Club come from tiny village only famous for paving stones factory
19 June ~ With just over 700 inhabitants, the Polish village of Nieciecza appears as a small dot on most maps. Until recently it was known predominantly for the large factory on its outskirts; home to Bruk-Bet, Poland’s largest manufacturer of paving stones. Now though, the village has gained widespread publicity after the local football team, Termalica Bruk-Bet Nieciecza, achieved their first-ever promotion to the top-flight Ekstraklasa.
The club’s rise to the upper echelons of Polish football has been meteoric. Just over ten years ago they sat in the sixth tier of Polish football playing in front of double-digit crowds, many of whom sat on wooden benches dotted around the perimeter of the pitch. Now, a 2,200-capacity stadium has risen from the cornfields on the eastern side of the village.
Yet with their latest achievement, it is already a stadium which fails to serve their immediate needs. With no floodlights or undersoil heating, Termalica will be forced to start their maiden top-flight campaign 60 miles away in Krakow.
The club’s owner, however, is insistent that the club will be back in the village by the end of the year. Krzysztof Witkowski, also the founder of Bruk-Bet, has already approved the beginning of works to install the required facilities to host Ekstraklasa football, while additionally increasing the capacity to beyond the 4,500 required to host top-flight games – over six times the population of Nieciecza.
Since making his fortune in construction materials, Witkowski has ploughed millions into improving life in his adopted home. When the local school closed due to budget cuts, he and his wife Danuta funded a new, free-to-use private school for the village children; while he later constructed a state-of-the-art 5D cinema – one of Poland's first – for public use, on the ground floor of Bruk-Bet’s headquarters. Mrs Witkowska is known to occasionally donate gate receipts to local charities. Top-flight football is just the couples’ latest gift to Nieciecza.
Despite their rapid ascent up the pyramid, there have occasionally been doubts over whether Ekstraklasa football was actually attainable for a club of Termalica's stature. With five seasons in the second-tier, some fans thought the club had plateaued; and with the disappointment of missing out on promotion by a single point in 2013 – by conceding a 91st-minute equaliser to an opposition goalkeeper – some fans thought it may be a step too far.
However the appointment of Piotr Mandrysz as coach in the winter of 2014 proved to be an inspired choice. Having twice previously led teams to their first appearance in the top-flight (RKS Radomsko in 2001-02, Piast Gliwice six years later), Mandrysz's experience shone-through, as Termalica remained in the top-three for the entire duration of the season.
Witkowski however doesn't see promotion to the Ekstraklasa as a glass ceiling. He believes that they are able to push even further, and possibly even bring the tiny village to even much wider attention. "The goal for next season is mid-table" he told Polish sports daily Przeglad Sportowy. "Then what next? European cups? Today it would be an overstatement, but it is possible that we will begin to prepare such a plan." Ryan Hubbard @Ryan_Hubbard Ekstraklasareview.co.uk