Snow lays all around us here in the Polish capital, but at Rightbankwarsaw we’re not hibernating. This week it’s time to take a look at a team from the 6th tier of the Polish league system, the Liga Okręgowa. The team I’ll be writing about is GKS Świt Warszawa, who play their games at Oświatowa 12 in the Western Warsaw district of Bemowo. To help me understand the inner workings of the club I had a chat with Świt’s right-back Robert Strzelecki.
GKS Świt Warszawa
Source: Robert Strzelecki
Świt have a long, if not particularly successful, history which has never seen them rise above the 3rd tier of the Polish league system.* (*Disclaimer the Polish lower leagues have experienced multiple reorganisations, this makes a narrative relatively difficult to tell!). Świt, which in Polish means ‘dawn’, initially emerged as the sun came up on the newly independent post First World War Polish state. The club was originally set up in 1923 by amateur cyclists employed by the city’s Gasworks. In its early days the club was called Robotniczy Klub Sportowy Świt (Workers’ Sporting Club Świt) and played friendly games in the Powiśle area of Warsaw.
The 1920s was a period of dynamic growth in Polish football. At the time there was only one national league, the Ekstraklasa, and all other football was organised provincially, with the winners of each province competing with each other for the right to perform in the Ekstraklasa. In 1925 Świt signed up to take part in the Warsaw provincial system and for a number of years they played in the Warsaw A Klasa, the effective second tier of the inter-war Polish league. Despite this they never made it to the Ekstraklasa. The 1920s also saw Świt compete in annual tournaments between Varsovian Workers’ sporting clubs. In 1930 as a result of their success in this tournament Świt had the honour of an audience with the then Polish President Ignacy Mościcki.
Polish President Ignacy Mościcki
Source: Polish wikipedia
Unfortunately Świt disappeared from the football map in 1937, only for the club to re-emerge in the wake of the Second World War. The club was reactivated in 1945 by Stanisław Bzdak a former Świt and Polonia Warsaw player who, like many Poles at the time, had returned from a German concentration camp. In these initial post-war years Świt played its games in the Warsaw province’s C Klasa, the then 4th tier. In 1949 Świt were affected by the full-scale reorganisation introduced by Poland’s Communist authorities. Communists, as we all know, like to centralise and are not the biggest fans of private property. This had an impact on the beautiful game as well. In 1949 Communist authorities removed clubs’ rights to exist as independent legal entities and forced them to be subordinate to ‘sporting associations.’ It was in this period that police clubs took on the ‘Gwardia’ moniker for example. Świt thus became a part of the public service sporting association and was renamed ‘Zrzeszenie sportowe ‘Ogniwo.’ It took the death of Stalin and the Polish October for these government regulations to be relaxed and in 1957 RKS Świt was reborn.
The early 1960s saw relatively successful times for the newly reformed club. In 1960 they moved to their current home Oświatowa 12 and advanced to the Liga Okręgowa which was then the 3rd tier of Polish football. From the mid-1960s onwards however the club went through a difficult financial period and it almost went out of existence. The 1970s brought relatively better times for Świt, in 1974 the club’s stadium was renovated and in 1978 they found themselves in the Polish 5th tier. In 1987 the club made it to the Liga Okręgowa (the then 4th tier), however they were relegated after a single season.
The fall of Communism saw Świt take on its current name GKS (Gazowniczy Klub Sportowy – Gas Sporting Club). The early post-Communist years were not kind to Świt and by 1998 they found themselves in the A Klasa, the 6th tier of Polish football. However after two promotions in three years the club rose to the 4th tier in 2001, this level unfortunately proved too high for them as they were relegated after one season. The last decade has seen Świt fall as low as the current A Klasa, the 7th tier, in 2010. Luckily the club was able to pull out of this slump. In 2011-2 Świt finished as champions of the Warsaw A Klasa and currently sit in mid-table in the Liga Okręgowa.
Świt have thus had a relatively turbulent if low-lying history. What’s the situation like at present? I spoke to Robert Strzelecki to find out:
RightbankWarsaw: What’s the atmosphere like at Oświatowa 12? Do a lot of fans come to the matches?
Robert Strzelecki: ‘About 70-100 people come to watch our games. The people who come are normally pretty relaxed, they drink beer and shout from time to time ‘Świt gola!’ Obviously fans sometimes hurl abuse at the referee and linesmen, but they normally behave appropriately. There are exceptions of course, for example last year we played Relax Radziwiłłów in a game which we needed to win to guarantee promotion. The fans got rather riled up and started throwing flares at the opposition’s bench. The game stopped for a couple of minutes but it eventually got under way again and the result stood. Our fans sometimes even travel with us for away games. This season they travelled with us to Nadarzyn (a town 20kms south-west of Warsaw).’
RightbankWarsaw: Is it enjoyable to play for the club? Is there a good atmosphere around the place?
Robert Strzelecki: ‘The club’s often like a second home in which you have a lot of friends. I regularly stay after games and chat with the other players and we have a beer. There’s about 4 or 5 of us who spend a lot of time at the club. We come for the matches at 11am and we leave at about 6 or 7 pm. We sometimes even sunbathe on the pitch and talk about football and other things. Our manager makes sure there is a good atmosphere, we have barbecues and various events. Obviously not everyone loves each other but we generally get on well.
I’ve been at the club for seven seasons now so I’d quite like to play somewhere else for a while just to try something different. But we’ll see.’
RightbankWarsaw: What are the future plans for the club? Do you have a chance of moving up the league system?
Robert Strzelecki: ‘It’s difficult to talk about future plans really because the club has financial difficulties and our main aim is to survive. We think normally two or three months ahead but not really any further. We just got promoted to the Liga Okręgowa (LO) from the A Klasa, I think that the LO is basically our level. Our aim this season is to stay in the LO. At the moment we are 10th* (*15th goes down) so I think we should be fine.’
RightbankWarsaw: What’s the difference between the LO and the leagues above and below?
Robert Strzelecki: The higher you go up the league system the greater the difference in standards gets. What I mean is that there’s a bigger difference between the IV Liga and the LO than there is between the A and B Klasa. I’ve never played in the IV Liga but in that league you need a bit of money to be able to compete. Away trips in the IV Liga are sometimes halfway across the province.
The main formal difference between the LO and the B Klasa is that in the B Klasa there are no linesmen. This makes the LO a much easier league to play in, as you can actually play for offside! Also in the LO players take games more seriously. The B Klasa is normally ok but our reserves played there this year and one of our players was attacked and punched in the face. In the B Klasa scams are also quite common. One example of this is playing using somebody else’s club registration documents. For example 10 years ago in a Świt reserve game the other team’s goalkeeper was supposed to show his documents after the game. It turned out he didn’t have any documents so he ran away into the woods! When the case was investigated by the Mazovian provincial football association (MZPN) the actual registered player turned up and tried to convince the hearing he had played in the match. He almost got away with it but was caught as he hadn’t known that he had had to face a penalty!
The B Klasa is also interesting as the standard of pitches is pretty terrible. Often there are no changing rooms or running water. One final difference is the use of alcohol. In the B Klasa it’s pretty common for players to play the night after having a few too many drinks, in the LO that’s much less common.
RightbankWarsaw: Are there any scouts at your matches? Do Świt players ever move to bigger clubs?
Robert Strzelecki: It’s really difficult to move to bigger teams, I don’t think that scouts go to LO games. The best way to move up the ladder is by visiting a club from the IV or III Liga and trying out there. We sign players who turn up at the ground and ask if they can have a trial and then we see if they can make it or not. The other way we get players is if our players have friends who want to try out. Our club has no scouts.
RightbankWarsaw: What are the main problems for Świt right now?
Robert Strzelecki: Almost all of our problems are caused by the club’s poor financial situation. The club is owned by PGNiG one of the biggest gas and crude oil concerns in Poland. PGNiG at one point aimed to build us a stadium but as it’s a state-owned company there was a lot of politicking involved in the affair. In the end there were company elections and the new President didn’t want to build the stadium. PGNiG does provide us with some money but only really enough to survive.
Świt’s proposed new stadium
Source: Robert Strzelecki
The main way these financial limitations affect us is regarding our training facilities. Simply put we don’t have any! It’s most difficult in October and November when it gets dark. Normally we train on the side pitches at Oświatowa 12 but they don’t have floodlights, this means in autumn we have to train on our main pitch as it’s close to the street-lights . This obviously has a bad effect on the pitch! It’s also bad in winter as we don’t really have much money to hire out a sports-hall in which to train.
I think the local authorities are mostly to blame for the bad situation. I understand that providing local children with hot dinners is more important than a club from the LO but I think that helping us would also provide something useful for the community.
Thanks go to Robert Strzelecki for speaking to me. Świt’s website is http://switwarszawa.futbolowo.pl/index.php and their facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/Swit.Warszawa. RightbankWarsaw wishes the team success in the spring round of games!