Swięta Wojna: The Kraków Derby

When the season’s fixtures are released at the start of the season, there are a number that people look out for. The meeting between Legia and Lech, the Warsaw Derby, the Wielkie Derby Śląska, and the Łódź Derby are some of the most anticipated games on the calendar; but for rivalry, intensity, and sheer importance, in recent years none of those match the “Swięta Wojna” – the local derby between Wisła Kraków and Cracovia.

With the city’s rich footballing history dating back around 106 years, the rivalry between the two has existed for almost as long as Polish football. Since the first meeting between the two in 1908 – a 1-1 tie – the sides have met a total of 184 times; Wisła prevailing on 82 occasions, and Cracovia winning 60 times. But thanks to the actions of a number of supporters, the rivalry is notoriously better known for the actions off of the pitch, rather than on it.

There are plenty of articles around highlighting the off-the-pitch goings-on in Kraków; I wrote one for In Bed With Maradona a while back, whilst Danny Dyer and Ross Kemp have also made TV shows highlighting the hooliganism. But with all of the reports on stabbings and murders, Western media usually pays little attention to the on-the-pitch happenings; and over the past couple of years, the end-of-season games between the two have been hugely important – and this Monday’s tie is no different.

Back on the penultimate day of the 2009/10 season, Cracovia were facing a relegation battle along with Piast Gliwice, Odra Wodzisław, Polonia Warszawa and Arka Gdynia to stay in the Ekstraklasa; whilst their nemeses were leading Lech Poznań by a single point at the top of the table – favourites to lift a 13th league title. The sides met at Hutnik Nowa Huta’s Stadion Suche Stawy – being used as a home ground for both sides whilst their respective stadiums were being redeveloped – and the first half remained goalless. With third-placed Ruch Chorzów holding Lech to a draw in Silesia, Wisła striker Rafał Boguski sent the travelling fans into raptures with a goal in the 79th minute – putting them three points clear ahead of their final game of the season. However, the drama was only just beginning.

With just a few seconds of normal time remaining in Chorzów, Lech’s Belarussian midfielder Sergey Krivets fired past Ruch keeper Krzystof Pilarz to ensure that they would take the title challenge down to the wire; but almost simultaneously in Kraków, Cracovia had won a free-kick in the dying embers of the game. Swung into the box, a lack of communication between Wisła’s centre-back pairing of Arkadiusz Głowacki and Mariusz Jop resulted in the latter scooping a header over the top of stranded keeper Marcin Juszczyk – giving Pasy a share of the spoils with just nine seconds of the added three minutes remaining. As well as helping Cracovia to ensure their survival, the own-goal also meant that their fiercest rivals would go into the last day of the season in second position – a point behind Lech!

Lech ran out 2-0 victors at home to Zagłębie Lubin on the last day, leaving Wisła – who could only be held to a draw at home with relegated Odra Wodzisław – helpless in their quest for that elusive 13th title. The title may have been mathematically decided on the final day, but it was the last-gasp drama in the 181st Kraków derby where Wisła effectively lost the league.

The sides next met at Cracovia’s new home in November of 2010, where a 95th-minute tap-in at the far post by Moroccan loanee Nourdin Boukhari was enough to separate the sides. By the time that the return leg at the Stadion Miejski im. Henryka Reymana came around in mid-May, Wisła just needed three points to lift the 13th title.

A 17th minute Maor Melikson header from a Patryk Małecki corner put the home side in front, and Cracovia were unable to recover. Although the Biała Gwiazda were unable to add to their tally, they went on to make amends for the previous season’s capitulation by lifting the trophy in front of the rivals that stopped them achieving it 12 months earlier.

With football in Poland’s second city not getting off to the greatest start in 2011/12, November’s Kraków derby was still important for cross-city bragging rights. With both Wisła and Cracovia in a poor run of form, a tight and scrappy game was expected – and that’s what the fans were treated to. Cracovia striker Koen van der Biezen’s first half goal ensured that, for the fourth time in the last five meetings, just one goal was enough to separate the clubs.

In terms of importance, this Monday’s clash on the north side of Park Błonia is no different to the end-of season clashes of the previous two seasons. But unlike years before, it will not go any way to deciding whether Wisła lift a trophy; it could instead determine whether the red-and-white side of Kraków will be mourning a relegation to the depths of the Pierwsza Liga.

With Cracovia sitting on the bottom of the Ekstraklasa table, seven points adrift of safety with three games remaining, anything other than a win would be disastrous for Tomasz Kafarski’s men. Even though a point would technically keep them in the battle for survival, it isn’t really enough for Pasy due to their nine-goal defecit to Lechia Gdańsk. Almost everyone knows that Cracovia are extremely unlikely to pick up maximum points from their last trio of games; but until it’s mathematically certain, they have to keep fighting.

Meanwhile Wisła may have made amends for their defeat in May 2010 with the title win in 2011, but that isn’t enough – they want revenge. And what better way to get it than by sending their bitter rivals down for the first time in eight years.

The 185th Kraków derby between Wisła Kraków and Cracovia takes place on Monday at 17:30 UK (18:30 Local) at Wisła’s Henryk Reyman Stadium.

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