Scotland - Poland.  Pole escaped from exile to the labor camp.  Then he made a fortune and became a legend

  • Jan Stbeck descended in golden letters into the history of the Scottish Academy of Hamilton. Had it not been for his intervention in 1969, the club probably would have ceased to exist
  • Stepbeck was close to not going to Scotland at all. During World War II, he was exiled to the Gulag, then across the territory of today’s Uzbekistan and Iran, he made his way to Great Britain
  • Born in Polish, and now Ukrainian, lands, Stepbeck has forever established his roots in Scotland. But he did not forget his homeland. He cultivated Polish traditions and brought footballers to his club in exchange for washing machines
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First of all, I will dispel one doubt. I know there are some doubts about the spelling of the name. You will surely cry. This name first appeared in the small town of Haczów in Subcarpathia. There are many non-standard names in the area there.

My grandfather was born in Haczów, while my father was born in a settlement near Lutsk in what is now Ukraine. The grandfather was given the land there as a reward for his participation in the defense of the newly reconstructed Polish border against Ukrainian forces at the turn of 1918 and 1919. The settlement was named Maczkowce, in honor of Stanisław Macczyk, the captain (promoted to general during World War II), who helped fight Ukrainian attack.

Through Iran to the islands

Dad was born in 1922. He grew up on a farm, and in 1938 he moved to the town of Buyanovo, between Wroclaw and Pozna. He studied at an agricultural school there. When the Soviet Army entered Maczkowce on September 17, 1939, my father stayed at the family home. Grandfather had to flee the execution. The Soviets saw him as a potential leader of the resistance movement.

Then, in February 1940, the rest of the family was deported to a labor camp near Kotlas in the Arkhangelsk Oblast. When they were released in September 1941, they went to present-day Uzbekistan, where they reached Iran via the Caspian Sea. There, in Tehran, my grandmother died of starvation and exhaustion. She was 39 years old. My father had typhus, malaria and dysentery twice.

After joining the Polish army, in February 1943 he was transferred to the Polish Navy, where he became a radar operator. Thanks to this, he found his way to Great Britain. When the war ended, he chose to stay there. He joined Radio and Television Engineering at the University of Glasgow.

Save the club from collapse

In 1969, my father was asked to join the Hamilton Academic Council. Activists struck a deal to merge the club with another nearby professional team, Clyde FC. If it finally comes into effect, Academic Hamilton will cease to exist as a football club. My father headed a new team of activists and saved the club from disappearing from the football map. Then he was asked to become president. First, he held this position from 1969 to 1985, and again from the end of the 1990s to 2002.

Photo: Archive/Private Martin Stebeck overview

Jan Stbeck as a gardener at Hamilton Academic Stadium

When he was named the club’s most important person, Hamilton was at the bottom of the Scottish second division. My father realized that the club did not have the resources to compete with giants Glasgow Celtic and Rangers. The former played for the second time in the European Cup final in four years, while their local rival soon won the Cup Winners’ Cup. However, my father believed that with proper management and imagination, the club could advance to the First Division in a few years. However, he had to think outside the box.

Polish activist thought

At that time, he began doing business in Poland. Thanks to the family that stayed in the country, he knew the problems your economy was experiencing. He opposed the communist regime, but wanted to show the Polish government that a free market approach could only help its citizens. He believed that this drop bears the boulder and thanks to such actions Poland will turn gently towards the west. Towards an open democratic country.

So he talked about the potential to buy Hamilton Academical for a few high-ranking players, although perhaps shortly after their glory days. He believed that in this way he could give a football club a much higher standard than in the Scottish or British transfer markets.

In 1971, he reached three poles: Alfred Olek, Witold Szygwa, and Roman Strykowski. This was the first time a British club had attended players from behind the Iron Curtain. I saw them in action and they were great. It seems to me that they lived in my parents’ house at first.

Legend has it that my father paid for it with washing machines. I don’t know if this is true, unfortunately, but it seems reasonable. And maybe send to Poland not only washing machines, but also their refrigerators and freezers. This method of payment would have resulted from the regulations that were then limiting the amount of cash payments that could be made in Great Britain to the communist countries.

At the time, my father ran a business that sold electronics and home appliances, and was also a travel agency and provided financial services in the consumer market. He was also co-owner of a luxury used car showroom.

Photo: Archive/Private Martin Stebeck overview

Stepkow store in Hamilton

Poland has not been forgotten

My father had a thousand or more ideas. So I’m sure bringing in more Polish players was one of them. Remember that Poland was very successful in the 1974 World Cup, thanks to which its best players became known all over the world, so the price of their transfers will be very high for Hamilton.

Instead, try signing a contract with Manchester United legend Dennis Law! On the other hand, he talked about managing the team with Tommy Docherty (former manager of Manchester United and the Scottish national team – editor), and even with Alex Ferguson. I failed, but he shot high.

Photo: Archive/Private Martin Stebeck overview

Martin Stepek next to the family cemetery in Haczów

My father tried to preserve some Polish traditions. We were raised Catholics, and although our diocese was in Hamilton, we often went to the Polish-speaking church in Glasgow. My father was also a member of the Sikorski Club in Glasgow, which regularly organizes music events and dances, often on the occasion of traditional Polish holidays. We had some Polish music and food at home and my mother, who was Scottish, learned your language and knew how to cook traditional Polish dishes. So he managed to be Scottish and Polish.

The fact that he supports the Solidarity movement also proves his adherence to his homeland. When it was created, many activists traveled around the world to seek support and tell people what was happening in Poland. My father hosted them in his house. After the declaration of martial law, he helped organize food and medical aid for Poland, store goods in our company’s warehouses and use our delivery trucks to transport goods by ship to Gdansk. During martial law, he funded Slavic studies at the University of Glasgow. If he does not support it, the university intends to discontinue its programs and courses. He was also the founder of the annual “Bologna” lecture at the University of Strathclyde.

In 2002, he had a series of strokes but recovered and was even able to play golf every day. For the last two years of his life, he was somewhat confined to a wheelchair, but shortly before his death he celebrated his 90th birthday with the whole family.

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