Even though both Cracovia and Wisla have lost their chances to win this season’s championship of the top Polish football league, Orange Ekstraklasa, many fans waited for Sunday’s clash as one of the two most important games of the year.
Sunday’s match marked the 173rd meeting of the two oldest clubs in Poland. They were brought to life in the beginning of the 20th Century.
Cracovia players trained for the first time in June 1906. Only three Polish teams emerged earlier but all are now defunct. They were based in Lviv, now part of Ukraine. Wisla was formed in the same year and many of her supporters still claim that their club is older.
The first fully documented Krakow derby took place on September 20th 1908 in the Blonia area, where both clubs’ stadiums are now situated. This game ended in a 1:1 tie.
After World War I, Poland regained independence and in 1921 Cracovia won the historic first championship. Six years later, the league system was introduced and Wisla stood triumphant, while ‘the Stripes’ (traditionally Cracovia’s shirts are white and red) decided not to take part in the premiere season. They regained the title in 1930 after three years of league domination by Wisla.
Two great strikers became legends before World War II broke out in 1939. Jozef Kaluza scored an unbelievable 465 goals in 408 matches for Cracovia. He was also coach of the national team during Poland’s first appearance in the 1938 World Cup in France when they lost 5:6 to Brazil in what is considered one of the best World Cups in history. His final game as coach was August 27, 1939, when he beat 2nd place world champions Hungary 4-2 in Warsaw in the nation’s last pre-war game. A street close to the club’s stadium now bears his name.
Also with a street bearing his name is Polish league top scorer Henryk Reyman. The Wisla forward is by far the best single-season scorer with a tally of 37 goals in 1927. This record is of course rarely beaten.
Wisla, often nicknamed ‘The White Star’ after their crest, are among the most successful clubs in Poland with ten championships. In the last decade they have been the most successful team finishing five times on the top spot and three as runners-up.
Cracovia have been least successful winning only five titles since 1906. They have spent many seasons in the second or even third division. However, three years ago, they came back into the elite. They have never managed to get to the Polish Cup finals, while Wisla has claimed the trophy four times.
According to the most reliable sources, Wisla have won 76 of 173 local derby matches and were beaten on 58 occasions with 39 games drawn. 55 of them took place in the modern Ekstraklasa.
In 1948, an additional match decided the championship, as Wisla and Cracovia were tied after the last day. The latter won 3:1 and claimed the title.
With fierce rivalry on the pitch, the tensions are high also in the stands and throughout the city. The hostility between groups of fans often results in rude gestures, , and vulgar banners and songs among the spectators. The burning of club scarves is not unusual. It isn’t common to see fans wearing Cracovia or Wisla colors outside the stadiums, because thefts and fights may happen. Clashes in the stands were common, until the introduction of tighter security in recent years made it no longer possible.
However, the whole of Krakow is divided between areas traditionally supporting either Wisla or Cracovia. You may recognize this by the slogans sprayed on the walls.
These divisions sometimes lead to street violence. In March 2006, a 21-year-old man was stabbed with a knife and died in hospital. The police presence before and after the match, traditionally described as the ‘Holy War,’ is notable.
On the other hand most the city’s football fans aren’t that dangerous, no matter which club they support. They treat the derby as a chance to watch a great and passion-filled game.
The Polish term ‘Krakow football’ refers to a style of play with many short passes and brilliant dribbling. Both Wisla and Cracovia are known to prefer this very impressive way of getting the ball into the opponent’s goal. This time, however, their clash ended up in disappointment.
Championship: 10 (1927, 1928, 1949, 1950, 1978, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005)
Cup winners: 4 (1926, 1967, 2002, 2003)
Seasons in the top division: 66
Championship: 5 (1921, 1930, 1932, 1937, 1948)
Cup winners: none
Seasons in the top division: 28