Warsaw

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One of Poland’s biggest and most successful clubs is here in the capital. Legia Warszawa was originally formed during WWI as a club for the fighting legions and was officially established as the army club in 1922. They have quite a history with eight league titles and a record 13 cup triumphs to their name and are one of only 2 Polish clubs to have qualified for the league stage of the Champions League.

Formed as a club for Polish legionnaires in 1916, Legia were twice removed from domestic football first as a result of end of the First World War and then in 1937 when the club’s board withdrew Legia from the league after promotion was not achieved.

Always identified with the military, the club gained an advantage from its official association with the army of the People’s Republic of Poland after 1949. This allowed Legia to recruit whichever players they wanted with the help of the law. (Basically come and play for Legia or do your service in the army). Legia’s first domestic success was the league and cup double which they won in 1955 and which was repeated a year later. One of the leading figures of that team was striker Lucjan Brychczy, a club legend and holder of the records for both the most appearances (452) and goals (227) in the club’s history.

Brought to the Polish capital officially for military service, Brychczy remained at Legia for the rest of his career, winning four Polish titles and cups before he retired in 1972. Brychczy was pursued by both Real Madrid and AC Milan, but the communist authorities ensured he stayed with ‘their’ team and he remained in Poland. Brychczy later went onto manage Legia and was still involved in the coaching side late into his 70s.

The club’s greatest success in Europe was achieved in 1970, when Legia reached the semi-finals of the European Cup only to be eliminated by eventual winners Feyenoord of Rotterdam. Under the tenure of, by now, manager Brychczy, Legia also gave AC Milan a stern test in the quarter finals of the 1972 Cup-Winners’ Cup, only to lose to an 118th minute goal in the second match. The unquestioned star of that team was Kazimierz Deyna.

Although Legia was one of leading clubs in Poland during the eighties, the club had to wait more than twenty years for another domestic title, despite winning a couple of Polish Cups in the seventies and eighties. “Wojskowi” (which translates to “Military Men”) sealed the championship in 1993, after beating Wisła Krakow 6-0. However with their title rivals ŁKS also winning 7-1 that day to lose out on the championship on goal difference, the Polish FA (PZPN) questioned both results and after voting, without any proof, awarded the title to third placed Lech Poznan. Both Legia and ŁKS were banned by UEFA as well. Legia did go on to win the next two titles.

The club’s recent history is as turbulent and largely connected with the issue of ownership. Briefly the club had added a sponsor’s title to its name, while the current owner, Poland’s leading media tycoon, has been in regular conflict with the fans. Legia is a club well-known for the passion of its support. Playing at the rebuilt Polish Army Stadium, the loudest section is called “Żyleta” (“Razorblade”) and is where you’ll find much of the atmosphere. This is created in part by the production of huge banners which cover most of the home support. These sometimes attract a lot of criticism such as one displayed during the 2011/12 season when Legia met Hapoel Tel-Aviv in the Europa League which had “Legia Jihad” written on it and attracted widespread condemnation for the club and the supporters.

Legia, who had last won the title in 2006, looked to be on course for the 2011/12 title as they led the table with two games to go, only to drop points and finish outside of top three, losing out on the title to Slask Wroclaw.

Although Warsaw’s second club, Polonia Warszawa have traditionally been seen as the poor neighbour, they are in fact older than Legia having been formed in 1911 at a time when Poland didn’t even exist as a nation. Taking the name Polonia (the Latin for Poland) the club represented something of a protest to the ruling Russians and the black shirts for which Polonia are known were also seen as a mark of mourning the missing country. With 2 league championships and 2 Polish cups, “Czarne Koszule” (“The Black Shirts”) have a less successful history than their illustrious neighbours.

Their very first Polish title was won in 1946, when Warsaw was still in ruins after the Second World War and “Czarne Koszule” had to play at Legia’s Polish Army Stadium. Their ground, found on ul. Konwiktorska, was destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The Polish Cup, won in 1952, was for decades their last trophy.

The drought was ended in 2000 when the team, led by the man that would go onto lead Poland to the 2002 World Cup finals Jerzy Engel, surprised everyone by winning the title against all the odds. One of the stars of the side was the Polish national side’s first black footballer, Emmanuel Olisadebe, born in Nigeria but given Polish citizenship with Engel’s support. The championship was sealed with a memorable 3-0 win over local rivals Legia. Despite this the following years proved extremely tough with the club relegated and very nearly going out of business.

Local developer and one of Poland’s richest men, Józef Wojciechowski, stepped in to save the club when it was in the second division. Wojciechowski then effectively bought promotion by buying Groclin Grodzisk Wielkopolski, an Ekstraklasa club, and then replacing them with Polonia. Despite fans being against such a move at first, Wojciechowski convinced them with promises of major investment.

The period of his ownership was one of the most controversial in the history of Polish football. Having bought the club in 2006 Wojciechowski invested millions in dozens of players that were later discarded and changed managers a staggering seventeen times during his reign. Polonia did not win the promised title and, after a woeful finish to the 2011/12 season, Wojciechowski vowed to end his interest in “Czarne Koszule”. After a traumatic summer in 2012, when the club saw most of its established players leave, the club was sold for 1zl to Ireneusz Krol, a Polish businessman who had previously invested money in GKS Katowice. Rumours abounded that the two clubs were to be merged with Polonia replaced in the top division by the new hybrid which would have effectively seen the end of Polonia as a professional football club. In the end the club remained intact, now managed by the youth team coach and featuring the few survivors from the previous season and a large number of players promoted from the youth set-up. It’s fair to say that most Polonia fans are just grateful that they still have a club to support.

Finally Warsaw is also home to the new National Stadium built especially to host games in the Euro2012 championships. In addition to football, the stadium plays host to everything from concerts to conferences and is an excellent and extremely well located venue, making it all the more surprising that the Polish national side continues to rotate matches around the country. A move to making this their permanent home would do their chances of winning more games no harm at all in our opinion.
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