When you think about football, or soccer depending on your preference, it’s a fair assumption that Poland probably is not the first one to pop up in the online sportsbooks. Still, there are a number of reasons why you should scratch below the surface of the finances and television rights that cloud the modern game and then you’ll begin to appreciate just how much Poland has to offer.
Poland will be a nation that dedicated fans are familiar with on the international scene given they have star players such as striker Robert Lewandowski, who is one of the best forwards around, and Juventus stopper Wojciech Szczesny in their ranks.
Meanwhile, an older generation of fans may well remember the teams that went deep into the World Cup but ultimately finished third in both 1974 and 1982. The Polish national team have won a major honour though, which isn’t something many can boast – Olympic Gold in 1972.
On the domestic front, the league is someway behind the big five European leagues (maybe even below the top ten) but there are some interesting clubs involved in it and it’s the most popular sporting watch in Poland by a distance.
The Ekstraklasa is 92 years old having been founded in 1926, and during that time the trophy has been held aloft by 16 different clubs. In England, Liverpool and Manchester United dominate the history books whilst La Liga sees Real Madrid and Barcelona frequently battle it out.
In Poland the big winners throughout history have been Wisla Krakow and Gornik Zabrze. The pair, who are separated by just an hour’s drive, have won the league title 14 times each.
Despite a proud history in the Ekstraklasa neither side have added silverware to their trophy cabinets in recent years, but history cannot be taken away and both stadiums are worth a visit. Wisla Krakow, who are nicknamed ‘the White Star’, play their home games at the 31,000 capacity Henryka Reymana stadium; a ground named after a Polish footballing legend – Henry Reyman.
Reyman was a hotshot striker back in the late twenties and fired Wisla to back to back titles when he was top scorer in both campaigns. His record of 37 goals in just 23 games from the 1927 season still stands today and, on top of his on-field contribution, there was no manager in those days, so Reyman took on the duties of organiser and tactician, as well as goal scorer.
If you travel an hour closer to the Czech border you’ll find Zabrze’s home, the Ernest Pohl Stadium, another ground named after a player from the clubs past. Zabrze dominated Polish football through the sixties and, after just one title in the seventies, again a decade later. The stadium will soon hold near on 32,000 spectators and they’ll be hoping to propel themselves back amongst the trophy hunt after a spell of mediocrity.
So, if the two historical big boys are ‘sleeping giants’, who are the teams to watch nowadays? Most recently Piast Gliwice won their first ever Ekstraklasa. The newly crowned Champions play their games in front of a 10,000-capacity crowd at Stadium Piast, which is situated next to the Park of Culture and Recreation and is just 10km away from Zabrze.
Although Gliwice finished runners up in 2015/16, they only won promotion from I Liga in 2012 so their Championship win is an incredible feat.
It wasn’t only Gliwice who were celebrating though as their success prevented Legia Warsaw winning their 14th title, which would have brought them level with the joint record. Unfortunately, for Zabrze and Wisla it won’t be long until Legia equal their haul and, possibly overtake it; the side, who have their own museum in the capital city, have won five of their 13 titles in the last seven years suggesting they’ll lift another Ekstraklasa before either of the others find number 15.
If you are ever presented with the chance to see football in Poland, don’t dismiss it as a lower standard because the quality on display will be high and the passion from the stands will be second to none. Besides, the atmosphere is something that you should witness, with the Polish fans presenting the crowds with amazing atmospheres, that are quite unique and worth a visit for sports enthusiasts.
Author: Ashley Munson