Historia Wisły w pigułce (English)

Z Historia Wisły

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Wisła Kraków – history at a glance

Multiple champion of Poland both in team sports and individual disciplines. Club, that often had to fight for its survival and identity, but managed to preserve its tradition. Legendary club with a unique history. Phenomenon that goes far beyond the boundaries of the sport.

Wisła is a community of generations of sportsmen and enthusiasts who have been sharing more than just a passion for athletics. Wiślacy – club players and fans – believe that honor and dignity are not empty concepts and are ready to defend club’s emblems on the field and outside of it. So it is today and so it was over a hundred years ago, when Wisła was founded.

The origins of Wisła are somehow covered by the darkness of history. Zygmunt Nowakowski said jokingly: "It is indeed a well known fact in history that Vistulans (Wiślanie) were the first tribe on Polish territories, only later on Kraków - that is Cracovia – was created. That is yet another proof that Wisła is older than Cracovia". However, we would like to reassure our readers that Wisła history does not go back to the early Middle Ages, although the small number of remaining historical sources could confirm such a theory.

But the fact is that Wiślacy from the very beginning preferred competing on sport areas to proving their superiority in the press and sport annals. Thus the small number of documents confirming the creation of the club in 1906 is not a surprise. Fortunately one important testimony made it to our times. It is truly invaluable, as it was written by one of the junior high school students, who founded Wisła Kraków in the memorable spring of 1906. Let Roman Wilczyński’s words speak:

Wisła  founder, prof. Tadeusz Łopuszański
Wisła founder, prof. Tadeusz Łopuszański

" Tadeusz Łopuszański, professor of the Second Practical School in Kraków, in 1906, and it was in the spring, stopped us in the classroom after lessons and proposed creating a sports club ... He told us how in other countries the sport was developing, and argued that we – Poles – needed to join this trend. At these words there was such a joy, that we began to applaud, and many a tear appeared in our eyes. We agreed to everything, we agreed that the club will be called Wisła, and again with applause we shouted "Poles and Wisła – that is Poland".

That patriotic inclination emphasized in Wilczyński’s memoirs characterized Wisła from the beginning, and it had a special significance in the time of partition, when Poles sought to preserve and cultivate their own national identity.

In accordance with subsequent club’s statutes, only a person of immaculate honor could become member of TS Wisła (TS stands for Towarzystwo Sportowe, eng. Sports Society). Once a member, that person’s duties were to “act always and everywhere to the satisfaction of the obligations of a man of honor, a good Pole, and a fair sportsman”. Therefore it is not without a reason that Wisła prided itself on the fact, that “ throughout its existence wining its position was due to its own native forces, and not imported ones”.

This patriotism was proudly stressed, and one of the most meaningful ways was to choose symbolic emblems and colors for the team. After a merger with club “The Reds” in 1907 Wisła inherited red shirts with two blue stars on chest. In 1911 this were replaced with a single white one, thus Wisła kit reproduced the national white and red colors. With this gesture the club wanted to emphasize the Polishness of the youth playing in Wisła. However it was after a couple of years that the number of arms of “the brightest of all stars” stabilized at five.

First team in 1911
First team in 1911

It needs to be reminded, that Wisła Kraków was founded at the time when Kraków was part of Austro-Hungarian province Galicia and there was no polish state on the political map of Europe.

Later on, in already independent Poland, Wisła officials proudly stated:

“We were always faithful in the service of a great idea. To feel in our club like at home, breathe deeply, to emphasize at every step our patriotic – and at the times of partitions independent – character – that is the idea, which we served. We often gave proofs of it. So was the case in 1911, when we left Austrian Football Association that was recognizing only the principle of statehood, and together with Czarni Lwów we created the first ever Polish Football Association, member of UIAFA that was recognizing the principle of nationality. The same idea guided us in visiting our fellow clubs from the Polish territory of the Russian partition and establishing the best and vivid relations with them. It was similar with clubs from Wielkopolska of the German partition, whose representation we received at home in Kraków. The same feeling revived our hearts when in 1914 we placed our “na Oleandrach” stadium at the disposal of Józef Piłsudski’s Polish Legions. Finally The Legions were joined by our most precious asset – large part of our players.”

Wiślacy fought not only in the Legions. In the years 1918-1921, with arms in hands, they forged the foundations of Poland. In this context names of some of outstanding first-team players have to be mentioned, including Henryk Reyman, Stefan Śliwa or Kowalski brothers.

"Na Oleandrach" stadium, 1914
"Na Oleandrach" stadium, 1914
Henryk Reyman - legendary player
Henryk Reyman - legendary player

This were the ideological foundations of Wisła. But implementing them required a solid material foundation: a sport center for the exercises of Wisła youth. With respect to this the situation of the club was at the beginning very though. In fact Wisła was able to dispose of and fully benefit from its own stadium only after 16 years from the creation of the club. That is how this initial period was described later on:

“Founded in 1906, Wisła had been playing for 8 years here and there on various foreign pitches. However Wisła did not even think of ceasing to exist, despite the fact that other clubs, happier, along with her nati (latin born) were already stadium possesionati (latin owners). Wisła was like a hungry vagabond dog, showing its canines to well-fed hounds, settled in comfortable doghouses. If the mere sight of canines did not raise sufficient respect Wisła was always ready to try them on the skin of opponent, often causing painful effects. And when finally with a great difficulty a modest pitch was set up in 1914… came the war. Wisła home turns into ruins and ashes. Wisła burned to the ground! Wisła bankrupt!”.

Wisła’s desire of survival and existence despite adversities surprised the observers of sport life in Poland.

Derby match, 1929
Derby match, 1929

"A handful of people, connected at first only by name, and only over the months and years by the growing tradition, a handful of homeless, a handful of eternal wanderers, a handful of victims of a fire, a handful - it seemed a hundred times – of lost bankrupts – that is Wisła Kraków” – wrote “Sport”, a newspaper from Lwów. “Barely the war had abated, old Wiślacy come back, start their work, and by the power of will, solidarity, love of their idea, and tremendous spirit – they win.”

Experienced by war and much older than before, they started to rebuild Wisła – Wisła they wore in hearts over the years of war turmoil. Initially deprived of material means, they bought the necessary equipment with their private money. Their pitch was the Błonia field, and a nearby house of one of the players’ friend was their locker room. Club had then a small, but fast growing number of devoted fans. They quickly replaced players in organizational activities and created the initially modest material base for Wisła. This people finally, after many efforts, managed to open fully functional stadium in 1922. Wisła gained a firm basis to build sporting successes on. Own stadium, a group of dedicated officials, talented and wholeheartedly committed players – this mixture had to bear fruit. So it was perceived in the press, where we read about Wisła, that “despite such a long lack of a home ground, it knew how to stay in the first row of clubs in Kraków”.

“Enthusiasm, dedication and loyalty to the club - features which characterize Wisła players – make it likely that in the next season the Reds team will play a role even greater than in the previous year”. And so it happened.

Thanks to the sporting facilities also other sections – so far remaining in the shadow of football team - could progress, especially athletics and heavy athletics (wrestling and weightlifting). Soon other sections bloomed, including basketball, volleyball, swimming, boxing, ice hockey or tennis. Wisła also opened its branches in many of Małopolska region’s smaller cities. The most famous one in Zakopane was very successful in winter sports.

But first to succeed were footballers. In the years 1926-1928 they reached for the Polish Cup (its first edition in 1926) and twice for Polish Championship (in 1927 – first edition of nationwide league – and again in 1928). It is noteworthy, that this achievements were gained without a professional coach.

The interwar years of 1918-1939 turned out to be a period of undisrupted operation of TS Wisła and implementation of a clearly defined program of “serving the society through sport”, as prominent official Adam Obrubański stated during the celebration of 30th anniversary of the club.

This period of peaceful and intense work was short. The Second World War brought destruction, TS Wisła losses were enormous, and this concerns not only material resources. First of all Wiślacy paid an indescribable tribute of blood. They fought with weapons in their hands throughout the war, starting with the September campaign 1939. Wisła players were present at almost all fronts of World War II, with greatest participation in Polish underground. Wiślacy were killed in fights with weapons in hand, in Nazi concentration camps, in Soviet gulags, in round-ups and pacifications. In Auschwitz died, among others, Stefan Reyman, Antoni Łyko, Stefan Lubowiecki, Juliusz Oleksik, Władysław Szumilas, Jan Cudek. In Katyń Adam Obrubański was shot, in Kharkov NKVD killed Wisła cofounder and Olympian Franciszek Brożek and Jan Gabryś. In the streets of Kraków Germans killed Bronisław Makowski and others.

Vitality of Wisła in the dark times of war was astonishing. Despite the nazi occupation Wisła regularly took part in the conspiracy tournaments for the football championship of Kraków, its sport level being beyond the reach of other competitors.

After the war restoration of Wisła sporting power took place, culminating with four consecutive wins in the league (1948-1951). However in 1949 started yet another period of severe trial: time of Militia rules, when club was subordinated to the communist Ministry of Internal Affairs. It was a struggle to maintain Wisła identity in tough conditions, when people who had nothing to do with its history and traditions took over control of the club.

In conformity with soviet model, all the sports clubs were deprived of legal personality and squeezed into newly established sports associations (Zrzeszenia Sportowe). There was no voluntariness - the strongest clubs were a tasty morsel for Zrzeszenia Sportowe. In this way Wisła became a victim of its own sporting and organizational success (by 1949 White Star had approximately 5000 members in a dozen of disciplines).

The Milice Sports Association (Polish Gwardia) made Wisła “on offer it could not refuse”, suggesting that not joining the association would lead to liquidating the club. So on 6th of February 1949 TS Wisła General Assembly passed a resolution on joining the Gwardia and elected new administration. J. Korosadowicz describes the situation:

“Gwardia was impoused on us… There was no other option. They let us know that rejecting this path meant liquidation of Wisła. They recalled prewar patronage of the club by general Rydz-Śmigły and other issues”.

Wisła striker Mieczysław Gracz adds:

“It seems to me, that the adoption of Wisła by Gwardia was a clever stroke by the authorities… TS Wisła was a strong, important sporting organization, extremely popular . The authorities, in turn, had no popularity among Polish people. So perhaps they wanted to gain it this way. In the club, there were different opinions. The majority was against. But what did our opinion mean? Henryk Reyman said to me: Mieciu, we lost some of our splendor.”

Under the terms of agreement, club adopted a new, double name of Gwardia-Wisła, colors and emblem , however, were to be preserved. Wisła anthem sung at the end of Assembly ended one chapter, and opened a new one in the history of Towarzystwo Sportowe Wisła Kraków. Positions in the management of the club became double (one man of Wisła – one man of Gwardia) – it was meant to guarantee to devoted activists the preservation of their impact on club actions. This hopes turned out to be futile, and the agreement was worth as much as the paper it was written on. Changing the name of the club just one year later was a striking example: Wisła was erased, and the team played as Gwardia Kraków. White Star was replaced by letter “G”. Inconvenient officials and players started to be systematically removed from prominent positions in the club. Those that remained had virtually no impact on club’s fate. Players came under political pressure, they were for example instructed to lose a game with "fraternal" Dynamo Tbilisi. They were also subjected to indoctrination through weekly „political lessons” given by security officers. Fortunately – all in vain. Wiślacy did not become “Gwardziści”. Fans supported Wisła struggle to maintain its identity and accompanied the club throughout the challenging Stalinist period. This was a unique phenomenon, fans never accepted the “Gwardia cancer” lurking in the club.

Fans from the legendary "X" sector
Fans from the legendary "X" sector
Strength of Wisła tradition proved to be greater than Gwardia’s imposed rules. At the beginning of 1955, thanks to the political thaw following Stalin’s death, it was possible to return to the old traditional name and colors. It had to happen at the request of club officials, Wiślacy decided to seize the opportunity and started convincing Militia governors of the club. Certainly, pressure from the fans was also perceptible, because for them Wisła never ceased to be Wisła, regardless of the political and organizational circumstances. Finally Wisła was allowed to return to its tradition in September, reason for this delay being denunciations made on the club by "friendly" people.

Finally, on the 10th of September by a special resolution of the Zrzeszenie Sportowe Gwardia in Kraków, all sections of the club were supposed to return to the name of Wisła. Just a few hours after this resolution a derby match took place. The “old new” name was warmly welcomed by spectators. Less warmly welcomed it Gwardia headquarters, that tried to thwart the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of TS Wisła in 1956.

Old activists, so far marginalized, started returning, with quiet acceptance of the Militia authorities of the club. However total restoration of the pre-1949 state of affairs was in that new political situation impossible.

"Gwardia sporting plant", 1953
"Gwardia sporting plant", 1953
It must be admitted that the Gwardia period in the history of Wisła gave the club a solid basis for the functioning. New sporting facilities were supposed to attract youth and increase it acceptance of state power authorities. The new sports facilities center, opened in 1953, was – in accordance with that time propaganda nomenclature – called Gwardia sporting plant (gwardyjski kombinat sportowy). Various sections of the club made rapid development. Wisła was powerful in team sports: 17 women basketball, 6 men basketball and 6 women volleyball titles captured during the communist period speak for themselves.

But it was not the case of football section. Kraków’s football as a whole regressed, and it also did in Wisła. In the fifties extremely talented generation of Wisła players ended their careers. Their adventure with sport started before the II WW. The war took them the best years for sport performance, but they were ambitious and skillful enough to win the league four times in the late forties and early fifties (however it meant only 2 titles, because in 1948 an additional, decisive match against Cracovia was lost, and in 1951 a strange decision of football authorities assigned to the winner of Polish Cup). White Star had to wait for its next title until 1978. It must be added that Wisła build this success on its own pupils – footballers it trained on its own. It differed Wisła from other Gwardia or military clubs. Out of 1978 champions, only a handful of players started their careers outside Wisła. The collapse of communism in Poland opened a new period in the history of our country and in the history of Wisła. Erasing the adjective “gwardyjskie” from the club’s name and electing civil authorities was a symbolic closure of the previous period.

League match, 1999
League match, 1999
"White Star Army"
"White Star Army"
The first years in democratic Poland were not easy for Wisła. Cutting off state funding caused a shock. Also the issue of unregulated ownership of land on which sporting facilities stand arose. Hence the nineties meant a continuing struggle for the persistence of Wisła sections – struggle not always successful. Sporting achievements were rare, but it is worth noting that Wisła judokas stayed unrivaled in the years 1993-1996. Fortunately the proverbial resourcefulness of Wisła activists allowed the White Star to shine brightly once again. Traditionally the first to recover from the crisis were footballers, who have acquired a powerful sponsor – Telefonika, leading manufacturer and one of world’s largest suppliers of cable and wire, owned by one of the richest Poles, Bogusław Cupiał. Since 1998 Wisła football section operates as a limited company and unquestionably dominates Polish league. Soon women basketball section – supported by Can-Pack, can production company – followed and restored its position as the strongest team in Poland and successful in European competition.

Probably one day Wisła will have to face again less fortunate times, but one thing is sure. Wisła will keep seeking the affection of the fans, and they – as Wisła anthem states – “faithful to their team, will come back for the game, and sorrows of their hearts will die, worries will be left behind”.