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Friday, March 14, 2008

Revisited: Widzew Lodz

Wednesday, December 10th, 1980
Widzew Lodz 1 Ipswich Town 0 (Ipswich won 5-1 on aggregate)
UEFA Cup 3rd Round, 2nd Leg
LKS Stadium, Lodz, Poland

Widzew Lodz

I have been most fortunate to have watched the Town in European action, both home and away, on many occasions during the seventies and early eighties. All of the away trips were memorable in one way or the other but the most memorable of them all was the trip to Poland for the UEFA Cup 3rd Round, 2nd Leg tie with Widzew Lodz in December of 1980.

At the time the country was in the middle of political upheaval, with Dock Strikes and other industrial actions being taken by the newly formed Solidarity movement under the guidance of Lech Walesa. In fact at the time we travelled the Russians were threatening to move in the tanks and troops in a style reminiscent of that that crushed similar civil disturbances in Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the 50's and 60's.

Widzew Lodz

The Foreign Office were actually advising people against travelling to Poland at all. But that wasn't going to stop myself and around 40 other town fans from seeing the Boy's in Blue in action. (My Mum was a tad upset mind!)

We flew with the Team from Stansted Airport on a splendidly appointed LOT airlines charter plane. Things were already beginning to have a tint of the surreal whilst we waited to board with the disturbing site of Eric Gates trying his utmost to show Kevin O'Callaghan how to play Space Invaders in the departure lounge!

Widzew Lodz

The outward flight was rather unremarkable; although it was a bit off that the players had the smoking section of the aircraft.

The fun started when we arrived at Warsaw Airport. Hundreds of Polish football fans were there to great us, and convinced that the Town fans were either part of the official party or members of the team, began a mad scramble for autographs. I must confess to having pretended to be Allan Hunter (well we were of a similar height) and duly signed a slew of autograph books to that effect.

Widzew Lodz

The journey from Warsaw to the mining Town of Lodz proved to be rather hazardous as the roads were covered with a thick layer of packed ice. Indeed, Trevor Kirton, Towns kit manager at the time, twice left the road in the van he was travelling in and managed to dislocate and un-dislocate his shoulder, respectively, in the two incidents.

Our hotel was a site to behold I can tell you and a special feature of the hotel room I shared with two other Town fans was the hole in the bathroom floor that allowed you to view the ablutions of those occupying the room below.

Widzew Lodz

The highlight of the first evening was a local "night club" that we managed to locate. The entertainment was provided by two musicians -- an electronic keyboard player and a saxophonist. And so popular were they that the only other clients in the place were three gentlemen in long grey coats and sable hats, with hammer and sickle insignia, sipping lemonade at an adjacent table. KGB?

In the afternoon, on the day of the match, we were then very kindly taken on a tour of the stadium, actually the home of LKS, Widzew's rivals in the City. This gave us a chance to inspect the pitch afterwards and what an absolute joke it was. The playing surface resembled an ice rink with a layer of snow thrown in for good measure. How UEFA gave the go ahead for the game to be played is anyone's guess and the fact that the player's from either side escaped serious injury is down to pure luck.

Widzew Lodz

Back to the Hotel bar for a few beers or so we thought. The place was absolutely packed with afternoon drinkers, and the general buzz of the place was bought to a silence every 10 minutes or so when one patron after another hit the floor after consuming more than his or her daily intake of Vodka. Of course we had to help them out!

When our bus arrived at the Stadium for the game we were greeted by the Widzew fans in a similar manner as we had been at Warsaw airport the day before, and I again pretended to be Allan Hunter autograph-wise.

Widzew Lodz

More amusement followed when a friend of mine, convinced that he could make a killing in the programme collectors market back home, made for the first available programme vendor and relieved him of his entire stock of 200 copies (incidentally he still has 50 or so available to this day).

More Vodka was to follow when we took our place on the terracing. I met up with a guy from Yugoslavia who was studying at the Lodz University. He was carrying two one-litre bottles of the Polish elixir, which we duly consumed in an improbably short period of time.

Widzew Lodz

I cannot possibly comment on the game itself (other than to say that the pitch seemed to have worsened since earlier in the day, and the temperatures had plummeted to 15 degrees below zero) as it is all a complete blur. Although apparently we lost 1-0 to go through to the next round 5-1 on aggregate. The last thing I can specifically remember is the teams entering the field. The Town players bizarrely dressed in woollen leggings, gloves and bobbles hats. Their arrival was a signal for the home crowd to start pelting the machine gun toting guards around the perimeter of the pitch with snowballs, blocks of ice and other projectiles.

The return journey to Warsaw after the match is equally a blur although I would like to offer belated apologies to the owners of the Polish Bus Company for having decorated the inside rear of the bus with a techni-coloured yawn. Also a delayed apology to the various armed guards at the airport with whom I collided with in my attempts to stagger to the check-in desk.

Widzew Lodz

And dear readers the story does not end there. At the time, Poland, as well as the other Soviet Bloc states, had strict controls over their currency and you were not allowed to take either notes or coins from the country. Anyway, being a collector of foreign bank notes I decided to discrete a 50 Zloty note about my personage and make off with it. When I got home I could not for the life of me find it anywhere !.

Two years later, when I was playing at being an ex-pat and living in the US, I went off to see my adopted (but sadly now defunct) Chicago Sting play a home game in the Major Indoor Soccer League. I arrived at the Stadium and hunted through my jacket pockets (a garment that I had only just recently purchased) for my season ticket and low and behold there was the 50 Zloty note! Strange but true.

More pictures here.

posted by chevblue at 9:19 pm






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a (mainly) pictorial account of one man's obsession with football stadia, floodlight pylon's and ipswich town football club

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