Ruch Chorzów v Pogoń Szczecin
Stadion Miejski w Chorzowie / Ekstraklasa / 15th April 2017
“(W)ho, after all, wants to spend three weeks stuck in what is effectively a suburb of the grimly industrial Katowice, when they could be in a thriving town full of historic sites, lively bars and excellent restaurants?”
This was the question put to the Guardian readers by football cognoscenti Jonathan Wilson regarding the choice of stadiums for Euro 2012 (he had wrongly thought that Wisla Kraków’s stadium had been snubbed for Chorzów’s Silesian Stadium, when in fact neither were selected). Well my answer to his question would be, “I’ll take in ‘grimly industrial Katowice’, Chorzów and Kraków, thank you very much.” My 4 trip had started with a day in Opava and would be finishing with 2 days in Kraków. However, this day – day 2 – would be all about Upper Silesia, in particular Katowice and my afternoon trip to the seemingly conjoined town of Chorzów to visit the cult of Ruch Chorzów.
I made my maiden crossing over the Polish border shortly after 10am and arrived into Katowice an hour and a half later. I very much liked the Poles I encountered over the next few days, but I also found them a bit crazy and a bit scary at times. That very general opinion was probably formed in the opening moments of my arrival in Katowice, as men and women came right up to me rambling frantically in what sounded like very slurred Polish words. First thoughts were that the main centre of Katowice itself seemed dull and a bit grim in parts, although my opinion of the city would slightly improve later in the evening. More on that later.
As soon as I had arrived into Katowice station, I bought my train tickets for the short 10 minute journey up the line to Chorzów. With 45 minutes to kill waiting for train and after dumping my bag in my hostel, I wandered into the dinkiest, darkest bar on the same street as my hostel. There were old gentleman sitting around quietly watching the news on the big screen. I knew everything would be okay when I saw the barman enter. I found him reassuring as he looked a bit like the older Kurt Russell in his role as a friendly counsellor in the Tom Cruise film Vanilla Sky. The lack of English confirmed this man wasn’t actually Kurt Russell, but he was probably better at providing Polish beer than Russell, as he handed over some fine, creamy Kasztelan for my 5zl (about a £1).
I was soon on the train heading out of Katowice towards Chorzów and it was very dilapidated, graffiti-doused train carriage; of course, I thought this was great too. Grimness equals character – a sentiment that couldn’t be more fitting for a town like Chorzów.
I had opted not to get off at Chorzów Batory station, located minutes away from Ruch’s stadium, and instead headed for Chorzów Miasto, as I wanted to at least get a brief sample of the centre of Chorzów.
Like anywhere, I’m sure Chorzów had some nice areas, but here everything looked remarkably unloved – and that was just on the main high street. It reminded me of the downtrodden industrial towns you can find around Lancashire, though you can ramp the word ‘downtrodden’ up a few notches here. I’d read that the neighbourhoods immediately around the ground could be ‘interesting’ and so I thought I should get a beer in one of the nicer-looking bars on the high street to brace myself.
The further I walked from the centre towards Ruch Chorzów’s home, the more battered and tattered the streets were. Everything was tarnished and the houses still looked tainted with the soot of industry. However, the one thing I noticed more than anything was that every wall was emblazoned with the blue/white logo of Ruch. Ruch was everywhere. And if there wasn’t any colour spray to create the blue and white logo, then the words ‘Ruch Chorzów’ were simply just scribed on any walls or fences or general space with whatever implement could be found.
The fervent passion for the club clearly stems from the area’s history and the the various threats to Silesian identity and the battle to maintain it. Upper Silesia has a hell of a lot of interesting history over the past couple of centuries, which would take a hell of a lot of blogs to document and which you could learn about at better, more well-informed sources elsewhere on the internet – not from some Welsh groundhopper. All you need to know is that many of the natives to this area consider themselves not Germans, not Poles, but Silesians. Ruch is a big part in representing just that. Ruch is king here. Ruch felt like a religion here. I loved it.
I found myself zigzagging through the cobbled streets of red-bricked houses and once again I felt like I had gone back in time to those Lancashire industrial towns you see in black and white photos. Then, after a few more alleys and a whole host more Ruch graffiti, the stadium appeared with those idiosyncratic floodlights pointing into the greying sky. I’m usually a fan of those imperious, square floodlights covered in lights, but I always like something a bit different too. At Ruch they go for the ‘big, blue pole with big light’ look. It was cool.
I headed down the final street and across the bridge that takes you over the main road and to a small ticket office outside the ground. I know that Polish football clubs can sometimes operate a Fan ID system, but generally, for visiting foreigners, entry can be gained by showing your passport at the ticket office. I played it safe and got there early just to be on the extra safe side. There was already a small queue with over an hour until kick-off, but I couldn’t quite believe how long it took to go down. Although it was quite entertaining to watch all the big Polish men have to go down on their knees to get served, as for whatever reason the booth for this small ticket office had seemingly been designed to serve dwarves. Anyway, after 15-20 minutes, I was the one crouching down to pass over my passport and soon I had a ticket for the stand main; I asked for “Whatever’s best for a foreigner,” to the young lad behind the booth who spoke excellent English.
Next to the ticket office was the club shop, but with the queue being ridiculously long, I left it for now and headed into the ground. And what a ground it is. Chorzów’s home is a typically huge Silesian bowl stadium with one main stand and the rest being open curving terraces. It sort of reminded me of VSS Košice’s huge bowl stadium in east Slovakia – except this had a rawer, cooler edge to it; plus, this was actually full of fans – noisy, rowdy fans as I would find out soon enough.
I headed into the stand to take in my surroundings. What I didn’t like about my surroundings was that the only bar I could see was on the curving, open terrace to my right – a part of the stadium inaccessible to me with my ticket. This wasn’t good. I asked a steward where I could get a beer and she pointed back towards the club shop. Yet, back there, there was no bar and the stewards there told me the only bar was on the curve I had spotted earlier. There was no way that the angry-looking steward guarding the car park towards that area was going to let me jog over, buy a beer and jog back, so I went all sulky and back to where I started – no beer in hand.
I took my place in the top row of lower tier of the main stand, beer-less, but at least I very quickly had the football to distract me. The teams emerged and the Ruch fans on both sides of the open curving terrace to my right roared. This felt like ‘proper football’ for me and not the half-arsed amateur-ish stuff I’m used to in the backwater towns of Slovakia (you know I love you really Slovakia). You know you’re approaching the big-time, when the ref has a plinth to pick the matchball up from and the teams even walked out under a Ekstraklasa banner with photographers surrounding the players and snapping them from both sides. Slovakia has made me really am not used to such ‘glitz’ these days.
At one time, Ruch would have been considered a glamour team too, as they still remain one of the most successful teams in Polish football history. Ruch underwent a couple of trophy-grabbing golden eras, although their greatest ever period came in the 30s, when they claimed 5 league titles that decade. This was also around the time that the local steel mill helped to back the club and also developed the current stadium. Overall, Ruch hold 14 Polish league titles – the joint most with their Silesian rival, Górnik Zabrze.
Strangely, since the collapse of communism in Poland in 1989, Ruch have not won the league title and some suggest this could be down to a post-communist shift in Poland. Financial power has tended to head to the more northern cities and away from the more industrialised south-west. The power shift in Polish football really is extraordinary since communism: in 1988/89, the final season under communism, the top 3 were champions Ruch followed by GKS Katowice and Górnik Zabrze – a Silesian top 3; since then none of these former powerhouses have won the league and the league has mainly been dominated by the big Warsaw clubs and Lech Poznań.
Back now in 2017, Ruch sat towards the bottom of the table. The teams lined up and as this piece of prematch etiquette played out, one thing became clear on the other side of the pitch: Ruch’s eagle mascot, Adler, was a complete and utter mentalist. He ran around the front of the terrace fist pumping and psyching up the Ultras (not that I think they needed help). Adler is an Chorzów of the Silesian Eagle – a powerful symbol of Silesian identity (Adler being the German word for ‘Eagle’). Well, this eagle was crazy!
The ground was superb, the fans (and Adler) were superb and now I had high hopes for the football. Sadly, I felt that the football was what fell a bit short today. Both teams battled through a very scrappy opening ten minutes, before a bit of luck gave the away team the lead. Dawid Kort fired from long-range and his shot deflected off a Ruch player, which confused the goalie and then flew into the net. Behind me there were excited cheers. It seemed that in the little box directly behind me there was a family of Pogoń fans (I guessed one of the away team player’s family). They got a few stinking looks from those around me – and Adler – but they were let be with a them all being women, children and a couple of old timers.
Only then did I really notice the Pogoń fans in the actual away end for the first time – a band of about 40-50 maybe. It was apparent that all were male and all had decided to wear black tops/hoodies for the game. With their team 1-0 up, the usual orchestration of chants and regimented actions in tune with each other was underway.
With Ruch 1-0 down, Adler tried to aid the situation and snuck over to the opposite dugout to peak over the Pogoń manager’s shoulder and to surreptitiously attempt to copy down the opposing manager’s tactics onto his own clipboard. Adler then offered his findings to the Ruch coach, but he seemed uninterested. And he wouldn’t need them moments later.
Bartosz Nowak broke into the box for Ruch and got the ball past the goalie to make it 1-1. The goal came right in front of the Ultras and they roared suitably loud in appreciation of the equaliser. It certainly did look buoyant over there.
I had never seen a man watch a football match with such intensity as the guy sat next to me, as he held a strong, leaning forward pose and his stare was almost burning into the ball. The goal seemed to appease my fellow stand dweller, although now he focused his intensity on the eating and chewing of his sunflower seeds – many of which were now beginning to cover my feet. Rather disgustingly, I think a lot of the seeds at my feet may have been ones he had spat out from his mouth – spat out in disgust at some of Ruch’s more inept moments on the pitch. As we say in Wales, ‘ych-a-fi!
Half-time: Ruch Chorzów 1 – 1 Pogoń Szczecin.
Still there was no beer accessible to me at half-time, but now the queue had died down in the club shop, I purchased myself my second scarf of the weekend; this was also my second scarf of the weekend that was draped in the blue and yellow colours of Silesia.
I was on my way back to the stand, until I noticed that I could head through the gate to the standing terrace to the left of the main stand. More importantly, for my belly, there was a tent here selling huge klobása. As it was still half-time, there was an expectedly huge queue for the huge klobása. I couldn’t be arsed to hang about queuing, so I crossed my fingers and hoped there’d still be some sausage left later.
The second half continued in a similar vein to the first. There was maybe more entertainment to be had watching the little kids at the front of the stand kick lumps out of each other, as they played a chaotic game of football in the narrow walkway between the front row and the fencing. The stewards seemed happy to have something to do as they went to retrieve the stray balls that went over the fence from their frenzied footballing. I never did pick up the Polish for, “Can we have our ball back, please?”
There was only one person who was going to take the kids’ attention away from their kickabout and that was Adler. The kids flocked to him for high fives and photos. With the game still a slow burner, many of the adults headed for Adler too. Of course, I wasn’t far behind them either. I’ve had my silly trademark thumbs up photos with the likes of Paul Scholes, Tony Cascarino and the mighty Jordi Gomez amongst other footballing greats (and not so greats), but I think my one with Adler may be my favourite. What a guy (well, eagle).
It looked like more and more likely that a point was going to be on the cards for both teams, but, sadly for Ruch, Pogoń had other ideas. With minutes left the away team broke through and scored a goal to make it 2-1. I felt the Pogoń players were extremely brave to celebrate as passionately as they did when they were so close to the front row holding the Ruch Ultras.
There were a few frustrated fans shouting at every decision and trying to gee up their team, but Ruch didn’t look like turning the game around in the closing stages.
Full-time: Ruch Chorzów 1 – 2 Pogoń Szczecin.
I exited at the final whistle to ensure I made the train back to Katowice and that I would not have to hang around Chorzów. It was quite nice to walk through the streets in a large crowd for a change – I’m used to leaving with one man and his dog after Slovak games. However, as I got to the station it soon became clear that I was amongst some of the more hardcore support. And some of them were very, very frightening. There was a mix of scarred faces, blackened eyes and a worrying amount of lads with plastered up arms and hands. I kept my mouth firmly shut, not knowing how they’d take to an English speaking lad amongst them.
The train platform turned into a parade of almost ritualistic, cult-like, drunken chanting (and my word, some of these lads were at ridiculous levels of drunkenness). I probably looked very awkward. I stood as far away as possible, but ensuring my Ruch scarf was on show, hopefully to display that I had actually been cheering on Ruch.
I got on the train carriage furthest away from the pack, although the chanting could still be heard resonating down the several train carriages. As I dismounted at Katowice, a whole parade of armoured cops boarded with 1 or 2 even wielding shotguns in their hands; I guessed that this was more of an attempted intimidation tactic rather than to defuse any real trouble.
I adored the intensity of the whole Ruch experience and the sheer ardent passionate the fans clearly have for their beloved club. However, it was quite nice to chill and roam the quieter streets of Katowice in the evening. A lot of the town consisted of cold, grey buildings defaced with graffiti, but there were some points of interests. For example, the large spaceship-like stadium, Spodek (literally meaning ‘saucer), was a beautiful, imposing piece of communist architecture. Equally, the three huge bronzed wings monument was impressive too. Apparently the heaviest monument in Poland, the Silesian Insurgents’ Monument’s three wings represent each of the three Silesian Uprisings in 1919, 1920 and 1921. In fact, ‘Ruch’ actually means ‘Movement’ and many suggest that its use in the football club name is a reference to the Silesian Uprisings. Enough culture now though, I wanted some beer.
Despite reading beforehand that Katowice was an ‘up and coming’ town and had ‘hipster’ potential, I’d seen no evidence of this. That was until I discovered one of my favourite streets I’ve been to in Central Europe thus far. Mariacka (or ‘The Strip’ as I heard some call it) was scattered with awesome bars and cool restaurants all leading up to the beautiful, neo-gothic St. Mary’s Church at the end of the street. This is where Katowice truly seized me.
Things got even better as the ‘hip’ bar Kato offered me my favourite: sour beer. God, I love sour beer and this was one of the best I’ve ever had. It was Kato Bar’s own with a Breaking Bad theme: Let’s Cook. I found myself wanting more, but I don’t think that meant that there was some of Walter White’s fabled and highly addictive crystal meth present within it, don’t worry.
And so the night continued with me visiting several bars on the Strip and enjoying some superb beer. The incident of the night had to be when I met a very, very drunken middle-aged man named Matus. He insisted we be friends as we had the same name (sort of) and within ten minutes, as he sipped his Pepsi to futilely try to sober up, he was pouring his heart out to me. It seemed he had had a traumatic 24 hours or so. Apparently, the day before, he had given his girlfriend a few thousand zloty and then she dumped him and legged it somewhere. He was equally upset that at the same time he learned that she was still a pole dancer; she had agreed to stop months ago to make him happy, yet it seemed she had carried on the pole dancing behind his back. Bless him. I stick to the fact that Polish people are crazy. This chat occurred in a superb bar with superb beer called Amnezija, but I couldn’t politely hack Matus for longer than one beer, so I said my goodbyes and got out of there.
My night continued with me sampling as many of the street’s delights as possible and there were many, before I ended up crashing out back at hostel.
It had been my first ever day in Poland and it certainly left an impression on me. Katowice had won me over with its amazing bars, whilst I found Chorzów scaring me and intriguing me in equal measure. Indeed the highlight of the whole day had been Ruch themselves. Their fans were truly brilliant (once again, they scared me a bit too though) and the stadium is an absolute beauty. It was a superb way to introduce myself to Polish football and Poland in general
Highlights: Ruch stadium, Ruch fans were great, Adler, Katowice’s Mariacka Strip.
Low Points: Katowice or Chorzów not the prettiest (although Chorzów has character), football a bit dull.
See all my photos from Katowice and my visit to Ruch Chorzów here.