BarcelonaIt was a Polish Third Division match. The referee Adam Lyczmanski was aware of the fouls and complaints of a player from a team called Kujawiak Wloclawek. In the end he kicked him out, and since he wouldn’t shut up, he let him go “If you’re so clever, take the whistle yourself.” Less than a week later, that 21-year-old player signed up for a course of referees. It was Szymon Marciniak, the referee who will direct the World Cup final. Never before had a Pole reached the World Cup final, with the exception of linesman Michal Listkiewicz in 1990. But Marciniak knew he would.
Marciniak was born right in the heart of Poland, in Plock. On the banks of the Vistula, the river that connects Poland from south to north. The local football team, in fact, is called that: Wisla, as the river is known in the Polish language. The referee grew up in a very hard time. Born in 1981, as a child he lived through the last days of communism, and as a teenager, the first years of democracy, when more freedom came but also more precariousness. Marciniak grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city, with giant gray buildings and a lot of street violence, with organized crime and radicalized youth groups. In fact, he admits that he was a bit violent when he was young. “I’m not proud of it, but it was the law of the street at that time. You hit or they hit you,” explains Marciniak, who to escape that routine tried to become a cyclist, his father’s passion. At the age of 11, he was the most competitive of all, riding more than 100 kilometers even when it snowed or rained. He actually won races at school age and the coaches took notice of him. But what happened? Well, he liked football more, and at 15 he left the bicycle to focus on the ball. Initially it seemed like a mistake, as he wasn’t as talented at kicking as he was at pedaling. Marciniak broke the heart of his father, a big fan of cycling, when he entered the lower categories of Wisla from Plock, with whom they would finish fourth in the Polish youth championship.
From cycling to whistling
But he wasn’t a great player. He was a tough midfielder, one of those who hit. Things in life, he was one of those footballers that referees can’t even see. In a jobless Poland, he tried at the age of 18 at a German club, Fourth Division Annaberg-Bucholz, without luck. In the Erzgebirge Aue they didn’t want him. They were complicated years, in which he sought life in cities of the former German Democratic Republic, thinking that after German reunification he would make a fortune there. It was not so and he returned to Poland to play in modest teams. And that’s when, at the age of 21, referee Lyczmanski sent him off and challenged him to become a referee to get rid of him. And something ignited inside Marciniak, as he returned home to tell Magda, his partner, that he would become a referee. Magda, who was going to see him play, has only been to the stadium once to see him referee. The first time he heard such serious insults that he decided not to do it again. Now a father of two, Marciniak estimates he spends 270 days a year away from home to officiate matches. And the family watches the matches on television.
A long journey that began when he was 25 years old in regional leagues, where the other referees remember him saying, somewhat pedantically, that he would manage the World Cup final. No one believed him, but now everyone is detailing it in the Polish press, where they have recovered an interview from 2017 where he insisted that he would make it to the final. It was very clear. He had always wanted to reach a final like this.
Marciniak has worked his way to the top. And he has done it overcoming a scare, as he had to stop umpiring for a short period of time a few months ago because he suffered from tachycardia. The Pole, however, was able to recover and continue refereeing. And he also spends hours in the gym, practicing a martial art, the Muay Thaiwith whom he has a good time and takes care of his body. Marciniak is one of those referees who impose, both physically and by the way he speaks. And those who have no problem standing up to the most famous players. To Cristiano Ronaldo he said: “Cristiano, you have to eat one snickers. Take chocolate, because I see you soft, as you fall alone inside the area.” The Portuguese laughed.
Marciniak has also had it with Barça players. In 2017, in that PSG-Barça thrashing in France that seemed to put the Blaugrana team out of contention, he faced Luís Suárez and told him: “You don’t have to move your arms so much, we see you when you speak, don’t shut up.” Barça would lift the tie with the famous 6-1 and would meet Marciniak again in the next tie, in another defeat, then against Juve. In that match he faced Piqué when he was waiting for him at the entrance to the dressing room. “What do you want, a date with me?” asked the Pole. “Not crazy,” the Catalan would have replied.