Poles Apart

Wisla Krakow 0 Cracovia 1 – Ekstraliga, Sunday 22nd November 2009 – A report by Terence Sowa

First off, my father is Polish, he ended up here in England after the war, after Roosevelt and Churchill sold Poland down the river, giving the country to Stalin. From the early sixties we always had a copy of World Soccer around the house (if only I had kept them I would be a rich man today!) as it was his only contact with football back in his homeland. When the odd Polish team made their way to these shores he tried to see the game; the poor old boy watched a Polish team (I think Widrew Lodz) get beaten against West Ham and came home from White Hart Lane in tears after the Spurs “double team” had thrashed Gornik Zarbze 8-1…What didn’t help was that his little boy (me) had started supporting Tottenham around that time.

I loved overseas football and fell in love with the far away teams such Santos, River Plate, First Vienna, Ferencvaros, Slavia Prague and of course the Polish teams with strange names like Gornik, Legia, and Wisla. Dad told me that unlike England the names all meant something other than the district the team was based in, for example Gornik means “Miner” Legia was the Army team (Dad didn’t like them much) and Wisla were named after the river that flowed through the town, and divided Poland in half.

Dad couldn’t go home for many years as it was still a dangerous place to visit so my chance to see a match in his homeland was non existent. Finally I got to watch Legia Warsaw in the late 80’s and loved every moment – a foggy, cold night gave a real atmosphere of the mysterious “Eastern Block”.

Sorry if I have gone on a bit but watching a match abroad still gives me a feeling of “something different” in terms of culture, style, fan behaviour and of course the teams themselves. So it was with great excitement that I walked out of Krakow town centre and along Ulica Reymana to the Wisla stadium a few days before the match to purchase a ticket that I was told by my hotel receptionist “you will not be able to buy”. A ticket for the infamous Krakow derby.

So into the club shop I go and after a lengthy and very interesting conversation with the ticket seller about the merits of the Premier League, and the skills of Rooney, Owen and Crouch I got a book on the history of Wisla, a lapel badge and finally, my ticket.

The ticket cost about £6.50 and this included the train travel. “But I don’t need a train, my hotels only a mile down the road” I told him..but with a glint in his eye he delivered the bad news… “Due to both teams stadiums being renovated the match will be played 70 kilometres away in Sosnowiec” he replied “The supporters train leaves Krakow at 1pm“. Great. My first chance to see one of the most volatile derbies in European football and it was being played in another town. Imagine West Ham v Millwall being played in Dover and you get the idea.

“ It’s not a hooligan special is it?” I asked, “No” he said “this is a proper supporters train”. Having experienced train travel in Poland I knew what to expect, and it wasn’t Eurostar!

After leaving the Wisla club house I made my way for about a mile across the park to the Cracovia stadium, in the process of being totally rebuilt from its basic shell that was once home to goalkeeper ex-Pope John Paul II. I popped in their basic club shop, hiding my Wisla bag and purchased a Cracovia lapel badge.

Sunday arrived and I pitched up at Krakow Glowny train station about 15 minutes before the “football special” train was due to leave and could see which platform I had to be on by the mass of noisy Wisla fans gathered there. This dirty old train turned up, looked like it had done many years service and they all piled on. My Polish is pretty poor so I latched on to Monika and Mariucz who spoke some English and told me to sit with them. They trust a bottle of “Tyskie” beer into my hand and explained that there was a “whip round” going through the carriage “for a Wisla hooligan who has just gone to prison….unjustly”. Well looking at the three skinheads with the collection bag I thought it made sense to contribute, they also had noticed my Tottenham badge and didn’t seem very happy, although this was countered with my Wisla Krakow badge just underneath (plus just in case, I had my new Cracovia badge in my pocket).

So here I was, on a train with about 500 Wisla hooligans travelling at about 20 miles an hour with every passing train getting showered in cans and bottles, doors getting opened, cords pulled, people spewing up, and I turned to my hosts and told them “you know this could be me going to watch Spurs “away” 30 years ago, the similarities are uncanny” Whether they got my drift I don’t know but the train took three hours to reach Sosnowiec and then the real fun began.

Maybe I am getting too old for all this but being met by about 200 riot police with guns, shields, body armour and tank like things with water cannons was not what I was looking for for my Sunday afternoon’s relaxation. I offered to take Monika and Mariucz for a “quiet beer or two” but they told me that if I tried to step out of our escort I would probably be battered.

Finally after a 25 minute walk around the grim suburbs of Sosnowiec we reached the “Stadion lodowy” home of 2nd division Zaglebie Sosnowiec and our hosts for tonight. After a thorough search (think passing through airport security with guns, drugs and bottles of liquid over 100ml and not in a plastic bag) and avoiding the many skinheads pushing in front of me I was in. “Ok now I will buy you a beer I told my Polish companions” the reply was really sad but not too unpredictable based on the way I had been treated as an innocent football fan all day, “you can only buy water, oh and hot dogs”.

The match started five minutes late for some reason and no Cracovia supporters were allowed to attend and altogether around 3,500 Wisla supporters had made the journey. The Ludowy stadium held about 8,000 people and had grass banking behind both goals – hardly a venue that would create a volatile atmosphere.

Everything in the stadium was choreographed, unbelievably by a couple of what looked like 15 year old kids, confetti in bags by your seat, flags to wave, chants and banners being displayed during the game. The match was poor, Wisla were the present Polish champions, Cracovia were struggling and this is was a “Derby” after all. I expected more. Secretly I was hoping for a Cracovia win as they are portrayed as a “Jewish” team, the same as the mighty Spurs, Ajax and MTK Budapest. Thirty minutes gone and everyone around me charged up the terracing. “Is it free beer” I asked? Of course not – the Wisla fans simply found an opportunity to have a fight with the police.

The second half started and I went for a hot dog, avoiding the half time crowds who were continuing their running battle with the police. Typical, the only goal of the dull game arrived whilst I am downstairs munching on a bit of Polish fat. The choreography continued, interspersed with singing and more poor football. So I took the time to have a look around and the demographics of the crowd – very few women and children but in this very male, hostile and intimidating atmosphere I would not expect anything else otherwise.

Five minutes from the end of the game I could take no more and I told Monika and Mariusz that I was going to try and make my own way back to Krakow. There was no way I was going to spend another four hours (which is what they reckoned it would take) on the slow train to nowhere.

I came out of the ground and immediately went the wrong way! Sometimes luck shines on you and I asked a guy walking his dog how to get to Sosnowiec train station. He could not have been more helpful and said he would show me. So we walked for 15 minutes talking small talk when he hit me with this bombshell “I don’t watch Polish football but I like to watch the Premiership and especially Tottenham Hotspur!” Well the Spurs key ring in my pocket was his, I had meant to give it to someone during the match but he was the deserving one.

I Caught a train to Katowice, grabbed some beers and got a train onto Krakow, and by 9.45pm I was in the Hotel bar. Monika and Mariucz text me later to tell me that they finally arrived back in Krakow around midnight thanks to a few problems with doors opening and the odd cord being pulled.

Perhaps I would go again but only when Krakow’s clubs have finished their building work and it would be back on “home soil”.

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