Henry Wizgier

Down And Out

Down And Out

Every healthy national football league needs its lower feeder leagues to be in a good shape. You only have to look at England where the booming Premiership has an equally successful Championship below it, as well as thriving lower divisions at the third, fourth and even fifth levels.

In Poland it is exactly the opposite. If the Ekstraklasa can only be described as struggling, Liga 1 beneath it is barely hanging on. One club GKP Gorzow Wielkopolski actually dropped out with six rounds still to go, whilst Odra Wodzislaw Slaski did the same two rounds before the end. The main reason appears to be a general lack of interest in football below the Ekstraklasa – the exception being in Poznan, where the city’s second club Warta have been pulling in some exceptional crowds since moving into the Bulgarska with Lech. But apart from that, attendances in Poland’s second level of football have been very low.

Liga 1 champions LKS Lodz gates averaged just 4,186 throughout the season whilst runners-up Podbeskidzie Bielsko Biala could barely muster just over 3,000 fans per home game.

It is therefore no surprise that the further down the league ladder you go the less interest there appears to be in supporting your local team. Gates as low as 170 were recorded by Dolcan Zabki, who appear to be the worst-supported club in this league. Perhaps the reason for this apathy might lie in the lack of histories in most Liga 1 clubs and the fact that so many seem to come from small towns and even a couple of villages. Termalica Bruk-Bet Nieciecza and Kolejarz Stroze hail from such tiny communities in Malopolska you need a really good map of Poland to find them.

Liga 1 is full of such clubs whereas below it there are many who do have tradition and history, but no financial backing. Stal Mielec won a couple of Championships way back in the 1970’s and produced true world-class players like Grzegorz Lato, top scorer in the 1974 World Cup, Andrzej Szarmach second top scorer in the same tournament and Henryk Kasperczak. They currently languish third from bottom of League 3 Lubelsko-Podkarpacka region which is the actual 4th level of Polish football, and look like getting relegated even lower still.

Another former Ekstraklasa winner, Szombierki Bytom, can be found at the 6th level while four- times cup winners Zaglebie Sosnowiec, are down in the third level. It is also amazing that a large city such as Lublin (600,000 metropolitan population) will next season see its premier club Motor playing in Regional Liga 3, the fourth level. Other large cities like Katowice, Czestochowa and Radom whose clubs have tasted life at the top, are also struggling deep in the nether regions.

Poland has the population and infrastructure to support at least two strong fully – professional leagues, but not, it would appear, either the money or interest.

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Henry Wizgier

Henry Wizgier, PSN Columnist, is a football writer and currently a semi-retired freelance jouralist. His pre-PSN resume includes writing about football for various British and Australian newspapers and magazines.

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