20 matches played so far this season and when their most creative outlet Nnamani was sent off in the 68th minute the game looked truly dead and buried.
But remarkably, Calisia scored 3 goals in the last 12 minutes (through Gawlik 78’, Sobas 90’, and Kostov 90’) to turn the game on its head, and no doubt ruin a few weekend accumulators in the process! It was one of those moments that are quite difficult to fathom. Warta were quite literally cruising with 15 minutes to go, and against 10 men you will rarely see such defensive naivety – even in the Polish II Liga West! Combine that with a team that had been desperately short of goals all season, and you can imagine the look of bemusement on the faces of the Warta fans, players and manger as the full time whistle went.
The fans will hope that it was nothing more than a minor blip, and it will be interesting to see how Warta Poznan react to this defeat and whether they can really mount a serious challenge for promotion to the I Liga.