Poland: The Silesia Rebels Katowice’s French Connection

When the French Federation of American Football canceled the 2021 season due to the pandemic, little did Poland’s Silesia Rebels Katowice know that they would reap some of the benefit.

Players and coaches from French teams were suddenly looking for work. Two of them were Marseille Bluestars coach Bavuong Souphanthavong and receiver/defensive back Hadrien Lynda, both of whom landed with the Rebels and both of whom had spent five years together with the same Bluestars team.

And it’s no coincidence that they ended up in Katowice together.

Both Lynda and Souphanthavong have their roots in the lower divisions of French football; Lynda starting out for the Aix Argonauts before moving on to Hurricanes de Montpellier; and Souphanthavong, whose parents are Vietnamese, in Nimes Centurions, who he led to promotion after the 2013 season. Although the two knew of each other prior, it would be in the first division, at Marseille Bluestars, where the two paths would cross and spend five years together and multiple playoff games.

Souphanthavong on his relationship with Lynda:

I did talk to him when I was in Nime to recruit him, seven years ago, but it didn’t go in and then I signed with the Bluestars and so did he. He was a Bluestar for u19 so went back after Hurricanes. Five years of relationship as a player and coach, and we are also close friends in real life too. It was an easy decision to go together because for me to coach and have somebody on the field that knows my system, we have to trust each other. And also for the import side of life is nice because we can go on the weekend together and enjoy our time in Poland if we need to. Like we did a weekend in Krakow together last week. 

Over the years Lynda has established himself as a solid European skill player putting up impressive numbers in Gridiron Australia, GFL2 and the Maple League. As reliable skill position players with European passports are hard to come by, Lynda did not have much trouble when looking for a new team when the French season began to dissolve. The team that showed most interest happened to be in the first division of Poland also; a team located on the other side of the country in a city called Białystok, that team was the Lowlanders – the team the Rebels will be facing off against this coming Sunday.

It was around this time that Lynda mentioned to his head coach Souphanthavong that he was thinking of playing the 2021 Polish Football League 1 (PFL1), to which Souphanthavong jokingly replied, “take me with you”. It was at this point that the football gods stepped in by way of an email from Rebels head coach John Lisella asking the head coach to join the team as the defensive coordinator. After a conversation with Bluestars management, who he was still under contract with, and his players, Souphanthavong agreed to take the position, and took Lynda with him.

Lynda and Souphanthavong come from a French league that has a reputation for producing high level athletes such as Anthony Dablé, Sébastien Sejean and Anthony Mahanguo who all made it to the next level because of their raw athleticism as well as football talent. Poland, on the other hand, has not been known for producing the same type of speed; but what it does lack in speed, it makes up for in sheer size and physicality which both French Rebel imports admit has taken some adjustment time. 

The team has had mixed success, with the first two games having had a combined point differential of three, equaling one win and one loss. The last contest against a strong Tychy Falcons squad saw the team struggle in the first half before mounting a comeback in the second, but failing to overcome the deficit just before the bye-week. The French duo welcomed the break as pre-season preparation went wanting due to their late arrival to Poland.

France has a history of producing top-tier players whose services are acquired at the highest level of play, and now the Rebels have two of Marseille’s finest. While Lynda is giving the young team much needed leadership and experience, the young Souphanthavong is paving the way as one of the only Vietnamese American football coaches in Europe. The Rebels now sit at 1 – 2 with the next few games being crucial if they plan to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Make sure to watch the game this Sunday on AFI.tv.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who works in journalism and communications in the third sector. Daniel began playing football for the London Warriors and Team Great Britain and has since played across Europe.