(Not Quite) Lighting up the Pierwsza Liga

Tucked away on a tiny group of islands in Poland’s North-Western province of Zachodniopomorskie, lies the small town of Świnoujście. With around 41-and-a-half thousand living within the town’s borders, it is so small that it doesn’t even feature on Wikipedia’s list of “Polish Towns by Population; However it is ranked as one of the richest areas in the whole of the country. Located just a stones-throw away from the German border, the town is an important place for tourism in Poland – ranked along with another beach resort, Sopot, as one of the most popular.

With 5 kilometres of sandy Baltic coastline, and a promenade featuring spas, restaurants, bars and casinos, it’s no wonder that during the summer months the town is inundated with holidaymakers. But even with the large amounts of money which flows around the city, Świnoujście’s tiny population has always hindered its chance to have a top flight football club. Well, that is until now…

Established in April 1957, Woljskowi Klub Sportowy “Flota” – the name translating directly as”Military Sports Club ‘Fleet’”, and paying homage to the maritime history of the town – started out life in the depths of the Zachodniopomorskie A Klasa (fifth tier). Following a few years of yo-yoing up and down, the mid-sixties saw the club finally settle in the fourth tier. However towards the end of the decade, financial problems tested the small club; and in 1968, WKS were liquidated, and reborn as Międzyzakładowy Klub Sportowy “Flota”.

Following an inevitable return to the A Klasa in 1970, Flota’s return to the IV Liga was swift. Capturing the signatures of six players from the regions biggest club, Pogoń Szczecin, Flota went on to lift their fourth A Klasa title just a year after relegation. From there they managed to consolidate their position for another four seasons, before successfully pushing into the III Liga for the first time in 1976.

With the arrival of the eighties, a period of complete inconsistency struck Flota, with four relegations – each one being successfully followed up with a promotion – in a spell of just eight years. Finally settling into the third tier by the end of the decade, Flota found themselves unable to progress any further. For 19 seasons, the club pushed for a place in the second tier; but whilst they did finish second in both 1992 and 2003, when they finally did find their way out of the league in 2006, it was in the wrong direction. Though as you’ll surely know by now; in Świnoujście, relegation is nothing but a minor blip.

Continuing their tradition of gaining promotion the season following relegation, the Islanders powered their way to, not only one promotion, but two in successive years – reaching the newly-renamed Pierwsza Liga for the first time in their 51 year history.

With two successive seventh place finishes in 2009 and 2010, Flota’s third season in the top-flight saw their highest ever finish. Led by young Nigerian striker Charles Nwaogu who netted 20 times in 31 games, Flota defied all odds to finish in third position. But unable to replace their star young striker who left for German club Energie Cottbus in the summer of 2011, the Biało-Niebiescy had to settle for eighth in 2012.

Wholesale changes at Świnoujście’s Stadion Miejski were to come in the summer. Tomasz Ostalczyk, who hadn’t missed a league game in 2011/12, went to a “bigger” club in Zawisza Bydgoszcz, whilst Mateusz Broź, Rafał Kalinowski and Damian Misan – who had racked up 58 appearances between them – headed to lower leagues.

As replacements, incoming coach Dominik Nowak looked for bargains. Young Silesian Mateusz Wrzesień and former Jagiellonia man Bartłomiej Niedziela were also signed from Ruch Radzionków and Arka Gdynia respectively, and have gone on to play large parts in Flota’s midfield. Former Lech Poznań and Piast Gliwice keeper Grzegorz Kasprzik was also picked up on a free along with ex-Górnik Zabrze and Coventry City striker Sebastian Olszar. 29-year old Kasprzik has gone on to keep eight clean sheets in the opening 15 games of the season, whilst 31-year old Olszar has managed to hit the net eight times; as Flota have become the Pierwsza Liga’s surprise package so far.

Eight wins from their opening eight league games meant that Flota convincingly lead the way ahead of pre-season favourites Cracovia and Zawisza; whilst a Surprise early cup win against Górnik Zabrze remains the Ekstraklasa side’s only defeat of the season until now.

When Flota finally did lose their 100% record with a 1-1 draw against Stomil Olsztyn at the end of September, they were already 4 points ahead of Zawisza, and eight ahead of Cracovia. Despite dropping their first points, Flota continued to show that they were genuine title contenders with home wins at Dolcan Ząbki and Warta Poznań, whilst travelling to Łódź and putting seven past struggling ŁKS.

Early October also saw Flota’s last-sixteen cup clash against Pierwsza Liga rivals Cracovia. Two goals from veteran midfielder Marek Niewiada – before his late sending-off – sent the game to penalties, where the Islanders eventually progressed with a total of fifteen spot-kicks successfully converted; setting up a last-eight clash in March with reigning Ekstraklasa champions Śląsk Wrocław.

Despite overcoming them in the cup, when the Pasy returned to Świnoujście just two-and-a-half weeks later for first ever league clash between the two it was the more-experienced Cracovia who emerged victorious. Goals from Vladimir Boljević and Adam Marciniak were enough to give Flota their first defeat of the season, as the Cracovians gained ground the leaders.

But with Cracovia dropping points just three days later at Nieciecza, successive wins against Bogdanka Łęczna and Kolejarz Stróże have maintained Flota’s eight point advantage over their nearest challengers. Earning a points total of 40 from their first 15 games, they have already amassed an incredible 14 more points than last season’s winners Piast Gliwice at the same stage. They also sit just nine-points off of their total from last season, whilst just another 22 points would give them enough to have seen promotion in two of the last three Pierwsza Liga seasons.

Whilst Flota may be doing extremely well on-the-pitch, they do face off-the-field problems which have to be overcome if they do earn promotion; most notably within their stadium. The three-thousand capacity Stadion Miejski lacks many modern facilities; most importantly floodlights. A rise to the Ekstraklasa would require massive renovations at ul. Matejki if they are even to consider applying for a license. The only other option for Flota would be a 230 kilometre round-trip to the nearest “Ekstraklasa-ready” ground in Szczecin.

Dominik Nowak will however be focused on ensuring his side go into the three-month winter break in the best possible position. Before the Autumn round ends in mid-November, the leaders face two of their toughest tests of the season in the form of fourth-placed Zawisza Bydgoszcz tomorrow (Sunday 11th), and third-placed Nieciecza next weekend. If they can go into winter break at least maintaining their eight-point advantage, confidence will be high amongst Nowak’s squad that they can go on to claim a top-two finish, Then, and only then, will they need to how they are going to light up the Ekstraklasa.

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