No involvement in Euro 2012 damaged Both LKS and Widzew
6 July ~ Over 100 years ago, immigrants from Germany and Britain brought football to the streets of Lodz and the city becoming one of the first in Poland to play organised competitions just a few years later. Now, after the demotion of the city's most successful club, Widzew Lodz, next season will be the first since national competitions began in 1927 that the city will not be represented in the country's top two tiers.
Football in Lodz has been on a downward spiral ever since the last titles were brought to the city in the late 1990s. Since then both Widzew, and their great rivals LKS Lodz have suffered massive losses after running with unsustainable financial models, culminating in the pair falling from a spectacular height.
LKS – the city's oldest club – were the first to drop, just over two years ago. Relegated from the Ekstraklasa and then rooted to the bottom of the second-tier Pierwsza Liga, financial collapse saw them forced to re-form as a new entity in the regional fifth tier. After an almost identical sequence of events, Widzew's impending liquidation sees them set to follow the same path.
While clubs from across Poland have benefitted from the country's joint-hosting of Euro 2012, Lodz's lack of involvement on any level saw the city's two clubs left behind. New stadiums were built to host games in Warsaw, Wroclaw, Poznan and Gdansk, and venues in cities such as Krakow were revamped to be used as team bases, however the two new planned stadiums for Widzew and LKS were put on the back-burner as their priority dwindled.
Eventually work on both city-funded stadiums has started but even if the timing is debatable. With LKS stranded in the fourth tier, low attendances have dictated that just one stand of their new home will be built, to be completed within the next season, while work to demolish Widzew's old stadium began with relegation from the second to third-tier almost the best the club could hope for.
With just four wins all season, Widzew – Poland's last Champions League representatives – had been doomed almost from the beginning. A change of management during the winter break saw a minor improvement in form, yet with three games remaining they still required nine points to stand a chance of survival.
Their fate, however, was sealed off the pitch, ahead of a trip to face champions-elect Zaglebie Lubin. Unable to find the money to pay for transport and accommodation, Widzew were forced to forfeit the game, and ultimately their Pierwsza Liga spot. Although they were able to complete their schedule, reported debts of around 20 million zlotys (£4m) not only saw the club denied a licence for the third-tier, but also forced the liquidators to approach.
Having been unwilling to support the club under owner Sylwester Cacek, who many blame for their downfall, a new Widzew was set-up by supporters within days, as the natural successor to the fallen club. The new club will start life in the sixth-tier. However, like with LKS, the regional FA can allow them a place in the league above.
But while the club, and Lodzianin football in general, finds itself at its lowest ebb the opportunity to return to the upper echelons of Polish football does now present itself. With an improved infrastructure, and free of the poor management and mounting debts of their previous incarnations, a fresh start could be both clubs' best chance of returning to Poland's elite. Ryan Hubbard