From suffering a career ending horror injury at just 17…
To becoming part of Ultras Enigma and the leader in the stands…
On the brink of death but recovering to become a scout then assistant manager…
And leading chants on the pitch all during his time at Polonia Warszawa in Poland…
Now coaching in English Non-League after working his way up…
This is the story of Emil Kot so far and his quest to be the first Polish football manager in the English Football League!
So let’s take it back to the beginning AND where it all started for you. You were born in Warsaw, Poland and that’s where your football journey began at a young age?
EK: That’s correct. I grew up in North-East Warsaw in Bialoleka on the right bank of Wisla river. Back in the 1990’s, it would be described as more like the village side of Warsaw you could say. Quite similar to Bedfont where I’m living now in England. We had a large garden full of animals – three cats, three dogs, pigeons, chickens and of course that garden was my first football pitch. I’ve been playing football since I was 6 years old, everyday you would find me with a ball at my feet. I have great memories of the summer months where from early morning to late evening most days, it would be constant football games being played with my older brother and our friends. I played for various clubs in Warsaw – Polonia Warsaw, Polfa Tarchomin, Dolcan Zabki and Marcovia Marki. Across my youth football, I was playing mainly as a centre back but when I turned 16, the first team coach called me up to the first team and changed my position to a more central defensive midfielder role. I was too small to play as a centre back in adults football, I’m only 180cm (5ft 9) so they pushed me into the middle of the park.
Unfortunately, my playing “career” finished when I was 17 years old after one season in adults football. I was playing for Marcovia Marki in the 4th tier of Polish football at the time. I twisted my left knee and suffered tears to my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), LCL (lateral collateral ligament) and PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament). Additionally, I also damaged my meniscus. On the way to the hospital in the ambulance, I just knew that it was a very serious injury and that it would be the end of my playing career. The pain was unbearable. After a long period of recovery, I tried to go back to playing football 2 or 3 times. Unfortunately, after every single attempt, I had problems with my knee. In the meantime, my coach Jaroslaw Wojciechowski told me that I had shown some mental attributes to be a good coach. He knew that I loved football. He was pushing me to make sure I kept football in my life. That’s why I ended up doing my first coaching badge when I was 18 years old. Straight after that, my club (Marcovia Marki) gave me an opportunity to be a coach of the U7/U8 group. That was the beginning of my coaching journey.
I have a lot of followers across my social media accounts who have a strong interest in Polish football and many of them have done numerous ‘groundhopping’ trips across Poland. Some have ended up watching Polonia Warszawa, a club that Emil Kot has had a link with from a young age. He grew up supporting them and regularly attending their games, becoming a part of the Ultras Enigma group which he explains more about below. As a child, Emil spent 4 years playing for their youth teams, was a scout for the club while they were still in the Ekstraklasa for the 1st team, U21’s and academy. In 2013, the club found themselves playing in the IV liga (5th level of Polish Football) after they had problems off the field with their owner and finances, which led to the club not receiving a license to play in the Ekstraklasa.
FROM THE STANDS TO THE DUGOUT AT POLONIA WARSZAWA
You were appointed as assistant manager to Piotr Dziewicki and got Polonia promoted in your first season. As a passionate fan of the club, you must be proud to be able to say that you not only played for them at youth level but you also scouted for them and coached them which led to a promotion during a tough period for the team?
EK: I’m very proud that I’m part of the history of this fantastic club. I’ve been a Polonia fan since 1998, I can definitely say – “Polonia till I die!”‘. When anyone in the UK is asking me what my favourite club is, I always answer that I don’t support any club in UK and that I’m a Polonia Warsaw fan. After that they normally have to Google who they are, it ends up being good marketing for Polonia you could say (haha). My fan journey with Polonia is one that is rather crazy. When I was 14 years old, I started supporting Polonia more actively. I was travelling with my brother to the away games and I was a part of Ultras Enigma group. Sometimes it put me in dangerous situations but… it’s “part of the game”. As you know yourself, we have a different fans culture in Eastern Europe. When I was 17 years old (after my knee injury) I started to be a fans leader (capo). The one with a microphone/megaphone in the stands who is leading the fans during the game, I ended up doing it for nearly three years. I had some problems because of being in that position from our local rival fans – Legia Warsaw. It was a good lesson for me and it certainty enhanced my character. In 2010, there was a fight and I was close to death. I lost 1.5 litres of my blood after this fight on the street and was left with several knife wounds. Fortunately for me, the paramedics from the ambulance saved my life. Just 7 days after this incident, I turned up at the next home game to lead the fans because I wanted to show my character and my love to the club. I carried on leading the fans for the next couple of games but my situation in the city was getting even worse than it was previously so I decided I had to end this and focus on my coaching education. I did go back to leading the fans one more time when Polonia played their last game in Ekstraklasa against Piast Gliwice. There were almost 6,000 fans in the stands; great atmosphere but it was a sad farewell to the top flight.
EK: I was lucky, sooooo lucky that Piotr Dziewicki gave me a chance to be his assistant manager straight after relegation to the 5th tier. It was like a dream as I had been a player, fan, ultras and assistant manager. It was a great season. We played in front of 3k – 5k people at our home games, a massive turn out for that level. In the end, we won the league and got promoted to the 4th tier. I’m still following what is going on at Polonia and I know some of the players, manager, other people at the club. I hope we will be back soon to the Ekstraklasa. Fingers crossed as always!
You’re the founder and head of “Ty też masz szansę” (“You Also Have A Chance”), the biggest non-profit scouting project in Poland. Tell me more about the project and why you set it up back in 2014?
EK: It’s a completely non-profit scouting project for Polish players from non-league level in Poland (after pandemic – Europe). We have a scouting network in Poland where volunteer scouts are looking for talented players at non-league level during the full season. Twice a year we organise showcase games for them – totally free of charge. We choose the best players in our opinion and invite them for the game. The matchday has a professional set up in which we have a live stream, GPS system, highlights, snacks, food after the game and in the summer time – recovery station. Everything for FREE. We invite scouts, coaches, managers, agents to the game with the aim of them recognising potential players they could sign and giving them an opportunity to play in a higher league. We don’t earn any money from any of this with it remaining a totally non-profit project. In the last 6 years we’ve had some good success stories. The most famous one being Daniel Smuga, a midfielder that we found in the 5th tier of Polish football. After our showcase game he had several trials in 4th division. Finally he signed his first semi-pro deal with Victoria Sulejowek in the 4th division. A fantastic 6 months followed (He scored lots of goals), leading to his agent organising him a trial with Gornik Zabrze in Ekstraklasa. The trial went well and he signed his PRO deal. He made his debut in the Polish Ekstraklasa, even scoring a goal in the league and he scored two goals in Europa League qualification rounds. In 12 months, he went from being a forklift driver to scoring goals in Polish top flight and a European competition. Another one is Nataniel Wybraniec who after our trial game signed a contract with an agency and they organised a trial for him at SFC Opava – Czech Republic top flight. After the trial he signed his first PRO contract. Again, another player from Polish 5th tier. There has also been a few more, Krystian Ogrodowski, changed the 5th tier for Wisla Plock (Ekstraklasa) who is currently on loan at Stomil Olsztyn (2nd tier) and Dawid Rogalski who moved from Maidenhead FC U23’s/PFC Victoria London to the Polish 1 liga (2nd tier).
In 2020, we organised for the first time a game for players with Polish roots in London. We played against North Greenford United U18 at Bedfont Sports FC. From this game one guy – Lukasz Marszalek (Cheltenham Town FC), went for a trial to Miedz Legnica Academy and signed his pro deal in Poland. He is playing for their U19 team at the moment. That’s our plan for the future. We would like to organise games in Holland, Scotland, Wales, Iceland, Belgium etc. Poles are everywhere… That’s the truth. We would like to help Polish players who are growing up abroad. We have lots of links already in Poland and we can help them to chase their dreams. There is one more nice story involving England. When I was managing PFC Victoria London, I brought a player over from Poland from the 8th division – striker Pawel Kowalkowski. I knew him from the past when I was scouting lower leagues for Polonia Warsaw. He scored lots of goals for PFC at Step 7. After 6 months, one of my colleagues organised for him to have a trial at Wealdstone FC. They signed him and he played in 5 or 6 games for ”The Stones”. Unfortunately, he didn’t score and they eventually released him. It was a massive move for him and again a nice, success story.
I know you had some interesting offers from football clubs around the world including Vietnam and New Zealand. So how did you end up in England and what were your first steps into English football?
EK: I’m a typical dream chaser. After promotion with Polonia to the 4th division, we had a small clash with the chairman of the club and we decided to leave. Following that I was looking for football jobs anywhere and everywhere. I prepared an email with my coaching CV and cover letter sending out around 300 emails to clubs around the world in countries where English was widely spoken. I got some replies back from New Zealand and Vietnam as well as from England. I received an email from Mark Muddyman who was working for Watford FC Academy. I decided that I would try and go to England, just to meet up and speak with him. So that’s exactly what I did, got on a flight to London and had a coffee with Mark 🙂
EK: He showed me the academy and how they work etc. It was an enjoyable experience for me. Mark told me that he might have something for me in the summer time. So I went back to Warsaw and spoke with my girlfriend about the possibility of emigrating to England, we decided that I would at least give it a go. I’m lucky that I knew Bart Folger (former goalkeeper of Crewe Alexandra) who had been living in the UK for a long time. He shared his room with me at the start and helped me a lot. At the very beginning, I was working in a construction site canteen as a chef assistant with some Turkish guys and I was still looking for a football job but I couldn’t find anything. Mark told me that they wouldn’t have anything so I was sending emails everywhere. Finally after three months, I joined Dynamo Sports FC in Brixton where I was working with U9 age group. In the meantime I was working as an academy scout at West Ham United (for U8-U12 age groups). Also, I went with West Ham United U12 for a tournament in Gdansk, Poland with Dave Johnson. But I was still thinking about adults football.
Having managed, coached and scouted in both Poland and England. What would you say are the main differences but also similarities you’ve noticed during your time in both countries?
EK: There are a lot of differences, especially in coaching. England has changed me as a coach, in a positive way of course. I’m totally different after 5 years. First thing: coaching. Back in Poland with adults football, lots of coaches are still working in the ”old way”. They scream, they shout, there are no questions asked to anyone so less actual coaching is done. Typical old style. I know that you had something similar in the past in the UK but luckily you changed it. In Poland, they are now trying to change this mentality and way of coaching. I hope in the next couple of years there will be a massive improvement. Second thing: facilities, especially in PRO academies. You have got one of the best in the world. In Poland we have very few clubs where you have this high standard except for Lech Poznan, Legia Warsaw & Zaglebie Lubin. Their facilities and academies are similar to what you have in the UK at Category 1. But as you can see I only mentioned three clubs. I know there are a few clubs that are building new facilities at the moment even though it still remains a big difference. I remember when I saw Tottenham’s Academy for the first time… I was shocked. How to describe that place? Amazing, amazing and again amazing. It’s a dream for every coach around the world. Third thing: Stadiums at non-league level in UK and in Poland. I love that you have rules about floodlights at Step 6. That’s great as it means you can play football under the lights in the 10th tier of football. In Poland, we only have a rule about floodlights in Ekstraklasa and 1 liga, the top two leagues. For me it’s fantastic because I didn’t have it as a player growing up in Poland. Additionally, I really like English stadiums at non-league level with the stands being really close to the pitch and when you’re playing even in front of 100 people you can feel it. You don’t feel like you’re in an opera or theatre. My opinion can’t be totally unbiased because I’ve been in love with English football since I was a kid. I was playing for hours and hours on Championship Manager. I was always taking over the clubs from non-league. I remember that I was playing as Telford, Yeovil, Doncaster, Blyth Spartans etc. My biggest career in CM was a good run with Telford to the Championship. English football was always just some kind of dream for me but now….. I’m here. I’m working here and after the lockdown Balham FC will play in the London Senior Cup with the famous AFC Wimbledon. Life is beautiful. Maybe in the next couple of years I will play against Telford (haha).
I first came across Emil just over 3 years ago now, while he was manager of PFC Victoria London, a community driven Polish football club based in London who were competing in the 11th level of English football at the time.
PFC Victoria London was your first step into management of men’s football in England and it was a very successful 3 seasons for you and the club with 2 back to back promotions and a 2nd place along with winning 2 cups as well. How did that opportunity come about for you?
EK: Like everything in my life, luck played a part. In 2016, I was coaching occasionally in Magic Football Academy, a Polish football academy in West London. While I was there, I met Tomasz Slowiak, a father of one of the kids who I was coaching in Feltham. That’s another person who changed my life. First he invited me to his construction company and I started working for him as a buyer. It changed my financial situation a lot and after a few months I was able to invite my girlfriend and my little daughter to the UK (I was alone for the first year in the UK). Let’s get back to PFC. So one day Tomasz asked me what was my plan in Poland before I came to the UK and I told him that I was thinking about establishing a football club at non-league level. He replied: “So why we can’t do it here? Let’s think about the name of the club and then we can proceed from there. Don’t worry about the finance”. I thought that he was joking. However, after one week he asked me in the office – “And? Do you have it?”. It was then that I said to myself… ‘This guy isn’t joking’. I called my friend Robert Blaszczak and asked him for help in this project. Few weeks later we had a name – PFC Victoria London, venue, badge, registration and everything that we needed to start playing. We joined the Middlesex County Football League as we wanted to be in the Saturday pathway of football. Plan for first three years: 3 promotions and try to reach Step 4 in 10 years. We arranged trials for players while I was looking as well for some Polish ex-professionals who were living in London. Trust me when I say we have lots of them here. Tomasz was hiring one such person in his company – Michal Janicki. Former striker of VFL Wolfsburg and Eintracht Braunschweig in Germany. He was over 30 years old but he helped us a lot in his three years at the club. Another one – Bart Fogler who I mentioned earlier, former goalkeeper of Crewe Alexandra and Polish U21 national team. In total we had around 5 ex-pro players in our first season in the UK, it was an enjoyable time. Three successful years. Two promotions, Challenge Cup and the most important for me – Middlesex Intermediate Cup. We built our social media accounts really well, lots of good work was put in. Of course everything as volunteers. Same with the players, they didn’t earn anything.
After your time at PFC Victoria London, you were at Bedfont & Feltham FC for 8 months as first team head coach and now since May 2020 you’ve been first team coach at Balham FC. With each team, you’re making your way up the football pyramid in England. You’re known to be very hard working along with constantly looking to develop and educating yourself so you must be pleased with the progression so far and the experience you’re gaining?
EK: Yes. After three years at PFC we decided with the chairman – Tomasz that I will leave the club. Mainly to give fresh blood to our changing room and personally I was thinking about some progress. I was left fuming at the end of the season because we were only a few points behind a strong St. Panteleimon side but second place didn’t give us promotion. I was looking for a job and I got a response from Adam Bessent from Bedfont & Feltham FC. It was my first time in a typical English changing room, totally different from the Polish one I was used too at PFC. It was a great lesson for me and a nice 8 months at a friendly club. I learned a lot from the Bessent brothers and players at Bedfont. Now I’m at Balham FC it’s another step forward personally at a well organised club full of passion. We currently have five coaches working with just the first team which is an excellent set up for this level including the use of decent 3G facilities to train. It’s a good place for me to be as I’m sure I will continue to learn a lot from Greg Crutwell, Ebrahim Seedat, Sam Prushi and the rest of the coaching family at Balham. They are full of passion and they love football just like me. I hope we get promoted to Step 4 this season, we’re in the top 6 at the moment and not far off from first place. I’m always looking to develop myself and I applied for the UEFA A course in Wales. I’ve done a leadership course in Johan Cruyff Institute this year and I have a couple of more courses to do soon. As a coach you can’t stop; you need to learn every day as football is changing on a daily basis and that’s why I’m always looking for some books, courses or internships to do. Unfortunately Covid-19 has ruined my internship plans for 2020 but I hope I will be able to do it in 2021. I’ve arranged an internship in Spain at Albacete Balompie and at two clubs in Poland from Ekstraklasa. I’m so proud that I’ve gone up through the levels having started at Step 9 and now find myself working at Step 5. Next year? Step 4 with Balham FC. Fingers crossed.
Seems appropriate to ask a coronavirus related question as it’s changed our way of lives in 2020 so far. As a football coach, you must have had to make changes to how you coach and the training sessions to adapt as restrictions change but especially now with the current lockdown?
EK: It’s changed a lot as we now need to work much more remotely with the players, there is a lot of IT work to do. At Balham I believe we’re adapting effectively and working well under the conditions. During the first lockdown, Ebrahim Seedat was providing good sessions with tactical analysis for our players as well as a focus on the mental aspects and team building. After lockdown we were working in small groups with the players and now once again we find ourselves in another lockdown. I’ve prepared a fitness programme for our boys during the 30 days and also will be personally working with our defensive side of the team. We have a 5k challenge in the first team as well and just like last time we will have two zoom calls per week. Everyone at Balham FC continues to adjust to the changing restrictions of the pandemic.
4 quickfire questions to end…
ARE THERE ANY MANAGERS WHO YOU LOOK UP TOO OR TRY TO LEARN FROM?
Piotr Dziewicki, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Marek Papszun & Michal Probierz
TOP 3 FOOTBALLERS IN EUROPE AT THE MOMENT?
Robert Lewandowski, Kevin De Bruyne, Cristiano Ronaldo
BEST PLAYER YOU’VE COACHED SO FAR IN YOUR CAREER?
Pawel Kowalkowski has the biggest potential I’ve seen on my coaching journey
ANY YOUNG POLISH PLAYERS THAT FOOTBALL FANS SHOULD LOOK OUT FOR WHO COULD POTENTIALLY TURN INTO FUTURE STARS?
Kacper Kozlowski (Pogon Szczecin) and Oliwier Slawinski (Zaglebie Lubin)
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