Date: 1 April 2017 / League: Polish tier 4
Final Score: 2-0 / Attendance: 3,050
For me, this is where it all really began – my love affair with Polish football started here at this very match! Why? See: About Me.
Opened in 2014, the Lublin Arena represents much that I dislike about modern football: featureless wraparound architecture, bullet-proof segregation and that underlying feeling of being marketed at anyone but the fans.
But wait up! Despite all that, I absolutely love this place. As being the place that lit my enthusiasm for Polish football, sentimentality plays a role in that, but other factors do as well.
For starters, it’s the finished article – unlike many of Poland’s new grounds, this one actually feels like it’s been completed. Then there’s the other bits and pieces – a small and weirdly irrelevant club museum, a brilliant sports bar serving the full range of the Perla brewery’s portfolio, and an intelligent design that contains the atmosphere perfectly. Leaving at nightfall, you exit with the stadium glowing warmly in the distance and a special sense of satisfaction.
It wasn’t the stadium that fired my imagination, but rather the whole actual day. Starting with pre-match pints in Perla’s sister pub waaaaaaay up the road, I turned up to this ground two-hours before kick-off not knowing what to expect.
Low as my expectations were, they sunk below the waterline when I got dropped by my cab to a vast, empty carpark. Such was the solitude, I might as well have been on Neil Armstrong’s space walk: “is there even a match today,” I wondered aloud.
It was. That was affirmed at my first port-of-call, the club’s museum inside of the stand. Offering only the briefest of ways to spend your time, it specifically serves to underline Motor Lublin’s miniscule contribution to domestic football – a few club shirts and trinkets aside, the rest of it consists of things like boxing gloves and motorbikes. The Louvre it is not.
But things improved, and quickly, with the discovery of a club bar next door. Decorated soothingly with empty green beer bottles and dark, dimmed lighting, and touting TVs in the side rooms, it was in here that I settled in the lead-up to the match.
Lacking the pre-game buzz of British football pubs, it never came close to filling out, but nonetheless it was a joy in itself to tuck some pints back while eavesdropping on the tables around. For me, that alone was a brilliant feeling: listening to locals discussing a team that no-one I’ve ever known has ever even heard of – has the striker been caught with his pants down? Did the chairman pick the goalie? Oooh, the intrigue and the endless questions!
I’d bought tickets online for the VIP section. I had no idea what that might entail, but at PLN 100 (approx. GBP 20) it felt a good punt to take.
It was – but neither was it without its problems. Lesson 1 of Polish football: always bring your ID. I hadn’t, and that proved an immediate issue. To enter, I needed to flash it at reception.
“Gaaarrgh, but I’ve left my passport at the hotel,” I pleaded, before adding, “I’ve come over from England for this match.”
A brief discussion between reception staff and security followed, and then I was given a kindly green light that was delivered with a wink.
“Ok, but remember it next time.”
Had I been turned back there and then things surely would have turned out differently. I doubt I’d have given Polish football another chance. Instead mind, I found myself treading up the stairs to a VIP level with which I instantly fell in love.
Open but intimate, Motor Lublin’s VIP room is a place of modernistic minimalism: clean white colors, hexagonal ceiling patterns, black flashes and floor-to-ceiling windows staring onto the pitch.
People? Players wives taking selfies, veteran players, local business honchos and a few other randoms on a corporate do. And me.
Whereas I realized that a VIP ticket would grant me the best seat in the house, I was unsure what else. Drinks?
Manned by a catwalk-quality hostess I approached gingerly to ask for a beer. Swigging it on handover, I asked how much I owed.
“It’s free of course,” came the answer.
Now this blew my mind. On the basis of a wild punt, it dawned on me that I had paid the equivalent of 20 quid to watch football and drink as much as my body could take. The challenge was accepted.
To say I enjoyed the next few hours does not hint at my joy. I got smashed. Smashed in the best possible sense. Permanently armed with two pints in my mitts, the next few hours were spent between runs to the beer point and the stand outside.
Which I preferred I really could not say. Though barely a fifth full, the noise inside the stadium was utterly immense. Fanatical. Not once was there a break in the singing and chants.
And the more drunk I became, the more I joined in the noise.
With no idea of the words, I found myself just bellowing along till I was hoarse with the rest. When Motor broke the deadlock on 66-minutes, I went absolutely ballistic. When they sealed the match on 87-minutes, I jumped on the back of the nearest bloke to me.
Not for years had I felt like this.
This match set the ball rolling. I did a few more Motor Lublin matches straight after, and when they narrowly missed promotion a couple of months later I was left gutted and hollow – every bit as disappointed as if they were my ‘real team’ Bristol City.
Shortly after mind, things changed. I expanded my football horizons in Poland and I guess this page is a result. I can’t claim to support Motor anymore, but I look at this period as a glorious affair. Because of this team, I discovered something more. For that, they’ll always have a place in my heart.