If our final day was a disappointment on a couple of levels, this was probably our fault. Looking back, we’d gone off in search of a golden era that, if it had existed in the first place, wasn’t coming back.*BF*
Back in the days when I was young and impressionable and all good football teams from behind the Iron Curtain were described as ‘crack,’ Gornik Zabrze weren’t far away from being a top European club.
In 1968, they’d given eventual winners Manchester United an almighty scare in the quarter-finals of the European Cup prior to going out 2-1 on aggregate after winning the first leg in Poland. Two years later, they lost in the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup, going down 2-1 to Manchester City in Vienna. Gornik is Polish for miner, I’m told, and most of the side from that era came from the Silesian pits.
I don’t know quite what we expected to find at the end of our two hour train ride to Zabrze. Maybe we’d expected to stroll into a real life LS Lowry painting and eat warm gravel at the local welfare club? Perhaps we’d recognise the players as they’d be the ones with boots hanging round their necks as they travelled, on’t charabanc, t’match. Reality was much more grim.
Although the vast tourist information board at the station suggested Zabrze was an aesthetically pleasing enough place if you had time enough to explore, it didn’t seem likely that we’d make it to the ground via the scenic route of the botanical gardens. We’d seemingly walked onto a location set for 28 Days Later in which the windows were shuttered and no sod was about at midday on a bleak, grey Sunday. Back at the station, maybe 15 taxis queued optimistically, probably in the hope that the trains would stop running. We looked for a restaurant, but found only a single-toothed crone dispensing what were surely the world’s largest, cheapest and most disgusting cheeseburgers.
As the next train into town reunited us with our new-found friends from Austria, we dodged a tumble weed or two as we half-heartedly perused the main drag. Then we chanced upon a sports bar that was practically giving away pints of Tyskie and sunshine by the jugful instantly entered our world and our souls.
If the beer hadn’t been quite so inexpensive, I suspect we wouldn’t have had quite so much of it. Yet whilst under-indulgence would have seemed rude in the circumstances, we were mindful of the fact that all four of us still needed tickets to the game . Accordingly, we stayed sensible enough to place ourselves in the ticket queue maybe an hour before kick off; and it’s from here that matters rapidly went the shape of the pear.
At the outset, I should stress that I fully understand why, in some countries, it is necessary for a fan to produce an ID card or passport if he wants a ticket to a game. I’ve done so a few times and appreciate why it’s a good idea. Elsewhere, clubs cater for the ticket demands of casual fans efficiently and successfully. Accordingly, I can’t think that the practice of placing two mental defectives in a plastic hut and expecting them to cope with more than a handful of customers – a practice Gornik deemed sufficient – is likely to catch on around Europe.
*Lpic1*If the ticketing had been overseen by two civil servants on the day of their retirement, we might have got in for kick off. But as the ladies behind the counter operated their keyboards with two fingers and in a manner that suggested they’d been asked to service a hovercraft, hopes of seeing more than half a game slowly evaporated. Acting with true English grit and stoicism, the Clown Prince and I tutted quite audibly.
By way of apology, a Katowice fan who’d joined us in the queue said: “This is really embarrassing! Sometimes it’s as though the Russians never went home.”
Just before half-time, after strolling past 400 riot police and stewards with absolutely nothing to do, we got into Gornik’s ramshackle, God-awful athletics stadium with a football pitch in the middle, in time to see them go 1-0 up.
Three days earlier, Gornik’s opponents, Lech Poznan, had lost 3-1 to the aforementioned Manchester City in a Europa League group stage game. Ten days later, I saw them from the comfort of my armchair when they played superbly to beat City by the same score. Today, in the manner of so many clubs who have just played away in Europe in midweek, they just looked knackered and disinterested. After their goalkeeper had a classic Robert Green moment – which I heartily recommend you find on Youtube if you fancy a chuckle – to concede a second goal, Gornik never needed to get out of second gear to win with ludicrous comfort.
Truly miffed and as disinterested as Poznan, I wandered off in search of the solace that a Polish sausage the size of small submarine can readily provide.
Some hours later back in Krakow, there was time for one last meal before getting ourselves sorted for the early plane back to Stansted the following morning. Feeling only slightly peckish, I opted for a light snack. In other words, about 14 deliciously honey-roasted chickens that came with roast potatoes, an assortment of dips and a couple beers.
Truly embarrassed by the size of our bill – about £5 per head – we left a decent tip.
If Ryanair have been the subject of a few stand-up comedy routines, I can only speak as I find and state that I’ve only ever been impressed with the service they offer. Having been to Sweden, Hungary and Poland with them, each flight has left on time, arrived on time and been perfectly comfortable. If you follow the simple instructions set out on their website, get to the airport on time, don’t take the mickey with your baggage allowance and check-in online before you travel, I’d wager you’ll be just impressed.
On this occasion, a return flight from Stansted to Krakow cost me just under £60 – and that included my travel insurance. A train service runs to and from Krakow city centre to the airport and takes maybe half an hour. A single ticket will cost you in the region of 80p.
You’re really spoilt for choice for hotels in Krakow and none of them are particularly expensive. Once again, I visited www.Venere.com
When you set off, just take a few Zloty with you to cover incidental expenses. You will get a far better rate of exchange if you change up your money in Krakow. Krakow is an easy place to walk round, but if you should need a taxi at any point, don’t be alarmed. All forms of transport are ludicrously cheap and taxi drivers should always agree a price with you before you get into a cab.
If you decide to visit Auschwitz, remember that this is the name that the Nazis gave to the town. The locals call it Oswiecim (Oz-vee-chim) and appreciate it enormously if visitors do as well.