Date: 9 September 2021 / League: Polish tier 7
Final Score: 5-0 / Attendance: approx. 100-150
Chilled lower league football inside a ground you won’t forget…
A small town club this might be, but for a brief point in history they fought alongside the biggest names in Poland. Winning five promotions on the trot, this lot miraculously reached the country’s top flight around about the early 90s – I say miraculously, but the fact is in those days money could buy just about anything in Poland… especially football results.
I’m not accusing this club of skullduggery mind, and they certainly deserve credit for having reached those heady heights in the first place. Truly, these were thrilling times for them, with the squad looking positively cosmopolitan thanks to the addition of a pair of Zimbabweans playing for them and a Japanese player – with Poland dusting itself down after nearly half a century of communism, they must have looked like they’d come from outer space.
Anyway, the club story does not end there. At one point even Berti Vogts graced the pitch here, and later, so too did Peter Hoekstra when Poland’s U21s met their Dutch counterparts in an international.
Weirder, during the club’s heyday they were actually known as Tygodnik Miliarder after their sponsor (the name translates to something like Billionaire and was the title of a popular Polish magazine). What happened next? Disaster, that’s what. Eventually, the team were merged with GKS Tychy and moved entirely down south – as a result the local club was basically swallowed forever and had to restart from scratch at the bottom of the heap. The dream was over.
Though featuring just two sides to speak of, this falls easily into my all-time stadium Top Five. On the one side there’s a ruined terrace running the length of the pitch (and I do NOT use that description lightly), and on the other there’s a rotting away cage tucked at the top end of the tribune.
Of the other points of interest, refer to a charming wooden ticket kiosk and a toilet block handily placed so as to allow a view of the pitch while you’re taking a leak. Perhaps a relic from the golden years, find also an upturned scoreboard left to die in the grass behind one of the goals.
It’s a great ground as it is, but great is made greater by the presence of the stadium’s piece de resistance. Added at the peak of the club’s success, find a wonky triple-tiered structure that looks like it’ll blow over any second.
Composed of plywood, rusting bits of metal, clapboard and steep ladder-like stairwells, it’s a miracle of engineering – as insane as it is inventive, exploring means bouncing over the gangplanks while the thing shudders and creaks. For those exploring it to the full – and yes, you really should – head to the very top and you’ll meet two of the club’s legends: the tannoy announcer and the club president.
Imparting his memories of Berti Vogts, the latter even went so far as to invite me over to the club house after the match for a cup of tea – a sweet offer, unfortunately one that was politely declined on account of a ready-formed plan to head into Poznan.
Hugely enjoyable, as you probably might have figured. Atmosphere-wise, the match offered nothing, but this was one of those experiences that surpasses those more shallow considerations. Visit here not for fanfare and hooliganism, but instead to chill out with a beer in one of Central Europe’s most special little grounds.
And yes, bring beer. There’s a small shop down the road selling unrefrigerated mainstream lagers, but if you fancy something fancier than a warm tin of Lech then do think ahead. With no security to speak of, and everyone else at it, use a trip to Sokol to marry your twin passions of football and boozing – for sure, everyone else does.
A friendly bunch, I’m guessing there were probably around 100-150 fans at this match, and their number spread evenly between local kids, old-aged pensioner sorts that have lived through everything life has to offer, and several middle-aged blokes using the match as an excuse to take the dog out and have a bevvy with their mates. To a tee, everyone I spoke to was hugely friendly.
Rumour has it that the club is thinking of knocking down the stand that makes this place so special – why, I’ve no idea. Brilliant as everyone was, not one person I chatted to truly saw the value of the mad stand that they have.
Not being negative, it’s unlikely Sokol will ever hit the higher leagues again, so why they’d want to redevelop is beyond any logic – surely, they’d be better off making a buck and marketing themselves to European groundhoppers as one of true gems of football. After all, it’s because of places like this that we love football in the first place. Without it, the game is a lot poorer.
Getting There (And Out!)
To ease my journey I stayed the night before in a spooky Hammer Horror palace in a town called Wasowo (for more on that, click HERE). To reach Sokol, I pre-arranged a taxi that came to about PLN 100.
As it turned out, I’d unnecessarily complicated things – the nearest big city, Poznan, is an easy bus ride that takes about an hour. Coaches and mini-buses run regularly from the station close by.