'Tottenham of European volleyball' continue historic Champions League journey at Copper Box

At four o’clock every morning, the captain of IBB Polonia London turns the key in the ignition of his HGV vehicle to deliver frozen food across London. Every day until his daughter’s school pick-up, the club’s assistant coach works as a chef for a leading American law firm in the city while another of the club’s playing stalwarts restores 16th and 17th Century mirrors in Sloane Square. Come the evening training sessions – four times a week – and weekend matches, one of the capital’s more maverick sporting collectives are trying to take Europe by storm as the first British side in history in the Champions League.

And on Wednesday, they look to overturn a first-leg defeat to Mladost Zagreb at the Copper Box. The team has been likened to a Tottenham of European volleyball, trying to build a base of British players on top of the more experienced and established names, in their case from across Eastern Europe in particular. In his early 20s, Bartosz Kisielewicz played the game professionally in his native Poland but, after the club went bankrupt, he moved to the UK and has played in London since 2013.

His life, like the rest of the teams, is a juggling act. “It’s not easy and everyone struggles but this is because we love volleyball,” he said. “We need to struggle to survive somehow. I’ve never had the chance to play at Champions League level and all of us can’t wait.

“I start work very early in the morning so maybe it’s harder for me than some people.

I start at 4am, I finish training at 10pm and I have just a few hours sleep. But I like this fast life, I love the city and I love the people.” When the club captain first came to Polonia, he had to pay GBP40 a month just to play, now sponsors are on board and it feels like a club on the rise, as well as the wider sport in the UK.

“Lots of things have changed,” he said. “We’re going up. For Britain, it’s hard and I think it’s maybe 10 or 20 years to get up there if they continue to go in the right direction.” Other professions in the team include an estate agent, Deliveroo driver, engineer, student, IT specialist and office manager.

Former players include the ex-British tennis player Alex Inglot, who is now on the ATP executive board in tennis but is still closely tied to the club. And much of the behind-the-scenes push has come from Bartek Luszcz, who fell into it by default working as a cameraman for a Polish TV channel and is now chairman of the club, which dates back to 1973. “I got involved because of the Olympics,” he said looking back to 1973. “This is Olympic legacy in an Olympic sport and going back to the Olympic venue in the Copper Box.

It’s thanks to investors and sponsors we’ve been able to grow.” Assistant coach Patrik Selep’s time at the club comfortably predates that of its chairman, a player for seven years before a similar stint in the backroom staff forced after having to undergoing career-ending knee surgery. The Slovakian chef said: “There’s good players and good potential for the British ones.

There’s six or seven young British players which is unusual as we used to rely on foreigners.

We’ve got our fingers crossed that the game in the Copper Box will act as a springboard.”

More about: | Volleyball

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