Date: 8 July 2023 / League: pre-season friendly
Final Score: 1-1 / Attendance: 350
I don’t need all that much hindsight to call out 22/23 as being an absolute classic of a season. Even so, when it finished for me, at the end of June, my relief was palpable – don’t get me wrong, I love the football travel, but both mentally and physically there comes a point when you hit your limit. This was mine.
True, I’d said that a couple of times before over the last few months, but never had I meant it with the same sincerity. The idea of a month off, it just sounded like bliss. A return to normal life – spending Saturdays with the dogs, Sundays with a hangover. No trains, no crack-of-dawn starts, no people chucking rocks at me. Just me living life the way it’s meant to be. As I say, normal.
Yeah, but sod that.
As it turns out, it took just two weekends off before I felt sufficiently recharged, which explains how I came to be in a town called Opalenica.
With league football still a couple of weeks away, all it took was a passing moment of twitchy football withdrawal to locate a pre-season friendly in a place I’d long planned on visiting: Opalenica.
A couple of years back, I’d stopped off there on the way from Grodzisk Wielkopolski and had made a promise to someday return. To photograph it properly. Being a very minor team though, never since had that chance arisen. Until now.
Fishing about casually during the week, I happened upon a friendly fixture due to be played there featuring Lech Poznan and Banik Ostrava. Well why the hell not.
Easily reached from Poznan (30 minutes by train), problems arose the moment I exited the station. No taxis. Not a problem usually, but with temperatures already topping 30 degrees the half-hour hike to the ground felt more like an endurance exercise on Who Dares Wins. By the time I reached the ground, I was ready to drink a pint of my own piss for much-needed refreshment. Instead, I settled for something far worse, a sickly sweet tropical cocktail from the hotel bar.
Attached to the Hotel Remes, Opalenica’s ground is a remarkable place – a one-thousand seater jobbie with just one open stand running the length of the pitch. Otherwise pretty standard, its selling point – and the reason I was there – was for the backdrop. Set against the huge thatch-roofed Remes, it’s a thing of true beauty: a Tolkienesque ground that could have been built for Bilbo Baggins.
When it was built though, I don’t exactly know, what I do know is that ever since the Remes opened for business its sporting facilities have made it something of a favourite for professional sports camps. Perhaps most famously of all, Portugal used it as their base for Euro 2012, and I’m told that to this day the best-selling room is the one that was used by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Glorious as the ground was, mind you, I can’t say I enjoyed it. Offering no shade, I passed the first half gasping and panting in the suffocating heat. Worse, with the sky so bright and the sun so fierce, taking decent pictures was out of the question.
Giving up, I did what anyone else would do in my position and retreated to the air=conditioned confines of the hotel bar, before catching the final few kicks from a raised gallery overlooking the pitch. I’ll definitely have finer moments this upcoming season, but even so it was a fantastic feeling to return on my travels – and as a ground, this is certainly one that merits your attention.