October 2017 marked a very important milestone in Silesia. Stadion Śląski (Silesian Stadium), the scene of so much sporting history, finally re-opened, and not a moment too soon! The modernisation process, which began in 2009 and lasted 8 years was finally over! There were times when the work looked shaky, like it may come to a halt and never be completed. But this is Stadion Śląski. It could never be allowed to fail.
Strong words for what is, essentially, just a sports ground. But this isn't any ole sports ground; there is emotion, history and politics spanning decades tied to this site. It is also a place where legends of football have played, ranging from Johan Cruyff, George Best and Cristiano Ronaldo, teams like FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the last European team visit in 2000 by Inter Milan. To understand why this place is not only important to Silesians, but Poles alike, we need to delve back, like all good stories, to the very beginning...
Following the firestorm of destruction unleashed by WWII, post-war Poland resembled a giant brickyard as the nation set about rebuilding itself. 1950 saw the decision undertaken to build the Silesian Stadium in Chorzów as part of an ambitious public space project, the Park of Culture & Recreation (one of the largest parks in Europe!) and Julian Brzuchowski got the job of designing the socialist realist monstrosity. Construction began in 1951 with many keen patriots volunteering to work on the project for free. Despite this, it still took a government outlay of 1.5 million złoty (a staggering amount at the time) to complete it.
Open with much propagandist fanfare as a symbol of Poland's post-war 'rebirth' in 1956, this Socialist Realist behemoth built out of red and white sandstone, granite and, of course, concrete has been the region's premier sports arena for decades. The opening match was scheduled against East Germany on 22 July 1956 and designated ‘Rebirth of Poland Day,’ a new communist holiday celebrating liberation from Nazi occupation. Festivities included a parade and an honorary flyover by three fighter planes, however, the Germans naturally ruined the day with a 2-0 win.
With an official capacity of 87,000, crowds regularly exceeded that figure thanks to plenty of standing room and in 1963 a record 120,000 squeezed in to watch visiting FK Austria Wien take on Górnik Zabrze. In 1993, Stadion Śląski became the official home of the Polish national team, thanks to the sorry state of the national stadium in Warsaw. Although for safety reasons capacity was reduced to 47,246, this remained the largest stadium in Poland, hosting speedway championships and other events, including massive concerts by bands like U2, ACDC, Iron Maiden and The Rolling Stones.