So far, fans of Speedway team Orzeł Łódź have truly been spoiled this season. Apart from one slip-up in the first round of the season against Stal Rzeszow, they have been celebrating victories of their team matchday after matchday. 11 wins in a row, including two victories over Lokomotiv Daugavpils, were on their scorecard ahead of last Sunday’s match against Włókniarz Częstochowa.
Ahead of the match, statistics and the league table would have suggested that Orzeł Łódź goes into the match as the clear favourites, but when your opponent is called Włókniarz Częstochowa and you race away from home, statistics somewhat become irrelevant. Although Częstochowa have suffered clear defeats throughout the season, they have been absolutely dominant at home, having won all of their home matches so far. On Sunday 10.07., Polonia Bydgoszcz became the latest victim of Częstochowa, having been sent back home with a humiliating 66:24 defeat as a souvenir.
With the news of Polonia’s heavy defeat at the SGP Arena in Częstochowa, or perhaps better described as the “Lions Den”, fans of Orzeł Łódź began to mobilize. Although no official or unofficial collective transport was organized, it became evident that fans realized that their team needs all the support they can get, if they want to take anything from the match. Messages popped up across social media with some fans offering spare seats in their cars while others tried to find each other in order to take the 1 1/2 hour train ride to Częstochowa as a group.
It was also during the course of last week, that Orzeł Łódź announced the fact that their request, to broadcast the match live on the Orzeł TV youtube channel, was rejected by Włókniarz Częstochowa as the hosts feared that a live internet broadcast would limit the number of Orzeł fans willing to travel down south if they can follow the match from the comfort of their home.
As matchday approached and fears that the weather might spoil the fun were eliminated, approx. 150 Orzeł fans made the 1 1/2 journey to Silesia to support their team in the hope that a 12th consecutive win could be added to the scoreboard. When you arrive at the SGP arena, it is not difficult to understand why Częstochowa has been so dominant at their home matches. For starters, the stadium itself, with its massive main tribune, has a capacity of 17,000 (although their record visitor number was 35,000 in a match against Zielona Góra in 1974). The club also draws in visitor numbers of well over 5000 on average per match in the 2nd Polish Speedway league. Compared to the stadium in Łódź, with its capacity of 4,000 and somewhat disappointing visitor numbers at home matches, you automatically feel a bit overwhelmed when entering the SGP Arena. Possibly one of the ingredients of Częstochowa’s home success.
The match itself started on somewhat even terms. The first race finished on 3:3 equal points with Hans Andersen and Timo Lathi netting 2 and 1 points respectively for the Eagles. However, as the match carried on, it soon became clear that Orzeł would need a miracle to turn things around as two double wins by Częstochowa in the 9th and 10th race saw the Łódź team running behind by 37:23 points. At that time, it seemed that there won’t be a come back and while there was a hint of disappointment on the faces of the guest sector’s occupants, there was still that same determination and noise coming from the sector as at the start of the match. In fact, despite being outnumbered by the home fans, it was the support from Łódź that not only pushed their team forward but also entertained the whole stadium, animating the home support to join their chants.
However, what happened during the 11th race of the match is usually unheard of in sports stadia, unless it is during a speedway or perhaps ice hockey match. When Częstochowa rider Daniel Jeleniewski, who also had a spell at Orzeł back in 2011, fell as he tried to attack the 3rd place during the race, it was the fans from Łódź who took it upon themselves to honour Jeleniewski in the hope for a speedy recovery. The 150 fans from Łódź encouraged the whole stadium to put their hands in the air followed by “Daniel Jeleniewski” chants, to which the entire stadium followed suit. Sportsmanship at its best and a gesture which, unfortunately, we do not see too often among fans of other sports. Jeleniewski had to be carried off the track by an ambulance and was later admitted to hospital.
With their gesture towards Daniel Jeleniewski and their continuous support throughout the match, the supporters of Orzeł Łódź had already decided the match for themselves. They were the clear match winners, having won the hearts of everyone inside the stadium and as news of the gesture spread across social networks and media outlets, they have even been given the title of “Fans of the Year 2016”.
But that was not the end yet. Seemingly encouraged by the fan’s determination, it looked as if Orzeł Łódź would be able to turn the match around, coming from disastrous result to potentially a draw if not even a win. 3 double wins in the 12th, 13th and 14 race saw Orzeł closing in on Częstochowa as the scoreboard suddenly read 43:41 in favour of the hosts. Hopes to gain at least a draw after all were running high among the fans in sector H of the SGP Arena, but with a 3:3 point share in the 15th race, it was Włókniarz Częstochowa eventually claiming victory with an overall two point difference.
Although the points remained Częstochowa, there was no sense of disappointment among Orzeł fans. On the contrary, they thanked their riders for their fighting spirit at the end of the match and there were no hard feelings when they eventually left the stadium to embark on their journey back home to Łódź.
In the 2nd Polish Speedway league, Orzeł Łódź sits in top spot with a comfortable 6 point lead on Lokomotiv Daugavpils. Orzeł are favourites for promotion to the Ekstraliga (1st. Polish Speedway league), but no matter what happens during the rest of the season, one thing is already clear – The fans of Orzeł Łódź have already been crowned champions of the 2016 season.
Next up, Orzeł Łódź will travel north to take on Wybrzeże Gdańsk on the 5th of August. The next home match will take place on the 28th of August when Orzeł plays host to Włókniarz Częstochowa at the Orzeł stadium.