It’s not quite like watching Brazil…

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When Edi Andradina’s free-kick sailed over the Zagłębie Lubin wall, and into the top corner of Michał Gliwa’s goal, it marked the end of a long journey back to the top flight of Polish football for one of Poland’s best supported clubs. Pogoń Szczecin‘s eventual 4-0 victory against one of 2012’s form sides gave them their first win in the Ekstraklasa since their relegation in 2007. With financial problems forcing that relegation to become a “triple relegation”, it has been a long way back for the Portowcy – but the real story starts long before then…

Having been formed by exiled supporters of LKS Pogoń Lwów (of whom you can read the story HERE), Pogoń Szczecin worked their way up through the leagues in an admirable fashion. With the support of the local dockers, Pogoń managed their highest ever finish – a second place – in the mid-eighties. A short European adventure followed, but just two years after becoming vice-champions, Pogoń suffered relegation. Despite returning to the top-flight at the first attempt, the club lasted another four terms before suffering the same fate.

Again promoted at the first attempt, three seasons of top-flight consolidation preceded another second-place finish – nine points behind Wisła Kraków – during the 2000/01 season. But like their previous vice-championship, Pogoń lasted just another two seasons before relegation. A change of ownership in 2002 proved disastrous for the club; and after picking up just nine points from 30 games, financial problems consumed the club, and they were relegated to the A-Klasa – the sixth tier.

However, the club never dropped down to that level. The owner of second-level club MKS Piotrcovia, Antoni Ptak, decided to take over Pogoń, transferring their license over to a newly-renamed MKS Pogoń. Despite initial reservations over the new club, the club’s fans were quickly turned around by another quick return to the country’s elite. But after a mid-table finish and an unsuccessful attempt in the Intertoto Cup, many changes were forced upon the club by Ptak – changes that eventually would contribute to the downfall of Pogoń.

After a poor showing in the Autumn of 2005 which saw Pogoń head into winter in ninth place, Ptak decided that the best course of action was to sell all of the players and replace them with a new team full of players from Brazil.

Around the same time, Ptak also established a training centre for the club in a small town called Gutów Mały, near to Łódź. This also became the base for Pogoń’s players during the season – meaning a 500km trip to play home games!

With twelve Brazilians signed in February of 2006, Pogoń made history in April of the same year by becoming the first team in Polish history to field an entire team of non-Poles. With ten outfield players from Brazil backed up by Slovakian goalkeeper Boris Peskovic, Pogoń went down 2-0 away at GKS Bełchatów and eventually finished in 11th position.

Partly due to the unnecessary journeys, and partly down to a lack of talent within the squad, Pogoń were again relegated the following year after finishing dead last. With Antoni Ptak wanting no more involvement with the relegated club, its assets were stripped and sold on.

After a summer of uncertainty, much to the delight of supporters, Pogoń Szczecin were eventually re-established ahead of the new season. Although they were to restart the 2007/08 season in the IV Liga Zachodniopomorska division, the club kept the traditional logo and colours, and the loyal fans flocked to the stadium in droves.

Promotion after just one season in the fourth tier saw the Portowcy climb into the newly-renamed II Liga, having built a new squad from scratch. Missing out on a second successive promotion, the owners of the club entered into talks with the owners of Ekstraklasa side Dyskobolia Grodzisk Wielkopolski about a merger of the two clubs. A possible deal would see the Dyskobolia’s license, and their entire staff, transferred to Szczecin, and Pogoń would return to the top flight. But after opposition from Pogoń’s fans, the deal fell through and Dyskobolia eventually merged with Polonia Warszawa. Not wanting to buy their place amongst the country’s elite, the fans patience was quickly rewarded as 18 wins and eight draws during 2008/09 saw Pogoń promoted back to the Pierwsza Liga.

Despite finding their way back to the second tier with relative ease, the final step to the Ekstraklasa did prove to be a little more difficult for Pogoń. Finishing in fifth and sixth during the 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons, the club worked their way through a total of four different coaches. A lack of consistency combined with both a poor Spring round in 09/10, and a very disappointing mid-season in 10/11, meant that Pogoń could only watch the promotion races unfold from a distance.

However, the appointment of coach Marcin Sasal in the summer of 2011 changed things. The new boss dealt well in the transfer window, most notably bringing in Hernani and Emil Noll to strengthen the back line, and both Donald Djousse and Vuk Sotirovic to play up front.

Arguably the biggest signing though, was that of an almost 37-year old striker from Korona Kielce, by the name of Edi Andradina. One of Antoni Ptak’s original Pogoń Brazilians, Andradina was a firm favourite amongst the Portowcy faithful. Despite the club’s relegation, the striker had been one player to come out of the campaign with any credit – even making it into the 2006/07 Foreigners team of the year.

Despite replacing Sasal with Ryszard Tarasiewicz towards the climax of the season, the club had done enough beforehand, and then found form at just the right time to finish in second position behind champions Piast Gliwice. Andradina’s 11 goals played a massive part in helping Pogoń Szczecin back into the top flight for the first time in six years; and upon their return to the big time it was only fitting that a man who has been with the club at its lowest ebb, was the one to smash home their first goal.

Pogoń Szczecin may not play like Brazil, look like Brazil, or in fact have anything really in common with Brazil; but, for all of the wrong reasons, they will always be associated with the South American country thanks to that infamous team. Much has changed since those 10 Brazilians took to the pitch in Bełchatów, but the new and rejuvenated Pogoń Szczecin is much stronger because of it – and they’ll be aiming to show that this season.

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If you haven’t already, you really, REALLY, need to check out the first edition of #Ekstraklasa Magazine. 114-pages of Ekstraklasa articles, interviews, and more, all available in one FREE PDF download!

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