29 kwi 2012

Old ghosts come back in Łódź to haunt Ekstraklasa fans

In one of the most frantic endings to the league season, where top five clubs are fighting for the title, separated by just two points, there was a familiar, sad picture that almost brought all the bad memories that we thought are past us. Widzew Łódź hosted Lechia Gdansk and if there was one game that could be defined as the worst and most sickening, that would be the one.

Lechia won 1-0, should end up winning higher but even when they were given doubtful penalty, Razack Traore put the ball over the bar. It is not that this game was boring, the quality was very poor… No, it’s not that way.

Widzew players simply did not care. They weren’t even trying, their effort simply wasn’t there as it should be. They are paid to play football as good as they can, even better if the circumstances are right but on that early Saturday afternoon, they did not care at all. They just went on the pitch, run about for ninety minutes, got back to the showers and went home.

Yes, there are suspicions of selling the game or giving the points to the rivals and, partly, those voices are right. Going to the stadiums for more fifteen years now, I have seen some of the worst matches during the corruption affair that were clearly fixed, and I could only laugh. Laugh and cry. Yesterday, there were not only glimpses of what happened everywhere in the country, for example, at the Olympic Stadium in Wrocław, where local Polar played on the second tier (they are now playing at eight out of nine levels in Poland) and were going down – selling whatever they could. Matches, mostly.

This will be hard to confirm or even to make an accusation but these kind of performances will be put under the pressure of questions whether players sold it. I was sick of them, each time a referee, a goalkeeper or a defender made a mistake, they were said to have sold the game, straight away. I knew or at least hoped that it was down to how poor they were, no matter what pessimists said.

I was there, I saw how games are sold, I suffered because my team was losing or selling or even buying. It was so obvious at many different occasions and the very first reason to think it was fixed was no effort from the players.

On Saturday, Wojciech Kowalczyk, who played at Legia, Betis Seville and few other clubs, working as a pundit for weszlo.com website, rated the performance of each Widzew player with 1 out of 10 mark. The same happened to all Lechia players. And quite deservedly so.

They were not even trying. If someone could even argue that they were at least worthy winners out of such poor tie… No. They weren’t. They were as woeful, as bored, as simulating play as Widzew. Lechia won the game that probably was decisive for them and their future – to stay in the Ekstraklasa – but after last whistle there was no cheering, no happiness. They were probably too ashamed to express their joy because of what happened during that ninety minutes.

Nothing. Nothing had happened in Łódź. This was a test-match, or not even that. This wasn’t even Sunday league standards, only because footballers playing as amateurs are giving more from themselves each weekend. They are at least trying, for heaven’s sake.

The worst thing? Widzew ultras celebrated that defeat, chanting that ŁKS is going down thanks to their defeat. This is another reason to think why Łódź, once capital of Polish football, is now in total decline, a ruin, an avoidable point on the map for those footballers that are not desperate. The chant that celebrated defeat was “Jews are going down”, referring to their city rivals. If Saturday’s games and performances showed something, is that ŁKS deserved to be in the Ekstraklasa next season and Widzew not. It may be only one weekend, of course, but at least they tried, fought and haven’t embarrassed themselves with accusations of match fixing or, what is equally wrong, not fulfilling their contracts.

About 6000 people came to that match. Apart from those who were actually happy while watching their team lose, rest should go and demand to be given back money they paid. Or the board should make all the players pay for the tickets. Anything to make fans believe that it was one off, a bad day in the office, give them a reason to think, that this match wasn’t fixed. Because if everything stays as it is, if everything will be put in the past like it did not happen, this will mean one thing – that there is no respect for those paying attention to the Polish league.

That would be disastrous to the trust and faith in clean rivalry in the Ekstraklasa that was slowly growing in steadily increasing number of fans visiting the stadiums each weekend. Those following the Polish football may know how hard it is to build a reputation on the ruins, yet Widzew and Lechia only proved how easily it may be taken down again.

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