Meet Bruk-Bet Termalica, Europe's smallest top flight football club
In Nieciecza, Poland, people like to sing about concrete paving slabs and elephants, but not necessarily in that order. Here, in a minuscule village 60 miles east of Kraków, sequestered among cornfields, you will find Bruk-Bet Termalica Nieciecza Klub Sportowy, perhaps the most unorthodox team in professional football. You will also find a sporting revolution unlike any other.
Bruk-Bet is a Polish manufacturer of building materials owned by Krzysztof Witkowski, an innovative millionaire. Termalica is the firm’s most popular product, a type of aerated concrete used in the construction of energy-efficient buildings. Nieciecza, meanwhile, is home to the entire operation, plus 750 people, who have an incongruous passion for the beautiful game.
Threading it all together, then, Witkowski is the sporting director of Bruk-Bet Termalica, a football club formed 99 years ago yet recently remade in the image of his ambitious brand. As for the elephants? Well, they are symbolic of the project writ large – mascots equally concerned with football and thermal insulation. At times, the mind simply boggles.
Who are Bruk-Bet Termalica Nieciecza? Introducing the smallest top flight club in European football history
Despite the desolate landscape and the convoluted name, Bruk-Bet Termalica Nieciecza is a paragon of sorts. You see, this esoteric club actually participates in the Ekstraklasa, Poland’s top football league. In fact, the aforementioned denizens make Nieciecza the smallest village ever to host a top flight football club in any European country. It is akin to Thornton Hough reaching the Premier League, and such a story deserves to be shared.
I first visited Nieciecza in 2019. As many readers know, my fiancée, Patrycja, is Polish, and Termalica’ flatpack stadium is a 25-minute drive from Tarnów, her hometown. Patrycja and I spend a lot of time in Poland, and our visits are usually peppered with sport. Wojtek, Patrycja’s brother-in-law, and Wiktor, her nephew, are hugely passionate about a range of sports – football, speedway, handball, basketball, even volleyball during the Olympics – and they have had Termalica season tickets for many years. Hence this fascinating club appearing on my radar.
The local team produced a dismal showing in the second division on my debut, drawing 0-0 with GKS 1962 Jastrzębie, but tales of bygone victories over Legia Warsaw, Wisła Kraków and Lech Poznań – the holy triumvirate of Polish football clubs – intrigued me. Accordingly, when Termalica regained promotion in 2020-21, returning to the Ekstraklasa after three seasons away, I perused their fixture list with added interest. The fact that our latest trip, in July 2021, coincided with the visit of mighty Wisła was a total coincidence, but tickets were swiftly purchased, nevertheless. I could not miss this one, it was decided. We had to attend the Małopolska derby.
City slickers versus village farmers – Inside the Małopolska derby between Wisła Kraków and Bruk-Bet Termalica
When matchday finally dawned, we jumped in Wojtek’s car and traversed the one winding road into Nieciecza, a small patch of land endowed with two shops, a church and a football stadium. High, toothpick floodlights beckon people from miles around, redolent of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, only people are in short supply here. The local priest even had to reschedule Sunday mass to avoid clashing with football matches. Nobody would turn up, otherwise. The football passion is that strong.
Add to this beatific scene the marauding juggernaut of Wisła, steaming through the cornfields like Liverpool to our aforementioned Thornton Hough. Wisła, of course, is a club of iconoclastic counterculture and rebellion, stitched in the same unruly thread as Rangers, Feyenoord, Millwall or FC København. All bucket hats and hereditary swagger, their fans are an impressively rowdy bunch.
Watching inebriated Wisła ultras pile out of beaten up Volkswagen Golfs – bottles of Tyskie, Żubr and Żywiec in hand – reminded me of Tranmere invading Southport, Solihull or some other nondescript shithole back in the National League days. The jaded squint of fatigued fans was also familiar, fumes of fallen history creating a disjointed present. It was good to be back among a moody crowd, though. It was good to be back at a real football match.
Groundhopping in Poland – Notes from the cornfields of Nieciecza
The 14-time champions of Poland, Wisła last won the title in 2011. Since then, the club has lurched from one crisis to another, pillaged by charlatans and hooligans, fake messiahs and criminals, underwhelming players and overpromising rogues. That the Biała Gwiazda arrived in Nieciecza as only slight favourites spoke to their sad demise. Once the kings of towns and cities, Wisła now spluttered in villages and hamlets. Despite incredible support from thousands of travelling fans, they looked unfit and unprepared for the game at hand. Cherished memories made no impact on the scoreboard.
By the same token, Termalica were sharp and hungry, starting the game with intent and imagination. Adam Radwański, a diminutive playmaker, stood out with impeccable vision and a cultured touch, and he opened the scoring after 28 minutes, finally putting Wisła to the sword after several early warnings. Buoyed by a diverse cabal of diehards, including Wojtek and Wiktor pounding drums, the orange and blue elephants could have killed the game off with a slew of chances, only for poor finishing to keep the score at 1-0 through half-time.
Early in the second half, a dominant tifo emanated from the Wisła faithful, plumes of pyrotechnic smoke billowing across the pitch from innumerable incandescent flares. An eight-minute delay stunted Wisła’s progress as vociferous lamentations wafted through the cornfields. Once again, I was teleported back to the non-league panhandle, reminded of Tranmere having more fans at away games than their lowly opposition. The faltering display was familiar, too, while Adrián Guľa, the bald Slovakian manager of Wisła, is a Gary Brabin doppelgänger – albeit with a smarter dress sense, bedecked in jeans and trainers.
The club’s 15th manager in eight years, poor Adrián almost burst a blood vessel as his players shrunk under the weight of that fabled jersey. Nevertheless, once the away end inferno was sufficiently doused, allowing play to resume, Wisła began to assert their superior experience, if not their outright skill, on a brutal game. Georgiy Zhukov equalised after 56 minutes, sparking terrifically chaotic scenes in the away end, and a dull metronomic inevitability took hold of the play.
Wisła expected to win, a timeless tic birthed in arrogance, but they lacked the quality to make it happen. For their part, Termalica did not shrink in the face of pressure. Wojtek and Wiktor kept drumming, and with 66 minutes elapsed, Bruk-Bet broke through, retaking the lead thanks to a fine free-kick from Piotr Wlazło. The home faithful danced in delirium, a heavy techno goal song booming into the abyss. Wisła fans watched from behind their fingers – nervy, nauseous and nonplussed.
The city slickers continued to probe, even while lacking a modicum of composure. Felicio Brown Forbes, a structural target man, was introduced, as Dor Hugi, a poor man’s Ricardo Quaresma, began to create a slither of danger. In stoppage time, Hugi bent a desperate corner kick into the Termalica penalty area, and cumbersome defender Maciej Sadlok rose highest to nod home a scruffy equaliser.
Relief mixed with mawkish anger in the Wisła end as fans spilled onto the pitch, rebuffed only by riot police in full balaclavas sprinting to stem the tide. The small beginnings of a riot were snuffed out, a few bottles were thrown from the terraces, and order was eventually restored. Disappointment was eventually restored, too, as nine minutes of added time yielded no further goals.
The game petered out to an unsatisfactory conclusion – Wisła indignant at dropping points in the outback, Termalica frustrated by their inability to complete a famous giant-killing. And so, we traipsed to the exit, unsure what to make of it all. And so, bumper-to-bumper traffic snaked back from whence it came – to Kraków, Tarnów and much further afield. And so, Nieciecza eased back into its resting state of irrelevance, awaiting the next weekend, when football’s strangest experiment would free it once more from the otherwise endless solitude.
- What happened to Wisła Kraków? Inside the fall of a Polish juggernaut
- My first visit to Poland
- Falling in love with Warsaw
Get the Planet Prentonia book!
Ryan Ferguson is the author of