Long before football hipster favourites Borussia Dortmund started picking quality Polish players out of nowhere and making them class, Sunderland had their very own Polish international full back, Dariusz Kubicki.
Born in the former German province of Kożuchów in 1963, the 5’9 right back moved to England during the summer of Euro 1992, signing for Ron Atkinson’s Aston Villa after almost a decade at Polish giants Legia Warsaw - a club where he had made 190 appearances. In Dariusz’s first season on these shores, however, he’d only complete a full ninety minutes on one occasion. The following season continued in a similar pattern for the full international as the defender was used only as third choice option, providing back up to Earl Barrett or Neil Cox.
Out of favour at Villa, Sunderland manager Mick Buxton captured the full back on loan for the remainder of the season, and Kubicki became the first Polish born player to grace the hallowed Roker Park turf. His arrival resulted in four successive wins, a rise up the table, and an almost immediate cult hero status for the Pole.
The fan favourite made a permanent move to the club in the summer of 1994. A fee of £100,000 was agreed and the finest Polish import since Tyskie rocked up on Wearside bringing with him the finest side parting in the lower half of the Endsleigh First Division.
Consistent and never injured, he proved a bargain for such a paltry sum. However as Mick Buxton struggled to keep our heads above water, he eventually was given his marching orders and replaced by a loveable Scouse rogue named Peter Reid.
A complete turn in fortunes for the club came with the appointment of Reid, and Kubicki remained as consistent under new management. As classy a defender as Wearside had seen in some time, he became ever present that year as we secured the First Division league title. All the while, the forty-six times capped Poland international was closing in on club legend George Mulhall’s post-war consecutive appearances record.
However, quite bizarrely, as the Lads made a steady start to their first Premiership season he was controversially dropped just one game before equalling Mulhall’s record - inconceivable that he was also dropped for potentially Sunderland’s worst ever player in Gareth Hall.
A pre-match argument with Paul Bracewell, Reid disliking him and Kubicki’s lack of social involvement were all cited as reasons for the omission. Reid simply commented that he “wasn’t aware” of the record and it was a tactical decision, when quizzed. Frustratingly for the player, he was restored to the starting eleven only one week later, as a Paul Stewart goal saw us beat his former side Aston Villa 1-0 at Roker Park.
Truth be told once Peter Reid had fallen out with you, there wasn’t a way back - just ask Nicky Summerbee or Allan Johnston. Although he went on to complete twenty nine games that year, he was released on a free transfer following our relegation, going on to be picked up by Wolverhampton Wanderers. In truth, Dariusz’s career was coming to an end and he retired only two years later after spells at Tranmere (loan), Carlisle and Darlington. He was quickly handed an opportunity to move back home to his native land, managing former club Legia Warsaw in 1999.
As unassuming as he was a player, Kubicki became a bit of a loose cannon as a football manager. He was arrested and subsequently suspended whilst coach of his third club, Lechia Gdańsk, for his alleged role in a bribery scandal involving a Warsaw sports centre, alongside accusations of match fixing. He would later leave the club of his own accord, refusing to sign an agreement that confirmed his role in the corruption that took place - an agreement that would have meant Kubicki handing over his entire year’s salary. Scandals were rife in Polish football that year, with champions Zagłębie Lubin forcibly relegated to the Polish bottom tier for their part in match fixing.
Corruption and match fixing have been quite prevalent in Polish football since the early 90s, with its beginnings going back to the Communist era when it was common for clubs and players to make money on promotion and relegation issues. In total, Poland has seen fourteen teams sanctioned over the years - so it as high profile as these cases were it’s perhaps not completely unusual.
Since the scandal, the Pole has continued to work as a manager and has taken jobs in Russia and even Serbia. He is recently unemployed though since leaving Robert Lewandowski’s Znicz this year after just one season; however if you want to feel really old, his son - Patryk Kubicki - is currently a full time professional footballer for the same club and is 23-years-old. Where has the time gone?