Date: 14 May 2022 / League: Polish 7th tier
Final Score: 4-0 / Attendance: 50 or so…
In A Nutshell
Both a beauty and a beast, this was a day to remember inside a fantastic old ruin reeking of history…
As one of Poland’s key weekend travel destinations, the northern city of Gdansk can be reached from most places with a runway: among others, direct flights shuttle in from Manchester, Liverpool, Doncaster, Birmingham and Bristol (OTIB!!). If you’re in Poland already, the train line here has also improved a fair bit – from Warsaw, what used to take six-hours in a creaky, sweaty cattle wagon now weighs in at 2.5 hours inside a slick and silent rocket.
The stadium: from the centre of the city, it’s a ten-minute Uber ride that won’t cost far beyond PLN 20. But word of warning: with Uber’s mapping somewhat flawed, you might get dropped off at an office car park rather than the stadium itself – that’s what happened to me, and although I could see the ground, an impenetrable fence meant I had to first commit to an adventurous detour before being able to reach the entrance.
None to offer! Or, at least, none of any value. Stocznowiec were founded a few months after the end of WWII under the name of Nit before later morphing into a club going under the name of Stal. From what I can understand, they finally settled on the name of Stocznowiec in 1970 following a merger between two clubs.
Of course, none of these changes have reaped any benefit, and the club have done a grand job of remaining utterly unspectacular from a football perspective – and I hope they long continue to do so.
For some this ground is a rusting and overgrown junkyard, and though you can’t factually dispute that judgement, it is also the football version of sunken pirate treasure. Where to begin? First off, never before have I seen a stadium with so many military bunkers poking out of the undergrowth. Dating back to WWII when this city was, if you don’t know, better-known as the Nazi stronghold of Danzig, these concrete pill boxes are piled up everywhere – outside alone, I lost count at seven. Noting my interest (I was dicking around in bushes doing typically creepy Webber things), a passing dog walker shouted out that there were even more beyond.
History is not in short supply here – forming a striking backdrop, on entering the main stand (for free) your sightline is hit with a scene straight from the final scenes of Robocop: lined up like skittles, drop your jaw at the pack of cranes and towers that bristle on the horizon. Sat next to chimney stacks spewing industrial bile, you expect Clarence Boddicker to emerge chewing a match stick with a ballistic weapon rested on his hip.
Looking like a cross between abandoned Transformers and giant marionettes, these tottering totems haven’t half seen a lot. Once known as the Lenin Shipyard, it was in this shipyard complex that an unemployed electrician by the name of Lech Walesa lit the touchpaper and kicked off the Solidarity protests of the 1980s – in many respects, the fall of the Iron Curtain can be traced to right here.
And there’s football history, as well. One of the curious little points of interest is a scoreboard buried behind trees that has a display that reads, enigmatically, Polska – Anglia. After a bit of googling, I found this was a left-over from a 2001 match played between England’s U18s against Poland. A nil-nil draw, it seems that anyone ever called Jermaine got a run-out: Defoe, Jenas, Pennant, Jackson (just kidding on the last one). Looking around at this empty arena, it’s unbelievable to think that 5,600 attended the aforementioned match.
To say the place has seen better days is an understatement: it’s a wreck, but one with charms aplenty for the stadium connoisseur: a half-derelict away cage, a grotty club house, long overgrown terraces, half-shattered seats and a tangle of gas pipes snaking around the sides.
Then, if you lose interest in that, there’s some comedy ‘groundsman-ship’ to admire – aside from wonky faded lines running up the sides, I found myself genuinely wondering if the lawnmower man had tried to trace out a cock and balls on the pitch. On that front, the jury is out.
As it transpired, that wasn’t even remotely the final bit of weirdness – as if it couldn’t get more surreal, I found another bunker, only this one built actually into the terrace: seeing it, football catchphrases such as ‘shoot on sight’ and ‘deadly finish’ assume a completely new meaning.
Not really anything to report – so entranced was I by the ground, I paid no attention to the game itself. Apparently, mind you, the home side triumphed 4-0, a result that saw them cement their unassailable status as the leaders of their league.
Crowd-wise, I’d place that at 50 with this number composed of a predictable assortment of lower league characters: a handful of German groundhoppers, old men escaping their wives, and beer-swigging lads draped in Lechia Gdansk gear ahead of the big match that night. Though nothing fiery, I cannot begin to underline just how special being here was.