It's nice to visit familiar places from time to time. For me - even though I’ve lived in Warsaw and Krakow for years - Tarnow is where my heart belongs.
You know how it is; you can get used to living in different places, but there's only one place where you truly feel at home. Everyone in this place knows you, and you know everyone there. Even the air has a different flavour to anywhere else. Sometimes when I drive there, I find myself opening the window just to remember that smell.
When I arrive in Tarnow, it seems to me that even the people are special - more so than in any Polish city. Less busy than in Warsaw, more cheerful than in Krakow. Extremely enterprising.
One of these people is Krzysztof Witkowski from Nieciecza, a small village near Tarnow. Almost thirty years ago he established a company producing paving slabs and other building materials to the construction industry. The business did well and Witkowski soon opened a factory.
Since then, the business, Bruk-Bet, has developed at breath-taking speed and Witkowski no longer has to form paving stones with his own hands. Instead, he prepares the plan of the company's development into other European countries. A few years ago, Witkowski also invested in a local football club, one that has now won seven promotions in eight years and currently plays in the Polish Pierwsza Liga (Second tier). One Sunday in March, Termalica Bruk-Bet Nieciecza played at home to Polonia Bytom. In the morning I got into the car and drove twenty kilometres to find out about a professional football club from a village.
Whilst driving out of Tarnow, just outside the city, it's easy to spot the huge Bruk-Bet factory with its production halls and giant mixers. Without the factory, it’s unlikely that anyone would have ever heard of Nieciecza. I pass a road sign, "Nieciecza" it says, yet around there are only ploughed fields and a few houses - one seems to be empty. A few kilometres further, there are some parked cars. And a stadium.
"A year ago there was a corn field in the place which is now the training ground" explains one of the locals. "Pogon Szczecin arrived once, and their supporters wanted to brawl with ours. The police attempted - as they say - to 'pacify' them. But they were not so stupid and started to run to the corn fields to hide"
"Chairman Witkowski was furious. He said that he didn't want to watch fans fighting in Nieciecza. He bought the fields and ordered his staff to plough them. Now, there is no place to hide".
"Do you know the club owner? What's he like?” I ask.
"You know what, this is the kind of guy that will lend you, I don't know, ten thousand zloty (about 2000 GBP) to get something done around the house. He would lend it to you if he knows you and is sure that you will give the money back after some time. Here in Nieciecza, everything is done really well, because Mr Witkowski paid for it. He simply likes to share with people."
"The stadium, next to which we stand, Witkowski also built with his money. Previously, the pitch was smaller with only a couple of benches around it."
It is Sunday and the queue for match tickets is long. The game is going to be televised by Orange Sport - it will be the first such transmission in the history of the club. A ticket with discount for the game costs 12 zloty (around £2.40). The managing director of the club, Witkowski's wife Danuta, has decided that all revenue from today’s game will be used to help fund treatment for a boy from neighbouring town Dabrowa Tarnowska that was born without arms and legs.
Entering to the stadium, the stands are filled with many women and children; there is a picnic atmosphere. Police officers and firefighters are mostly eating sausages in commercial venues. They have a pretty comfortable job today. From the upper part of the stand, it is possible to see the club facilities in all their glory. Around the stadium there are several training pitches. A little further is a level field - where the next pitch will be built. The club centre is right next to it. Obviously, everything is funded by Witkowski. Before the start of the game, the owner sits in the VIP box on a garden chair. He can be proud of himself, the stands are nearly full.
In Nieciecza you won't hear fans singing much, unlike other Polish stadiums. Sometimes only a small group of enthusiasts sitting in front of me strain their voices. "LKS, LKS…." - they chant. Bruk-Bet is still Ludowy Klub Sportowy (Country Sport Club) to them and it is rare to watch such teams competing in the second tier.
After fifteen minutes Dariusz Jarecki crosses the ball to Emil Drozdowicz and the hosts' forward scores from inside the box. 1-0 to Nieciecza! The guests from Silesia are surprised. Interestingly, before joining Nieciecza, both Drozdowicz and Jarecki played for Polonia.
There were many more old friends on the field. The man-of-the-match was Bytom's Daniel Mąka, who was well-remembered by Termalica fans.
"In our team he usually was on the bench, and today he's their captain? That's why we play for promotion, and they battle against relegation!" says one of the locals. The mood is perfect.
In the second half Polonia work hard to equalise, but the visiting team's forwards don't have their best day. The fans from Bytom, who came to the game in several buses, begin to get impatient. They start screaming ‘peasants’ at the home crowd. The locals are not moved. "Village will beat the city" - they chant for a while as the result remains unchanged.
Although Nieciecza would eventually fail in their bid for promotion to the Ekstraklasa, the tiny club will return next season bidding to reach the holy land once more. Some argue that this will be nothing new, because teams from small towns are already in the highest league. But towns such as Wronki (Amica) and Grodziski Wielkopolski (Groclin) have more than 10 thousand inhabitants. Nieciecza is a village with a population of fewer than 600.
After the game against Bytom, I approach one of the local fans. It turns out that he sometimes works at the stadium, when it's prepared for the league games.
"Everything has to be prepared well, because if something would go wrong, everybody would say that Termalica does not deserve to play in the Second Division. I am sure that if we advance to the Ekstraklasa, there will be no problems obtaining the license. The owner will provide money for everything that's necessary to play at the highest level. The mobilization will be great!"
"They often call us the peasants, but we don't care" he adds. "Those who shout loudest, usually leave Nieciecza without points."
Leaving the stadium, again there are only the fields and meadows in front. Everything around is flat, and there are only a few houses in the distance.
"Village will beat the city", shout some fans by the roadside. They are probably right.
Bartosz would like to thank Ryan Hubbard for his help here.