When on 15 June 2016 Polonia Warsaw sealed their promotion to the II Liga, the third tier of the domestic football pyramid, following a 2-1 aggregate defeat of Górnik Wałbrzych in the play-off final, the club inaugurated a new chapter in a romantic history marked by regeneration and struggle. Founded in the autumn of 1911 as a union of several school teams by the army captain, Wacław Denhoff-Czarnocki, Polonia stands as one of the oldest formally institutionalised sports clubs in the territory of the modern Polish state and its tumultuous history has mirrored that of its city’s people ever since.
From its inception, Polonia has been characterised by a deep association with a specifically Polish national identity; the fact that Poland has only been sovereign for a relative fraction of the club’s history meant that they were early adopted as an attractive anti-establishment symbol. “As a representation or a symbol of Poland, it was extremely important,” the Polish football journalist and historian, Christopher Lash, observed. “One has to remember that Poland was partitioned for 123 years so [in the early 20th century] Polish clubs of any sort, not just football clubs, were innately political.”
The use of the Latin word for Poland as the club’s name is, perhaps, the most striking illustration of the idealism of its founders. Not only does the invocation of the oldest and most influential language in the western tradition confer a romanticised agelessness on the Polish nation (a trope popularised by the romantic, nationalist poetry of Adam Mickiewicz and Maurycy Mochnack and others), it also set the club in public opposition to the three major imperial powers that had occupied the country in the run-up to World War I: Russia, Prussia and Austria-Hungary.
Naturally, none of these administrations looked kindly upon any cultural movement that sought to highlight the perceived illegitimacy of their rule. Consequently, in 1912, the decision was taken that Polonia’s kit would also be used to symbolise the club’s commitment to the ideal of a sovereign Polish state. The players’ black and white striped shirts, black shorts and black socks were exchanged for a combination of black shirts, white shorts and red socks. Just as red and white combine to form the bicolour of the Polish flag, the black shirts were adopted as symbolic representation of the club’s state of mourning for its occupied and partitioned motherland.
Even in the intensely politicised footballing landscape of Poland, the extent to which Polonia Warsaw was established as an embodiment of romantic nationalist ideology is unusual. Yet it is perhaps unsurprising given that the club’s foundation was intimately bound up in the cultural resistance movement spearheaded by the city’s intelligentsia before World War I. Denhoff-Czarnocki, for instance, was a published poet and writer as well as a soldier; he conceived of Polonia as a vehicle by which the Warsaw youth could be introduced to patriotic ideologies in a sporting environment.
The Gebethner family, meantime, part owners of the esteemed international publishing house, Gebethner i Wolff, gave significant financial backing to the club at the time of its foundation. The influential military and political family, the Loths, gave the fledgling club similar support. Indeed, Jan Loth, along with his lieutenant colonel brother, Stephan and Artur Marczewski, was one of three Polonia players selected to represent Poland in the country’s first ever international friendly fixture against Hungary in 1921. The influential Warsaw intellectual and Polish Army General, Kazimierz Sosnkowski, was another major benefactor to the club during the interwar period. In 1928 he helped fund the construction of Stadion Polonii Warszawa, the Black Shirts’ (Czarne Koszule) first purpose-built stadium on Konwiktorska Street where the first-team plays to this day.
Polonia’s status as a symbol of Polishness meant that, throughout the 20th century, the club drew support from a strikingly diverse cross-section of the city’s population. The Stadion Polonii has traditionally been famed for attracting artists, lawyers, actors, traders and poets to matches and, significantly, Polonia was one of the first sports clubs in Poland to accept ethnic minorities, including Jews, as members. Indeed, the present Polonia chairman, and former player and coach, Jerzy Engel, argues that the pluralism characteristic of the club’s membership-base reflects the manner in which Polonia always embodied an idealism far grander than sport alone. “Polonia was not only football”, Engel told Jonathan Wilson in Behind the Iron Curtain: Football in Eastern Europe. “You could meet scientists or artists or painters there. There was a very good atmosphere within the club, because when you don’t have a lot of money, what you have is spirit.”
One consequence of Polonia’s commitment to the Polish nationalist cause was that the club was not afforded formal recognition until 15 October 1915, by which time German forces had pushed the hard-line Russian administration out of Warsaw and determined to adopt a more conciliatory attitude towards the city’s population as a means of diluting opposition to their rule. On 29 April 1917, Polonia faced their city rivals, Legia Warsaw for the first time: the game ended in a 1-1 draw. Legia, founded in March 1916 as the football club of the Polish Legions in Volhynia on the Eastern Front, is presently the wealthiest and most supported sports club in Poland. Between 1955 and 2016 their teams have won eleven Polish league titles and eighteen Polish cups. Prior to the German invasion of Gdansk on 1 September 1939, however, it was Polonia who most powerfully captured the Warsaw public’s imagination.
In 1921, for instance, the Black Shirts thumped Legia 8-0 on the occasion of the clubs’ first competitive meeting en route to finishing as runners-up to KS Cracovia in the inaugural season of the Polish national football championship. This early success was achieved two years after the foundation of the Polish Football Association (Polski Związek Piłki Nożnej or PZPN) at the end of World War I. Indeed, Polonia competed in every season of the Polish championships up to and after the institution of a formal national league structure, the Ekstraklasa, in 1927. Significantly, they were richly represented on the newly formed national side throughout the 1930s. Jerzy Bulanow, Wladyslaw Szczepaniak, Erwin Nyc and Henryk Jaznicki were among the most notable Black Shirts to have represented Poland at international level in the years before World War II. It is also notable that Poland, despite the late establishment of a national side, finished fourth at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and reached the last-16 of the FIFA World Cup in France two years later.
World War II
The outbreak of World War II inevitably disrupted all aspects of civil life in Poland. The formalisation of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in August 1939 saw the country divided between the two occupiers. Eastern Poland was annexed by the Soviet Republics of Ukraine and Belarus while the western part was integrated into the Greater German Reich; the region of Wilno (now Vilnius) was incorporated into Lithuania.
The Soviet authorities in the occupied East permitted a select group of clubs to continue to compete in organised competition under new, Russian names. Indeed, it is testament to the speed with which football clubs became influential units of socio-political organisation and protest in Poland that the Western territory was the only land in Europe where the Nazi occupiers imposed a total ban on regional sports clubs. Social institutions such as football clubs posed an obvious threat to the Nazi aim of cleansing Poland of any trace of national memory; how could a body steeped in Polish national lore such as Polonia be permitted to exist under a regime determined to expunge its founding ideology?
For the period 1939 to 1945, therefore, Polonia ceased to legally exist. But, just as the national ideal that the club was founded to honour was never extinguished during the war, the club’s members quickly expressed opposition to Nazi rule in the most straightforward way that they knew how: by playing football. By the spring of 1940 the first matches of the nascent Warsaw underground football league were being organised by former Legia Warsaw and KS Cracovia forward, Józef Ciszewski.
Most matches were played in Mokotów public park (Pole Mokotowskie) near the city centre. For the purpose of filling the competition alongside rivals Warszawianka Warszawa, Polonia was subdivided into three separate teams: Pochodnia, Czarni, and Bimber. Indeed, it is a reflection of the club members’ determination to defy all Nazi edicts designed to limit expression of Polish identity that a tournament of 13 city teams was held in Polonia’s stadium on Konwiktorska Street in September 1940, just weeks before the ground was seized by the occupying forces. Subsequently, Polonia went on to compete in another clandestine city league organised by the future Poland manager, Alfred Nowakowski, winning the competition in both 1942 and 1943.
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Pole Mokotowskie is an idyllic park close to central Warsaw
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On 1 August 1944, Polonia’s resistance to the Nazi occupation became more direct and deadly; indeed, many club members perished in the Warsaw Uprising. Timed to coincide with the Soviet Union’s advance towards the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces, the Uprising was the largest single military operation carried out by any European resistance movement during World War II. However, the Red Army’s failure to advance beyond the city limits enabled the Nazi occupiers to ruthlessly defeat the rebellion, killing an estimated 200,000 civilians and combatants and, in the process, razing 85 percent of the city’s urban infrastructure to the ground.
During World War II, in the Uprising, in death camps and on the frontline many Black Shirts lost their lives; the fact that twelve resistance soldiers died at Stadion Polonii during a clandestine operation carried out against Nazi forces on Konwiktorska Street on 21 August 1944 is a powerful illustration of the club’s active role in the resistance. Polonia’s founding ideology was never given braver or more selfless expression than during those sixty-three days of fighting in the autumn of 1944.
Of all the countries involved in World War II, Poland lost the greatest percentage of its citizenry. Six million Poles perished during the conflict, almost a fifth of the country’s population, and half of those killed were Jews. Poland was fully liberated by Soviet forces in early 1945; however, the exiled Republican government’s hopes of regaining control of their war-ravaged homeland were extinguished at the Yalta Conference when Joseph Stalin negotiated the formation of a new provisional pro-Communist coalition government in Moscow. Despite pledging to guarantee Polish sovereignty and facilitate free elections, the Stalinist regime immediately went about transforming Poland into a Soviet puppet state. Election results were falsified, political dissenters were purged and many of the surviving leaders of the Uprising were coerced into signing confessions of collaboration with Axis powers.
Polonia was not immune from this attempt to extinguish opposition to Soviet rule. Jonathan Wilson, for instance, notes in Behind The Iron Curtain, that the club’s prominent role in the Warsaw Uprising marked it out as “dangerously independent” and, consequently, the Black Shirts were systematically oppressed by the Communist authorities. Under Russian rule, all Polish football clubs were assigned a state body as a benefactor, a system of government-controlled sponsorship that was common across the Soviet Union. But where Legia Warsaw benefitted from the valuable sponsorship of the Soviet Army, and other clubs such as Wisła Kraków, Górnik Zabrze and Ruch Chorzów profited from the support of the lucrative policing, mining and metallurgy industries, Polonia was made to depend on the support of the chronically under-resourced state railway, the PKP.
This situation was exacerbated owing to the fact that the PKP was also responsible for patronising Lech Poznań; indeed, the Soviet authority’s deep-seated suspicion of Polonia meant that most of the railway’s meagre resources were directed westwards. Polonia, Christopher Lash observed, were seen as “representative of Sanacja”; the interwar political values promoted by a cadre of influential military officers in the aftermath of Józef Piłsudski’s May 1926 Coup d’État.
For nine years between 1947-1956, therefore, the club was formally renamed Kolejarz (‘Railroad worker’), further evidence of the manner in which the Communist regime followed the Nazi occupiers in their attempts to sever any symbolic or cultural connections to pre-war Warsaw. The Black Shirts were further disadvantaged as a consequence of the Red Army’s decision to exempt Legia players from compulsory military service. This provision gave Legia a significant advantage over all Ekstraklasa clubs in terms of player recruitment; however, Polonia was hit worst by the conscription waiver as all the best young footballers in Warsaw had been given a strong incentive to turn their back on the Black Shirts in favour of the greater security and payment on offer at the Stadion Wojska Polskiego (Polish Army Stadium).
Underfunded and purged of their best players, the Soviet regime succeeded in rendering Polonia uncompetitive throughout most of the second half of the 20th century. The club was relegated from the Ekstraklasa in 1952 (despite beating Legia at their own ground in the Polish Cup final that same season) and they would not return to the top-flight until after the fall of the Iron Curtain four decades later in 1989. Polonia won the first post-war Polish championship in 1946 despite having no stadium and only a handful of members who had survived the Uprising. That triumph might be regarded as a symbolic foreshadowing of the city’s post-war reconstruction. Just as Polonia rose, phoenix-like, from the brink of extinction at the end of one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, so, too, did the city itself and its few surviving inhabitants.
During the period when professional football developed into a mass spectator attraction, the reorganisation of Polish football under state communism prevented the Black Shirts from maintaining their position as the capital city’s preeminent sports club. This development goes a long way towards explaining Legia’s contemporary dominance.
The army club won the first eight of its record 18 Polish Cup titles between 1955 and 1989, having never claimed any silverware before the institution of a communist government. Legia’s rise to the top of the Ekstraklasa was clearly a direct consequence of the advantages afforded to the club under communist rule and their subsequent success meant that the vast majority of young Warsaw football fans flocked to Łazienkowska Street during the years of post-war reconstruction.
As the childhood Polonia fan and former goalkeeper, Bartłomiej Fogler, observed, winning clubs with high-status players are always going to attract spectator interest, regardless of the origins of their success. “When you have got a club with better players, you get more supporters coming to the club,” Fogler said. “This is how it is with Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid, or whatever. That is why Legia is popular in the whole of Poland, outside of Warsaw and in other cities. Polonia’s support is focused almost only in Warsaw.”
This circumstance provided Legia with a crucial socio-economic advantage over their city rivals at the time Poland entered into the free market in the 1990s and, as a consequence, copper-fastened Polonia’s status as the city’s second club. To this day the Stadion Polonii is decked in anti-communist banners for every home game; predictably the fact that Legia benefitted from communist rule at their neighbour’s expense served to add a new layer of animosity to an already bitter rivalry.
Revival and Fall
The formation of Solidarność at the Gdańsk Shipyard under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa on 17 September 1980 marks a seminal moment in the emergence of the modern Polish state. Solidarność was the first non-governmental trade union to be established in a Warsaw Pact country. Its achievement in mobilising Polish workers against the communist regime is widely regarded as having played a crucial role in precipitating the collapse of the Soviet Union across Eastern Europe.
Solidarność was a broad, anti-bureaucratic social movement which employed methods of civil resistance in order to advance the cause of workers’ rights. At its height the union boasted more than 9.4 million members. Consequently, as early as 1981, Moscow imposed martial law in an attempt to destroy the movement. But despite years of political repression, the growth of Solidarność was such that, by the spring of 1989, the Polish government had no choice but to negotiate with Wałęsa. These talks paved the way for the first semi-free parliamentary elections in the history of modern Poland and, in December 1990, Wałęsa became the country’s first popularly elected president.
This led in turn to the systematic disestablishment of the administrative structures which had underpinned communist rule; the free parliamentary election of 1991 may be seen as the beginning of Poland’s transformation into a modern, capitalist democracy. By September, 1993, the Northern Group of Forces, the military formation of the Soviet Army stationed in Poland from the end of Second World War, was recalled to Moscow. This eventuality ended formally more than four decades of occupation. Symbolically, this withdrawal occurred just months after Polonia had won their first promotion to Ekstraklasa in forty-one years.
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Read | A Tale of One City: Legia Warsaw
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Polonia spent most of the period 1952-1993 alternating between the second and third divisions and, although the club under communism was far outperformed by Legia, the Black Shirts’ historical significance and loyal fan-base meant that they remained an attractive investment opportunity at the time capitalism came to Poland in the early 1990s.
Polonia were promoted into the top-tier in 1993, benefitting from the far-sighted chairmanship of the current Honorary President, Jerzy Piekarzewski, as well as financial backing from the esteemed photographer, politician and entrepreneur, Marek Wielgus. But, while the Black Shirts’ first Ekstraklasa campaign in more than four decades ended in relegation, the club returned to the top flight in 1996 and underwent a transformative takeover led by Janusz Romanowski.
Romanowski became a major shareholder at Legia in 1992 when the club hit dire financial straits as consequence of the collapse of communism and its attendant military investment. His money went a long way towards helping the club to win consecutive league and cup doubles in 1994 and 1995. Significantly Legia reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League the following season. By the spring of 1996, however, Romanowski had grown frustrated with the army’s continuing involvement in Legia’s boardroom and he withdrew his investment (at a considerable loss) in order take up residence at the home of Legia’s oldest rivals on Konwiktorska Street.
Crucially, a number of players contracted to Legia on a third-party basis were obliged to join Romanowski in moving to Polonia and, after appointing former Black Shirt, Jerzy Engel, as manager, Polonia finished as Ekstraklasa runners-up in 1998 and won their first league and cup double two years later. Engel was afforded the autonomy and financial resources required to shape a hungry, talented group of young players in his own image.
The then-47-year-old coach made two crucial signings in the Nigerian forward duo Emmanuel Olisadebe and Emmanuel Ekwueme. Olisadebe scored 12 goals helping Polonia to win their first league title in 54 years and went on to represent Poland 25 times under residency rulings, scoring 11 goals and playing in the 2002 World Cup Finals in Japan and South Korea.
The 2000 Ekstraklasa victory marked the high-point of Polonia’s remarkable resurgence from the depths of the 1950s when they toiled in the third division, stripped of institutional identity and systematically oppressed by a regime that would have been content to see the club vanish. Indeed, the very fact that the Black Shirts were still playing at the turn of the millennium, let alone winning championship titles, is a testament to the remarkable resilience that has characterised the club’s fan and membership base since it was founded in 1911.
Shortly before the league title was secured in 2000 Engel departed to take control of the Polish national side and, despite the fact that Polonia succeeded in retaining the Polish Cup the following season, the tenuous financial foundations of Romanowski’s leveraged takeover was already beginning to impact the club’s balance sheet.
Within months of winning the league title many leading players were sold as Romanowski attempted to compensate for declining television revenues by generating transfer income. Title-winning midfielder and current Polonia boss, Igor Gołaszewski, for instance, told Przegląd Sportowy in 2011 that, after claiming the league title, Polonia was run with the sole aim of increasing its owner’s wealth: “It was only after we won the championship that things began to go wrong,” Gołaszewski said. “Romanowski only thought about how he could sell Polonia. He only took money from the club. He mainly took money out of transfers, selling Gražvydas Mikulėnas and Annor Aziz. And Emmanuel Olisadebe, too. From what I remember, Oli moved to Panathinaikos for a $3.3 million transfer fee. Polonia saw only a fraction of this money.”
By the summer of 2003, Polonia was on the brink of administration. Gate receipts and television revenue were declining at a rate commensurate with the club’s on field performances – the Black Shirts finished eighth in the Ekstraklasa in 2002-03, 27 points behind champions Wisła Kraków – and Romanowski was steadfast in his refusal to contribute any more personal wealth to what he had long determined was a loss-making investment. In January 2004, therefore, the lifetime Polonia fan and car parts company owner, Jan Raniecki, intervened to save the club from liquidation.
Raniecki, founder and editor the Polonia fanzine Polonia Ole, used his own money to buy out Romanowski with the sole aim of keeping Polonia in the Ekstraklasa long enough to attract an investor of greater means. If the Black Shirts were to have any chance rivalling Legia in the long-term at the top-end of the Ekstraklasa, they needed an investor who possessed both the resources and the will to clear the debt that Romanowski leveraged on to club in 1996.
While there is no doubt that Raniecki wanted to see Polonia succeed, he simply lacked the finance required to do anything more than fund the club’s day to day running while attempting to find a trustworthy buyer. In late 2004 it was reported that a Gibraltar-based company called Global Soccer Agency Ltd were prepared to invest up to €150 million in Polonia; however the deal fell through owing to the fact that Raniecki refused to commit the club to buying the land around its Konwiktorska Street stadium from the city council in a series of €1.2 million instalments.
Polonia’s performances inevitably suffered as a consequence of this lack of investment; indeed, they barely avoided relegation from the top-flight in 2004 and 2005. However, Polonia’s luck ran out in the spring of 2006: Raniecki died unexpectedly of a heart attack in early March and, two months later, the club was relegated.
Jan Raniecki’s death plunged Polonia into an administrative crisis. The Raniecki family, who inherited the club, had no interest in continuing to fund a loss-making investment and lacked the sense of institutional loyalty that made Jan spurn the approaches of predatory buyers. Furthermore, the owner’s death negatively impacted dressing room morale. Fogler, for instance, recalls that Polonia’s playing-staff frequently had to endure months without payment during the later stages of Romanowski’s ownership and their hope that stability would return under Raniecki evaporated with his passing. “When we got this information [that Raniecki died], that was crazy,” Fogler reflects. “We expected that everything would start getting better, you know?; that we would get paid on time and the club will start performing better but then he died…that situation was crazy for us, we just didn’t know what will happen.”
In April 2006, sole ownership of Polona Warsaw passed to property developer, Joseph Wojciechowski, owner of JW Construction Holding SA. However, having failed to gain promotion back to Ekstraklasa in 2007 and 2008, Polonia was merged with Dyskobolia Grodzisk Wielkopolski (third in the Ekstraklasa in 2008) and assumed its place in the top division.
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The merger yielded initial success for the Black Shirts, who qualified for the Europa League preliminaries courtesy of a third-place finish in 2009; however, Wojciechowski’s intensely short-term approach bred chronic instability. From Andrzej Wisniewski (April 2006–Aug 2006) to Czesław Michniewicz (March 2012–May 2012), Wojciechowski oversaw the hiring and firing of 15 managers from the moment of purchasing the club in April 2006 to selling it to Ireneusz Król in July 2012.
The fact that Wojciechowski then followed Romanowski in stripping Polonia of its most valuable assets in the months before Król’s takeover provides a clear illustration that he ran the club with the sole ambition of personal enrichment and Fogler recalls that the economic well-being of the playing staff only declined under his ownership.
“Wojciechowski put a lot of money into the club,” Fogler said. “But we always knew that he had his own business. It wasn’t like he invested money because he likes football; he basically had no clue about football…he just had a feeling that he could make a good business out of Polonia.”
Players regularly had to endure periods of up to three months without payment under Wojciechowski (not a problem for a guy on 50,000 zł per month, Fogler observes, but a big one for the youth talent on 2,500 or 3,000 zł) and their frustration was heightened by the manner in which the owner would spontaneously lavish lucrative bonuses on star players after standout performances (the chartering of private jets to watch Barcelona play at the Camp Nou was not unknown following high-profile victories).
The situation only worsened under Król. Just a handful of senior players remained contracted to Polonia at the end of Wojciechowski’s purge; the young coach, Piotr Stokowiec, was charged with the challenging task of rebuilding the team around a core of players from the youth academy. While results were initially impressive (Polonia sat third half-way through the 2012-13 season) it soon became clear that Król, who purchased the club for a symbolic 1zł sum, was incapable of covering its wage bill. Consequently, Polonia began haemorrhaging key players on free transfers and, despite finishing the season in sixth place in the league, Polonia would begin the 2013-14 campaign six divisions down the Polish football hierarchy in the semi-professional Masovian Liga Okręgowa, the lowest level at which the club had competed in its 102 year history.
On 3 April 2013, Król’s “IDEON” holding company filed for a strategic bankruptcy, and, despite efforts from the association of Polonia supporters to regain control over the club and clear its eight million zł debt, the PZPN stripped the Black Shirts of their competitive licence. On 17 June 2013, Król successfully filed for the bankruptcy of Polonia Warsaw S.A., and, for the first time since Nazi troops seized control of the Polish capital in 1939, the Black Shirts ceased to exist legally.
In their award-winning statistical study of the economics which shape modern football, Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski examine the phenomenon of ‘phoenixing’; a process whereby supporters of a club that has gone bankrupt can register a new company under a similar name – MKS Polonia Warszawa, say – and acquire the old club’s share in the league infrastructure.
Correctly executed, ‘phoenixing’ enables the new company “to take over almost everything of the old club – except, crucially, its debts and unaffordable players”. In this sense, the new company rises like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of the collapsed institution (at the expense of its creditors) and is free to start afresh from the bottom of the domestic football pyramid. This is precisely the strategy that the Grzegorz Popielarz led Polonia Warsaw Supporters Trust employed in order to get the Black Shirts re-licensed into the Polish league system after having been destroyed by Król.
On 10 July 2013, the PZPN administratively promoted Polonia into the fifth-division (IV Liga), citing the club’s cultural importance as justification for sparing it a season in the quasi-amateur sixth-tier. Former player, Piotr Dziewicki, was appointed first team coach and, alongside Sporting Director Paweł Olczak, the Black Shirts succeeded in building a 26-man squad in the space of a month in order to be ready for the start of the 2013-14 season.
The majority of the players recruited were either connected to the MKS academy or had played for Polonia at higher levels in the past. Just as they had done in 1911 and in 1939, the Black Shirts inaugurated a long march back to the top of the Ekstraklasa. In this sense the ‘phoenixing’ of Polonia Warsaw functions as a metaphor for the club’s entire 105-year history. Just as the spirit of Polonia endured persecution at the hands German and Russian occupiers in the 20th century, it survived terminal financial mismanagement in the 1990s and, within a few weeks of having been relegated down to the fifth tier, regenerated in the form of a fan-owned institution. No matter what hardship it faces, Polonia never surrenders and, in this respect, the club continues to pay fitting tribute to the national ideals of its founders.
The Black Shirts’ young squad won the promotion to III Liga (fourth division) in June 2014 with a game to spare; however, their preparations for the following season suffered a severe blow on 8 August when Dziewicki resigned his position as manager following a dispute with Olczak regarding transfer funds. Dziewicki had been central to the promotion campaign and his exit, so close to the start of the league season, led to a period of damaging instability. In the space of nine months the club went through three managers: Piotr Szczechowicz (August 2014-October 2014), Dariusz Dźwigała (November 2014-December 2014) and Marek Końko (January 2015-May 2015) and, as a consequence, finished 14th out of 18 teams in the III.Liga.
Stability returned in the summer of 2015, however, when, on 25 June, former manager Jerzy Engel completed a takeover of the Polonia Warsaw first team which had been annexed by the MKS academy under the terms of the 2013 phoenix deal. Rechristened Polonia Warsaw Co, Engel sought to maintain continuity in the club, keeping his title-winning captain, Gołaszewski, as first-team coach while returning Black Shirt stalwarts such as Wojciech Szymanek, Jacek Kosmalski and Radosław Majdan to Konwiktorska Street as coaching staff.
It is a reflection of the long-term vision Engel has brought to Polonia that, during his first press conference as chairman, the 63-year-old spoke of his ambition to acquire sole ownership of the Stadion Polonii from Warsaw City Council in order to cultivate a profit-generating base in the manner of Legia. Significantly, within a year of the takeover, the Black Shirts have secured promotion back into the third division.
While Engel’s goals are ambitious, they are achievable and the fact that Polonia is at last being run by owners with a sustainable, long-term plan should come as a relief to all of the club’s supporters. The Black Shirts face a long climb back to the heights they reached when Engel was in the dugout at the turn of the millennium, but, if there is one virtue the club has demonstrated throughout its history, it is perseverance.
By Sean Donnelly. Follow @SeanDonnelly66