Krakow

Football in Kraków

11 Oct 2017

Like all sensible nations the most important sport in Poland is football, and though precious little Kraków wouldn’t strike you as a footballing hotbed you couldn’t be more wrong. There are two local sides of note here, Wisła and Cracovia, and there’s no love lost between them. Hit Kraków on the same day that these two are playing each other and you’ll think you’ve walked onto the set of Braveheart. Both sides were established within a year of each other early in the twentieth century, and thereby come with a long and contentious history that could fill a book, each having seen their fortunes rise and fall over the decades.

Cracovia were formed from a student club in 1906 while Wisła were born out of a two-team tournament that same year which saw the “blues” and the “reds” merge into one. These colours form the basis of the Wisła Kraków kits today.

In 1908, the very first Kraków Derby was played between Cracovia and Wisła on the large Błonia pasture that separates the clubs’ stadiums today, the game ending in a 1-1 draw.

For the first two decades of their existence, Cracovia not only dominated the local but also the national stage and this period saw them develop a large fan base. Among the many friendly games they played, the “Pasy” (which translates to the “Stripes”) lost to the Austrian national team (Cracovia were formed at a time when Kraków was part of the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia) but gained enough experience to become champions of the Polish league five times in the inter-war years compared to only two wins by Wisła.

Both clubs were at the forefront of the establishment of the new domestic league (when Poland regained independence after WWI) as Kraków quickly became Poland’s biggest football city. The most important game between the two clubs is considered to be the one played just after the end of WWII, when in a playoff for the Polish championship played at a neutral site Cracovia defeated Wisła 3-1. This 1948 victory proved to be Cracovia’s last title success.

Wisła flourished temporarily, winning the league in 1949 as Cracovia stumbled, and in the same year, in keeping with the adoption of clubs by different parts of the new communist apparatus, Wisła became part of the state police organisation. For most of the next few decades there was little success aside from the odd cup victory or notable league campaign, though Wisła began to be regarded as the stronger club and saw their fan base grow steadily.

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