As Euro 2012 ended this summer with a barrage of Spanish tiki-taka goals I was left with a dilemma. How could I keep up my interest in all things related to Polish football when the idyllic summer evenings had gone? Should I just, like most of my compatriots and in fact most Poles too, go back to watching the premier league with its over-paid, over-hyped superstars clamouring for attention? Indeed in some respects I should have done so, what with my team Reading making their way up to the top division for the first time since 2008. But something was missing, there was a league here too was there not? Now Poles constantly deride the competition but it couldn’t be that bad, could it? Well I decided to have a go at finding out.
The perfect way to delve deeper into Polish football seemed to be writing a blog about one of the sides who make up the Polish top division, the Ekstraklasa. But which team should I write about? This was a tough one. In my non-Polish football life I have always been one to shy away from the big teams, because well it’s all just a bit too obvious, a bit too predictable. Maybe that’s what drove me to support Reading, then in the English third division, when I was a nervous 12 year old (well that and my best mate’s constant nagging).
I didn’t want to support a Polish giant but I still had no idea who to plump for. To help me find a club I decided to ask around. I tweeted a famous Polish blogger for recommendations on an exciting up and coming team to follow. He told me to support Jagiellonia Bialystok, a team that only finished tenth (out of 16) in the Polish top league last year but, according to my contact, played enterprising football. Well this was a lead, although I was unsure whether I wanted to support a team which was 200 kms away from Warsaw. Armed with my subscription to Canal Plus (which shows all the Ekstraklasa games in Poland) I prepared to do some ‘research.’ Unfortunately the game I watched Jagiellonia play didn’t ignite my interest as they went down to an ignominious 2-0 defeat at home to Piast Gliwice. No, Jagiellonia wouldn’t do, I had to look elsewhere.
To save me from my indecision I talked to a friend who knows a bit about the Polish league. He told me ‘You can’t support Legia Warsaw, their fans are thugs, and they were the army team.’ I tended to agree with him as, not only were they a ‘big’ team but Legia stickers are plastered around Warsaw, often next to those of the father of Polish nationalism Roman Dmowski. My friend went on ‘No you should support Polonia Warsaw instead, they’re the team set up by Warsaw’s intelligentsia and they were founded earlier than Legia. They’re much more your style.’ Ok, I’ll give it a shot I thought.
So on a Friday after a hard day’s lecturing I got home, switched on the television and found Polonia playing at home to Widzew Lodz. I knew none of their players but Polonia’s style drew me in with their exciting wing-play, their positivity and their desire. I was intrigued. Of course it also helped that they got the victory 3-1. I thought that this could well be my team.
In the days and weeks that followed the idea of the blog blinked in my head intermittently without me taking any real action. That was until last week when I realised one of the stars of Polonia’s victory over Widzew, Pawel Wszolek, was in the Poland squad for their friendly against South Africa and crucial World Cup qualifier against England. What was even more compelling was that he might even play. With excitement I tuned in to watch him terrorise the South Africa defence and several days later cheered him on against the three Lions of England. I could feel myself getting hooked.
As this weekend approached my obsession was starting to take hold, I joined the Polonia Warsaw fans’ forum in an urge to seek information about the club, I scoured the club’s official media, I read any articles I could find about them from Polish news outlets. Finally I found they were playing live against Ruch Chorzow at 5pm this Sunday. Now, I knew that I had to leave that day for Krakow at 6.30 pm but I was desperate to catch some of the game. Indeed I was so desperate that I managed to convince a friend to watch the match at her house as it was closer to Warsaw’s main train station. I sat and watched with bated breath as Polonia started the game brightly but went behind through a counter-attacking goal from Arkadiusz Piech. Luckily soon afterwards Polonia equalised through an emphatic finish from Georgian striker Vladimir Dvalishvili after a route one hoof from their goalkeeper Mariusz Pawełek. The dynamic (now Polish international!) Wszolek was everywhere for Polonia and it was no surprise when 10 minutes before half-time he set up Polonia’s left-back Tomasz Brzyski to fire in making it 2-1 to Warsaw’s second team. As the ball hit the net, I let out a cry of joy. At that moment I knew that I was there. I had found my team. And then I rushed off to get the train to Krakow.