“It started as a joke and then became a dream.” Now, it is about to become history. IBB Polonia London will become the first English club team in history to play in the CEV Champions League this month.
The reigning English champions will play Croatian side Mladost Zagreb in round one, with a two-legged knockout tie this month. The first leg will be played in Zagreb on 22nd October, before CEV Champions League volleyball comes to the capital on Wednesday 30th October.
Tickets are now on sale for the home match at the Copper Box in London so fans can make sure they are there for the historic occasion.
While he admits it started as a joke, IBB Polonia London’s chairman Bartek Luszcz could not be prouder of his club blazing a trail in Europe.
“It feels amazing to be the first club to represent England in the Champions League,” reflects Bartek. “We feel very proud. It has taken a lot organisation but we’re very excited and looking forward to it. At IBB Polonia, we set challenges that scare us and then go out and do them.”
Bringing this highest level of club volleyball to these shores is something that Bartek feels is not just important for his club, but for the whole sport in this country.
“We need to give fans a product that is attractive. We want to fans to be able to watch high quality teams and sell them that product and experience. We’re expecting a crowd of between 2,000-3,000 – we want that and need that for the event to break even. If we lose money on the event, it won’t make financial sense to bring Champions League volleyball to London again and that would be a pretty dispiriting state of affairs to end up in, for us as a club but also for the sport in this country.”
While hosting the Champions League has important financial sustainability targets, IBB Polonia’s aim is always in driving the sport forward. That is reflected in how tickets for children under 12 are being priced with the aim of inspiring a new generation of volleyball fans.
“We understand the cost of raising a family in London,” explains Bartek. “With £1 tickets for under 12s, we want to encourage new fans to volleyball, and the best point to attract people to a new sport is when they are kids. We want to inspire them to play too so it’s not just a benefit to our club, but other clubs around London. We want to give something to aspire to and help develop the whole sport in this country.”
IBB Polonia won the Volleyball England Super League last year to be eligible for the Champions League and their foray into Europe will be the latest in their peak of achievements. Last season they won a maiden European title, winning the NEVZA Club Championships, but it will be a huge step up when they face Mladost Zagreb.
“The coach knows a lot about the opposition. Mladost are an established Croatian team who have been playing international competitions for decades. We will approach them with respect and will be prepared. We know that if we play the way we are able to, then we can make it through to the next round.”
As if the fans needed any more reason to go to the game, there will also be the chance to see Olympic champion Giba playing for IBB Polonia London. The Brazilian legend’s experience will no doubt help as Polonia make the step up and fans will be able to watch the greatest volleyball players ever on court.
It may have started as a joke, but no one is laughing now – Champions League volleyball is coming to London.
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