Hailing from a small town just a few miles south of the Polish-Belarussian border, the history of KS Kwietnia Wybryk isn’t littered with stories of cup runs and international competitions. There is no bulging trophy cabinet filled with league titles, or indeed any major awards. But for a period in the 1950’s, the small club from deep inside the Białowieża Forest were feared across the continent.
With the Iron Curtain cutting a path right across Europe, the Eastern Bloc was a completely unknown quantity to many on the Western side of the continent. Besides the 1930 “Coupe des Nations”, it was only with the advent of UEFA’s European Cup competition in 1955 were Eastern clubs able to competitively play against their Western counterparts. Occasionally though, clubs from England, France, Spain and Italy conducted tours of Eastern Europe, pitting their skills against the best teams that the communist-ruled countries had to offer.
Hungary’s Budapesti Honvéd were widely regarded as one of the stronger Eastern sides during their Mighty Magyar period, whilst both Spartak and Dynamo Moscow were known as formidable opponents for visiting sides. Polish-Silesian clubs Górnik Zabrze and Ruch Chorzów, along with their league rivals Legia Warszawa were also known as hugely tough places to travel to; and it was during a trip to face those three clubs that 1954/55 French Champions Stade Reims helped to write Kwietnia’s name into history.
After destroying Ruch Chorzów by four goals to nil, the French side made the short journey to Zabrze to take on the steadily-rising Górnik. Having just been promoted to the top-flight, Górnik’s young squad battled Reims to a draw, leaving only a daunting trip to Polish Champions Legia before heading home to northern France.
But only a day before the game, a sickness bug in the Legia camp left their players unable to participate in the game; and not wanting to send out a weakened team in the match dubbed “Champions v Champions”, the Polish Army club withdrew from the game. With Reims having made the arduous journey from Silesia to the Polish capital, they were keen to quickly organise a game – any game – to make the trip worthwhile.
Upon hearing of the French team’s plight, then II Liga side Kwietnia Wybryk coach Paweł Żart decided to offer his team as a replacement for Legia on the condition that they were able to use Legia’s pitch at Ulica Łazienkowska. By the time that Legia had accepted the proposal, Kwietnia – who had themselves been on tour to Warsaw, playing against Polonia – had hardly any time to prepare for their surprise clash.
Reims boss Albert Batteux decided to rest star strikers Raymond Kopa (whose parents were born in Poland) and midfielder Michel Hidalgo for the final game of their tour. The French coach believed that there was no point to field all of his important players for a game in which they were expecting to win with ease.
Wybryk’s eccentric coach Żart was to rely on his part-time squad, which included a postmaster, two foresters, and a farmer, against a Reims’ professionals in what would surely be the biggest game of their careers. But to everyone’s surprise – including the 5,000 people who had turned up to watch the French side – it was a local baker, Rafał Nieuk, who put the Polish minnows 1-up after around 20 minutes. With Reims struggling to break past Kwietnia’s sturdy defence, the part-timers doubled their lead in the second half thanks to a strike from Andrzej Kłamca.
Despite a late rally, the recently-crowned French champions could only manage a last-minute consolation strike. They made their way back to France where L’Equipe had reported of a 2-1 victory – thinking that there was no way that Reims could have lost to a group of amateurs, and that whoever sent the scores back to France must have mixed them up.
News of Kwietnia’s victory soon spread across Europe, and during 1956 clubs from throughout the continent began to incorporate Wybryk’s Stadion Łatwowierny into their tours of Eastern Europe. Real Sociedad, AS Roma, Dynamo Berlin and Dukla Prague all travelled to face the small forest-surrounded stadium; and it was only the Czechoslovak runners-up Dukla who returned with any credit – playing out a 2-2 draw.
But despite turning over clubs from some of Europe’s top leagues, Kwietnia were struggling in their domestic competition. A relegation after only a season in the second-tier saw the club facing another spell in the regional leagues; and the club’s exploits on an international stage saw bigger teams looking to poach Kwietnia’s best players.
Both Nieuk and Kłamca – the scorers against Reims – were eventually snapped up by Polonia Bytom and Odra Opole respectively, the draw of top-flight football meaning that they could finally quit their day jobs. The team’s goalkeeper Wojciech Błaznów soon followed them out of the door, heading to promotion-chasing Pogoń Szczecin.
After a mid-table finish with a depleted squad, the summer of 1957 saw Stade Reims return to Poland looking for a little piece of revenge against the team that caused them so much embarrassment back in their home country. With Reims now a stronger prospect after the addition of a number of French internationals, Kwietnia’s chances were looking very slim; and even though the Poles took the lead early on, a Just Fontaine double before half-time sunk the home side. Roger Piantoni rounded off the scoring in the second half, finally avenging Reims’ loss two years earlier.
The defeat to Reims proved to be Kwietnia’s last against European opposition; now that they were beatable, the allure of playing against them quickly wore off. Over the next five years, the club from Wybryk dropped down a further two leagues. With no additional money coming into the club from lucrative European tours, the club found it extremely difficult to operate; and in the fall of 1965 – only ten years after their inaugural European clash – Kwietnia Wybryk were forced out of business.
Former boss Paweł Żart went on to have a fairly successful career at both Raków Częstochowa and Olimpia Grudziądz, whilst Rafał Nieuk went on to make two appearances for the national team. Andrzej Kłamca came close to signing with Wisła Kraków before an injury to the knee forced an end to his career.
The Stadion Łatwowierny was left abandoned for a number of years before another local team, Nieprawda Wybryk took control of it in the mid-1970s. Although a completely separate club, Nieprawda still honour the legendary Kwietnia team inside their small clubhouse, and even wear the same green-and-white striped shirts of their predecessors.
There has been talk of Stade Reims – who currently have Polish international Grzegorz Krychowiak in their ranks – returning to Poland to take on the young Nieprawda side in honour of their trips over 50 years ago, but so far nothing has come of the speculation. Maybe one day, the small agricultural town will see the return of the French side; and maybe Nieprawda will do what Kwietnia were unable to do in 1957 – beat Reims at the Stadion Łatwowierny. It may sound unlikely, but history has already shown that anything can happen in the Białowieża Forest…
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