Sandecja Nowy Sącz, in blue, head out to play a pre-season friendly vs Cracovia. Photo: Marcin Łoboz, Watch Esktraklasa
Next weekend marks the kickoff of the new season of the Polish Ekstraklasa. There will be a new face among the Polish football elite – Sandecja Nowy Sącz, Ed Żelaski gives us some info on who they are and what we can expect from them.
After an incredible run during the spring season, Sandecja Nowy Sącz clinched promotion to the Ekstraklasa for the first time in their history. The club from the Beskid Mountains was mid-table going into the second half of the season (albeit with two matches in hand), but would end the year as I Liga Champions. An impressive run of goal scoring shot them up the table, clinching promotion ahead of bigger clubs like GKS Katowice and Zagłębie Sosnowiec (and done without the services of former wonderkid Freddy Adu who was rumoured to move there in the winter break).
Sandecja had never played higher than the I Liga in their history (and they only returned to the second tier in 2009). They had previously bounced around the lower divisions after the fall of Communism. There were no notable moments, and the club struggled at times to survive. Supporters could often get into the stadium without tickets, or could bribe the stewards with chocolate to let them in for free. The breakthrough came in 2009 with the team’s return to the second tier, Sandecja’s first season in the I Liga was almost a roaring success; the club finished third, narrowly missing out on promotion after a late-season collapse. The following seasons saw the club cement their second tier status, avoiding relegation while never really threatening the top.
That would all change during the 2016-2017 season, when the team would catch fire and easily clinch their spot in the Ekstraklasa. Prodigal-son Maciej Korzym (once one of the brightest youngsters in Polish football) returned from Górnik Zabrze and played a key role in getting his hometown team promoted. The club has also produced two other prominent names in Polish football – Piotr Świerczewski and Dawid Janczyk both got their starts at the club. Suffice to say, Sandecja aren’t the village team that some have made them out to be.
Maciej Korzym, Photo: Marcin Łoboz, Watch Esktraklasa
Nowy Sącz is by no means one of the bigger cities in Poland – it has a population of roughly 84,000 (smaller than Jaworzno, but significantly larger than little Nieciecza or Wronki). It’s southeast of Kraków, and boasts the second largest market square in the country. The mountains surrounding the city attract both hikers and skiers. The city is home to the Wyższa Szkoła Biznesu – National-Louis University, one of the first private higher education institutions in Poland and the first school in Poland to offer an American diploma of Bachelor’s of Arts. Nowy Sącz is an important center for the Polish railway system and contains one of the largest railway engineering works in Poland.
It will still be a lot to ask of Sandecja to expect them to stay up this coming year. The club will have one of the smallest budgets in the Ekstraklasa, and they will be playing away from home for at least the first half of the season, as their home ground does not meet Ekstraklasa requirements. Home games will be played in Nieciecza. The club had considered Cracovia’s stadium, but could not afford the rent. The club had a preliminary agreement with Mielec, but decided against it because the stadium lacked under-soil heating. The city has provided the majority of the funding for the team – they just converted from a city-owned team to a stock team (though the city will stay on as the majority holder).
Sandecja has taken steps to keep the core of the team together, and have added players with top-flight experience. Coach Radosław Mroczkowski signed an extension to stay at the club through June 2019. Last season’s attacking duo of Bartłomiej Dudzic and Filip Piszczek remain, as does midfield stalwart Wojciech Trochim. Tomasz Brzyski (a former Ekstraklasa champion with Legia Warszawa) and Mateusz Cetnarski have joined from Cracovia, while Jonatan Straus has joined from Jagiellonia. Aleksandar Kolev will strengthen the attack – he scored 7 goals in 15 appearances for Stal Mielec last season. He also has Europa League experience from his time with Beroe Stara Zagora. Two notable players have left – Kamil Słaby, a starting defender last season, has moved to Nieciecza, while Mateusz Wdowiak’s loan has ended and the player has returned home to Cracovia.
No matter what, however, Sandecja have earned their spot amongst the heavy-hitters in Polish football. They have proven that they will scrape together what they have to in order to survive.