This past weekend, EKSTRAKLASAreview.co.uk editor Ryan Hubbard packed his bags and headed off eastwards to spend a footballing weekend in the Lower Silesian city of Wrocław. Whilst the trip was primarily a research assignment for the upcoming, epic “In Bed With Maradona Guide to Euro 2012”, there was still time to fit in some much-needed action from the T-Mobile Ekstraklasa…
6am starts are never good, especially when your working week normally starts with a 9am alarm call. But dosed up on energy drinks (no names mentioned, I’m not getting paid!), a misty Friday morning in East Midlands Airport departure lounge passed by without the need for the pre-set phone reminder alarm. Armed with just a backpack full of clothing, two months worth of both World Soccer and Four Four Two magazine, and a mobile version of FIFA 2012 helping to make a 2-hour Ryanair flight slightly bearable, a mid-day arrival into Wrocław’s Copernicus Airport left plenty of time to get the interesting – but less-important – sightseeing done.
The tour-guide, chauffeur and host for the weekend was fellow Ekstraklasa fan Michał Zachodny – a Wrocławian writer who you will probably know better as the editor of the fantastic Polish Football Scout blog or as @polishscout on Twitter. And after checking in to the hotel, we were already on our way to the first stadium of the weekend – the former home, and current training pitch of Ekstraklasa Vice-Champions Śląsk Wrocław.
Whilst the Stadion Miejski is already hosting the games of Śląsk Wrocław in the Ekstraklasa, the new facility isn’t quite ready to support the whole infrastructure of the club. Therefore the club’s main offices are yet to move from the old Oporowska ground – as are the main ticket offices and the all important club shop.
With a Śląsk Wrocław shirt and scarf purchased from the converted mini-portacabin, the next port of call was Wrocław’s beautiful city centre for a short sightseeing walk. With the city’s cathedrals, universities, and the magnificent Market Square all ticked off of the list, it was back to the hotel in time for the evening’s Ekstraklasa clashes between ŁKS and Cracovia, and Wisła and Lech – and to take some well-earned rest ahead of Saturday’s early morning tram ride to the train station.
Another shorter-than-desired sleep was interrupted by the Saturday morning alarm; and by 7am the 30-minute tram journey was already underway. The destination for the day was the Upper Silesian city of Zabrze – around 160 kilometres away. And with the 45zł (£9) first class train ticket purchased, and garage hot dogs and more energy drinks consumed, it was back to Wrocław Główny to wait the remaining 30 minutes for the Intercity Express…
…Or maybe it would have been if when I reached into my pocket, the train ticket was where I thought I had placed it. Cue fifteen panicky minutes of retracing my steps, and another ten to go and buy a second ticket.
After the two-and-a-half hour journey through the Silesian countryside, I was met at Zabrze train station by Górnik supporter and fellow blogger Dawid Kosmalski (@Angamoss on Twitter) who proceeded to show me the sight(s) of the municipality.
After walking past one of the roughest-looking housing estates I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, we arrived at what is remaining of the Stadion Ernesta Pohla. With three sides of the ground a building site, the 3000-seater main stand now cuts a lonely figure on the Zabrze landscape. The plans for the new 33,000-seater state-of-the-art ground adorn boards along Ulica Roosvelta; but even though work has progressed since my last visit in October, just a glance over towards the pitch shows that there is a long way to go before the visions become a reality.
The Górnik “Press Room” (I shall call it a press room for lack of another alternative) is located behind the main stand; and on a game day is filled with cameramen, reporters and commentators filling their faces with tea, coffee, and crackers smeared with pate. It’s not top-of-the-range stuff, but with the club’s financial problems and lack of facilities, Michelin-star food can hardly be expected. The facilities inside the stand aren’t much better – with almost every seat in the main stand having some kind of obscured view, the bulk of the action almost always seeming to take place directly behind one of the columns supporting the roof.
The one interesting view not obscured though was the sight of former Barcelona midfielder and Lech Poznań boss Jose Mari Bakero sitting just a few seats in front of my spot on the “press bench”. Cue the uploading of pictures to Twitter and Facebook in a half-hearted attempt to start a rumour of the Basque heading to Lechia Gdańsk.
A moment’s silence for the legendary Włodzimierz Smolarek was followed by a pretty dire first period for the home side. It took the visitors only eight minutes to take the lead, through captain Łukasz Surma; and whilst Górnik improved slightly, Abdou Razack Traore struck just two minutes before the break to leave the reduced-capacity crowd heading for their half-time refreshments feeling very deflated.
With the 15-minute break allowing myself to wolf down some mini-croissants purchased at the garage earlier, and also allowing Górnik boss Adam Nawałka to stick a proverbial rocket up his players arses, the second half became a much more tolerable experience for the Trójkolowi fans. Górnik wingers Prejuce Nakoulma and Paweł Olkowski – who had previously been marked out of the game by Paweł Janas’ tactics – were switched, instantly allowing them both much more space to attack Lechia.
The change paid off quicker than anyone could have hoped, as a foul on Nakoulma just 20-seconds into the second period gave Mariusz Magiera a free-kick in a dangerous spot. His cross evaded everyone in the box, until it was met by the head of Ukrainian defender Oleksandr Szeweluchin who powered home from close range.
Despite going close on a few occasions – and with the seven-or-so balls heading into the construction site behind the goal, maybe not always so close – Górnik had to wait until 13 minutes from time to grab their equaliser. Another Magiera free-kick was this time glanced into the far corner by the head of Burkina Faso international Nakoulma, cue a frantic final ten-or-so minutes of both sides trying to grab a winner, whilst trying to keep it tight at the back.
With no more goals, the final whistle sounded before a mad rush to the press area to grab a glimpse of a few players before the tiring walk back to Zabrze train station.
“Jeden bilet do Wrocławia proszę. Oh, errr… Pierwsza klasa proszę.
Now I really, really need to sleep.
Enjoyed this? Take a read of Part Two of this Ekstraklasa Football Weekend, where EKSTRAKLASAreview visits the new Euro 2012 Stadium in Wrocław for Sląsk – Korona, and somewhere in the suburbs for some sixth-tier Polish action.