Above: In full flight – Maja Znamirowska in action for Pride Park. Photo: Shaun Hardwick.
Pride Park FC’s all-time record goalscorer talked to Ben Gilby about her footballing journey from Gdynia in Poland to the Derbyshire Ladies League Division One (10/2/22).
Maja Znamirowska made her debut for Pride Park almost six years ago, and since then has gone on to score 95 goals in 77 games. The Poland-born striker has remained with the club despite moving to Liverpool, over 93 miles away, over two years ago.
Znamirowska has her PE teacher at school to thank for introducing her to the sport at the highest level.
“My footballing journey started in my childhood. I used to play with my friends – always upfront. My brothers’ friends used to ask me if I could play instead of him.
“I continued playing till college when my PE teacher said ‘Maja, do you know there’s a ladies football club in Gdynia?’. I was so happy when I found that out. In those times with poor internet and old-style phones, there was no chance for me to find it. So I was more than happy and I joined Checz Gdynia in Poland and started my amateur football career at the age of 19.
We used to play in the Polish Premier League, then were relegated. It was the best time in my life. Playing in the snow, travelling to the furthest places in Poland. We had no money for that but pleasure guaranteed.
“When I moved to the UK six years ago, I thought: ‘I can’t give up playing just like that, I need to do something about it. So I did. I’ve found Dave. The kindest and nicest coach I’ve ever had and…with Polish roots – advantage!
“I was a bit shy, didn’t know how I’d fit into this community but it wasn’t as hard as I thought. I have met incredible people. I love to make them laugh and to continue to do what I love.”
Growing up, Maja did not really have sporting role models as such. “It was hard enough to convince my family in conservative Poland that I’d decided to play football. Even now my grandma keeps saying ‘and you still play this… this… football.. oh my God. You are too old for this!”
“To be honest I never had one specific person in football that was my footballing model. I used to like Zinedine Zidane for his intelligence. Well… his last game didn’t show it but…! I used to admire Ronaldinho for his speed and skills. Now and then I watch videos to see how great he was. Maybe Roberto Carlos. The fastest Brazilian player I’ve ever seen. But I never thought ‘Yes, I want to be like you’.
In her career that has taken her from the top tier of Polish women’s football to the seventh level of the game in England, Maja has faced many challenges, from the very start.
“The biggest challenge I had was to compromise College when I was younger. Training sessions twice a week, away games every weekend, and music school every day. It was very exhausting but as you can see if someone wants something there are no limits and you can achieve anything.
“Every single thing used to give me so much pleasure that I think I didn’t even have time thinking about overcoming it. But now I feel proud of myself, that I could do everything I wanted (football and music school) to, and had to (college).
“Now the biggest challenge for me is to stay fit – because I live so far away from Derby (I moved to Liverpool two years ago) – which excludes me from training sessions, and not to hurt myself too much. At 35-years-old I need to be more careful and take care of myself. But even though I’m ‘dying’ after Sunday’s game I wouldn’t give it away for anything. Not yet. I need to score 100 goals before that!”
As Maja points out, she lives a long way from Pride Park’s Derby-based set-up, so there must be something very special about the team for her to remain there.
“It’s simple. Pride Park is like family. Everybody is kind, polite, nice to each other. There are friendships there, support, kindness, cooperation, and everything you’ll find in a good, healthy relation. How could I swap it for something else? I think I’m a really good example that atmosphere matters – would you travel 90 miles just to play for your team? They mean a lot to me and I hope I mean a lot to them. Well, even if not I won’t stop coming for games!”
The Derbyshire Ladies League remains a challenging competition as Maja recognises. “From my perspective, Borrowash was a tough opponent, but our girls showed we can play on a really high level, and staying focused on the pitch we almost beat them. Thanks to them and especially Tash, my Captain, and Jade our goalkeeper, we’ve scored two goals and were catching up. I felt, and I think everybody felt, that this game was challenging but also very satisfying, no matter the result.”
The striker is absolutely clear in her aim for the campaign. “David motivated me last time saying I have only five more goals to score to 100 in my whole career with Pride Park, which I’ve started in April 2016. It’s something that I would like to achieve!”
With all Maja’s experience, I couldn’t help wondering if she still harboured desires to play at a higher level. It’s fair to say she is torn.
“It’s a hard question. I think I’m in this moment in my life that even If I wanted to play on a higher level I wouldn’t be able to. My heart says ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ and my brain says…’oh maybe it’s better not…’ Anyway, I aspire to stay fit and support my team as long as I can to just enjoy what we are doing here at Pride Park.”
There are plenty more things that Maja wants to achieve before she finishes her career. “There are certain things like more skills or game intelligence on the pitch that you gain with age. I would like to see more (I wear contact lenses!), keep my speed, and surprise opponents with new tricks like Ronaldinho!
“I don’t know whether I will still be playing in five year’s time, but whenever I hang up my boots, I will look back on my time as a footballer with some great memories, enjoyment, friends and, I hope, 100 goals (at least!) for Pride Park.”