When the draw was made for the quarter-final stage of the Europa Conference League, as some of you may be aware, I was more excited than a lot of people. Living in Poland, this season’s return to European action for Fiorentina meant I kept hoping we would land a Polish club in the draw. Finally, my wish came true.
My original plan had been to go there as a fan, I couldn’t miss this opportunity to see the team in action right here in Poland. Then, someone suggested applying for press accreditation. Once that idea took hold, it was hard to shake off.
I’m a firm believer that you have to at least ask for what you want. The worst that can happen is you get told no, but on the other hand, sometimes it may just work out. I was given the green light just a couple of days before the game, and that was enough for me.
The day before the game I did a quick interview with Radio Firenze Viola. I gave my opinion on the Lech team and what I expected from the game. My prediction, which I gave on more than one occasion, was for a 1-1 draw. To be honest, I would have been happy with that result to take back to Florence. As we know, Fiorentina did much better than that.
On the day of the game it was an early start. I may live in Poland, but it’s still quite a trip to get to Poznań. I left home before 7:30 am and it was over seven hours later by the time I checked into my room in the city centre.
At this stage I was pretty hungry, and as the rain had just started to fall, I found a pizzeria just a few doors down from where I was staying. Having never been to Poznań before, maybe I could do some sight seeing for a while, but the weather, along with the fact that the city is currently undergoing a lot of work meant that I wasn’t too enthusiastic. The main square of the city is more like a building site at the moment.
I had arranged to met up with a few other journalists from Florence at their hotel and we would share a taxi ride to the stadium.
These guys are well experienced of dealing with covering games from the press box, and know all the ins and outs of what goes on and where to go. As this was my first time ever, I was glad I had some friendly Florence faces to show me the ropes. These guys were there with both Radio Firenze Viola and Lady Radio.
Outside their hotel, I did a quick interview for Lady Radio, where yet again I repeated that I would be quite happy with a draw here in Poznań. Our taxi arrived and we took the short trip out to the stadium. We left early in order to avoid the match day traffic closer to kick-off, which meant we arrived at the stadium at around 6:30 pm with the match kicking off at 9 pm.
This was where having some journalist friends with me came in useful. They already had their press passes as they had arrived the day before and already been to the ground for the pre-match press conference.
I, on the other hand, would need to wait until 7:30 to pick up mine. I had thought I would just wander around outside the ground soaking up the atmosphere, but as the rain only got heavier that idea suddenly didn’t seem to appealing.
The guys told me to just come along with them, there wouldn’t be any issue. The man checking the passes at the gate was not of the same opinion, no pass no entry. They told to me to wait there, they would sort it out. I wandered off to find where I should pick up my pass, but as I suspected it was too early and nobody was there.
Not to worry, they had found someone from UEFA inside the ground, and managed to get my pass. Finally, I was able to make my way into the stadium.
I followed the others down a corridor and ended up inside the press-conference room. Nothing would happen here before the game, it was just where we went to wait, but I knew that after the match I would be back here to listen to the managers.
Finally, it was time to make our way up to the press-box. We went through a maze of corridors before taking the lift to the fourth floor. Another labyrinth until we entered a large room where I could see a couple of doors which led to some smaller rooms, these were for the TV studio and television commentators.
Going through another door, where our passes were checked, I could at last take in the view of the pitch and the ground. We were high up, but with a fantastic view, right on the half-way line, and I took my seat with nothing in front of me but the beautiful green pitch and the stadium stands which at this stage were still pretty empty.
It’s an impressive sight, the Lech Poznań stadium, and although the rain was still falling, all four sides of the ground are well covered so fans here don’t need to worry about getting wet.
The stands began to fill up, and from the section behind the goal where the Lech Ultras are based, the noise level started to rise. We knew they had some type of choreography planned for kick-off time, and they are well known for creating an amazing atmosphere.
I spotted the first few Fiorentina players taking a quick look at the pitch, and Joe Barone was also down there.
When the Lech players emerged for their warm-up they were given a rousing reception from the home fans. When the Fiorentina team made their entrance, the reaction was just as loud, but not so warm, although the Fiorentina fans high up in one corner of the ground also made themselves heard.
Kick-off was approaching, but we realised that the WIFI here was pretty non existent. Luckily I wasn’t on any tight deadline, unlike most others here. Beside me I had the guys commentating on the game for Radio Firenze Viola, with Lady Radio behind me. Those back in Florence would be able to follow every move on the pitch thanks to those here at the ground.
Earlier we had been handed the line-ups, with Vincenzo Italiano surprising many by including Luca Ranieri and Josip Brekalo. Lech manager John van den Brom, meanwhile, had needed to deal with the late suspension by UEFA of defender Bartosz Salamon.
By now the stadium was packed, and the noise was deafening. The Lech fans began their show, as not only those behind the goal but also the stand opposite us made a giant blue Forza Lech on a white background. It was an impressive sight.
For me time always flies by no matter how early I get to a game, and it was already time for the game to begin. Lech had the first chance, not that Milić’s header from a free kick was ever going to trouble Terracciano.
With just four minutes on the clock, Fiorentina already had the ball in the net. Nico González’s stunning strike seemed destined for the corner of the net but instead came back off the upright, it then bounced off the Lech keeper, Bednarek, and Cabral was quickest to react.
The home crowd, and players, were shouting for a penalty when Ishak went down in the area with Milenković in close attendance, but the referee waved play on.
Fiorentina went close to doubling their lead when Brekalo hit the post, but soon it would be Lech celebrating. It had already been announced that on 19 minutes and 22 seconds, the fans would perform their famous Poznań, and I was ready and waiting to watch this live in the stadium.
As if on cue, as the Lech fans turned their backs to the action, their team scored the equalising goal. I’m pretty sure most of those inside the ground missed the goal, and to be honest I missed most of what led to the goal myself.
At this stage, my 1-1 prediction wasn’t looking so bad. Even though Fiorentina were clearly the better team, it was also obvious that Lech could be dangerous if we had any more slip-ups at the back.
Kristoffer Velde, the Lech scorer, looked lively when Lech managed to attack, but Michał Skóraś was the most impressive on the home team.
Fiorentina did manage to regain the lead before the break. Dodô’s cross from the right went all the way to the other side of the area. Mandragora played it back to Biraghi and his cross into the box found González, his header into the turf seemed to travel in slow motion past the keeper and into the corner of the net.
A 2-1 lead at the interval, and I decided to head inside to find the bathroom, grab some refreshments, and take a look at what went on during the break. I found a table surrounded by a group of people where tea and biscuits were available.
The thing that I found weird was I kept seeing these faces that I recognised. At first I wasn’t sure if I knew these people, if I should say hello, but then I realised they were people I watched regularly on Polish television.
I saw the guys who were commentating for TVP Sport, the Polish state TV, Mateusz Borek and Robert Podoliński.
There were others who I recognised from watching football on Polish television. On my way back out to the press box I passed the TVP studio which overlooks the pitch. The door was open and again there were faces I knew from television.
After the break, things got even better for Fiorentina. A 4-1 win was probably beyond most people’s expectations, but this team has turned a corner in recent months, and right now, the sky is the limit.
I was disappointed with Lech’s performance, I expected more from them, and I thought their keeper was very poor on the night. Their fans, however, did nothing but impress. Even at 4-1 down they kept singing, kept making plenty of noise, right to the final whistle, and beyond.
As the Fiorentina players raced to celebrate in the corner which held the faithful Fiorentina travelling support, the Lech players went to their own fans. It had been a disappointing result, but the home support were still proud of their team.
When I went back inside, many of the press were hunched over laptops at desks, frantically getting their match reports and reactions in as quickly as possible. I ended up back at the Press Conference room, waiting to hear what the managers had to say.
After a short wait, a relaxed but focused Vincenzo Italiano walked in. He spoke of the awareness of the players that know it can also concede goals but must not give up.
“After 1-1 that’s where I have to congratulate because it wasn’t easy. We stayed inside the match, took the lead at half-time and could have scored again.”
He reassured us that Nico González had not suffered any serious injury. At the press conference the day before, González had spoken of how he was determined to show Fiorentina fans in this game that he could make a difference. Italiano said that he had told Nico after the press conference that he had just publicly made a promise to everyone, but now he had kept his word.
When asked what had been the spark which ignited lately, Italiano said that the work they had put in earlier was finally paying off. He spoke of a bad atmosphere at the time in Florence, outside of the club, when the team’s problem was finding the net. Since they started scoring confidence grew.
It was hard not to feel some sympathy for Lech manager John van den Brom. “We expected so much from this game and now I’m sitting here after a 4-1 loss at home. Compliments to the Lech fans and to Fiorentina, they were too good for us.”
He was asked about UEFA’s decision to suspend Salamon on the morning of the game. While not wanting to make excuses for the defeat, it was clear that this late disruption did not help the team.
The manager informed us that he had been about to leave for the ground that morning when his phone rang. He saw that it was the Lech president, and he told us that when you see Mister President calling you on the morning of a game, you know it’s something important.
That was the moment when he found out he would now need to plan without his experienced defender, one who had spent most of his career playing in Italy.
By the time the press conference was over, and everyone had written up what they needed, it was after midnight. The guys were still hoping to be able to get some food when we made it back to the city, but knowing this was Poland, I wasn’t quite as optimistic. We left the ground and waited for a taxi to take us back to the city centre.
The search for food ended without any luck, and I think most of us just wanted to get back to our rooms. It would be another early start in the morning for everyone, with the long trek home in front of us.
While we walked the busy main streets of Poznań at 1 am, there were plenty of Lech fans to be seen, still in high spirits despite the result. While alcohol was also a factor at this hour, there was no sign of danger anywhere, and this away trip passed off without any trouble.
After the evening’s rain, the main square had now become a mud bath as I made my way back to my room. It had been a long eventful day, one that I won’t forget in a hurry. This was in part thanks to a great performance and result by Fiorentina.
It was also thanks to the completely new experience, I’ve been going to games for a long time and love everything about being at a stadium. This was something different, to get to see behind the scenes, to go to parts of the ground I never usually see.
But, overall it was mostly thanks to the great people I met. It was clear to see how everyone here writing about Fiorentina, despite working for different outlets, also work together as a team and are always willing to help each other.
They were also more than willing to help out a newbie like myself, and it made the whole experience much easier and much more enjoyable. For this my heartfelt thanks goes to Pietro Lazzerini and Tommaso Loreto of https://www.firenzeviola.it/ and Mario Tenerani of https://www.ladyradio.it/
The next morning’s long train journey home was accompanied by the main Polish sports newspaper, Przegląd Sportowy, with its headline ‘Italian Job’. Personally, I would have went with Italiano Job, our manager is again working miracles.