Money is tight in Zabrze; it has been for a little while now. Abandoned factories sit alongside the train-tracks, peeking through rows of overgrown greenery. Empty coal mines act merely as museums, harking back to a time when Upper Silesia was the industrial powerhouse of Poland. Now even the local team – 14-time Polish Champions Górnik Zabrze – have a stadium which resembles a wasteland; three-sides missing, exposing all around to the elements. Money is tight at Górnik too.
With a cash-flow diagram resembling a broken dam, Górnik’s return to the Ekstraklasa last season was overshadowed by rumours of near-bankruptcy, a lack of a license and sponsors ready to pull the plug at any second. It was only when the city of Zabrze agreed to build the club a new 32,000-seater home, that insurance giants Allianz pledged their allegiance to the Biało-Niebiesco-Czerwone. Even then, the German company refused to throw any more money into the club.
A sixth-placed finish in their return season merely glossed over any cracks at the club. Players were sold where cash was available, and released where it wasn’t; allowing coach Adam Nawałka at least a small amount of cash to deal with in the summer transfer window. With the former Wisła Kraków boss preferring to rely on youth and loanees to build a squad for the upcoming season, the only decent amount of money spent was around £70,000 on midfielder Krzysztof Mączynski.
Allianz eventually sold a majority of their stake in the club to the city of Zabrze, forfeiting any money owed to them in return for shirt sponsorship. But even with added investments from Katowice-based mining group Kompania Węglowa and construction company Budus, the majority of the incoming funds are still heading straight out of the club to pay off debts.
The winter break has seen a fair bit of transfer activity both in and out of Górnik, with club captain Adam Banaś and former national team striker Tomasz Zahorski both leaving Upper Silesia for pastures new. Midfielder Adam Marciniak is also on his way out of the club in the summer after agreeing a deal with Cracovia, although if the clubs reach a deal this could happen during the remainder of the transfer window.
Nawałka has strengthened his squad with the signing of defenders Błażej Telichowski (Zagłębie Lubin) and Oleksandr Shevelyukhin (FK Sevastopol), as well as Korona Kielce striker Michał Zielinski. Experienced goalkeeper Norbert Witkowski has also been brought in as a back-up to Łukasz Skorupski; but with the Polish U21 star being watched by clubs on the continent, given the opportunity, the Górnik coach will surely be ready to cash-in on his young keeper.
Burkina Faso’s Prejuce Nakoulma has also been impressing during his loan stint at the club from Bogdanka Łęczna, attracting scouts from countries including Germany and Greece. Górnik have already agreed a 1 million złoty fee with the I Liga club, and will hope to receive five times that amount by selling the midfielder on in the summer. The club’s sponsors have already agreed to fund the transfer on Górnik’s behalf; knowing that if Nakoulma continues to show the form which saw him picked for his country’s African Nations squad, not only will Górnik remain in the Ekstraklasa, but that their investment will be safe too.
As well as their financial struggles, one of Górnik’s biggest headaches at the moment is the construction of their new stadium. The decrepit terraces of the Ernest Pohl stadium have mostly been torn down, leaving just the 3,000 seats in the main stand. Whilst construction has started on the Trójkolorowi’s new home, it is not expected to be ready before the end of 2013 at the very earliest. Whilst they will play for the remainder of the season in Zabrze, the reduced ticket sales mean that the club is currently missing out on between 100,000 and 200,000 złotys revenue per game – and that’s before food, drink and merchandise are taken into account.
When construction is ramped-up on the new arena during the summer, Górnik will be required to take up residence elsewhere until the project is completed. Lodging at local rivals Ruch Chorzów’s ground was never going to be an option, and playing at GKS Katowice is out of the question due to the stadium not meeting strict Ekstraklasa licensing guidelines. The only suitable stadium capable of holding Ekstraklasa games in close vicinity is the new 10,000 capacity Stadion Piast – home to another of Górnik’s rivals Piast Gliwice.
The added income that would come from Ekstraklasa football was a major incentive for Piast to allow their rivals to play at their brand-new home. Górnik would also play to increased audiences due to a large White, Blue and Red fan base in Gliwice, just four-and-a-half miles from Zabrze.
However, fans of the I Liga club were incensed at the thought of sharing their new home with one of their most hated enemies. And when confronted with a large group of protesting supporters – some even bringing custard pies to throw – the Piast board quickly decided against opening up their doors to Górnik.
With the Ernest Pohl Stadium unlikely to be granted an Ekstraklasa license for 2012/13, the only other realistic options for Górnik are either the yet-to-be-completed 50,000 seater Stadion Śląski in Chorzów, or the 7,000 capacity MOSiR Stadion, 60 kilometres away in Wodzisław Śląski. Neither of the two options would be ideal for Górnik, but may be necessary if they want to continue playing in the top flight.
One other way that Górnik will avoid having to make the difficult decision is if they are relegated from the Ekstraklasa, meaning that they can effectively play in any stadium. Although the club and the fans will tell you that it is the last thing that they want to be thinking about. Whilst the club should have enough quality to avoid the drop on the pitch, off of the pitch may be a different matter completely.
Górnik kick-off their Ekstraklasa Spring round with a home tie against Legia Warszawa, on Sunday 19th February at 5pm local time (4pm UK).