Date: 4 May 2019 / League: Polish fourth tier
Final Score: 2-0 / Attendance: 1,500
It’s a lazy generalization, but in essence these are two underachieving regional rivals whose Wikipedia pages talk much of financial mismanagement, turbulent backroom dealings and general skullduggery. And as always, it’s the fans that have paid the consequences and suffered the most.
Both, though, enjoy healthy support for this level, and there’s no love lost where this fixture is concerned. With Konin publicly ‘mobilizing’ a bumper away following, this was a hot bet for a lively ninety minutes.
Found just beyond a river-ribboned park bordering the Old Town, and conveniently sat next to the grisly-looking local jail, the 8,000 capacity stadium was inaugurated in 2018 after a long-delayed construction process.
But whilst this new build isn’t short on unique detailing, it has the look and feel of something commissioned by the municipality to do “a bit of everything”. As a result, there’s too much grey, too much emptiness – and to exacerbate that, you’ve got an away section divided into two segments and a running track that could have been specifically designed to kill any atmosphere.
This wasn’t just a dud, it was a disaster. Respect to the fans for trying, but the atmosphere just never got going. With storm clouds gathering, and the winds lashing the advertising hoardings onto the pitch, the songs of both sets vanished in the mix – something not helped by the fact that the home fans had chosen to gather in the furthest, highest corner of their stand.
The best part? A half-time spread of fizzy drinks and cold cuts piled on paper plates. The worst? That was yet to come.
When the rain came in the second half, boy did it come down in buckets. True, I’ve been wetter, just only when swimming. Left completely exposed in their sham of an end, rarely have I felt more pity for an away following.
But suspend your sympathy, for the wettest man in Kalisz that day turned out to be me. Choosing to shortcut through the park on the way back, I got hopelessly disoriented and ended up sheltering in a bush for over an hour. Never have I hated football more.
In over twenty years of living in Poland, not once has anyone thought to mention the town. It’s brilliant. Similar to a pocket-sized version of Poznan, it’s a bundle of baroque and art nouveau architecture. Shabby and raggedy in parts, you nonetheless get the idea that it’s a town making an effort.
I didn’t leave any time for sightseeing, but I did leave time for the pub – and a very good one at that. Eventually emerging from the blackness of the park looking much like someone that had completed SAS swamp training, it was a complete thrill to stumble into somewhere as the Piana, a dimly-lit craft beer den with a warming glow and welcoming vibe. Settling in with my book, it took about seven minutes before I was locked into a cycle of rounds with the city’s token Peterborough fan.
Credit, too, to the hotel I’d found – the Roma. Though not as fancy as the palatial exterior would suggest, it was a joy to wade back through the deluge and take a steaming, sweaty bath in my strange attic annex. Maybe it was the adversity of it all, but now I look back it feels a trip to strangely treasure.