It’s summer, it’s rather warm outside and I’ve finally got the chance to wind down a bit after a pretty tiring academic year. To start off the summer I decided to make a little trip to see old friends in Kraków. It was a great way to mark the end of one period and the beginning of something new. Like last year I also had the opportunity to visit one of Kraków’s decaying stadiums.
This year my aim was to get to Wawel Kraków’s ground which lies to the North-West of Kraków’s majestic old town. I set off from my hostel in the former Jewish district of Kazimierz and managed to find a tram which would convey me to my planned destination. It was a rather gloomy and overcast day so my spirits were not necessarily high as the tram wound its way through the streets of the city. I got off the tram close to Kraków’s Pedagogical University and walked the several hundred metres to the ground.
I was met with a common sight when it comes to old Polish stadiums, a big perimeter fence, which didn’t seem to offer a way in.
Undeterred I set off down the road to look for a way to get access. After several minutes of searching I found a way into the ground via a car park. And what an interesting ground I encountered.
But before all of that, a little digression. Who are Wawel Kraków and what makes them interesting? Wawel were set up in 1919 and in the inter-war period flitted between the second and third tiers of the Polish league system – several times almost achieving promotion to Poland’s one (at the time) national league. Wawel’s history will forever be linked to the Polish army, as from 1928 onwards they became an army club – something that brought them success but also would cause them problems.
In post Second World War Poland teams which had links to the army and the Communist police were favoured by the new Communist regime. It was this attitude which allowed Gwardia Warszawa to rise from a side with no real history to become one of the country’s most powerful clubs. Wawel also initially benefited from this state of affairs – by the early 1950s they had risen to Poland’s top division. Indeed in 1953 Wawel had a superb season and eventually finished as runners-up, ten points behind the champions Ruch Chorzów. 1953 was also an important year for the club as it received a purpose built stadium, the grounds of which it inhabits to this day.
The good times however were about to end for Wawel. Poland’s Stalinist era football authorities expressed displeasure that Wawel finished ahead of Legia Warsaw – the country’s main army club. As a result Wawel were demoted from the top division and, despite changes in the Polish Communist approach to sport after 1956, never made it back to the top of the Polish game. Today Wawel play in the 7th tier of the Polish league pyramid – but their stadium, which was renovated in 1986, is still used.
After making my way through the car park I was able to take in the massive space that is Wawel’s ground. It reminded me of other Polish stadiums I’ve been to which were built in the 1950s – essentially bowl stadiums. The difference being that Wawel actually have a roof over one of the stands – now in England this is no major thing – but in Poland many third and fourth tier grounds do not even possess a covered stand.
It was a very pleasant experience wandering around a stadium with absolutely no-one around. This was in marked contrast to the immense crowds of tourists I was met with after I left the ground and returned to the centre of Kraków. My second Cracovian stadium tour was at an end.