After two months of twiddling of thumbs and listening to transfer rumour after transfer rumour, the Ekstraklasa finally returned tonight. The Polish winter break is pretty rough on Polish fans, although the fact that many supporters here are enthusiasts of other European leagues makes the break a lot easier to cope with.
I’ve written many times about Polish disdain for their own league so in the build-up to the spring round, there has only really been lukewarm enthusiasm for its return. In an interview on the Przegląd Sportowy website, Polish football journalist Mateusz Borek was asked why people should turn up to Ekstraklasa matches this spring, to which he replied: ‘We have some incredibly beautiful female fans.’ Another football journalist Piotr Żelazny was asked what’s so good about the Polish league: he paused for a moment before answering with a shrug ‘It’s ours.’ Hardly ringing endorsements for the league’s return.
Tonight’s big re-entrance was not helped by the two games on offer. The first pit two struggling teams against each other – Podbeskidzkie Bielsko-Biała and Widzew Łódź who were in the two relegation places before kickoff. Lo and behold, after fans doing their best to be excited about football returning, within 20 minutes people were faced with the stark reality of just how poor the quality of football is in the division. The game brought few clear cut chances and eventually was decided by a rather dubious penalty to give Podbeskidzkie a 1-0 win.
The second game seemingly had more to offer as Polish champions and table-toppers Legia Warsaw came up against mid-table Korona Kielce. This winter has been an interesting time for Legia with the appointment of Blackburn Rovers, Manchester United and Norway’s Henning Berg as manager, new owners at the club, the sale of offensive talisman Dominik Furman to Toulouse and the recent signing of fotmer Fulham and AEL Limassol striker Orlando Sa.
Legia hardly set the world alight with their attacking play in the autumn round and unfortunately for the neutral we saw more of the same again tonight. Their attack laboured to create any real openings in front of goal and Korona, who’d obviously come just to defend, came close to scoring on a number of occasions.
The second half saw the league leaders up the tempo a bit but still they played without much shape and desire. The most exciting part of the match came in the space of five second half minutes where first Vladimir Dvalishvili was sent off rather harshly for flailing out at a Korona defender and then Kielce’s Vlastimir Jovanovic also received his marching orders for a second bookable offence.
As the match crawled towards a seemingly inevitable goalless draw, suddenly Legia were awarded a soft penalty seven minutes from time. The penalty was then easily dispatched by Ivica Vrdoljak to bring Legia the points their play hardly deserved.
So the return of the Ekstraklasa brought two goals from penalties and three red cards, a host of misplaced passes and a lack of pace and dynamism. It was hardly an auspicious return. The league is going to have to do an awful lot better to keep fans from switching over in the next couple of months. Luckily teams such as Ruch Chorzów, Cracovia and Lech Poznań are capable of playing more enterprising stuff. If their standard drops too I worry for the league.