27 paź 2011

Minnows prove they deserve a change in the Polish Cup rules

That wasn’t exactly the same Wednesday afternoon as every week for Limanowa’s citizens. Small, sleepy town seventy kilometers from Krakow had to close few shops, factories, bars and facilities at noon to make it to probably the biggest football match in its history. Limanovia, just few months after promotion from Polish fifth tier were hosting the national champions in the Polish Cup and they weren’t short of the chances themselves – after all, they defeated Ekstraklasa’s Lechia Gdansk in previous round.

Three temporary stands have been added earlier this week to allow more people in, up to 1500 though apparently 3000 came to watch the most awaited visit in Limanovia’s history. Kick off scheduled for 1:00 p.m. - after all it is only fourth tier and they can’t afford floodlights… yet – every seat is taken, tickets sold in one day as club’s chairman tells in television, shaking nervously, probably from the emotions and expectations. Club has never seen so many journalists at one game, apparently fifty of them came in search for cup sensation, while sponsor promised to players that huge bonus awaits if they somehow made it through to the next round, beating Polish champions, Wisła Krakow.

And, after first half, they weren’t that far from that money. Most of Marian Tajduś squad makes for their living in club and some business in Limanowa or just studies in Krakow but to tell the truth, after forty five minutes of football you couldn’t tell the difference from Ekstraklasa’s top club and 3rd League newcomers. Only maybe that players of the latter were all in smiles after Artur Skiba scored a true beauty from free kick just two minutes from half-time and that was deserved answer to Micheal Lamey’s header that allowed Wisła to take early lead.

They had their chances, until they were too tired of high pressing, making up for their football deficiencies, to match Wisła again when Lamey netted again just after the restart. Though visitors wasted few great chances, Limanovia couldn’t respond with anything but went off to deserved standing ovation after last whistle. Their awesome performance against the champions and earlier against Lechia was enough to gain them fame in Poland, though they probably won’t be even the best remembered minnows from this year’s Polish Cup edition.

After all, there were Rozwój’s Katowice reserves that lost to Legia not that long ago, Ruch Zdzieszowice won with Jagiellonia and now is still in play after sending MKS Kluczbork off and the biggest story is Gryf Wejherowo from the same level as Limanovia that kicked Górnik Zabrze out of the cup. For some time now, there was no better season for minnows in the Polish Cup than this year’s edition.

Unfortunately, PZPN (Polish FA) is short of ideas how to make their finest tournament more entertaining even though its fall has been well documented over last few years. They are just letting it flow, making minnows such as Gryf and Limanovia play one edition for almost two years – regional qualifications first and then, if promotion is won, on national level… and the next edition of regional one at the same time as well! Sick and troubling for already money-tight lower league clubs this strategy is, but nobody from Polish football governing body seems to care much about minnows – even when they are bringing most of the attention this year.

Currently, only clubs from top three leagues have guaranteed place in every edition of the cup on national level. But while at the top they have no clue how to make the Polish Cup more entertaining, money and sponsors attracting competition that is nowhere near close to the name given to it back in the past – “The 1000 Clubs Tournament” – there are answers to unstated questions. For example, why not to make it wider contest from the start and invite another two lower divisions to the domestic cup from the start? With small club’s bases, pitches and background being improved, investments flowing in from local authorities it will also encouraging for other to make up for their lacks, get sponsors and people interested in their situation.

This is only hypothetical situation of course but question about Cup’s future remains wide open. This will be, with highest probability, a competition only for the biggest clubs in country from quarter, semi-finals at best. This is not the question of who we (PZPN) will let it win in the end but who should be competing at the highest level. And, from this season’s evidence, it’s quite clear that ambition, certain quality, number of unknown talent in lower leagues should be allowed to the competition on domestic level straight on, or at least given a chance, shorter way to get their turn to face Ekstraklasa clubs.

As every strategy, this may have its defects as well and as always it’s all about the money. Even in the time of crisis and unwillingness to spend much more from Polish football governing body on competition that is not exactly much profitable for PZPN. And while we are at profits, the top clubs may not have the will to share the small sums they somehow gets with more clubs than every year. Even with that issue, I sense the biggest problems they might have with… football calendar. There is probably no more incompetent FA known to a football fan when it comes to setting the dates – even with up to five months without competitive football played in Poland and just thirty league rounds each season, Ekstraklasa and PZPN constantly moan about shortages of the dates each time there is a need to find one.

Of course, with lower leagues coming to the rivalry earlier and in bigger numbers, there will be games played on ridiculous hours in the middle of the week, like  the Limanovia’s game with Wisła. But that is probably the price we have to pay for years of not investing in basic football base all over the country and only rigorously new law that will even the chances and profits, push at least more of them into lower leagues, will allow us to have the Cup Poland deserves. Maybe next time Polish champions will visit Limanowa, there won’t be a need to shut down half of the town and people will just go to the game at new smart, small stadium with some floodlights at it?

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