The Big match Interview: Playoff for the IV liga: PKS Radość vs Przyszłość Włochy

It’s been a season of discovery for little old me as I have struggled to understand the ins and outs of the Polish football league pyramid in the Warsaw area.  This has involved traipsing around Warsaw visiting many of the stadiums of lower league clubs, and keeping close tabs on 90minut.pl a wonderful source of information for results at every level of the Polish game.  I’ve also ‘liked’ on facebook a whole swathe of small local clubs to fully immerse myself in their world.

One of the battles that has enticed me over the season has been in Warsaw’s Liga Okręgowa I (6th tier – hereafter LO) where my local team Drukarz Warszawa fought tooth and nail with PKS Radość for the one direct promotion place to the IV Liga (5th tier).  For long parts of the season PKS seemed to be on top, at one point having a seven point advantage over their city rivals.  At the end of the campaign however, Drukarz gained the upper hand and easily finished above the team from Radość.

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PKS Radość’s club crest

Despite PKS finishing in second their season is far from over.  Tomorrow and Sunday the club faces a two-legged playoff with a team from south-west Warsaw, Przyszłość Włochy, for a place in the IV liga.  Przyszłóść (meaning future in Polish) finished second in Warsaw’s LO II after a very successful spring round that saw them fly up the table.

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Przyszłość Włochy’s club crest

End of season playoffs in the Polish game are something of a rarity.  They are now only used in the lower reaches of the pyramid system due to issues had with corruption in the past.  Anyway, it promises to be an exciting contest.  To give us a closer insight into what we can expect I spoke to PKS Radość CEO, Przegląd Sportowy journalist and lower league expert Maciej Wąsowski.

RightbankWarsaw (hereafter RBW): Can you tell me a little about PKS Radość.  You’re a pretty new club, right? How have you been so successful?

Maciej Wąsowski (hereafter MW): Well first of all I’d like to say that PKS isn’t actually all that young a club.  In a year we’ll have been around for 18 years!  We’re a family club which grew up around the local church in the area.  It was founded by Mirosław Mikulski (Polonia Warsaw’s chaplain – RBW).  The beginnings were pretty difficult.  I remember at the start there were no changing rooms, water, toilets.  All there was were iron gates and a sandy pitch.  We started with two youth teams and one senior team playing in the C klasa (9th tier RBW) and now we have five youth teams and a senior team that’s close to playing in the 5th tier.

It’s taken a lot of work from a lot of people to get us where we are.  We currently have two full-sized pitches, floodlights and a clubhouse.  I also have to say that no-one, apart from coaches, have ever received any money for their work at the club.  What we have is the result of the passion and commitment of many, many people.

In terms of success, well already in the 1990s we had youth teams succeeding in the highest levels of provincial football.  We even at times beat youth sides from Legia and Polonia!  For me our greatest success is that several of our youth players went on to play at a higher level.  Dominik Dukalski played in the I liga (2nd tier RBW) and Tomek Bochenek and Łukasz  Budryk both played in the fourth tier.  The success of our first team is great but we’re most proud of players that do well at bigger clubs.

What’s also edifying is that players like Dukalski and Bochenek have returned to us.  Both of them are in our first team at the moment.  In terms of the first team, this season is the best in our history.  We’ve never played in the IV liga and we only have to beat Przyszłość in the play-off to achieve that honour.

RBW: You seem to be pretty active in the world of social media, why is that? Why do you think that other lower league Polish clubs are so bad at social media?

MW: Our activity is caused by the fact that my older brother Piotr (who is the club president) and I, are journalists.  We both work for Przegląd Sportowy (The primary Polish sports newspaper – RBW).  That’s why we make sure PKS is active in the world of social media.  Our club website is visited by 2-3,000 people daily, our facebook page has more than 800 ‘likes’, we also have a youtube channel where we put up the highlights from every match.  For a 6th tier club I think that’s an awful lot.  My younger brother Michał (who also plays for the first team) deals with all the social media, Piotr and I give him a hand when we have time.  We also used to play but now our bellies are a little large to do so! So as you can see we really are a family club!

As to why other clubs are not so active.  Well I think they don’t have people like us there.  At other clubs they want money for doing all of these things.  We on the other hand don’t ask for any money for any of this, we just really enjoy doing it.

There’s another bonus for being active.  We treat it as an advantage for the players who want to come to the club.  We tell them ‘If you play for PKS – your face will be seen.  Match photos and reports will always be put up on the site and highlights will be on youtube.’  It’s not like that at most clubs at this level.  Let’s not kid ourselves there isn’t much money available in the lower leagues that’s why you need to attract players in other ways.

It’s also helpful for our image that we have some famous names in Polish football.  One of those is Jan Szczęśny, the brother of Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech.  These kind of things give us more of a media profile.

RBW: How would you describe your season so far?  Have you reached your aims?

MW: This season’s been a bit of a roller-coaster for us.  We were in 3rd at the half-way point but I actually think we were playing better then than we are now!  We played more consistently in the autumn, in the spring we started off well winning five games in a row but then something went wrong.  We’ve still been dominating games but we’ve just not been as effective in front of goal.  Once we lost three in a row and due to that the team really took a hit mentally.

We’ve also been affected by the amount of games we’ve had to play in the spring.  We made a mistake because in winter we played too many friendly games, it’s really come back to haunt us recently.  One example of this was when we played Drukarz in the title decider and got beat 5-0.

Have we achieved our aims? Yes and no.  On the one hand we’re a completely amateur side, all of our players pay out of their own pocket to travel to games.  Other teams at this level have it a bit easier from what I’ve heard. So in that respect second place is a great achievement.

On the other hand at one point we had a 7 point lead over Drukarz and it all fell apart.  I think in general we’ve been the better team this season but we’ve just lacked a bit of luck and experience.  None of our players have ever played  in a promotion winning side at this level.  Despite all of this if we beat Przyszłość we’ll definitely have achieved our aims!

RBW: Who are your best players?

MW: We have several leaders in the team but I’d say our star is our captain Dominik Dukalski.  He’s had a fantastic season, scoring 21 goals and setting up another 19.  He’s really experienced, having played for many seasons in the fourth and fifth tier.  He even played in the second tier with Dolcan Ząbki but his coach at the time put him at right back even though he’s a typical fox-in-the-box striker!  He’s had problems with injury in the last couple of years but he’s back and playing better than ever.  He could easily play at a higher level but he has a good job and he doesn’t want to leave it.  His quality really makes a difference to PKS.

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Dukalski in action

But it’s not just him, we have leaders in every position.  For example in goal we have Jan Szczęsny who, if it wasn’t for problems with injury, would probably be playing in the I liga.

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Jan Szczęsny

An exciting one for the future is our midfielder and former youth team player Andrzej Kociński, who has made great progress over the last couple of years.  I think he could easily play for a III liga (4th tier) side.

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Andrej Kociński

There’s obviously a lot of other good players in the side but I don’t want to give up too many secrets before the play-off with Przyszłość!

RBW: How do you see the playoff going against Przyszłość? Which of the two sides is more prepared for IV liga football?

MW: I think both clubs are at a similar level on the pitch.  I watched one of their recent games with our trainer Ryszard Brychczy.  We recorded the match and we know all their strengths and weaknesses.  I think it’ll depend who has the best form on the day and of course who’s the most up for it.

In terms of organisation Przyszłość is definitely more prepared for the IV liga than PKS.  They’ve already played at that level whereas it would be our first time there.  Being in the IV liga would mean lots of changes.  We would need proper sponsors so the players wouldn’t have to pay to travel to games.  But for us these things would be pleasant problems to have, we want to test ourselves at a higher level on the pitch and off it.  But we need to beat Przyszłość first!

RBW: Ok, one final question for the Polonia Warsaw supporters who read this blog.  How do you think the new Polonia will deal with the Liga Okręgowa next season?

MW: It won’t be easy for Polonia but if several experienced players return to the club they should be fine.  It all depends on what kind of squad the club can get together but despite what people think promotion from the division is actually pretty difficult.

Polonia in the LO will be interesting from another point of view – in terms of its supporters!   Local Warsaw and Mazovian province clubs are all, almost without exception, Legia supporting.  I wonder what will happen when Polonia plays away and their fans go to watch the match.  In the LO there are no security guards.  Often the only people who do this job are people who do it in return for a beer or two.  I worry there might be some unpleasant situations as a result.  It’s no exaggeration to say that Polonia fans might have a pretty rough ride in the LO.

Thanks go out to Maciej for giving the interview.  You can follow him on twitter, visit PKS’ website, ‘like’ them on facebook and watch highlights of their matches on youtube.  RightbankWarsaw of course wishes them luck in their playoff games.  The first leg takes place at PKS’s stadium on ul. Wielowiejska tomorrow, 26 June at 17.30.  The return leg is at Przyszłość’s stadium on ul. Rybnicka 24 on Sunday 30 June at 15:00.  If you’re in Warsaw why not come along!

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