22 paź 2011

Oporowska: My twelve years

You may not remember the exact date, you may not recall who your team was playing against that day but you will never get out of your head the sight of the first proper football ground you have visited for the first match in your life. The stands, emotions, crowds, smells, chants, songs, curses… all of this can make a young kid scared, excited and surprised at the same time – at least that is all what I can remember from my first game, back in 1999, when my father took me, twelve-year-old kid, to the Oporowska stadium for my football initiation.

Twelve years later, today, I was standing near one of corner flags, watching how Śląsk narrowly wins with Podbeskidzie in what was probably the last league game played at Oporowska in club’s history. With a move to the new stadium scheduled for next Friday, you could see and hear that fans coming through the turnstiles were talking more about their connections and histories about the ground, rather than discussing the game. Victory came as expected but almost eight thousand people couldn’t care less this time about the score – after all, they have left large part of their lives there and even the sight of a new all-seated stadium for forty thousand fans can’t make it easier.

Through my twelve years I have witnessed promotions and relegations, I have been at Oporowska when Śląsk celebrated their comeback to Ekstraklasa in 2000, then when back-to-back relegations left the club in a total mess and at the lowest level in the history. Two years in the third division I will never forget – the poor quality of the opposition, small crowds, fans’ dark humor and absolutely no prospects for the future when there was a scare that Śląsk will go out of business. Through the years, I went to Oporowska with my father, then all alone, with my mates, and finally to work, as a journalist.

I was there when somehow more than 10000 people squeezed into four small stands, but I was also there when only few hundred fans cared enough to watch Śląsk in the third division. I jumped over the fence to join the celebrations when we finally won promotion from there, one year after play-offs against Arka Gdynia were lost (and, as we later found out, fixed). I remember the day when Poland (and Wrocław) won co-hosting rights for Euro 2012 and we couldn’t believe that in few years time we won’t have to sit on a dirty seats with rain falling on our heads. Mind you, back then we couldn’t believe that we will be missing our Oporowska at all!

I still have the ticket from arguably the best game of football I have seen, when Śląsk, then in 2nd league, hosted Polish champions, Wisła Krakow in round of 1/16 in 2008 edition of Polish Cup. The favorites were leading 2-0 at half-time but home side heroically fought back and almost won the tie in the extra-time, missing several great chances, as then they fall out in the shoot-out. That was probably the best day out at Oporowska with my friends in the last twelve years – I think we went to the stadium in a group of forty school mates! I have seen how Śląsk scored ten (against Motor Lublin) and nine (against Lechia Zielona Góra) goals in a single game but I have also witnessed the most embarrassing defeat when back in third division they have shamefully lost to a very small semi-professional club.

Ironically, I’ve missed the only international game played there, when Poland drew with Slovenia in the summer of 2008 as the prices were too high but I was there when Polish B-squad won with Austria “reserves” couple of years before. Only because it was great weather and it was for free.

This is not a beautiful ground. To be fair, it’s probably one of the worst in Ekstraklasa – small, after many refits and even now two stands behind each goal are still temporary constructions. Floodlights were installed only couple of years ago and even the biggest triumphs in Śląsk’s history were achieved at the old Olympic stadium in Wroclaw, not at Oporowska. In sixty-five-year long history only just this summer Śląsk played their first European game at their home ground, even though they obviously were participating in these competitions before. I remember when there weren’t any seats and just only the benches, while the away end was placed at the grassy and steep curve behind one of goals. Probably the only words that can describe the atmosphere there are “intimate” and “unique” but I doubt that fans from other clubs will understand that or appreciate what it means for Śląsk fans. They still laugh that the home support had to sing twice as loud at Oporowska to be heard as good as at the covered grounds. 

Twelve years. Last winter I went there to see a friendly game between Śląsk and MKS Kluczbork, which was played in temperature of minus twenty degrees – despite freezing weather almost two thousand fans came as well. So many memories, stories, facts, good and bad moments that could be told about my time at Oporowska – like when I went to the game with broken leg and the security guards checked my crutches whether I’m not bringing any hidden rockets or fireworks in! Or when I was a bit late and entered the ground through the turnstiles just to get right into the huge scuffle between hooligans and police and as I tried to get to my place, I ran through large cloud of tear gas and wasn’t able to see anything for most of the match.

Next Friday, I will be all in smiles at the first Śląsk match at the beautiful new stadium, but for today, I guess it will be fair to say that there is some regret and sadness. It will pass, definitely, but you can’t take away half of your life just like that and, as always, there will be things that you appreciate only when they are gone. For me, it’s Oporowska stadium.

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