Date: 12 March 2022/ League: Polish top flight.
Final Score: 1-1 / Attendance: 7,134.
In A Nutshell
A fiery evening clash contested with an Amsterdam twist!
Geographically you can’t really get further apart in Poland than these two sides – it’s the equivalent of Plymouth to Newcastle in distance (I’ve checked!) – but they have a historical dislike for each other dating back from when a Pogon fan was knifed to death by Cracovia followers during the chaos that marked England’s trip to Poland in 1993.
Now you’d have thought this was something that Cracovia might be ashamed of, but they’ve done much to stoke the ensuing bitterness, not least by unveiling a banner several years back depicting a bloody dagger piercing Pogon’s coat of arms. Tensions have not deescalated with time, and on the occasions away fans are allowed something nasty is pretty much guaranteed to happen.
I’m not too awed Cracovia’s revamped ground, and there is nothing at all about it to suggest that this is the home of Poland’s oldest club. Looking spanking new, it is at least quite striking from the outside when illuminated at night. Also, do look out for the little bar hidden in one of the side stands – it’s certainly not your typical food pub.
Presenting itself as an upmarket wine bar, it also serves a few craft beers inside a polished interior that would be perfect for a date. Now, with the entire street cordoned off at either end by the police, and this place found bang in between, only I was allowed through the lines of riot shields on account of being tagged up in my photographer’s vest. Basically, that meant I had the entire place to myself in the lead-up to the match.
Next door, incidentally, lies the club shop which, in fact, is definitely one of the better you’ll find in Poland and home to all manner of mementoes and souvenirs – shirts, scarves, plates, bears, tankards, etc. Use this chance to stock up on ammo to chuck at the away fans (I’m kidding!).
Pogon were chasing the title – unbelievably almost – and they sold their allocation of 400 in 40-seconds. Even so, I was convinced they’d be banned at the last moment due to the history of this fixture, so I was surprised to find that they even got in. Allegedly, they had a contingent of buddies over from Feyenoord, whilst Cracovia’s number were boosted by a large group of Ajax with whom they have an ongoing hooligan alliance with that purportedly stems from the two clubs historic Jewish connections.
Certainly, the Ajax lot were tough to ignore – from kick-off, the home end was adorned with several banners announcing their presence, not least one flag dedicated to Rick H., a notorious Dutch hooligan and alleged gangster currently in jail on a shooting charge. Despite their rather nefarious reputation, the Dutch lads I spoke to were actually really rather pleasant and more than happy to pose for pictures and goon around for the camera – fair play!
As for Cracovia, you could tell this was a big match for them and the kick-off whistle was met with a toilet roll salute that saw the goalmouth swamped in ticker tape. With this finally cleared, the match kicked-off with colour provided by a motherlode of banners and a flag drop featuring a message urging people to go to football rather than watch it on TV.
Though a very decent atmosphere, by the time the second half came along I’d found myself paying the price for my lunchtime lagers and half-dozing by the corner flag. At which point, BANG. Shaken out of my snooze, a couple of fire crackers and a smoke bomb or two were chucked to signal Cracovia’s assault on the away end. Bloody hell, talk about snapping into life. Get to it Webber!
Cracovia certainly had, and their fans flooded into the side stand to dismantle the segregation gate and hurl what they could at the line of police. At one point, I got caught pretty much in the epicenter – flanked on one side by stewards gassing everything in sight, and on the other, masked blokes lobbing missiles and waving their belts in the air. “You better put those back on,” I wanted to tell ’em, “because if you don’t your trousers will fall down.”
This was a full-blooded attempt, I’ll give them credit, and at one point the match was paused to allow the manager on the field to plead for calm. But on it went, with trouble carrying on down into one of the tunnels where Cracovia were preventing a unit of riot police from entering.
With peace eventually restored, the rest of the match was played out to the surreal sight of police dogs lining the touchline – muzzled they might have been, but bloody hell these land sharks don’t need their teeth. Passing too closely, I nearly got floored when one Baskerville leapt on me.
And That Was That?
No chance. As if it hadn’t been breathless enough, Pogon scored in the 92nd minute to send their lot wild, only for Cracovia to then nab a point in the 95th minute with practically the last kick of the game. Delirium.
Certainly, a very interesting night, even if I stank the pubs out after with the smell of freshly squirted Predator (that’s not some ropey 80s aftershave, but the pepper spray used with gay abandon by the stewards). As for Cracovia, they’ve caught a bit of flak from fan circles for their antics – basically, in their attempt to get to Pogon they had to charge a family-friendly zone, so there’s been a fair bit of ridicule surrounding that: “the first mob to be beaten back from the family enclosure”, etc. For all that, definitely a night I’ll be remembering over the next few years.