Date: 2 November 2021 / League: Polish Cup (Last 32)
Final Score: 0-5 / Attendance: 1,000
A local derby to decide a place in the Cup Quarter Final: one side, reinvented as the PSG of Poland’s lower leagues, and the other, a traditionalist club without a pot to piss in!
Let’s start with the home side – founded in 1942, Wieczysta were covertly established during the German occupation, a time when doing things like founding football clubs didn’t really end well if you happened to get caught.
For this alone they’ve long been admired as a club of honour. A small club but one steeped in history. Not that this ever got them far. Perennial minnows, they’d never gone further than the fourth tier of Polish football – not a problem for their loyal band of fans.
But that was then. Two-years back, a local pharmacy tycoon took control before subsequently embarking on a Fantasy Football rebuild. Though currently in the fifth league, the recruitment drive has seen Poland’s former head coach Franciszek Smuda headhunted as manager, and the purchase of numerous veteran internationals: among them ex-Wolves loanee Slawomir Peszko and former Forest chap Radek Majewski.
In fact, such is their newfound wealth, players have even dropped from Poland’s top flight to join the Wieczysta revolution.
Not surprisingly, success has come quick – in about years, they’ve won every league aside from one recent draw.
Organized in a manner superior to many of Poland’s biggest sides, that Wieczysta will rise further is completely guaranteed.
As for their opponents, Garbarnia, this lowly lot were once a decent side. As in about a century ago. Winning Poland’s league title in 1931, they were relegated from the premier division just before the outbreak of war and never regained their status in the decades after. Now ploughing away in the third league in front of paltry little crowds, they entered this match as the minnows despite being two leagues ahead of their cross-city rival.
Way outside Krakow’s tourist areas, find Wieczysta’s ground buried deep in the North East suburbs among grey estates and faceless blocks of offices. At first glance, it’s pretty boring, but that proves to be a subtle deception.
Remodelled since the cash injection, the old terrace has been knocked down and turned over for an unexciting bank of scaffold-style seating, but not all the new additions have been similarly uninspired: sitting diagonally in the far corner, find a tiny VIP stand balanced on seats and containing a few dozen seats that bring to mind some futuristic exec facility at an F1 track.
Some things, meanwhile, have remained constant: a hut masquerading as a club shop, a few leaky beer tents and a couple of marquees selling giant kielbasa the size of my arm. In the distance, meanwhile, the silhouette of a monolithic 1980s church looms in the background.
To understand the sheer insanity that is Polish football, one needs look no further than this fixture. Not only was this a typically romantic David v Goliath derby, this was a match with a Quarter Final cup berth at stake: so when was it played? At 12.30 on a Tuesday afternoon.
Bizarre as that was (and not uncommon btw, where the Polish Cup is concerned), it did little to deter a bumper crowd from skiving work and making the most of this historic fixture. Though announced as 1,000, the crowd looked far closer to the stadium’s 2,000 capacity than the official figure given.
On a day of persistent pissing rain, it was a great feeling to enjoy some naughty morning beers in the city’s atmospheric former Jewish district before ducking into an uber and making the trip up to the ground.
To be clear, I hadn’t decided to tear into the lager early doors because I’m some desperate alcoholic (only kidding, of course I am!), but because you never know what catering facilities await at this level – usually, none. This time around though, I was surprised to find a brilliant little beer tent serving up bottles of Staropramen alongside a sausage grill spewing smoke. Located behind the main stand (well, the only stand), it had the sort of happy vibe you find on a muddy day at Glastonbury.
This good mood extended into the stands, as well. With neither side having any kind of hooligan following, both sets mixed happily with the core of the 50 or so travelling fans finding their niche at the top end. Urged on by an enthusiastic drummer, the away lot found themselves further galvanized as their team raced into a 3-0 lead within the first 20-or-so minutes.
On the home front, Wieczysta’s ultras – most of whom looked more like hairy bikers – did their bit with a pyro display and strong vocal backing that waned only as the match drew to its soggy final stages. Today was all about Garbarnia, and with the visitors cruising 5-0 it was their fans that had the last word with a joyous release of flares. With the rain now bucketing it down, they bounced merrily in the downpour singing songs along the lines of “we’ve got no money” – or words to that effect.
To go this far Wieczysta had already swept aside second tier Glogow, and I’d been in half a mind to have a cheeky punt on them to win the damned cup. Glad I didn’t, and the day proved to be a reminder that money ain’t everything. I got the idea, however, the home fans already knew that – where they were concerned, I left with the impression that they didn’t care much for the Mercs in the car park nor the slick PR machine running their website. Having always supported a team that was historically rather crap, I came to the conclusion that most missed those days.