Sunday, March 16, 2014

Remembering Gerard Cieslik (April 27, 1927 - November 3, 2013)

There are times when an athletic arena or field becomes a battleground for political power or social change--for example, the "Miracle on Ice" rink at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, where the United States national team, comprised of amateur and collegiate players, defeated the Soviet Union national team, which had won the gold medal in six of the seven previous Olympic games, or every U.S. Major League Baseball field on which Jackie Robinson played in the late 1940s as the first African-American to break the MLB's cruel color line.

Or Poland's Stadion Slaski (Silesian Stadium). That's where the coal miner and football (soccer) player Gerard Cieslik made history at the age of 30 on October 20, 1957 before 100,000 wildly cheering fans, during the darkest days of the Cold War. Playing for the Polish national team, he scored two goals against the Soviet Union. Poland's 2-1 victory electrified the Communist-controlled nation. The spontaneous outpouring of patriotic--and distinctly anti-Soviet--sentiment stunned Moscow and strained relations between the Kremlin and its satellite, foreshadowing the resistance and upheaval that would lead decades later to Communism's collapse in Poland.

Considered a national hero, Cieslik died last November 3, having spent his entire career--from player to coach and scout--with one team, Ruch Wielkie Hajduki (since 1956 Ruch Chorzów).

Gerard Cieślik, Polska - ZSRR 2:1 1957 by numer10