Date: 30 August 2019 / League: Polish fifth tier
Final score: 3-1 / Attendance: 250 (a guess)
None to offer you! The big problem with writing these entries a couple of years down the line is that the memory fades. I have no idea why I picked this match out, though I do remember getting to it.
An easy train journey from Poznan – 45 minutes. But then, disaster! The ground is a 20-minute walk in a straight west direction, but this being the height of summer I’d had the foresight to book a taxi so that one would be waiting the moment I touched down. No sweaty walk for me, I’d thought.
Bollocks. The cab driver was indeed waiting for me at the station, but the moment I told him where I wanted to go the geezer laughed in my face before swiftly speeding off. Git. More so given that this was before I had a smartphone. No clue where to go, no other drivers, and half-drunk from a few early afternoon pints in Poz. How I actually got there in the end is a blur, though I do remember ringing the driver a few hours later in a disguised voice and requesting he meet me at Poznan Airport at midnight. Not something I’ve done before, but in this case the bastard deserved everything he got. I hope he’s still waiting.
Many positives: half-sunk inside a manmade grassy bowl, the stadium instantly holds the eye of the seasoned ground geek. Decked out with sky blue seating, the two stands running its side feel vast and imposing even though they probably don’t hold more than a few thousand.
In basic terms: on one side, the home fans. On the other, a huge tribune whose sheer emptiness is disrupted by an away cage that’s been cut and placed inside the stand like one a giant cookie cutter. And leading from that pen, a layered stairwell trailing about a million metal steps into the disappearing distance.
As for the ends? A manicured, green slope at one, and at the other a strange VIP stand seemingly made from Lego (behind it, a VIP cabin with booze and food from which I immediately got kicked out of). What else? A tannoy announcer positioned inside the kind of marquee you’d see at a primary school sports day, and an abandoned hotel awkwardly positioned in one corner of the ground.
Good backing from the home fans and an equally rowdy following of 60 or so lads from Jarocin – though a small side, you can rely on them causing a few fan-related headlines a few times a season. Safely barred inside their impenetrable enclosure, that was never going to be the case on this day, but nonetheless the atmosphere had an excited pace throughout.
“Why don’t you come to the forest,” was one of the songs of the day, and existing bitterness between the sides was further fomented by reminders that Jarocin had stolen a Gniezno flag at a recent motocross meet.
As for me, I got progressively more drunk through the match upon discovering a little stand selling lukewarm beer for a fistful of coins. Good chat to the home lot who treated me with a mix of kindness and curiosity (and confusion – “what the f**k is an English bloke doing here?!”), and a second-half snooze on the steps of derelict Overlook Hotel overlooking the pitch. All in all, a nice day at an interesting ground.
I used to do a bit of work in Gniezo in the mid-00s at a time when most of Poland’s B-, C-, D- and Z-rated cities were simply soul-sucking to visit. But even in that era, Gniezno never was – it had a smart little old town and a glorious cathedral that filled you with magic. And it had a Dracula pub on a small little square – a dark little cavern filled with bat-like props and comedy cobwebs.
The latter has now shut, but I’m led to believe the old town itself has otherwise improved. Although I did not on this trip, there’s no harm that comes with hanging around longer and enjoying Gniezno to the max.
It Wouldn’t Happen In England!
Our stewards back home, bunch of mugs – the football equivalent of parking attendants. They’re a different breed in Poland, and in this case I’d guess they had ‘professional’ interests that went beyond looking for badly parked cars.
Not uncommon in Poland, this mob were part of a private ‘security’ firm whose choice of clothing said a lot. Dressed in balaclavas bearing the words ‘Fuck the Fame’, a label run by Lech Poznan’s hooligans, these weren’t the kind of stewards you would expect to guide you to your seat. Gruff as they were, I loved editing my photos later to find a Simpson’s tattoo on one of their arms. Spot it yourself and I’ll get you a pint.