Sunday afternoon sees one of Poland’s biggest football games take place in the southern city of Chorzów. Almost 10,000 fans will cram into the city’s Stadion Ruchu as Ruch Chórzow host local rivals Górnik Zabrze in the Wielkie Derby Śląska, or “Great Silesian Derby”. Whilst not as famous as the Kraków derby between Wisła and Cracovia due to the teams’ lack of recent success, it still ranks as one of the most important games on the Polish football Calendar.Ruch Chorzów was established in 1920 (as Ruch Hajduki Wielkie), and were given the name – along with a number of local clubs – as a tribute to the Silesian Uprisings which had taken place the year before (Ruch translates roughly as “Movement”).
They went on to dominate Polish football in the 1930′s, winning 5 championships between 1933 and 1938, with only Cracovia Kraków getting their hands on the trophy with a win in 1937. Ruch would have undoubtedly won more titles, but the outbreak of war in 1939 was the factor that finally broke the Silesian dominance.
Roll forward nine years to 1948, three years after the war ended and the borders swung westwards. The former German town of Hindenburg had now been merged into the Polish Republic and renamed Zabrze. Four local sports associations (KS Concordia, KS Pogoń, KS Skra and KS Zjednoczenie) decided to join forces and create a football team to rival the country’s best. The club was named Górnik Zabrze to reflect the importance of the local coal-mining industry (Górnik is the Polish word for “miner”).
It only took Górnik 8 years from the club’s formation until they reached the top tier in 1956. Upon reaching the First League, Zabrze’s first game was the inaugural Wielkie Derby Śląska against Ruch. Górnik ran out 3-1 winners, and the rivalry was born.
After league victories in 1957, 1959 and 1961, the sixties saw Górnik’s dominance of Polish football break new records, with five successive league titles between 1963 and 1967. It was after the final of these where the club managed to reach the Quarter-Finals of the European Cup. There they were drawn against eventual winners Manchester United, who won the first leg at Old Trafford 2-0. However in the return leg – played in front of 90,000 people at the Stadion Śląski – Górnik became the only team to beat the Red Devils in that European campaign, running out 1-0 winners.
Two years later, the club progressed even further in continental competition, losing in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup to Manchester City.
Despite winning a few more titles, Ruch Chorzów failed to control the Polish game for an extended period, last winning the title in 1989. This trophy ended a particularly strong period for Górnik who had won the previous four titles.
Those trophies over 20 years ago were the last won by an Upper Silesian team before the re-emergence of Wisła Kraków, Legia Warszawa and the newcomers Lech Poznań. They also tied both Górnik and Ruch together on 14 League titles each; a record that has yet to be matched by any other team in Poland.
Since the turn of the nineties, Górnik’s second place finish in 1991, and Ruch’s third-places in 2000 and 2010 are the closest that either side has come to lifting that elusive record-15th trophy. And as it stands, Ruch are closer to regaining it at the moment; currently sitting in third position. A win last weekend would have seen the Niebiescy top the table with just five games left, but a 2-0 defeat to Legia sees them hopeful of a European berth. Górnik meanwhile sit back in seventh, nine points behind their rivals; yet a respectable showing considering their financial problems and young squad.
After claiming one victory apiece in last season’s meetings, Ruch picked up the valuable three points at Górnik’s Ernest Pohl Stadium in October; and they will head into Sunday’s 109th Wielkie Derby Śląska as favourites to do so again. Ruch’s formidable strikeforce of Maciej Jankowski, Arkadiusz Piech, Paweł Abbott and Andrzej Niedzielan can all score goals with ease, and Górnik’s back-line has plenty of weak points. Górnik however can pick up goals too; Prejuce Nakoulma has netted eight this term, whilst young Arkadiusz Milik and Michał Zieliński have recently opened their Górnik accounts with doubles.
Whilst Ruch will consider it a failure to finish outside the top three now, Górnik will see a match of last season’s 6th position as a huge success. There is no reason why either cannot achieve these targets; but the result of Sunday’s derby could ether be a huge shot in the arm, or a massive kick in the teeth for the two of them.
The 109th Wielkie Derby Śląska takes place at Chorzów’s Stadion Ruchu on Sunday 15th April at 17:00 Local Time (16:00 GMT).