Polonia Warsaw and GKS Katowice combine
22 July ~ What little credibility Polish domestic football had left disappeared on Monday. It was announced that Polonia Warsaw, who play in the Ekstraklasa, Poland's top tier, had been bought by an Austrian company with links to the chairman of second level GKS Katowice. The two clubs will merge and be called KP Katowice, who will then take Polonia’s place in the Ekstraklasa for the 2012-13 season. Where the new club will play remains in doubt. The GKS ground does not meet the grading requirements for the top division and is owned by the local authority, which may not agree to the new club playing there.
KP Katowice may need to find a new home outside the Upper Silesian industrial region. A groundshare with Hutnik Krakow, where England trained during the European Championship, has been mentioned.
Two clubs will be consigned to history. Polonia Warsaw is one of Poland’s oldest clubs and celebrated its centenary last year. They have been Polish champions twice, most recently in 2000, but were relegated in 2006.
They only regained their place in the top division in 2008 following a takeover of Dyskobolia Grodzisk Wielkopolski, who had just finished third in the Ekstraklasa and once knocked Manchester City out of the UEFA Cup. At least the identity of Polonia remained intact, including their famous black shirts. The best their fans can hope for now is a phoenix club starting out in the fourth tier.
Reaction has been unsurprisingly negative. Polonia owner Jozef Wojciechowski has received hundreds of letters of protest, many of them published on the internet. Celebrity supporters, such as the actor Jan Englert, best known outside Poland for his role in Katyn, have also made their feelings known.
Support for Polonia fans has come from abroad, particularly in view of the major role they played in the various initiatives to welcome visiting supporters to Warsaw during Euro 2012.
In Katowice the fury of GKS fans has made itself felt immediately. Pre-season training on Wednesday was disrupted by 500 fans who prevented players leaving the dressing rooms for a couple of hours. After agreeing to leave the ground they made their way to the home of chairman Ireneusz Krol to continue the protest.
At least one GKS player has indicated that he will not be signing for the new club after receiving threats from the hooligan element among the support. The merger and the granting of a place in the Ekstraklasa next season to KP Katowice are subject to ratification by the Polish FA on August 2. No one is expecting a reprieve for these two long-established clubs. Peter Bateman