19 mar 2011

The Great Derby of the Last Chance?

Region of Silesia is rich not only in carbon but also football tradition. On the day of the Great Derby of Silesia, when Ruch Chorzow hosts Gornik Zabrze, it’s the perfect time to look at the situation of football in that area, try to understand why the last piece of trophy brought home by either of teams was the Polish Super Cup back in 1996 following Ruch’s win in Polish Cup. And please remember that we are talking about clubs that have won fourteen Polish championships. Each.

Thirty minutes to the game. It’s snowing heavily, the Derby are in doubt. Fans of both teams are in good voice already, managers and players want to play. The decision is made. Game on.

Twenty-eight Polish championships between Ruch and Gornik but the last was won when Poland was still under Communist rule and even though both teams came close on the several occasions, there was no rational arguments standing behind any of them in last two decades to make their success constant. Instead, fans of both clubs saw Silesian firms struggle with finances, payments, license regulations. But it’s not only about Ruch and Górnik – there are also Piast Gliwice, Polonia Bytom, GKS Katowice and Odra Wodzislaw Śląski. All of them rather struggling than building the future their fans expect.

Twenty minutes gone and players of both teams are struggling to get on with snowy conditions. Tackles are flying in but there is no single clear chance to separated both clubs. Then Ruch decides to mount the pressure on Górnik. Visitors are making mistakes, hosts are getting closer.

In football, it’s all about reaching potential. In a region of miners, five million people, big agglomerations, cities literally being separated by single miles, there was always great tradition of bringing up fantastic talents, with unique character and qualities. In the dark communism, that was easier – clubs were secured by money coming from carbon mines but the new mentality of capitalism, very different to the one that was working so well for Silesian clubs,  saw them struggle to adapt and compete with sides that have people with money behind them. ‘Poor’ became a synonym for every Silesian club.

Finally, Maciej Jankowski breaks through Górnik’s defence but unnecessarily slows down and shoots wide, wasting Ruch’s best chance so far. Visitors can answer only with Bonin shooting over couple of minutes later.

The lack of any background and infrastructure is huge problem. Look at the ground Górnik Zabrze has. Then take a look where Ruch Chorzow plays. Move to Wodzisław Śląski, home of Odra to witness a ruin rather than a ground of a professional football club. Polonia Bytom? Slovakian midfielder, Michal Gasparik said that he could not believe what he saw during his one day trials there. He ran away to sign for Górnik Zabrze, where the situation isn’t much better. Piast Gliwice had a stadium that was more suitable for fifth league club than one from Ekstraklasa before the city hall decided to invest in smart 16,000 object. Finally, home of GKS Katowice. Looking well, fairly modern when you compare it to the grounds mentioned but in need of serious investments to match license regulations. Oh and there is the Silesian Stadium – once home of national team, witness of many famous victories over the years, fantastic history and now under reconstruction… but more of a athletics stadium than football. Fans laugh that in highest rows you need binoculars to see anything what is going on the pitch.

Half time and it’s goalless. Ruch is better organized, had better chances. Both sets of fans are loud but it is still snowing and it’s a struggle to make the pitch playable during the break. It’s much longer than it should be. Fans are going nowhere.

With as limited funds as Silesian football clubs have and had, only in recent years came the sensible and wise management, where every Zloty is counted twice and debts are being paid off rather than mounting. Even though some serious investors came in, they failed to make as big impact as they were expecting – especially at Górnik Zabrze where with new sponsor they were investing huge sums only to see their team relegated the same season. Also saga with Czech owners of Odra Wodzisław Śląski ended in despair as the club is now in serious financial troubles and struggling in the 1st League. GKS Katowice is only getting off their knees following couple of years struggling on daily basis, while Piast Gliwice never have been regarded as a rich club and they failed to cope with Ekstraklasa reality. Polonia Bytom problems were more than absurd at times and they are now the poorest team in the league… But finally, maybe not for everyone, the future looks brighter and fans have something to look forward to.

Only just as the second half kicked off, the lights went out. Fans kept signing, flares went up during ten minutes break. But the play resumed, once again. Nothing can stop the derby.

Ruch Chorzow seems to be the club that finally found its way to move into 21st century. Also first Polish club that made it to the stock market (without any success though), managed by woman, paid off huge debts selling their best players but now is clean and can move on. Good coach, wise transfers and necessary investments in the youth are now their advantages in breaking through the league’s mediocrity – all in all they’ve finished third last season. Górnik, following the relegation and comeback to Ekstraklasa football is now shaking off the problems that made them go down – got rid of several overpaid players, signed new ones, much younger and with hunger for success. They may be struggling to stabilize their form but are doing more than fine and will not be part of the relegation battle at the end of the season. As mentioned, Piast Gliwice is strong contender for a comeback to Ekstraklasa and with new stadium their plans may be also more optimistic than in other teams.

When the break was over, Ruch attacked immediately. This time, with success but that was with a little help from Górnik’s goalkeeper, Adam Stachowiak. He failed to catch easy shot and Marek Zieńczuk capitalized on his mistake. 1-0 Ruch.

And there are fans to look at. With as huge fan base as Upper Silesia region is, every team has a large group of devoted fans. Górnik had an attendance of more than dozen of thousands fans but the license regulations and old ground restricted that number in last season. Ruch always has at least six thousands of fans and with more interesting games their stadium, as old as the Górnik’s one, but the prime example of fans power lies in the Great Derby of Silesia. The ones played three years ago, not tonight. Fans started it, both clubs took it and it ended with one of the biggest games we had in Polish club football in recent years. Around 41,000 fans of both clubs gathered at Silesian Stadium for the Great Derby that was even advertised on a game between Atletico Madrid and Real! Fantastic atmosphere, special organization and money to the club’s budget but there were more positive incomes for both clubs from that game. The glory of the Great Derby of Silesia came back.

Ruch scored but never stopped attacking. Arkadiusz Piech, the best player on snowy pitch that night, was played through by Straka, he took the first touch well and scored from twelve yards. 2-0 Ruch.

Both Górnik and Ruch have real potential to match Lech, Legia and Wisła in terms of attendance but they need new stadiums. The first club have real plans for the much needed new ground and the second one counts on the reconstructed Silesian Stadium. Fans will fill them up, no doubt about that, but only if Silesian clubs will match the level of football and the expansion of soccer environment in Poland. There is no place for half-means, hesitation or resignation at any point of their evolution into football clubs that can be compared to even average football clubs from western Europe. I can see place for four clubs from Upper Silesia in Ekstraklasa – the human potential, talent, fan base, finances… It is all there. People must start to believe that there is future for part of Poland so rich in football history but there is a need for actions and from the people that are in charge of those clubs right now. Without any city hosting games of EURO 2012 it may be hard to match the level of investments  done by Wroclaw, Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk, Poznan, Bialystok, Gdynia and Lubin while Chorzow, Katowice, Zabrze and Gliwice are some distance behind now but there is still a chance. Chance that cannot be wasted.

Just seconds after Piech scored the second, Ruch attacked again. Simple cross into the box was cleared but Marcin Malinowski, waiting on the thirty yards, did not hesitate when the ball came. Sent a bullet straight into the top corner of Górnik goal and Adam Stachowiak could only watch how the ball hits the net. What a way to kill the game off. Ruch 3-0. Silesia is blue.

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