It’s all going to be OK. It’s all going to be fine. Somebody once told me something that really resonated with me. They said “It’s all downhill from here.” It’s not an uncommon phrase, and I’d heard it many times before. But it wasn’t the words that resonated with me, it was the perception of the meaning behind them that I hadn’t heard before.
If you’re riding a bike up a steep hill, then going up is the tough part. You pedal, and pedal, and pedal. It’s exhausting and it’s painful. But once you’ve pedalled enough, once you’ve put in the work and the pain, once you’ve shed enough sweat and tears, you find yourself at the top of the hill. And it’s all downhill from here.
Recently, we have been pedalling and pedalling and pedalling and I have to hope that we’re coming close to the top of the hill. What I’d give at the minute to be able to just hold onto the handlebars, keep my feet steady on the pedals and let gravity take care of the rest.
Today we take on Górnick at home. Last week we travelled to Piast and were unravelled by Tricky Janicki, and so I must drop 3 of my players. As the lowest performing players in that match, Tom Scheffel, Danny Wilson and Adrian Garbacik will be the ones to make way. Wilson’s suspended anyway after picking up 4 yellows, but I want it on record that he’d be sat in the stands even if that wasn’t the case.
To be honest, I had hoped that this new self-imposed rule would spur my players on to pick up a win, but I think that all I’ve succeeded in doing so far is cutting my nose off to spite my face. The upside though is that I have the chance to freshen up my squad with new or rarely seen faces.
I had hoped that Alan Hutton could replace compatriot Danny Wilson, but he picked up a bruised head a couple of days ago and so is not fit to play. I know, I don’t get it either. I thought he was Scottish. I doubt that Duncan Ferguson’s head was ever completely unbruised, but he still racked up 98 career goals. I’m willing to bet that at least 95 of them were with his head too. Anyway, Hutton is out of contention, so Bart will drop back into the centre of defence, with Gregurina replacing him in midfield. Abramowicz replaces Garbacik and 15 year old Tomasz Jaborski replaces Scheffel. He’ll set a Lotto Ekstraklasa record as the league’s youngest ever player.
I know what you’re thinking.
“You’ve lost it, Franjo!”
“You’re out of your mind!”
“I have a tattoo of your half-robot face on my thigh!”
Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m mad. Maybe I’m extremely photogenic and an excellent choice for anyone’s thigh tattoo. But my squad is failing. I expected them to bounce back by now and they haven’t, and yes, a lot of the blame for that is on my shoulders, but this kid’s mind is fresh. He’s untroubled by our recent failure. If he can play with a smile on his face and a couple of the lads follow suit, my gamble will have paid off.
10 minutes in, we go close. Kevin plays a well timed cross to Aaron Kwarko, but his header bobbles wide. A few minutes later, Kwarko gets into the box again, this time on the end of a pass from Fossy on the right. He shoots with power, but Berkovec saves and does well to hold onto it.
Alas, our promising start unravels before the 20 minute mark. Peyrzak’s corner is headed clear by Gregurina but only as far as Dzalamidz, who toe-pokes the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
We try to control the game after half an hour, but we just can’t find the equaliser. 10 minutes into the second half, Mackiewicz has the ball on the left wing for Górnick. He skips down the line past young Jaworski, who sticks out a foot and brings him down for a penalty. I bury my head in my hands. I’ve picked a young lad in the team to add some optimism into the squad, and within an hour he’s set a new record for “Youngest ever player to give away a penalty in the Lotto Ekstraklasa”.
Vukobratovic’s penalty is near perfect. Power, accuracy, straight into the bottom corner. Nowak dives the right way but gets nowhere near it. With an hour gone, I break out a rare triple substitution. Gregurina, Kwarko and Tarnowski are replaced by Machalski, Tuovinen and Stryjek.
Within minutes, the extremely unfit Machalski is looking lively and wins the ball from Olejarka. He hoofs it onto the right wing for Ari Tuovinen, who breaks away down the line. I feel my vindication blanket drawing closer… Until Tuovinen makes the absurd decision to shoot from way out on the right wing. The ball goes nowhere near the goal. I am displeased.
We go attacking, but the last chance of the game goes to Mackiewicz following a Dzalamidze free kick. His shot is caught comfortably by Nowak. 0-2 it ends. I guess we’ll just have to pedal that little bit more.
The GieKSa press officer, Michal Dabrowski, is sending me weekly updates on how long it’s been since we last won a match, which is really fucking helpful and appreciated.
Next up in my fully immersive nightmare is a trip to Wisła Kraków. After their terrible start to the season, Kraków have picked themselves up for the second half of their campaign. Good for them. They currently sit above us in 13th place with 4 more points. We risk really isolating ourselves in the relegation scrap if we lose to them.
In terms of our inevitable personnel changes, Kwarko, Kevin and Tarnowski are dropped. Franczak, Glen and Stryjek are all in. With no disrespect to these guys, I’m really scraping the barrel now. Jaworski stays in the lineup because I want to give him another chance to prove himself.
It takes just over 10 minutes for Malecki to hoof a cross in from the right wing, and for Morrell to slip into space between Bart and Jaworski and nod the ball home.
Another 10 minutes passes before Morrell receives the ball again, this time skipping effortlessly past Gregurina and Hurley and into the box. He shoots, but drags his shot wide of the far post.
5 minutes later, Ondrasek crosses from the right. The ball flies over Bart’s head once more and Vidémont’s there to volley it in at the far post. 0-2.
I can barely believe my eyes though when within 2 minutes, young Stryjek releases even younger Glen on the left wing. The nippy youngster takes it forward and clips a lovely cross to the far post, where Franczak arrives to apply the finish. My fist flies into the air so fast that I nearly dislocate my shoulder.
Straight from kick off however, Kraków come back at us. This time, Bartosz crosses to the near post and Ondrasek is there to volley the ball into the bottom corner, restoring his team’s 2 goal lead almost instantly.
It’s actually quite impressive that with 25 minutes gone, we were losing 0-1, and with 30 minutes gone, we’re losing 1-4. Kraków’s 4th comes just 2 minutes after their 3rd, when Morrell dribbles into the box and up to the byline, squares the ball for Ondrasek, and he blasts his second past Nowak.
I watch my players’ body language as they troop back to their positions, heads down, shoulders slumped. I watch the travelling fans, those who’ve shown up at least, as they boo and shout and throw their hands up in despair. I don’t know if I can do this anymore, GieKSa. I think I’m done.
In the 32nd minute though, Bartosz is caught in possession outside his own box and Fossy nicks the ball away from him. I look up hopefully from my current position, slumped back in my seat in the dugout. Fossy lays it off for young striker Stryjek, who shoots from just outside the box – And the ball flies into the top corner. 2-4. All I can manage at the minute is a smile though. Good for Stryjek, I think. Maybe I’ll try to sign him on loan for my next, far inferior club after I’m sacked in disgrace.
With just under 10 minutes to go until the break, Abramowicz takes a throw in, launching the ball down the left wing and into the box for Fossy to chase. Fossy does chase it, but just as he gets close to the ball, he’s tripped by Maczynski. My heart skips a beat. He was inside the box. The referee blows his whistle and runs over, pointing to the penalty spot.
Mario Gregurina places the ball at 12 yards and measures his steps backwards. The referee’s whistle blows. Gregurina takes a step, and another, and runs the last few, before striking the ball, and placing it comfortably into the bottom left corner. 3-4. I do stand this time, feeling hopeful enough to fist pump once more. The bastards are pedalling. They’re pedalling furiously against the steep incline, against the force of gravity, against wind resistance. Just keep going, I beg them silently, just pedal a little further.
Half time comes and goes. I urge the lads on in my team talk, convincing them that the next goal will be ours. That they can still get a result. I think they believe me. I hope they do.
Nearly 10 minutes after the restart, my group of lovable misfits are playing with their chests puffed out. Fossy is having the game of his life and he plays a nice through ball into the box for Stryjek, who should shoot first time but takes a touch instead, allowing Lis to close down the angle and save his shot. The crowd are on board now though, cheering the players on. Kraków are getting scared, mistakes are becoming more and common among their players.
With a quarter of an hour to go though, they break. Sylwestrzak gets away down the left wing. He crosses the ball into the centre and Ondrasek meets it with his head – But the ball cracks against the bar. He was inches away from his hat trick. We go on the attack.
5 minutes later, I opt once more for a triple substitution. There’s only 10 minutes to play and the fresh legs can only be good for us. Off come Gregurina, Hurley and Glen, on come Rodrigo Silva, Machalski and Karwot.
But it’s no use. The clock keeps ticking on. 90 minutes pass and the 4th official signals for 2 minutes of injury time. We’ve not gotten close since Stryjek’s chance in the 54th minute.
But then Stryjek finds himself with the ball, 20 yards out. He holds it up well. I get up from my seat, along with the travelling fans and my coaching staff. Stryjek lays the ball off for Rodrigo Silva, who’s bombed on from his regular holding man role, arriving just outside the box. He shoots low, and the ground goes silent. The whole stadium inhales as one as the ball fizzes towards the bottom corner – And is saved by Lis. I make an involuntary agonised noise as I watch it bobble onto the right wing, away from goal.
But we aren’t done. Franczak picks the ball up on the right, turns and swings a cross towards the far post. Kamil Karwot leaps to reach it, but he can’t. He ends up in a heap on the floor. Because he was pushed by Malecki. The referee’s whistle goes as he once again runs over, pointing to the spot.
After a split second of realisation, every single person affiliated with GKS Katowice lets out a cheer or a scream or a shout of delight. Apart from me. Not yet. Not until I see 4-4 up on the score board.
After a few seconds, the delight turns into worried murmurs and I think I know why. Mario Gregurina, our usual spot kick taker who has already put one away today, has gone off. And we’re left with, quite frankly, a bunch of kids to choose from to take the second.
And then I remember. I remember a moment that seems like it was played out a whole lifetime ago, but in reality was only just over a year ago. A moment when I watched a 16 year old boy step up for a team of youth candidates, unfazed by the prospect of taking a penalty against a goalkeeper twice his age. He rifled the ball into the net from 12 yards then, and he can do it again. I catch Silva’s eye as he trudges back towards the half way line, and point towards the box. “Take it Rodrigo!” I shout.
Dennis turns to me with a look of confusion on his face. “Rodrigo, Boss?” He asks.
“He’ll be fine.” I reply, as Silva starts jogging back towards the box. I sound a lot calmer than I feel.
Silva does look slightly more worried than I remember in that youth candidates match last March though, as he steps up and places the ball on the spot. He, like Gregurina, counts his steps back. The referee blows his whistle, and Rodrigo breaks into a jog, before hitting the ball – Nay, fucking twatting the ball – Straight down the middle of the goal, past the flailing feet of the goalkeeper as he dives out of the way to his left. 4-4.
Euphoria ensues. I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated a point more. The players are piling up on top of Silva in the corner where the fans are sitting. The travelling fans that have finally been rewarded; Bouncing, singing and cheering as their heroes gather below. Dennis leaps into the arms of one of the coaches like he’s Scooby Doo, laughing hysterically while the rest of the staff high five, hug and laugh.
I just stand outside my dugout: Applauding, breathing a sigh of relief, and wearing the first genuine smile I’ve worn in a long time.
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