What a week it has been for Polonia Warsaw and its fans. On Tuesday the club was denied a licence to play in the Ekstraklasa for next season due to huge debts, a decision which means Polonia will fall down the Polish league structure. From August Polonia will play in either the 4th, 5th or even the 8th tier of the Polish game. A sad fate for a club with an illustrious history.
The decision to demote the club has however had a wonderfully unifying effect on the Polonia fan base. Several months ago, the club’s fans behaved atrociously during the derby with their city rivals Legia, right and left wing fans exchanging blows in their stadium’s Stone Stand. This has happily been forgotten in a massive outpouring of sympathy and communal action in the last couple of days.
The most obvious sign of this was the spontaneous fundraising effort organised by the bar based within the stadium, the Czarna koszula. When hated club owner Ireneusz Król refused to pay the club’s security firm for Thursday’s final home match of the season, bar owner Paweł Puchalski got to work. In two days Polonia fans made their way to the bar in their droves to donate their hard earned money. By yesterday afternoon the Czarna koszula was able to raise the massive sum of 31,000 Polish złotys (circa £6,000), allowing the match to go ahead as planned.
As the game approached protests were expected against club owner Król, who has singularly failed to pay Polonia’s players and made promise after unkept promise since buying the club last July. We were certainly not disappointed. One hour before the match Polonia’s players lined up outside the stadium wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan: ‘Królu złoty, gdzie są banknoty’ ‘King of gold, show us the money’ (Król means King in Polish). On the back of the t-shirts was a hideous pig with Król’s head on top, a nod to the rather portly owner. It struck a fitting tone of defiance and humour for players who have been treated terribly.
I myself got to the ground an hour before kick-off. The atmosphere was pretty relaxed and lines wound their way around the stadium as people sought to get tickets. As we headed into the ground I saw an old man look up at the stand, shake his head and mutter ‘what a pity.’ There certainly seemed to be something special in the air.
The match itself held importance for the visitors Piast Gliwice who could qualify for Europe with a win or a draw if results went their way. The game however faded into the background due to events off the pitch. 15 minutes into the match Polonia fans in the stone stand revealed a massive tifo against the owner Król. On it was written ‘Kłamstwo ma krótkie nogi i podwójny podbrodek’ ‘a lie has no legs and a double-chin.’ Around the stadium fans also waved ‘No Król’ flags. It made for an impressive sight.
At half-time with the score 0-0, Polonia sent out hundreds of kids from the club’s youth system onto the pitch. The kids all had shirts with the slogan ‘Polonia to my’ ‘Polonia means us.’ The children got a wonderful reception from the fans, it was an emotional moment, illustrating that the club has an important place in the local community.
Polonia’s kids on the turf
The second half was rather more exciting on the pitch. If Polonia had the better of the first period, Piast were on top in the second. In the 67th minute Marcin Robak took advantage of a mistake in the Polonia defence to put the visitors 1-0 up and theoretically send them into Europe. Things got worse for Polonia six minutes later when centre back Martin Baran was sent off for a second yellow card. It seemed like the team from Upper Silesia was going to ruin the occasion for Polonia.
However this side never knows when it’s beaten. Driving forward in the 81st minute a shot from defender Igor Morozov was blocked with his hand in the area by Paweł Oleksy and Polonia had a penalty. Up stepped their right-back Aleksandr Todorovski who nervelessly tucked the ball home. 1-1, and Polonia had saved their honour! The game ended in a draw but just before the final whistle there was time for czarne koszule goalkeeper Sebastian Przyrowski and Piast’s goalscorer Robak to be sent off for a tussle in Polonia’s box.
So Polonia’s final home game in the Ekstraklasa for at least a couple of seasons had finished in a respectable draw. There has been quite a bond between Polonia and its fans this season. To show their respect and to say goodbye to the supporters, the Polonia squad made their way into the stone stand after the game. When they had left they had lost half their clothes.
Polonia players escape the stone stand with not many clothes
It had been an emotional day, and unfortunately all that was left was to leave the stadium and make our way to the nearest bar. No-one knows where Polonia will end up next season, and even whether they will continue to play at their stadium or not. But, if the community feeling that has been discovered in the last week can be continued, the club will definitely be back. This is rightbankwarsaw signing off.