It’s been four years since I started to follow the Polish league. When I began writing about Polish football it was just after Euro 2012 when there was a good feeling about the place despite the poor performance of the Polish national team. However the closer I looked into Polish football the more I saw a world of bitterness, spite and pithy comments. The league was terrible, the national team was run badly and I was asked many a time ‘What the hell are you interested in all of this for, it’s a waste of time!’
Things seem to have come a long way since then. 2016 especially has seen a breakthrough towards normality in the Polish football world. The national team at Euro 2016 finally, for the first time in 30 years, made it out of a major tournament group stage and Legia Warsaw made it through to the Champions League group stage – the first Polish club side to do so since Widzew Łódź in 1996-7. On Wednesday night Polish football made a further step forward when Legia played out of their skins to almost snatch a victory over the multimillionaires of Real Madrid. All three of Legia’s goals against Real were wonderfully worked and finished with aplomb.
There are further positive signs around in the Polish league. Euro 2012 sparked a building craze and modern stadiums have popped up all over the country, something that has had a positive effect on attendances. Below we can see that there has been a continued upward trend regarding attendances in Poland’s top league since the dark days of the 1990s when corruption and fan violence turned thousands away from attending games.
If we compare the Polish leagues to those in Eastern Europe attendance figures seem even more impressive. Indeed in 2015-6 only average attendances in Russia were higher – with around 11,000 attending matches there.
There are still many things wrong with the Polish league, stadiums are regularly closed due to fan excesses (the use of flares), many clubs are heavily subsidised by city authorities and debt levels are high. Despite all this, the increasingly impressive football infrastructure and growing success of both national and Polish club sides seems to suggest that the future is bright. Or at least brighter than it has been for a long time. Whether the upward trend will continue is difficult to predict but Polish football seems to be finally edging towards a place where its famously skeptical fans can breathe a bit more easily. And that’s already a massive improvement.