Gdansk

Football in Gdansk

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The roots of football in Gdańsk/Danzig can be traced back to 1903, and the creation of Fußballclub Danzig. A new stadium was built in 1927 on what is now ul. Traugutta and in 1935 a modernization program was undertaken to make the arena one of the most advanced in this part of the world.

At the same time that Fußballclub Danzig were kicking their first ball a club called Lechia Lwow (Lechia is the historical name of Poland) was founded by students in the city of Lwow. The club played in the Polish league in the inter-war years, claiming runners-up spot in 1935. However, once WWII kicked off Lwow found itself under Soviet occupation, and both club and players disappeared. After the war the city was ceded to Ukraine and renamed Lviv – which it remains today - while German Danzig became Polish Gdańsk. Waves of Poles migrated westwards to Gdańsk, and in 1945 former residents of Lwow reactivated the club they had once supported in Gdańsk on ul. Traugutta. As an interesting aside the now vacated stadium on Traugutta is where the German national side trained during the Euro2012 tournament.

It is probably fair to say that there is no team in the Polish Ekstraklasa which has experienced as many ups and downs as Lechia Gdańsk. The low-point of the club's history was probably relegation to the third division in 1982, although it would in effect serve as a catalyst for what remains the team's finest hour the following year. Thanks to the coaching duo of Jerzy Jastrzębowski and Józef Gładysz, Lechia were promoted back to the second division in 1983, and, despite being the underdogs, defeated Piast Gliwice in that year's Polish Cup final. This triumph brought European football and the most famous night in the club’s history (see Solidarity F.C.).

Fast forward twenty years and Lechia had once again suffered a series of relegations following disastrous mergers with Olimpia Poznan and then Polonia Gdansk. Fans felt the only way forward was to make a new start, in what was effectively the sixth tier of Polish football, with a new club. Lechia quickly progressed through the lower leagues, supported by thousands of passionately loyal fans, and by 2008 they were back in the Ekstraklasa, the Polish top division. Though 2011/12 was a poor one on the pitch another milestone was achieved with the club moving from the familiar, but run-down Traugutta ground to the shining new PGE Arena. Built especially to host games in the EURO 2012 finals the stadium was officially opened with a 2-2 draw between the Polish national side and Germany. Lechia enjoyed a pre-Euro boost as well and the stadium saw the 40,000 seats nearly filled for its opening games (attendances have since dropped back into the low teens), but the potential for the club, sitting as it does at the heart of a huge potential catchment area, remains huge. With Lech Walesa a proclaimed fan and both the Prime Minister - Donald Tusk - and the President of Gdansk - Pawel Adamowicz both die-hard Lechia supporters this could be the start of a very memorable era for the club from Lwow.

Lechia’s biggest rival is Arka Gdynia, but despite both teams coming from one of the country’s biggest conurbations the first top league derby only happened in 2008. Lechia have met on relatively few occasions which is probably just as well seeing as these matches cause huge problems for local police forces. The rivalry often turns into brutal fighting inside and more often outside the stadiums. Yet this issue is not something seen week-in, week-out in either Gdańsk, Gdynia or Sopot, where most of Lechia and Arka fans come from. Beware of the peculiar alliances which exist between the fans of different Polish clubs which mean relaxed, celebratory atmospheres when Lechia are playing their 'friends' from Wisla Krakow or Slask Wroclaw but quite the opposite when they meet their enemies from Cracovia or Lech Poznan.
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