Polish village's top-flight dreams shattered

It had all the makings of fairytale, with a Polish village's team on course for the top flight, until they came crashing down to earth in a tight season-end race in the Euro 2012 host nation.

Updated: May 21, 2012 10:04 IST
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Nieciecza: It had all the makings of fairytale, with a Polish village's team on course for the top flight, until they came crashing down to earth in a tight season-end race in the Euro 2012 host nation.

Hailing from a community of just 726 in southern Poland, and playing in a stadium tucked among cornfields on the River Dunajec floodplain, minnows Termalica Bruk-Bet Nieciecza won hearts this season as they came to within an inch of glory.

But in the space of just two weeks, they found their fate out of their hands as they suffered a run of four defeats, with Sunday's 2-1 home loss to Kolejarz Stroze denying them promotion.

Along the way, however, the motley crew of career-enders from Poland's Ekstraklasa top flight, younger players squeezed out of that division and those tapped from the lower leagues claimed the scalps of big city sides.

Manager Dusan Radolsky was unfazed by the failure to earn an unprecedented berth in Poland's 16-club first division, putting his side's run into perspective.

"This club has made a massive leap over the past six or seven years," the 61-year-old Slovak told AFP.

"How many teams do you know who have climbed so far in Polish football history? That's a success in itself. It's been a case of promotion, promotion and promotion again," said Radolsky, who has a long coaching record in Slovakia and Poland.

The club is known by the more manageable name of Termalica, a wing of its overall sponsor, concrete company Bruk-Bet which is based in Nieciecza and first got involved a decade ago.

"Bruk-Bet's a local firm, and wanted to do something for its community," club spokesman Andrzej Mizera, 35, told AFP.

Nieciecza's football roots stretch back to 1922, when soldiers returning from World War I and newly-independent Poland's victory over the invading Bolsheviks set up a club.

During the horrific era of World War II, its pitch was used as a training ground by the occupying Nazi Germans.

The club reemerged in 1946, but after thriving in the early 1950s, withered away and was only reborn in 1983.

As recently as 2006, Termalica were still playing in the district league, before winning promotion to the regional level.

"We hardly even had a backroom staff then," recalled Mizera, a former sports journalist.

A new 2,093-capacity stadium was opened in 2007 to draw fans from surrounding small towns, and in 2010 Termalica won promotion from the third division.

That success was partly thanks to transfers from other clubs, such as Krakow side Cracovia -- relegated from the Ekstraklasa this season.

"It would be hard to build a team with just locals, otherwise we'd still be in the third division," acknowledged Mizera.

The only Nieciecza lad in the side is 18-year-old midfielder Krzysztof Wrzosek, who made his debut in the 90th minute of a match last week away to Warsaw's Dolcan Zabki.

There are limits placed by the financial realities of Polish football, where even the Ekstraklasa can only dream of the clout of West European leagues, and where a gulf separates the second division from the likes of its English equivalent, the Championship.

Termalica's annual budget is the equivalent of 915,000 euros.

The combined value of its squad is 4.2 million euros according to specialised German website transfermarkt.de, compared with 17.4 million euros for newly-crowned Polish champions Slask Wroclaw.

"Financially, we're doing OK. There are plenty of clubs in Poland with great fans, real legends with a long tradition, but in dire straits financially," said Mizera.

Despite the dashed promotion dream, fans are still enjoying the glow.

"We've been writing history here," Tadeusz Staczek, 37, told AFP.

"This shows that football's not just for the big cities like Krakow or Warsaw, but for villages too!"

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