Date: 14 August 2021 / League: Polish sixth tier
Final Score: 2-1 / Attendance: approx. 100
There’s not much I can tell you about Cisowianka Drzewce other than, according to the club crest, they were founded in 2002. Enjoying an unprecedented promotion over summer, this match was their first at this level. According to the fans I spoke to, though, this might not be their last promotion. A club on the up, hopes are high that bigger things lie on the horizon.
Dead simple. Though a small rural commune of 500 people, it’s just a 30-minute walk from Naleczow train station – that’s a 100-minute journey from Warsaw with trains running a few times a day. From there, I took a taxi that got me to the ground for around PLN 25 (GBP 5).
Poland is filled with little easter eggs that you need to seek out, but I can’t think of many that feel more rewarding. I’d found out about the place only the day before, but after seeing someone else’s pictures I was there within 24-hours.
I would not be disappointed. The definition of weird rural bliss, the ground is a belter: at one end, find a children’s playground filled with climbing frames and slides, as well as a solitary bench at its very far corner – presumably that’s the away end. Towering over it meanwhile, and emerging from a white barrack-style building, is a wooden watchtower that’s an awkward cross between something from Robin Hood and the Gate of Death at Birkenau concentration camp. Very strange, and even more so as it appears there’s no way to get up it.
The opposite end, meanwhile, backs out onto an outdoor gym filled with mechanical contraptions, but it’s the sides that really make it: on one, find the dugouts practically swallowed whole by the greenery and trees that cascade onto them from above.
Then, opposite, is the real clincher – passing a signboard identifying the plants and flowers you’ll find planted all around, visitors pass a wooden hut constructed with rainy days in mind before reaching a series of higgeldy-piggeldy benches in various states of death. Painted red-and-blue (no idea why, btw, as the club play in white and I’m figuring the nearest Crystal Palace supporters branch is a few nations west), they present a stunning sight for the football romantic.
Beyond these, a precarious-looking scaffold serves as the press facility, and that’s fringed by a rickety fence that’s as straight as spaghetti. Rising gently behind, a curling pathway takes you up a hill that’s filled with barns, rural dwellings and blooming plants. Offering the best view of the match, the only thing impeding the sightlines are swarms of butterflies and the occasional geezer hauling a wheelbarrow.
I was determined to see the match from every possible angle, which is how I found myself drinking on a merry-go-round at one end, and under some monkey bars at the other – never did I dream that I’d be writing those words.
Half-time meant stocking up on booze at the village store (a friendly, shadowy bungalow outside which you find a bunch of farmers in overalls drinking on bags of compost), before returning to watch the game from a tractor that had been parked up on the hill.
I would have been happy to have stayed perched up there for the next two or three years, but instead an invisible hand drew me back to the benches. Word had got around that an Englishman was prowling around with a camera for the next thing I knew I had been pressganged into vodka shots. Now I most certainly can’t drink vodka, but turning down a shot from a Polish farmer isn’t too different from Bond rejecting a mission from the Queen – it can NOT be allowed to happen!
So that was that – vodka with two geezers blowing trumpets; herring sandwiches with a grizzled old boy; a chat with a lovely bloke whose son was making his first team debut, etc. It was the quintessence of Polish hospitality, the kind that leaves you glowing at the kindness and sincerity that strangers can offer. Bouncing from one group to the next, I was made to feel as rare and exotic as David Bowie. As magical as the stadium was, the people were even more so – without doubt, one of my favourite experiences in this extraordinary country.
Around The Ground
A village it might be, but this place is on the doorstep of one of Poland’s most pioneering restaurants: that’s Water & Wine, a fine dining establishment whose novelty is a menu paired with different types of water.
Close by, the town of Naleczow was created in the 19th century offering spa treatments to the nation’s wealthy – intricate wooden villas dating from this period survive to this day, and while the place has the atmosphere of a retirement community a new generation has been attracted to it on account of a beautiful treehouse hotel whose cabins are suspended above a picturesque ravine.
As for wacky, then 30 clicks away stands a UFO statue in the town of Emilicin that recalls an alien abduction that occurred in the 70s. Spook the locals by remembering to bring your favourite martian mask!