Date: 24 September 2019 / League: Polish Cup, first round
Final Score: 2-0 / Attendance: 17,500
Looking at a map of Poland, there’s simply no way you’d expect these two clubs to have bad blood between them – but blimey, they really do. Largely, that’s all down to the intricate system of alliances and rivalries that Poland’s domestic teams have built up over time.
Added poison, though, has been provided by a tragic, brutal episode in 2003. It was then that a busload of Slask were ambushed by Widzew on a motorway – in the resulting melee a 17-year-old Slask fan by the nickname of Rolik was stabbed to death. To this day, if you walk the estates of Wroclaw it’s commonplace to find murals and suchlike dedicated to his memory.
With Widzew languishing in the lower leagues for many years, and Slask maintaining their place amongst Poland’s elite in the top flight, this cup fixture enabled a rare head-to-head between these two bitter rivals – and in the process, opened the raw wounds of the past.
I’ll write at length about Widzew’s stadium in other future posts – but that said, there’s not a huge amount to say about it. Similar to the flatpack grounds found in places like Derby, Boro and Leicester, it’s as indistinguishable as they come in football’s modern era. Sorry to say, it is boring.
But what does make it different from its British lookalikes is the people that fill it – never have I known a dull match here, and that’s to the complete and utter credit of the supporters of Widzew.
Intense. Getting off the train, you could sense the menace in the darkening autumn skies – right away I knew my pre-match ritual of a few pints was unwise, so instead I headed straight into the ground. I’m pretty useless at ‘blending in’, and there was no way I wanted to get caught out on the streets and identified as an ‘outsider’.
Having reached Lodz earlier under a heavy escort, Slask were already in their section: numerically, that meant 950 heads, among them, according to figures later published by their firm, allied mobs from Lechia Gdansk (124), Motor Lublin (81), Miedz Legnica (40), the Czech team Opava (8) and the Hungarian side Ferencvaros (5).
Making their presence felt from before kick-off, the lead-up was marked by this rabble engaging in a confetti-style launch of Monopoly banknotes marked as belonging to the Bank of Israel – an anti-Semitic jab at Lodz’s Jewish heritage. Now why they decided to do this I have no idea, for the only people these notes were ever likely to reach were the sizeable press pack that had gathered at the bottom of their sector.
If nothing else, I guess it did underline to us that we weren’t here for a picnic; and that became all the more clearer a few minutes later once a banner was hung on the fence commemorating Rolik. There could be no question about it: no-one was there for football, they were there for revenge.
And So To Kick-Off…
Slask’s ultras had issued a ban on women and kids from travelling with them, so that away end I was stood right in front of was entirely composed of A-class loons. But when I say loons, by no means were they brain dead.
Planned with impressive foresight, each and everyone of their number was dressed in matching black jackets – even without balaclavas, with so many baldies you just couldn’t pinpoint a face in that open sea of thuggery. But of course, to be doubly sure the balaclavas went on – and in the traditional manner, as well, that is whilst a banner was passed overhead.
Again, you just had to rate their preparation: perfect in its dimensions, the flag they unfurled covered their section to the inch. Black in colour, its white lettering announced simply: Ludzie Zasady (rough translation: People of Rules).
As it was drawn back bit-by-bit, you could see that everyone had masked up while underneath. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more threatening sight than this mob of masked gorillas – and it wasn’t just for show. Straight away, the pyro began firing, but this was not for regular display purposes but being used to burn holes in the segregating netting. The whistle at kick-off had been their ‘over-the-top’ signal.
Fraught, frantic minutes followed: a riot wagon entering the stadium to blast Slask with its water cannon. Play suspended with police on the pitch. Battles in the stands. Volleys of gas. Slask never did make it over-the-top, but it wasn’t through lack of effort.
Widzew did their bit, and all. Played in a blistering atmosphere, the rest of the match flew by in a blur of smoke. The noise: incredible. And on the football front, a minor miracle – third flight Widzew toppling top tier Slask by two goals to nil.
After, I received a message from a mate of mine that’s Widzew: “mental. Not felt anything like this since we got this new stadium.” I could not disagree.