Beast from the East – history of Polish hooligan movement!
Organized fan movement in Poland dates back to the 70’s. The first cheering groups of fans appeared at the stands of Polonia Bytom, LKS Lodz, Legia Warsaw and Lechia Gdańsk, soon also in other major cities. Initially, supporters from different cities weren’t hostile to each other, usually there was a neutral or even friendly relationship between them. The exception were Legia Warsaw fans, who were not liked almost all over the country. Why was that? Because Legia was the army club and the generals had enough power to filch the best players from other clubs. For this reason, Warsaw fans from the very beginning had a hard school of life at away matches, because everywhere the locals were trying to punish them for their military patrons – with varying degrees of success. Legia fans were also hated for another reason – they were from the capital city. Fights awaited them practically everywhere, because in those days nobody had heard about guarding supporters by the militia (the name of the communist police) from stations to the ground, there were also no separate sections for visiting fans. Surely, this state of affairs tempered Legia fans, who were the first travelling supporters group in Poland! They often say, that they were highly impressed by the arrival of several thousand Feyenoord Rotterdam supporters in the 70’s. It must be noted that in the era of communism, Poland was hid behind the „iron curtain”, and very few trends from Western Europe were known here. Thus it is no wonder, that seeing a large, organized group of supporters was huge incentive to action for local fanatics.
Increasing aggression among Polish fans was associated with appearance at the stands of “the Gits” subculture. It was a peculiar Polish youth subculture, and its members cultivated violence and spoke prison dialect („the Gits” found no imitators outside Poland).
The biggest row of those years was a legendary clash between fans of Legia Warsaw and Lech Poznan during Polish Cup Final in 1980 in Czestochowa. Thousands supporters of both teams arrived in Czestochowa and fought for many hours on the streets and at the stands, the militia totally lost control of the situation. At least one person died, and the hatred between fans of both teams continues to this day.
Over following years, animosities at Polish stadiums grew, and the old sympathy or neutrality was replaced by hatred and aggression. All travelling supporters had to be ready for a fight with locals at almost every away match. The last decade of communism (the 80’s) was a difficult period for the country and it further hardened characters of Poles, due to the increasing repression of the communist authorities and the imposition of martial law, when the tanks went onto the streets (martial law was imposed in 1981 as a result of mass strikes and opposition movements, and it lasted until July 1983). The life wasn’t easy, especially for those, who were brave enough to claim for their freedom at the streets. It usually resulted in finding out how hard were the truncheons of the militia officers, but in worst cases, many people even lost their lives! The authorities desperately tried to resolve the situation by using special, extremely brutal militia units called ZOMO, but people in some cities have the courage to put an active resistance and hold regular street battles. The largest arena of struggle with the hated system was the city of Gdańsk, including terraces of local club – Lechia. During the matches, Lechia fans regularly chanted the famous slogan „Down with communism!”. Most of the street warriors and illegal opposition activists from Gdansk, were also football fans.
With the collapse of communism in 1989, Poland met completely new reality, and of course changes have occurred also at football stadiums. People were suddenly inundated with western lifestyle, but the country was still very backward, full of economic problems, such like inflation or rising unemployment. Those who, didn’t get the expected increase in the level of life, were becoming more and more frustrated. At the great Polish estates, full of blocks made of gray concrete slabs, families often lived for minimum wage and youth raised in pathological surrounding. Their minds were additionally messed up by a „gangster” culture, served by American movies and music videos (the Poles, for a long time, were cut off from such things, and suddenly it came to the country with a large wave).
In such conditions of increasing level of aggression, in the 90’s, a modern hooligan movement was born at stadiums in Poland. While fans from many European countries drew inspiration from the Italian “ultra” style, Poles were fascinated by the hard, violent, English style. „Hooligans” captured the stadiums! Many fans / hooligans were also skinheads, so heavy Doc Martens, bald heads and flyer jackets (often reversed on the orange side) dominated the sectors of most ardent fans in those times.
The mid 90’s was the beginning of well organized, typical hooligan firms. The first such groups include „Teddy Boys` 95 ‚(Legia Warsaw), „Brigade Outlaws” (Lech Poznan), „Young Eagles” (Lechia Gdansk), „Destroyers” (Widzew Lodz), „Barra Bravas` 97″(Zaglebie Sosnowiec), “Anti Wisla” (Cracovia),”Young Freaks `98″ (Lech Poznan) or „Sharks” (Wisla Krakow). Some other clubs also had strong mobs, but they weren’t associated with one specific firm (eg, Ruch Chorzow, Arka Gdynia or LKS Lodz). Fights usually broke out at the terraces, but hooligans were also arranging numerous ambushes on a opposing group traveling by train (which was the primary mean of transport to away games). Typically, a train with hostile fans was boarded by a “kamikaze”, who at the agreed place pulled the emergency brake. Train stopped, and then hooligans lurking nearby, began the attack. As a rule, they firstly threw stones and smashed most windows in the carriages, then tried to get on the train (if the victims panicked, it was very easy to beat them practically without losses).
The collapse of communism resulted also in opening the borders and the Poles were finally able to travel around Europe, so number of fans, attending Poland team away games, markedly increased. Throughout the 90’s, fanatics tended to solve their private (interclubs) businesses at national team games. There were real battles at these games, what was made even easier by the fact, that almost every group arrived in their club colors. National team matches were so dangerous and the players were playing so poorly, that ordinary viewers were just the minority at the stadiums! For almost a decade, terraces during Poland games were dominated by hooligans, and practically only hooligans traveled to away matches! Legendary game is a clash between Poland and England in 1993 in Chorzow – there was a war on the terraces all game long, many firms fought with each other or jointly attacked the police, that eventually were forced to flee from the stands! English fans could only watch all this and, that day, no one much bothered with them! (Quite different was the case in 1999 in Warsaw, when the English were crushed by the Poles in the prearranged brawl in one of the parks. Even the British themselves mention it as one of their greatest defeats in history).
The Poland-England game in 1993 caused an even greater escalation of hatred between Polish firms, as on a tram going to the stadium, Cracovia hooligans stabbed to death Andrzej Kujawa, fan of Pogon Szczecin. This event established an atmosphere of hatred and made it impossible to cease-fire on the national team games even many years later. The most serious attempt to establish a non aggression pact between fans attending Poland games took place in February 1995, during the fans futsal tournament in Gdynia. Leaders of major firms were invited to this meeting, but, unfortunately, there was nobody from most troublesome group – Cracovia. This fact caused that the Gdynia pact lasted only three games, and fell in August 1995, when Poland were playing France in Paris. A joint group of Pogon Szczecin and Legia fans attacked Cracovia firm, who was helped by Arka Gdynia hooligans. What’s more, after the game, there was a „derby” fight against Cracovia and Wisla, and again, Arka fans got involved in this brawl. Fans from Gdynia were accused of breaking the arrangements, and the pact rapidly fell. In September 1995, a proper Arka firm arrived in Zabrze for a Poland-Romania game. They were oriented to fight with the alliance of Legia, Pogon Szczecin and Zaglebie Sosnowiec. Arka hooligans were additionally supported by fans of Lech Poznan. There were a violent fights between the fans, and also with the police. A month later, in Bratislava, during Slovakia-Poland match, joint forces of Arka, Cracovia and Lech expelled the Legia and Zaglebie Sosnowiec from away end. The great war broke out for good!
Alliances built at Poland games, affected also the domestic competition. Hooligans of Arka, Lech and Cracovia created a very strong hooligan joint army, called „the Triad” or „ALC”, and for about 8 years no one could match them! Two other, strong camps were formed by fans of Slask Wroclaw, Lechia Gdansk, Wisla Krakow and the second one by Legia Warsaw Pogon Szczecin and Zaglebie Sosnowiec (good relationship between Pogon and Zaglebie didn’t last long, and eventually turned into hatred, despite the fact, that until today, both firms separately get on well with Legia).
Around 1999, the national team games became a battlefields for two opposing camps, including the vast majority of main Polish firms. The larger, but not really stronger camp was formed by hooligans of Legia Warsaw, Pogon Szczecin, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, Slask Wroclaw, Wisla Krakow, Lechia Gdansk, Widzew Lodz, Motor Lublin, Jagiellonia Bialystok, Baltyk Gdynia and Stomil Olsztyn. They called themselves „the Coalition” or “the Great Coalition”. Its developers have announced, that their aim is to fight against those who violate the nonaggression agreement, i.e. ALC and their supporters. However, some firms from “the Coalition” couldn’t tolerate many of the smaller teams from outside their camp, which dared to bring own flags and scarves for Poland games. In a result, from time to time they attacked impartial groups arriving on national team matches (for example, in March 1999 during the game Poland-Armenia in Warsaw, fans of Piast Gliwice were heavily beaten). The curiosity was, that at Poland-England game in 1999 in Warsaw, Baltyk Gdynia fans, who participated in “the Coalition”, were attacked by Legia, member of the same camp…
The second, equally powerful, and certainly more harmonious camp (called „the Opposition”) was established by a triad ALC, and their friends from such clubs as Ruch Chorzow, Zaglebie Lubin, Polonia Bytom, Gornik Walbrzych, GKS Jastrzebie, Gwardia Koszalin, GKS Tychy and several others. Smaller firms, not participating in any of both camps, in theory, should be more afraid of the Opposition, as these were the aggressors, who destroyed the consensus on Poland game (and in fact initially ALC beat all the firms that crossed their way). Several years of practice, however, indicated that both sides were equally dangerous for outsiders. Because of the atmosphere of insecurity, many fans in fear for their health, preferred to attend Poland matches dressed in national colors, and merged with the crowd of ordinary spectators. There were, however, smaller firms, that drove „officially” in their club colors. It was a huge risk, and from time to time, they were heavily beaten up.
The war at the national team games, surprisingly, didn’t weaken the potential of Polish fans abroad and for all these years, very few hooligans from other countries dared to face the Poles. One of the exceptions was an infamous, still-mentioned as the biggest disgrace of Polish hooligan movement, match between Poland and Germany in 1995 in Zabrze. That day, Zabrze was visited by numerous and proper firm of skinheads from Germany (mostly eastern). While the Polish fans were busy hunting and fighting each other, the Germans at the same time ruled the city, forcing surprised Poles to flee or even beat them up.
One of the greatest rows at Poland games (and one of the few failures of ALC) occurred in autumn 1998 in Warsaw, before the match between Poland and Luxembourg. Lech and Cracovia came to the stadium separately, and both these firms were attacked and forced to flee (Cracovia was chased for a few kilometers through the streets of the city!). Arka firm didn’t come at all, and their allies were quite angry because of it.
Generally, at the end of the 90’s, both camps were avoiding each other by not appearing in the risky areas. Example? Poland and Bulgaria game in Warsaw (1999), when 200, proper ALC gang decided not to arrive at the stadium and waited a few dozen kilometers away from the capital city for the Coalition, who were invited for a row by mobile phone (eventually nothing happened). The Coalition also failed to appear in a hot areas, as in 2001 in Bydgoszcz, where Poland was entertaining Scotland. Local hooligans of Zawisza and good firms from Lech and Arka were waiting for any visitors, yet among all the camp of the Coalition, only 40 strong group of Widzew fans were brave enough to arrive in Bydgoszcz. They were attacked at the gates of the stadium, and only a good defense tactic saved them from major losses.
Both warring parties met only at the matches played at Silesia Stadium in Chorzow, considered to be neutral (at that time it was the largest stadium in Poland). This stadium was an arena of huge rows, for example before and after the games between Poland and Sweden in 1999.
With the arrival of the twenty-first century, national team of Poland began to play a little better (two promotions to the World Cup tournament and, for the first time in history, to the European Championship), which meant, that the crowd of ordinary fans rushed towards the stadiums. Hooligans began to be just a small minority and eventually lost interest in these matches (only the lower-ranking firms still attend games of Poland). As pressure finally subsided, hooligans were eventually able to communicate and in December 2004 in Poznan, during a leaders of greatest Polish firms meeting, a decision about fighting without tools was made. The meeting also ended the martial law at Poland matches, which – not counting minor incidents – is respected until now, and nothing indicates that this condition could change back!
Comprehensive, chronological description of all interesting events of the war on the Polish national team games in 1992-2004 will be presented in a separate article in one of the next editions of „Saturday’s Heroes”!
Now we shall return to the most interesting events of the league competition. The year 1995 was a beginning of a series of famous rows at domestic stadiums. During the Polish Cup Final’95 in Warsaw, when Legia clashed with GKS Katowice, one thousand Legia fans ran onto the pitch and fought with police, attacking even the police horses (the animals were effectively frightened by flares). During games Lech Poznan-Legia Warsaw in 95/96 and 96/97 seasons, there were big clashes between Lech hooligans and the cops, who were made to use water cannon and other equipment. In those years, Lech Poznan hooligans climbed to the very top of the informal Polish „Hooligan League” and stayed there for many years. They were winning almost all prearranged fights, as well as random rows, both in forest clearings and on the terraces. No other firm could match very well prepared Lech fighters!
Warsaw derby, Polonia-Legia in the season of 96/97, was a show of hooliganism presented by the Legia fans. There was everything: demolishing of the stadium, running on the pitch, a thick row with police, and finally … burning warehouse building of Polonia club. The audience left stadium in atmosphere of huge scandal, and the dense clouds of black smoke! In consequence of this row, Legia fans were banned from Polonia stadium in subsequent years. Tri City derby, Arka Gdynia-Lechia Gdańsk’ 97/98, became famous for the fact that after the invasion of proper firm of ALC on the pitch (all in balaclavas, they went straight across the pitch towards the away end) Polish police for the first time in history, used a smooth-bore weapons with rubber missile. That day they caused a panic, but soon Polish firms accustomed to them and were able to continue fight even being „under fire”. For dozen years of using these weapons by the police, a few people lost eye, several more suffered other health problems like a fractured skull or painful holes on the body. Sometimes also ordinary people, who found themselves in the wrong place, got seriously hurt.
In the season 97/98, very interesting things happened during… winter break, when there were no matches played. On the 10-th of January 1998, in Slupsk (city in northern Poland), after a basketball game, 13-year-old Przemek Czaja, fan of Czarni Slupsk was killed by a copper’s truncheon. Patrol crew attacked fans for crossing the street at a red light! In retaliation, the city was a scene of serious street riots, which lasted for a few days! Local fans were joined by a lot of hooligans from all over the country (mostly lads from Lechia Gdańsk and Arka Gdynia, as these cities are situated nearby). In those memorable days, a lot of police patrol cars and other equipment was demolished, and the whole Polish hooligan society joined in the fight against hated police (according to the unwritten code of Polish hooliganism, the police is always an enemy No. 1; when someone has problems with the cops, all the other firms has a duty to help him, even if they are sworn enemies). The city has been demolished (barricades with garbage cans, benches, road signs, etc.), and fighting lasted until the day of the funeral.
Within a month, during a futsal tournament in Katowice, there was a giant brawl between all the firms that were in the hall! And there were very proper gangs indeed! First of all, three main, warring groups from Upper Silesia: Ruch Chorzow, GKS Katowice and Gornik Zabrze. Besides, less numerous but equally aggressive group of hooligans from Wisla Krakow, Rakow Czestochowa, good firm from ŁKS Lodz, supported by GKS Tychy and small contingent from Odra Wodzislaw. Fans of Lech Poznan weren’t allowed by the police in the hall.
About a month later, spring round of competition began – it started from a huge row in Katowice again. This time it was on a occasion of the Upper Silesia derby GKS Katowice-Ruch Chorzow. That was a great day for Ruch hooligans who have humbled their local rivals, running and ruling on the pitch, and capturing six fence flags of GKS (Ruch also lost one, but before the game). The match was interrupted and never finished!
Trouble broke out not only at the first league stadiums, but also in the lower leagues. A very characteristic example is the Rzeszow derby, Stal vs Resovia in 1999. Because of brawls, this game lasted only 4 minutes! After this time, ref stopped the match and didn’t resume it! There was so many troublous games, that there is no enough space in this magazine to describe them all. Literally at every matchday, in several Polish cities there were stadium fights. Those were really rough times!
„Golden Age” of Polish stadium hooliganism developed, but at the same time police trained and worked on methods of policing the matches. Soon, it was much harder to put up a fight inside the stadium, because the away ends were lined by police or security, and enclosed with solid fences. So the firms were trying to attack rivals on the their way home, as the police escort has usually ended on the outskirts of the city, where the match took place (most fans began to travel on buses or minibuses).
That was the beginning of famous “car actions” era: breakneck escapes and chases, just like in movies about James Bond, broken windscreens, and sometimes, when the offenders successfully hunt down their victims, some eyes became black and scarves or flags got lost. This type of hooligan activity was and still is done by all Polish firms, although today it is much more difficult, because police escort away fans through entire route. Many of the famous flags were captured as a trophy after such actions. For example great flag „Petrochemia – Pride of Mazovia” (Petrochemia Plock) gained by Zaglebie Lubin hooligans, or the huge sector flag of Wisla Krakow, captured during a roadside stop at McDonald’s by a group of hunters from Legia Warsaw.
Along the beginning of twenty-first century, Polish hooligan movement underwent major changes. People from elite firms rejected alcohol and silly drunken excesses. The desire of victory at any price sent these specialized groups to the gym and martial arts trainings, they tended to use steroids and other chemicals that increase the strength and weight. Firms were also penetrated by people not interested in football – night club bouncers, etc. Soon, hooligans got linked with organized crime. And as at the same time (about 2001), popularity of south European ultra culture (choreography, melodious singing, etc.) increased at Polish stadiums, divisions in fan movement were very visible. Active groups of football fanatics divided into the „ultras” and „hooligans” sections, dealing with a completely different activities. A side effect was rare presence of hooligans at less attractive matches. They weren’t interested in singing along with the ultras, wearing club colors, and sometimes they even sat in other part of the ground. It’s a big disadvantage of Polish fan scene, in comparison with the Balkans one. Despite the division, fans of particular club still are more or less united, because they have common goals, views and leadership. There are no conflicts between groups of fans of the same team (it is common thing in some western countries). The unity is kept by a strong center of power (usually it is the hard hand of the leader of hooligan firm). Besides, the identity of belonging to a group in Poland is much lower than in the west. Much more important is to belong to general crowd of fanatics of the club, than to particular group. That’s why flags, scarves and clothing with the name and emblem of the club are much more popular among Polish fans than the clothes with the name and logo of the group (many groups do not even have any logo).
Serious internal dispute, that influenced existence of whole local society of fans, took place only once – in Bialystok. In 2005, two hooligans firms (skinheads and “Pretorians”), fans of Jagiellonia Bialystok, came into conflict. Urban war lasted several months, and people hitherto standing on the same terraces, fought each other with knives and axes! Even in the cities with two or more strong local firms, there was no such fierce rivalry! The result of this conflict was death of one lad and completely withdrawal the group „Pretorians” from the stands…
From about 1999, prearranged fights began to gain popularity. Such fights were also called „a barbecue”, „mushroom picking”, „rugby with no ball” or „sparring”. Mostly honorable fights took place (usually) in secluded places, although, often in the fixed numbers of fighters and age categories or simply „gang on gang” (i.e. without any quantitative restrictions). It was an idea, that some main firms brought to Poland from western Europe. In the first prearranged clash, which took place in 1998, Arka Gdynia were fighting with Lechia Gdańsk (both sides set 21 hooligans to fight). This struggle has not brought a clear decision, so it ended up with a… draw). In the first period of this kind of fights, no one could match Arka Gdynia hooligans, who easily destroyed Legia Warszawa and after heavy, 7-minute war, beat LKS Lodz. The same LKS lost with Legia, but defeated Slask Wroclaw on their manor. Throughout first ten years of prearranged fights, only Lech Poznan hooligans were absolutely invincible. Lech firm won the „gang on gang” with Legia Warsaw (twice!) and also defeated, among others, Ruch Chorzow (a gigantic brawl, totally about 530 fighters participated in it), Widzew Lodz (unfortunately, one of the Widzew hooligans lost life during this fight, that was the only one such tragedy in a history of this kind of fights in Poland), Zaglebie Sosnowiec, Slask Wroclaw, Gornik Zabrze, LKS Lodz , Jagiellonia Bialystok, Motor Lublin and Zawisza Bydgoszcz. Finally, Lech hooligans were beaten by Lechia Gdansk in 2009, in a 70/70 battle.
Lech hooligans defeated also Dynamo Berlin fans, considered to be the best firm in Germany. When Red Star Belgrade was playing UEFA Cup game in Grodzisk near Poznan, Lech firm wanted to meet with Serbian lads and fight them with bare hands, but the Serbs prefer a different style of brawl and came armed with wooden sticks. Seeing this, Lech escaped to their cars (some claim that the Poles chickened out but others retort, that Lech doesn’t accept fighting with tools and always fought honorably with bare hands).
Such clashes are very popular in Poland, but due to lack of mutual trust, local rivals rarely fight each other this way. However, some do and during such meetings, hooligans of Ruch proved their primacy in the Upper Silesia region (after beating both GKS Katowice and Gornik Zabrze). In Lodz, only at the very beginning, in 1999, LKS and Widzew fans decided to stand honorably and fight in one of the city parks! That clash was won by the LKS, but since then, countless brawls took place in Lodz (including a few huge incidents). However, they were spontaneous or unexpected attacks. Both sides had numerous victories and defeats, so it is really difficult to identify who rules the city of Lodz. Just a year ago, after Widzew hooligans attacked ŁKS fans on their way to the futsal tournament, one of the offenders lost life, even though nothing except hands and feet was used during the clash! This tragedy took place in the forest, several kilometers from Lodz. Generally, Lodz is a city where hooligans fight without tools. There are, however, a few cities in Poland, where sharp tools are used by hooligans. The worst reputation, reaching far beyond the Polish borders, belongs to fans from Krakow. The former Polish capital, a city of culture and countless monuments, is also a place of chilling and brutal murder scenes with a hooligan-gangster background (both professions are strongly linked there). In the 70’s and 80’s, Cracovia fans were in deep shadow of Wisla, but in the early 90’s they created a very harmonious and aggressive firm, which quickly began to stir up trouble around the city. Originally, the core of this gang were skinheads. Cracovia as a first Polish firm, officially and on a large scale began to use knives and axes, later also machetes. Hooligans of Wisla, in order to stop further expansion of local enemy, accepted this sharp style of fighting and all hell broke loose in Krakow. In the second half of the 90’s, Cracovia hooligans gained predominance (firms „Anti Wisla” and „Jude Gang”), with whom „Sharks” and „Devils” from Wisla couldn’t cope. Later, the situation has leveled, and currently it is hard to identify who is better, as no arranged fight between both groups is possible. Rarely, there are some random clashes between larger groups, and more unlucky participants of them end up with serious puncture wounds or cut, in extreme cases, with their hand cut off! Clashes between these two groups are usually ambushes or attacks on smaller groups, sometimes even hunting for a single person. Every year 1-2 people are stabbed to death in Krakow! At first, fatalities were recorded only among supporters of Wisla, and the killers were Cracovia fans. In the last few years, the Wisla hooligans began to do the same. An example is murdering in early 2011 one of the Cracovia firm leaders, nicknamed „The Man”. He was caught in a classic trap, arranged near his residence, and in broad daylight stabbed on the street! Wisla hooligans killed also supporter of Korona Kielce.
Generally, Wisla has a lot more fans in the city, but the hooligan potential of both groups is similar. In Krakow, there is also a third good firm – Hutnik, residing in Nowa Huta, the workers’ district of the city. This is a firm that avoids using tools and tries not to interfere in the war of both stronger rivals. Because of the sick climates prevailing in Krakow, a lot of firms from across the Poland don’t want to have anything to do with Krakow hooligans, not wanting to get along with them in any case.
Generally, in Poland before 2004, tools were in fairly common use, but usually they were wooden sticks, metal rods, belts, bottles, stones and other incidental items. In December 2004, Lech Poznan fans invited firm leaders from across the Poland to talk about the problem of using tools. In a nice pub, next to the stadium of Lech, representatives of some 70 teams met and agreed to fight with just a bare hands and feet! Soon, the famous „Poznan Pact” was joined by almost all Polish firms! There were however exceptions: Wisla and Cracovia didn’t accept it. Also hooligans from Ruch Chorzow and Gornik Zabrze weren’t too satisfied, but in the end, they agreed.
Today, although the pact is formally in force, there are places in Poland where it is broken, mostly in the wars of local rivals. In the derby cities, fights and hunting for rivals is carried on even in ordinary days of the week, not just on match days. Especially popular are „entrances” to the pubs or settlements dominated by the opposing team fans, as well as ambushes on the most active people in their homes, workplaces, schools, etc. Some firms even create a database of their rivals, with photos, addresses and other information, that facilitate the identification and extermination of the enemy!
In cities, inhabited by supporters of two or more clubs, it doesn’t matter if you are a hooligan, ultras, or even an ordinary fans – you have to be ready to fight. Anyone wearing club colors (scarf or shirt) is exposed to being attacked and losing his club accessories!
Here is an overview of the most interesting derby games of cities and metropolitan regions, except already mentioned Krakow and Lodz:
WARSAW: in the Polish capital, there are more-less following proportions: 85-90% of Legia fans and 10-15% of Polonia. There is also an organized group of Widzew Lodz fans („Red Bulls` 87”) and individual supporters of many other Polish clubs, who work in the capitol (however, no one would take seriously flags with the inscription „Warsaw ” in the colors of Lech Poznan or Wisla Krakow). Between Legia and Polonia, a relentless war takes place, war without any rules and principles. About 8-10 years ago, Polonia tried to create a regular, active firm, and they managed to get under Legia’s skin couple of times. Polonia fans managed to beat Legia hooligans, who arranged couple ambushes, they also captured several flags of their rivals. However, Legia fans quickly drew the conclusions from these facts and brutally stopped further development of the rivals’ firm. As Polonia (following their friends from Cracovia) were increasingly using tools, Legia had no qualms to treat them entirely unprincipled. Thus, they tried to break (in the literal sense) Polonists in the forest, etc. Polonia fans were severely beaten, even when 30 of them participated in a patriotic Independence March on 11.11.2010 (even though all Polish fans agreed to one-day truce). Currently, Legia hooligans have the situation in the city under control, and Polonists are pushed out in deep underground (from time to time, however, they do some minor offensive actions).
TRICITY: This is a name of three neighboring coastal cities: Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot. Gdansk is inhabited by fans of Lechia, Gdynia – mainly by Arka supporters, but there are also fans of Baltyk Gdynia and some Lechia lads. Among inhabitants of Sopot, there are both Lechia and Arka fans, but with a predominance of Lechia. In the 90’s Arka had a very strong and well-organized firm, which many believed to be the best firm in Poland (just behind Lech Poznan and both groups got on well with each other). At that time, Arka had a slight advantage in the Tri-City, but in 2003 hooligans from Gdynia were shattered by the police and now they are in not a good shape. After a series of spectacular actions, Lechia demonstrated that currently they are much better than Arka. Third force of the Tricity, Balltyk Gdynia, has definitely it’s glorious years behind. Twenty years ago, at the derby match with Arka, they were able to gather about 1 000 people (Arka put up twice more fans), but then, in the best times of Arka, they were very much wiped out by a local enemy and currently there is just a handful of them. Even ten years ago, they had quite a good reputation in Poland, and were admitted to the already described Coalition camp!
RUDA SLASKA: City of Upper Silesian agglomeration, divided between supporters of Ruch Chorzow and Gornik Zabrze. Quantitatively and organizationally, it is difficult to identify who is better, but in a hooligan terms, situation tilts in favor of Ruch, who by far has the best firm in the whole region. A similar war is being waged in some other surrounding towns, inhabited by fans of both teams (eg Piekary Slaskie). The big problem in these places was using tools, fans of Gornik killed two Ruch supporters (in 1997 and 2002) and a supporter of Odra Wodzislaw (in 2001). Currently, both firms fight in a fair way, as they comply with the Poznan Pact.
KATOWICE: The capital of Upper Silesian agglomeration, quantitatively, the city is dominated by fans of local GKS, but in the older districts there are many Ruch Chorzow supporters. Although the locals do have quite a strong firm, Ruch often draws its main forces here from other neighboring cities and recently more and more emphasizes its dominance over the „GieKSa” (nickname of GKS Katowice).
BYTOM: A large, Upper Silesian city, dominated by fans of Polonia Bytom. In this city, there are also fans of Ruch Chorzow, Szombierki Bytom (not too popular club today, although in 1980 it won the title), Gornik Zabrze and above all, Ruch Radzionków. Fans of Ruch Radzionków, as the most numerous local rival (about 300 ultras) are the most frequent target for Polonia hooligans. Ruch Radzionków fans are in a deep defensive, but they are very loyal to their club and, despite using many brutal ways, Polonia hooligans cannot destroy them. In 2008, the Polonists killed „Starszy” – an active supporter of Ruch Radzionków, who was the capo at their matches!
GLIWICE: Another interesting town from Upper Silesia region. This one is divided into supporters of local Piast and Gornik Zabrze. Fans of Gornik, although they rule only three outlying settlements, both in quantity and strength of hooligans are only slightly worse than their rivals. The struggle between these two groups is quite brutal, both sides aren’t afraid to use tools.
JAWORZNO: Specific city, situated on the eastern outskirts of Upper Silesia region. Jaworzno is inhabited by fans of dozen various teams! The strongest firm is formed by GKS Katowice fans, but except local clubs (Szczakowianka Jaworzno and Victoria Jaworzno) there are also fans of Ruch Chorzow, Wisla Krakow, Cracovia, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, Legia Warsaw, Widzew Lodz, Gornik Zabrze, and even an active supporters club of Pogon Szczecin!
RZESZOW: Capital of Podkarpacie region, situated in south-eastern Poland. In the city, there are two strong, hating each other groups: fans of Resovia and Stal. Ten years ago, hooligans of Stal were more active and had more successes, but soon their rivals built a proper firm, won a lot of brawls and currently Resovia firm is a bit better than hooligans of Stal. Each group dominates in other areas of the city (nice Old Town, situated in the heart of the city, is ruled by Resovia). Quantitatively, Resovia, which is the oldest club in Poland (formed in 1905) always had more fans, but Stal (founded in 1944) reached slightly more sporting successes. Peak numbers of both groups, noted on the derby game a few years ago were: Resovia about 2 000 ultras, and Stal: around 1 500.
DEBICA: A small town in the Podkarpacie region, an arena of clashes between fans of local Wisloka and Igloopol. Derby game of Debica can attract around 1 000 ultras from Wisloka and about 500-600 from Igloopol, despite the fact that both teams play just in 5-th division! In terms of hooligans, Wisłoka fans rule the city, although Igloopol hooligans, from time to time are capable of fighting back. Both firms only recently joined the „Poznań Pact” and ceased the use of tools in local fights.
TARNÓW: A city located near Krakow, which is why both local groups have allies among Krakow’s firms. Tarnovia fans get on well with Cracovia, and the Unia supporters have a good relationship with Wisla lads. In the 80’s, the city was dominated by Unia fans (who also supported speedway section of their club). But then, a firm of Tarnovia, consisting mostly of local skinheads, was created and for several years they ruled the city. Around 2003, Tarnovia hooligans lost power, and at the same time, Unia gained a proper firm. The situation tipped back in favor of Unia, and in the next few years, they almost completely dominated the city, pushing Tarnovia in a deep underground (Tarnovia fans sometimes don’t even attend their home games). During the recent derby matches, there was about 600 to 1000 fans of Unia in their home end, Tarnovia gathered no more than 200 lads, yet in following weeks this number was going down. Tarnow is thus perceived as a city of incredible metamorphosis and changes in the proportion of forces.
PRZEMYSL: Another city from Podkarpacie region. Przemysl is situated near the Poland-Ukraine border. There are two main groups of fans in the city: supporters of Polonia Przemysl and Czuwaj Przemysl. Their zones of influence are more less designate by the San river, dividing the city in half (the city center belongs to Polonia). For many years, Czuwaj fans appeared to be a stronger firm, and above all, they were definitely more active in attacking local rivals (they even managed to capture sector flag of Polonia). But in the last few years, the situation is rather equaled.
BIELSKO BIAŁA: The „latest” divided city in Poland. For many years, the city was ruled by one and only firm – fans of BKS Stal. The club plays in a very low league, so when about ten years ago, newly founded club, Podbeskidzie, began to achieve sporting successes, it quickly gained large crowd of fans. Currently Podbeskidzie plays in a first division, and although they have a well organized ultras group, their hooligans are still rubbish. Fans of BKS absolutely rule the city and try to prevent the further development of opposing firm. But who knows, if Podbeskidzie will still be as successful as they are now, maybe players will be followed by hooligans?
BEŁCHATÓW: a small town in central Poland, a place of rivalry between fans of local club, GKS, and living in Belchatow fans of Widzew Lodz. Although there was always a lot more of GKS fans in the city, in term of hooligans, however, Widzew was much better – they had a very strong group of hooligans there, which was part of the main Widzew firm – „Destroyers”. But the last two years were similar to what happened in Tarnow. GKS acquired a young, aggressive firm, who took matters into their own hands and managed to press their rivals back into defense! Today, the city is in 80% controlled by GKS hooligans. Unfortunately, both firms are using tools (it was started by Widzew fans), even though both of them agreed to the Poznan Pact.
CZĘSTOCHOWA: a specific city for a Polish fan movement reality. It is a home of Rakow fans (they strongly dominate in the city) and Widzew Lodz (once there was a proper mob, but nowadays they almost disappeared). Besides, there are also fans of Wlokniarz (speedway) and AZS (volleyball). In the 90’s, fans of Widzew, Wlokniarz and AZS created a harmonious coalition, which was outstanding in local wars against Rakow, for several years this coalition ruled the city. The coalition used to hunt for Rakow supporters before their matches, and this is how they gained a lot of scarves and even couple of flags! But then, Rakow lads pulled their selves together and slowly „tidied up” their backyard. In result, Widzew fans are practically gone (those who stayed, act under cover), AZS is completely subordinated to Rakow and Włókniarz even made a hooligans alliance with Rakow boys (it was broken a year ago, but there is no harassment between these two groups; in fact, Włókniarz firm is much smaller than it was a couple years ago). Thus, in terms of hooligans, currently Czestochowa in 95% belongs to Rakow!
TORUN: Another city with a football-speedway rivalry (speedway is a very popular sport in some Polish cities, and at the stands there is well-developed ultra & hooligan movement). When it comes to hooligans, Elana (football club) firm is much better than lads from Apator (speedway). Hatred between these two groups didn’t prevent them from being an allies of Ruch Chorzow fans. That was the case for many years, only recently relationships between Apator and Ruch worsened.
GORZÓW: Yet another city of the same nature. There are fans of Stilon (football) and Stal (speedway). Stilon has a large advantage in quantities, more powerful hooligans and a lot richer tradition. They unquestionably rule this city.
GRUDZIĄDZ: There have always been fans of GKM (speedway) and Widzew Lodz (football) in Grudziadz. During the 90’s, both sets of fans were practically an unity: every lad supported local GKM and Widzew in the same time. Then, both groups fell out with each other. Although GKM had initially a very proper firm, Widzew fans were so determined, that soon they gained an advantage. The turning point of this conflict was Widzew’s victory over GKM in a prearranged fight, gang on gang. Today, hooligan firm of GKM practically doesn’t exist. In the meantime, however, another group appeared in the city – fans of Olimpia Grudziądz football club. Initially, there was only a dozen of them, but with the subsequent sporting success of the club, number of fans was increasing. Currently, there about 200-300 active ultras of Olimpia, they also have a hooligan firm, which, however, doesn’t get in a way of local Widzew fans. Relationship between them is a kind of neutral.
CHELM: It is the last worth mention „derby” city in Poland. Chelm is situated in the south-eastern part of the country, near the Ukrainian border. There are supporters of the local Chelmianka, Widzew Lodz and just few Legia Warsaw fans. When it comes to hooligans and numbers, Chelmianka is the best, yet Widzew hooligans are also capable to undertake some offensive actions. A careful reader will notice, that in many Polish cities, there are local groups of Widzew Lodz fans. This is a very specific club, which has supporters almost all over Poland (just like Juventus in Italy). Widzew fans even have a flag, referring to this situation, that says: „Half of Poland hates us, but the other half is us!”
Over the years, hooligan movement in Poland developed an unique style, that fans from many other countries can perceive as exotic. Very popular among Polish hooligans, for many years now, are balaclavas in the club colors, there are also a couple of Polish street clothing brands, such as Dobermans, Ofensywa, Pretorian or Bulldogs (whose popularity has gone well beyond the Polish borders). All of Europe uses the acronym „ACAB”, but in Poland, more popular is the iconic slogan „CHWDP” (Fuck Police in the ass), which can even be found on flags of German Dynamo Dresden or Ukrainian Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk fans, inspired by Polish fan scene.
For many years, hooligans put great attention to capturing opponents’ scarves. It applied not only to rival hooligans, but also to ordinary supporters. Scarves were valuable trophies, which were later sewed together into magnificent „carpets”, presented at the stadium fences during matches. Almost every derby game of Lodz, Krakow or Upper Silesia had to be accompanied by a „carpet” of captured scarves, which was to accentuate the advantage of particular hooligan group. These „carpets” were usually burned at the end of the match and they converted the whole fence in the glow of flames and dense black smoke. Only recently the hunting for scarves lost its importance, as more and more ordinary fans, not involved in the ultra movement come to the matches, and hooligans stopped wearing colors.
Flags are even more precious trophies than the scarves. Famous case is capturing by LKS fans the most important flag of Widzew, with a name of the club written on it “Robotnicze Towarzystwo Sportowe Widzew” („Workers’ Sports Association Widzew”). It was gained after Widzew ultras hang it on a fence to dry, a day after Widzew game. This canvas was of course ceremonially burned at the next LKS-Widzew derby game, which met with applause of the whole stadium (except away end). Equally spectacular trophy was the iconic flag of Arka Gdynia “Wladcy Polnocy” („Lords of the North”), captured by hooligans of Lechia Gdańsk, in an attack on Arka fans traveling by minibus to their away game in Plock. One of the leaders of Arka hooligans even used a gas gun in a fight but it didn’t help – legendary flag went to Gdansk, and was burned at next derby game. The text on this flag was so significant, that Lechia fans decided to sew their own version of the flag „Lords of the North”, in the colors of their club – it was to symbolize, that from now Lechia rules the Tricity.
Some foreign firms, not familiar with the Polish determination in hunting for flags, lost their canvases in Poland or surrounding areas. For example, Haiduk Split and Panathinaikos Athens lost flags in Krakow after the action made by Wisla hooligans, so was Fiorentina fans who got beaten by Widzew (it was in the 90’s) or the famous „Yaroslavka” (flag of the main CSKA Moscow firm) captured in Slovakia by a small Polish crew of GKS Belchatow.
There are many incredible stories about flags hunting in Poland, if you are interested, we will eagerly present it in one of the next issues of our magazine. Currently ultras take good care of the flags (it is absolutely unacceptable to leave them unattended on the fence, as is the case in many other countries). The flags leave the stadium only when they are taken to the away game! On weekdays, almost all the flags in Poland are kept in special warehouses at the stadium! But even there, they are not entirely safe, though stealing flags from magazines is generally regarded as dishonorable. However, also this principle is sometimes violated – for example, once Arka Gdynia fans emptied the whole warehouse full of spectacular flags of Lechia Gdańsk! Besides, Cracovia stolen some flags from the warehouse of Wisla, and Polonia Warsaw fans were infiltrated by a guy from Legia, who for several months was pretending to be someone else! Thanks to the spy, Legia fans managed to gain a large flag of Polonia Warsaw – „Warsaw gang”. The first case of stealing flags from the warehouse was the activity of Hutnik Krakow supporters, who already in 1998 captured two legendary and magnificent flags: „Ultras Gornik” (Gornik Zabrze) and „Ruch Chorzow 1920”. After many years, Hutnik fans admitted, that they took the flag of Ruch from warehouse. But when it comes to the “Ultras Gornik” flag, both sides still have different opinions about the situation. Anyway, stealing flags from warehouses is the only way of gaining flags, generally regarded in Poland as unfair. Any other way is ok, even if a single fan is attacked by several people and loses a bag with a flag (or more flags). Shame to the firm, that so poorly guards their flags, and glory for the conquerors!
At some point, the life of Polish hooligans became much harder. The first symptoms of approaching police repression and surveillance took place in 2003 and 2004. In 2003, before the game Slask Wroclaw-Arka Gdynia, there was giant brawl on the streets of Wroclaw. On one side, there were hooligans of Slask, supported by friends from Lechia Gdańsk and Wisla Krakow, and the other crew consisted of fans of Arka Gdynia, Lech Poznan, Zaglebie Lubin and smaller amounts of their other allies. In total, about 800 lads were involved in this brawl! Surprisingly, the fight ended in victory of Slask-Wisla-Lechia coalition, which was quite a surprise, because until now, Lech and Arka together has never been defeated! One guy (“Mari” from Arka) was killed during this fight, many people got nicked. Both Arka and Zaglebie firms, have never again recovered their former glory!
Just a year later, there was the famous game Ruch Chorzow-LKS Lodz. Hooligans from Ruch and their allies from Widzew Lodz, jointly planned a great row. At the stadium, huge Ruch and Widzew mob, armed with sticks, ran on the pitch, trying to get into the away end. Except fighting LKS fans, the hosts and their friends clashed with police. Also visiting fans attacked the police, and finally in the buffer section, two groups of hooligans clashed with each other. After a few long minutes, police had to get away from the stadium and even though they had rubber bullets guns and water cannons! The games stayed of course unfinished. Later, however, many fighters were identified and put behind bars. The police finally realized, how well-organized were the hooligans in Poland!
What’s more, just a month later, Widzew hooligans attacked coaches with 70 Slask Wroclaw supporters, on their way back from Bełchatów. Slask fans were defeated, Widzew captured five huge flags (including sector flag „WKS Slask”), and most importantly: during the row 17-year-old „Rolik” from Wroclaw lost life!
Since then, the police began a systematic surveillance of football fans society (all of them, not just hooligans), and special units, dealing only with hooligans, were slowly being created. Hooligans descended into underground, and stopped bragging on the internet about their actions. However, in forests, on the streets, on the routes (if there was no police escort), and from time to time also on the terraces, hooligans were still doing their job! There was so many proper rows, that this magazine is too small to mention about all of them! There were, for example, Przemysl derby, held without fans of both teams. In revenge for not letting them into the stadium, Polonia fans put up a huge fight in the city center. Police couldn’t manage to calm the situation, and the brawl stopped only when hooligans lost will to continue this game. Another interesting match is the clash between Motor Lublin and Avia Swidnik – for almost entire game, Motor hooligans were attacking police officers, who protected the away end! There were also other furious fights on the terraces (Lechia Gdańsk-Elana Torun, Elana Torun-Lechia Gdańsk, Motor Lublin-Widzew Lodz, Resovia-Stal Rzeszow), or on the pitch (Motor Lublin-Lechia Gdańsk, Legia Warsaw-Widzew Lodz, LKS Lodz-Slask Wroclaw) or the expulsion of the police from the stands by a small firm of Gornik Konin (when they were playing at home with Legia Chełmża in 2010)! There were sharp fights with the police, put up by united Polish hooligans during the away games of Poland: in Prague, Bratislava or Vilnius (it is a result of increasing interest among hooligans in Poland away games, where it is easier to find “attractions” than in the Polish league).
Only the last two years have brought some calming of the situation, as police surveillance, supported by the Polish government and football clubs has reached enormous dimensions. Even the special forces, are engaged in this activity – e.g. CBS – Central Bureau of Investigation worked out several firms, including Lech Poznan, Ruch Chorzow and Zawisza Bydgoszcz. Counter-terrorist units made a dawn raids at homes of many hooligans, and everything was filmed by hated by the fans TV station – TVN.
Although the fighting on the terraces or on the streets occur less frequently, from time to time something interesting does happen. Recent, serious rows include huge fight with the police on a –Zawisza-Widzew game in 2010, the final game of Polish Cup, described in the previous issue of “Saturdays Heroes”, a trip of Polish hooligans to Lithuania in 2011 for a Poland game, or a patriotic Independence Day march in Warsaw on 11.11.2011, when all Polish hooligans united against police and there were huge riots on the streets of Warsaw.
Today, in 2012, hooligans are still as strong as they used to be, but they are even more organized (for example – some firms have special funds to help their locked up comrades or to pay the lawyers). It seems that Polish hooligan firms calmed down a little, they will probably wait until Euro 2012 passes by, and look forward to easing the repression by the police. And although hooliganism in a greater extent will never return to the stands of stadiums, it is stories such as those described here, for many more years, will be shooting in the streets and neighborhoods of Polish cities, especially in forest clearings and other such secluded places.