So it seems that the lights have all but been extinguished at the Stadion ŁKS. With no sign of hope coming from any direction, the proud 104-year history of Łódźki Klub Sportowy is seemingly set to continue no longer. With a new generation of supporters coming through who have no recollection of their side’s previous successes, this is a now a wholly different ŁKS to the club which pipped Polonia Warszawa to the 1997/98 League title. Since their last real moment of celebration 14 years ago, it’s been considerably bleak for the Rycere Wiosny.
It took just two years from the title celebrations in May 1998, until ŁKS were relegated from the top flight of Polish football. Maybe it was seeing arch-rivals Widzew winning two successive league championships (1996 and 1997) which led ŁKS to sacrifice all rhyme and reasoning; all in order to prove that they could do what their cross-town foes had previously done.
Maybe if they hadn’t have drawn eventual winners Manchester United in the Champions League Qualifiers, then things wouldn’t have turned out so badly for ŁKS? Maybe not… Either way, the club’s unsustainable model for success was destined to implode much quicker than anyone could have imagined.
Six years of second-tier football was to follow for ŁKS supporters. Six mediocre years to look at what had happened to the club over the previous few seasons; all the while wondering if the good times would ever return to the white and red half of Łódź.
Whilst there was a little glimmer of hope for ŁKS fans, in the form of their 2006 return to the top flight – although it was a second place finish behind Widzew – the financial problems of the club were already mounting. Renovations at the Stadion ŁKS were required in order for the club to obtain a license; and despite the budget not particularly allowing for it, it was hoped that good performances would help to recoup some of the money.
More cash was thrown at the playing squad – the club desperately trying to climb higher up the ladder. Eventual ninth and eleventh placed finishes barely glossed over the cracks at the club; a top-flight club couldn’t be sustained for much longer. Despite finishing 2008/09 in seventh place, the PZPN finally decided that enough was enough; ŁKS’s financial problems had spiralled too far out of control. The club were quickly stripped of their Ekstraklasa license and relegated to the I Liga for the 2009/10 season.
Following their demotion, a number of players left the club and – rather unsurprisingly – ŁKS struggled to find their way back to the promised land. Like in 2006, they were forced to watch Widzew lift the I Liga trophy and return to the top-flight; but this time without the luxury of promotion themselves.
When they finally did return to the top-flight as champions just a year later, the club were already standing with one foot over the edge of the cliff. Again denied a license by the PZPN, ŁKS were forced to play their opening home games 40 miles away in Bełchatów whilst more modernisation was completed on their crumbling home.
The squad was significantly bolstered during the summer too; the club aiming to try to compete on their limited budget – but their opening day 5-0 loss to Lech Poznań was just the start to a disastrous 2011/12 season. More heavy defeats from Śląsk Wrocław, Ruch Chorzów and Bełchatów followed; and despite a victory in the Łódź derby, tensions in the ŁKS camp were running high.
Five different coaches during the opening five months of the season has also cost ŁKS dearly, both in stability and financial terms. When current boss Ryszard Tarasiewicz took the reigns in early November, the club was already close to financial meltdown.
Friday’s news that the ŁKS board were preparing to declare bankruptcy – although however much a shame – was inevitable. Their unsustainable spending and outrageous short-termism has come back to haunt them. Whilst other clubs in similar – albeit not as bad – situations, have set forward plans to pay off their debts, ŁKS’s efforts have come too late to make an impact. Revelations that three players refused to sign a “Recovery Plan” which would see their payments spread over 7 years, only added to the woes of the supporters.
With the exodus already beginning – most notably Marcin Kaczmarek heading across the city to Widzew – the club’s president has said that an injection of 2 million złotys (£400,000) would be enough to keep the club going until the end of the season. Although chances of an investment are slim-to-none, the supporters of the club are doing all that they can in the hope that the city of Łódź will pump a final life-line into the club. It may be clutching at straws, but football in the city thrives on the Widzew/ŁKS rivalry; and if they were to receive a reprieve, attitudes at the club would have to change completely.
ŁKS’s nickname “Rycere Wiosny” translates into English as “Spring Knights” due to their famously strong performances after the winter break. If they do manage to survive past February, 2012 will become the club’s most legendary Spring comeback in their history.