This article was brought to you by Through The Turnstiles as part of The Away End. Just a couple of football traditionalists who believe that a lot of what we love about the beautiful game is being eroded away & the things that really matter are not celebrated enough. Through The Turnstiles you will read all about; fan culture, fan & club traditions, fan & club history, politics in football, how football impacts & shapes society, & much more.
The biggest derby in Polish football. One of the most vicious derbies on the planet in the terraces & on the streets. A derby that has developed the nickname the “Holy War”. A derby that has given the home city a nickname “The City of Knives”. The Kraków Derby between KS Cracovia & Wisła Kraków is a matter of life & death, literally.
Before we dive into the footballing aspect on & off the pitch, let’s have a broader look at the city of Kraków.
It is Poland’s third largest city, located in the south of the country near the Slovakian & Czech Republic borders. Like many of Poland’s major cities, the collapse of Communism in Europe in the late 1980s brought about independence but also a failing economy & high unemployment, particularly among the city’s youth. Football was a welcome escape from life in Kraków in the late 1980s & the city’s two teams became much more important to the people. Support for Cracovia & Wisła grew & inspired by English football hooligans from that decade, the fan base for both clubs developed quite a large hooligan element.
Wisła have a far more impressive haul of domestic titles with; 13 league titles, 4 cups, 1 Polish Super-Cup & numerous European Cup appearances. Whereas Cracovia have; 5 League titles, the last of which was in 1948 & they have never made an appearance at the group stage of a European Cup competition. Wisła has a larger stadium with the Stadion Miejski having a capacity of 33,130, compared to Cracovia’s Stadion Cracovia with a capacity of 15,016. Wisła also historically have a superior derby head-to-head record.
So all in all, Wisła hold the upper hand when it comes to the on-the-field proceedings.
A surprising aspect of this derby is the geographical location of both clubs. The stadiums are located only 700m from each other, separated by the green expanse of Blonia Park. Supporters of both clubs can be found all over the city, essentially living next door to each other. There is no clear class or geographical divide to separate the clubs.
For example, the Vienna Derby between Austria & Rapid originated from a very clear class divide in the city. The battle lines were drawn in the sand based on whether you were working class or middle / upper class. In Kraków, both Cracovia & Wisła fans consider themselves the working class of the city.
The close proximity of both sets of fans has led to somewhat of a graffiti war around the city, with both sets of fans claiming different territories for either Cracovia or Wisła. The main fan groups responsible; ‘Jude Gang’ (Cracovia) & ‘Wisła Sharks’ (Wisła).
So where does the intense rivalry & deep hatred come from then?
There is no definitive event or point in time that triggered it, but fundamentally it seems that Wisła were affiliated & linked to the Communist Police during Poland’s Communist occupation & Cracovia have Jewish roots & connections.
Wisła’s link to the police explains the prominence of the white star on the club crest & countless fan displays. While Cracovia’s Jewish link is cemented in the name of their most famous & revered hooligan group; Jude Gang. Some Wisła fans use the Jewish connection negatively against Cracovia, referring to fans as “dirty Jews”. While a common name among Cracovia fans for the police is “dogs”, so in turn have labelled Wisła fans with the same term.
What makes this derby in particular so dangerous & violent stems from the non-agreement of the hooligans of both clubs back in 2004. As one Polish football journalist put it; “There is the league table of the Ekstraklasa & there is another league table of the hooligans”. Hooligan groups from all over Poland attempted to come to some sort of agreement in relation to how these hooligan fights would be organised & the rules involved in the actual combat, in what became known as the “Poznań Agreement” or the “Poznań Pact”.
Almost every hooligan group in the country agreed that in these organised fights there would be no weapons allowed, using only hand-to-hand combat. The only two hooligan groups not in agreement; the hooligans of Cracovia & Wisła. It is not clear which hooligan group first refused the terms or if the other group only refused after seeing their city rivals do so first, but what it did mean was there were no rules when it came to altercations with these hooligan groups.
Knife crime has generally been a problem in the city of Kraków, both related to football hooligan violence & in wider society in general & combined with the refusal of the Poznań Agreement, the name of “The City of Knives” was coined.
In a very high profile case in 2013, eight members of the Wisła Sharks were sentenced to 8-10 years each in prison for the killing of a prominent leader of a Cracovia hooligan group. The victim received 64 stab wounds in total in an attack in broad daylight. This was not an isolated incident with numerous stabbings & knife crimes by these football hooligan groups becoming common, with it being no coincidence that down the years a lot of these stabbings have happened in the build-up to or on derby day.
Back in 1998, Dino Baggio was famously struck in the head with a knife thrown by a Wisła fan during a Wisła v Parma European game. He was swiftly escorted off the pitch & received 5 stitches to treat the cut.
The policing on derby day in Kraków, as you can imagine, is a military operation. Armed police, armoured police vans, water cannons, tear gas, dogs, you name it. However in recent times there have been several instances of both clubs banning away fans from attending the derby, after their behaviour in the away end in previous games. Fans on both sides have been known to throw flares into the opposing end, throw flares onto the pitch, destroy terrace seats & smash-up the toilets, earning them official bans from the away ends for future derbies. A Holy War without away fans just doesn’t feel the same, but has become the norm.
Fan friendships across the continent is another huge part of fan culture in Europe & both of the Kraków teams have made their alliances with like minded fan groups from further afield. Cracovia fans have become known to have a fan friendship with Ajax, which makes sense as Ajax are known to have Jewish roots & connections too. While Wisła fans have been seen in Rome with Lazio fans who generally would have quite right-wing political tendencies & views as well.
As a general outsider looking at both sets of fans from Kraków, you couldn’t separate them based on appearance, what part of the city they live in or their social status. Regardless the hatred is vicious & the divide is & always will be uncrossable. Kraków is an amazing city that is rich in culture & history, but the next time you are there pay closer attention to what people are wearing, the street art / graffiti, the conversations in bars, the stickers on poles; you’ll find it all relates back to The Holy War.