Lost in…Kraków (Wisla Kraków)

Wisla Kraków v Zagłębie Lubin

Stadion Miejski im. Henryka Reymana / Ekstraklasa / 17th April 2017

So having taken in days at Opava and Katowice/Chorzów en route, I finally arrived at my final destination on my Easter trip: the much-lauded Polish city of Kraków. It seems everyone loves Kraków. When I mentioned that I was considering heading to Poland’s cultural capital, it seemed not a single soul had a bad word to say about the place. Any sort of information I read on the city before I visited was gushing with superlatives and sensationalist language. Words like ‘heritage’ and ‘culture’ were ubiquitous in everything I read and of course I’d be sampling the town’s (mostly) resplendent culture. Ultimately though, I was there for football. I was there for Wisla Kraków.

Wisla are one of Poland’s oldest clubs having been formed in 1908 and they are the country’s third most successful behind Ruch Chorzów (where I had spent the day before) and Górnik Zabrze; both those clubs have 14 titles to their name, whilst Wisla have 13. It’s been since the turn of the century that Wisla have claimed most of their success with them winning the league 8 times between 1999 and 2011, although not since.

I arrived in Kraków early Sunday morning and with kick-off at Wisla not until Monday evening, I had my whole Easter Sunday free to explore the many delights on offer in Kraków – and there were a lot of delights on offer.

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Kraków being Kraków…

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…and still being typical Kraków…

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…and still. Beautiful city and the photos won’t don it justice.

What a city! What a flipping city! It’s beautiful, it’s fun and the beer is exceptional (and exceptionally cheap too). My biggest concern was with it being Easter Sunday that Kraków may be on shutdown – but not at all. Okay, some places were closed, but mostly the city was lively – although, I think I heard more British and American voices than I did Polish.

I did the Old Town and covered most of that, before I headed to the Kazimierz area, the Jewish Quarter. This was certainly not the most beautiful part of Kraków, but it was probably my favourite part of Kraków. It reminded me of a mix of the unashamedly hipster bars of Manchester’s Northern Quarter and the DIY feel of Budapest’s ruin bars. The buildings were crumbling, but their innards were full of brilliant bars selling brilliant beer.

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In the Kazimierz district. There’s a bar in that battered building – and a good bar too.

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There were also bars in Kazimierz going ultra-hipster with things like sewing machines obstructing precious beer space.

My escapades through Kraków had been at a pleasantly slow-pace as the clock ticked towards midnight. I thought I’d have one more beer, before hitting bed. I’m still not sure what beer I drank, but I remember the final beer of the night being a lot more expensive than the others and being served in what appeared to be a large cocktail glass. I seemed to drink it and then wake up Monday morning.

My Monday began with refueling in Starbucks (a commodity very rare in Slovakia) before I headed to another global chain: Hard Rock Cafe. The Hard Rock could be located right on the main square, but the main reason I headed there was because it was my sister-in-law Kathryn’s birthday With her and my bro having a thing for visiting Hard Rocks all around the world, I thought it rude not to toast her birthday in such a way.

I made sure to make a revisit to an excellent bar I had frequented the day before called The Beer House. Here I sampled a few of the local IPAs and mapped out my route to the home of Wisla Kraków, which was a short walk away from the city centre.

With Google Maps to guide me, I walked around the footpath circling the Old Town and then around Wawel Castle. Many believe that the myth around this castle on Wawel Hill is what spawned Kraków and its name. Supposedly, Wawel Dragon lived in a cave at the foot of Wawel Hill, before Kraków came into being. A Polish prince named Krakus defeated Wawel and built his castle on the hill above Wawel’s lair. From the castle a city grew and Krakus then created the city of Kraków, hence the name, which translates loosely as ‘Krak’s Town’.

The direction I was walking in was devoid of tourists and attractions, until I eventually arrived into the large Park Jordana. It was a rather dull overcast day in Kraków and so there were not too many park revellers on this Monday afternoon. My only company were the 45 busts of famous Poles scattered around the park. I didn’t investigate these famous Poles too much, as I’d taken just a few steps into the park, when I spotted Wisla Kraków’s stadium poking up above the trees on the other side of the park.

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Some of the busts in Park Jordana.

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And there is the stadium.

There was a small hill in the park next to the fence separating the stadium from the park and so I jogged to the summit to take some photos from there. I tried to make it as obvious as possible to the canoodling couple laying at the top of the hill that I was photographing the football stadium and not perving on them. Whilst a loving scene unfolded behind me, I found myself finding it a bit more difficult initially loving Wisla’s stadium. It was a bit big and grey from the outside and it reminded me of some of the Premier League’s older, more traditional grounds – like a Polish White Hart Lane.

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Climbed this hill to take some photos – found too much PDA for my liking.

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It’s grey, cold exterior was actually quite cool.

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Stadium.

There were still a few hours to go until kick-off, but after receiving mixed messages about whether I’d need to sort out a Fan ID or not to buy a ticket, I got there early just to be safe. There was no queue and into the ticket office I headed. Thankfully no Fan ID was needed and after having my passport details taken down to be scribed on my ticket, I had myself a ticket for the evening’s Ekstraklasa game.

I went in search of a bar and one was forthcoming quickly enough. Next to the stadium is another small ground and next to that a big building housing a bar and restaurant. That would do me.

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My bar for the afternoon…

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…draped in Wisla colours.

There was still close to 3 hours until kick-off, but the bar was relatively full with people ordering kielbasa to accompany their Tyskie beer.  As well as kielbasa (Poland’s ‘klobása’), people were going back from the food area with some of the longest pieces of bread I’d ever seen housing all kinds of meat. I sat at a random table to watch the Ekstraklasa game on TV (I had no idea who was playing), when I noticed something about the lads sitting at the table next to me: they all had Ruch Chorzów badges on their jackets and scarves. I was aware that Ruch and Wisla have a close friendship and here indeed were a gang of Ruch lads drinking in the Wisla bar. Of course, I began telling them about my time in Chorzów the day before and my newfound love for their eagle mascot, Adler. They were good guys, although a bit bemused by my love for a man wearing a giant eagle costume.

After a couple of beers with the Ruch lads, I headed to the small club shop (pretty much a portacabin) located in the car park. There was the usual tat in here and nothing particularly novel. Equally customary was me purchasing a scarf, still sticking to ‘my anything outside of Slovakia warrants a purchase’ rule.

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Graffiti near the Ultras’ stall.

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My new Wisla scarf.

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Not the prettiest on this side.

There was about 45 minutes until kick-off and I couldn’t believe the size of the queue for the ticket office. It went all the way up the street and there was no chance of most of these people getting in in time for kick-off. If you go to a Wisla game, get your ticket sorted early is my advice.

Ticket scanned and I was into Wisla Kraków ahead of the crowd. I headed up a few flights of stairs before emerging on to the very spacious concourse. I purchased a beer to accompany me, whilst I had nothing better to do than watch the queue in the street below me remain static.

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On the concourse. The queue outside carried on getting longer after this.

I was very, very happy with where I’d been placed in the stadium. I found myself in the upper tier corner of the ground with a superb view of the pitch below and the Ultras housed to my right. The stadium was definitely a prettier entity inside than outside, thanks to those floodlights on the roof leaning over to beam down on the pitch below and all the distinctive red and blue seats adding much-needed colour, juxtaposing with the stadium’s grey, concrete exterior. I ignored the seat I had been allocated (like everyone else I guessed) and made a beeline for the very top of the stand – a more arduous task than I first realised thanks to the steepness of the stand. The view from atop was equally brilliant with there also being a sort of large open concourse area at the top too, which you could look out from at Kraków below. Admittedly, as someone who is an absolute wuss when it comes to heights, I didn’t do much looking over that wall at the city and instead focused on the football pitch down below and the game about to kick-off.

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Nice floodlights.

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My patch for the evening.

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Prematch thumbs.

The teams came out on to the pitch and this was the cue for the usual prematch scarf-raising club anthem. I always love a prematch club anthem, although Wisla’s did remind me a little bit too much of the chorus to Leeds United’s Marching On Together for some reason (I don’t think this is a good thing by the way). Still, it was good to raise a few decibels amongst the 12,000 fans inside the stadium on this cold Monday evening.

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The Wisla 

Kraków’s Stadion Miejski is the 4th largest stadium in the league and holds around 33,000 fans. Many stadiums in Poland have the generic name ‘Miejski’ just like the Slovaks and the Czechs mainly call their stadiums ‘Městský’; ‘Miejski’ is the Polish word for Municipal’. The stadium’s full name is Stadion Miejski im. Henryka Reymana  named after the legendary Wisla player from the early 20th century, Henryk Tomasz Reyman. I could probably write a whole blog on him alone. This was a man who was not just a footballer, but a military official too, who fought for the Austrian Army, for the Poles in the Polish Civil War and took part in the Silesian Uprisings. On the football pitch, his legendary shot was so powerful that he once hit a goalie into the net and knocked him out. Certainly a person worth reading into if you get the chance. More importantly for Wisla, he played there his whole career until he retired, guiding Wisla to various titles in the 1920s – even though he was still working in the military at the time.

This stadium is Wisla’s 3rd stadium, although the other previous 2 had been in the same area. The club moved to the current stadium in 1953 with it being a classic bowl-shaped arena with a running track. As my photos obviously show, the running track is no more and the stadium underwent extensive redevelopment in the 2000s. There was also further construction needed as the the stadium was chosen as a reserve stadium to host games during Euro 2012, although it was never used in the end. But it was to be in full use on this Easter Monday as the game got underway.

In a game featuring a relatively iconic European name, it’s always nice to look at the teamsheet and find a former Premier League or Football League player who has headed back to their homeland. Today’s example was former Derby, Blackpool and Barnsley player Tomasz Cywka, a player I always remember being hyped up, but never really walking the walk (he was fairly crap in this game too). The only other familiar name on show – especially for those of a Dundee United or Celtic disposition – was Wisla goalkeeper Łukasz Załuska. Otherwise, with my knowledge of Polish league football being as good as zero, I’d have to make up my own heroes to cheer (I did eventually).

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Match action.

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Match action.

Much like the first half at Ruch the day before, the first half was a bit of a non-event. Football-wise, my first two Ekstraklasa games were not exactly classics. Rain had begun hammering down early into the game and the crappy weather reflected the crappy football.

However, the saving grace of the day were the fans again, who were in excellent voice throughout with the Ultras end being particularly lively (obviously). There were a few more scarf-raising songs too, which is always nice.

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On the top platform area – pretty high this actually.

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And then it hammered down.

As the half hit the 40 minute mark, and the rain got heavier, I was more than confident that nothing would happen in the final 5 minutes. And so, with my stomach rumbling, I decided to try beat the queue and head down for my half-time kielbasa early. I was spot on, as I watched the end of the half on the TV on the concourse and predictably nothing happened. Equally spot on was the klobása.

Half-time: Wisla Kraków 0 – 0 Zagłębie Lubin.

The second half was equally slow, although slowly Wisla came to life. Anyone who has ever talked to me about football – or even just life itself – will know I have a weird thing about certain numbers; mainly that there are certain numbers I get excited about if they crop up in my life. 23 is my all-time favourite (my birthday), followed by 14 (I once scored a goal for Treharris  Western Athletic U16 wearing 14 against an imperious Troedyrhiw team, to give us a consolation goal in a 12-1 loss . I felt I did Cruyff’s iconic shirt number proud). So I’m obviously going to pay attention to anyone who has the audacity to wear the no.88 – 88 being the year of my birth. Step forward Wisla’s 88 Patryk Małecki – unsurprisingly born in 1988 too.

Patryk Małecki was easily the best player on the pitch for me and shone throughout, particularly in the second half. His runs down the left regularly bamboozled the Lubin opposition and I was not surprised that it was him who scored the only goal of the game.

It really was hammering down now, as Wisla broke down the right wing in the 62nd minute. The chasing defender had seemingly brought the winger down as they both slipped across the floor, but fairplay to the Wisla player for getting back to his feet and putting in a brilliant cross just as the ball was rolling out for a goal kick. The cross was headed onto the bar by a Wisla forward and for a second or two it looked like Lubin had got away with it; that was until my boy Małecki came flying in to venomously smash the rebound in.  Whilst his team mates tried to celebrate with him, he went on some mad dash past them all and shoving others out of the way to perform a full on knee slide into the manager’s technical area to deliver a pointing fingers celebrate at someone. It looked like a ‘thank you’ gesture rather than an aggressive action.

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Match action.

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Match action.

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Wisla fans after taking the lead.

That goal in the 62nd minute never really looked like being troubled. The rain continued to hammer down, yet the football on the pitch was less volatile. Wisla saw it out comfortably

Full-time: Wisla Kraków 1 – 0 Zagłębie Lubin.

A poor game, but entertainment was rescued by my new hero, the Wisla no.88, and the fans were great too. The players, as is custom in this part of the world, headed over to the fans for them to salute them and visa versa. It’s always a great thing to see in this part of the world and it never gets old for me seeing a bit of fan/player love.

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Wisla Ultras prepare to serenade their victorious team.

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The players getting ready for their adoration.

With the rain minimal, I made a break for the centre before the heavy rain returned and it seemed like half the people of Kraków had cleared out due to the rain. I soon found everyone  though – they were all packed into the bars.

Having been closed the day before, I finally  got to visit the famous House of Beer. I’m not sure I’ve ever gone anywhere and had so many recommendations for one bar from people who had previously visited. It did exactly what it said on the tin – it was indeed a house stocked full of beer. The beer was excellent too, so much so that I even shunned my beloved Punk IPA to try the more exotic, specialist offerings.
There were a few more bars to take in (and a rather creepy barman to escape from too – long story), but it was soon the early hours of the morning and time for a kebab. Like every other country I’ve been to nearby – Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary – you can now add Poland to my ‘shit at kebabs’ list. How I pine for my beloved Spices of Kashmir in Lower Broughton, Salford and their epic chicken tikka kebab.

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Good night on the town with my new cuddly pal Wawel Dragon. Unlike Krakus, I merely slayed him with beer.

And so after heading back to Katowice the next day and then southwards to Slovakia on an eventful train journey via the Czech Republic (a story for another time), my first Polish adventure was finished. Katowice and Chorzów had a gritty charm to it, but Kraków truly was a majestic joy – as were Wisla (off the pitch at least).

There’s plenty of football to be found in Poland and I shall definitely be back to sample of it.

Highlights: Kraków – just wow, stadium near the centre, cheap tickets, beer, food etc., excellent kielbasa, great fans, cool stadium, no.88 Patryk Małecki.

Low Points: game was poor.

See all my photos from my day at Wisla Kraków here.

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