It’s no big secret that I love Poland. Not only have I been to Poland more times than I can remember, but am also pretty well-versed in the country’s history, and even took two years of Polish while getting my degree in Slavic philology at the University of Heidelberg. And of course I also love football, so doing some more groundhopping in Poland is always on my list.
Not too long ago I came across a football-related blog named From Boothferry to Germany. The blog is not about the sport itself but about the culture around it—which I love as much as the game. I then decided to get in touch and brought up the possibility of going to Szczecin for a match of the local club, Pogoń.
Fast forward about a month: It’s noon on Saturday, October 24. I’ve only been up for one hour and am hungover at the main train station in Berlin waiting for the train to Szczecin.
My fellow blogger arrived, and after hastily finding the right track number, we hopped on the regional train to Angermünde, where we would take another train to Poland. The ride was entertaining, though I was struggling to fully wake up and enjoy life again. See, the night before I was at a Grindcore concert and partied to the best of my legendary abilities. Then came the magic words: “I’ve got beer,” said my traveling companion, and we cracked open a much needed hair of the dog brew—a Konterbier, as Germans call it.
Szczecin is roughly 150 kilometers from Berlin, just on the other side of the Polish border. The city belonged to Germany (or rather Prussia) for centuries, though it had previously been Polish and even spent a brief period under Swedish rule. I had been there once before this summer, but still enjoyed being there again, for Szczecin is a very beautiful city—though most of it was fully reconstructed following massive obliteration through British carpet bombing toward the end of World War II.
After the war, a new Polish-German border was traced. Germany lost the areas to the east of the Oder and Neisse rivers—including Szczecin, which had been nominally a German city up until that point. The German population of these areas, who had been there for generations, was then expelled and replaced by thousands of Poles. But where did these thousands of Poles come from? In World War II, Poland was invaded not only by Nazi Germany but also by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union occupied a large area of what was then Eastern Poland, which it then annexed—allocating those territories to the Soviet Republics of Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. These areas in the East, which included formerly Polish cities such as Lwów (now L’viv in Ukraine), had a sizeable Polish population—which was forcibly expelled together with several thousand Ukrainians.
These Poles and Ukrainians were sent across the country to the areas that Poland had just acquired from Germany in the West, which are known as the “Recovered Territories.” (For more information on this topic click here). Some of the people expelled from the city now called L’viv had connections to their former local club—Pogoń Lwów. Being that the team had been disbanded and Lwów/L’viv was no longer a Polish city, they founded a new club in Szczecin, their new hometown—though without losing their old name and colors. Thus, Pogoń Szczecin was born in 1948. (Note: Pogoń Lwów was reestablished in 2009 in L’viv.)
Pogoń Szczecin plays in the first league, or Ekstraklasa, and Ruch Chorzów was paying them a visit at the Florian Kryger stadium. Chorzów is roughly 700 kilometers south of Szczecin in Upper Silesia.
The Florian Kryger stadium is a proper old school stadium from Communist times. We could see the reflectors from the distance. Police sirens, fans in the typical Polish hooligan attire sporting Pogoń scarves, and loud chants all created a toxic atmosphere, which was probably exacerbated by the copious amounts of beer we had drank throughout the day. (I was no longer hungover, by the way.)
There were a lot of guys who looked like they were ready for a fight to break out at the ground. My buddy and I spoke English the whole time, and while we waited to buy a ticket (which took for fucking ever), we were approached by a guy with a shaved head and sports clothes, who asked us where we were from. “We’re from England and the United States” was our answer, to which he, with a smile, replied “wow! What are you doing here?” Keep in mind that Poland is the most homogeneous country in Europe, and you won’t see that many foreigners in non-touristy cities—and much less at a football game.
We bought our tickets, headed to the table where the ultras sold their fan merchandise, and bought us each a scarf. Again the question “where are you from?”, accompanied by the same surprised and friendly reaction. Polish ultras and hooligans are the hardest in Europe, no doubt about it, but they are also friendly and interested whenever people give a damn about their club—something you will most likely never encounter at a German first division match. While we are at it, one thing that surprised me was just how visible the Ultras are in Szczecin. You can tell they definitely have some saying in the club, as it was their merchandise being sold at the stadium, and their posters adorning the walls of the ticket office. But then again, what’s a small club to do without the fans who go to the stadium every two weeks? They can’t afford to alienate them!
Unlike in Berlin, where everybody speaks English and foreigners are everywhere, in Szczecin we felt exotic! We entered the stands, got a round of beers, and sat down to watch the game. Ruch scored first. The Szczecin Ultras were loud, and the chanting was not limited to the block, either! The visiting fans were slowly arriving into their section, probably due to police checks, etc…
Pogoń then tied but I missed the action because I was talking to an older Polish guy named Stanislaw, who lived in Hannover and was a huge fan of the three most alternative clubs in Germany: St. Pauli, Fortuna Düsseldorf, and Union Berlin. We could tell by what Mr. Stanislaw, or “Stan ist blau” (Stan is drunk), told us, he used to be one of the guys raising hell at Pogoń matches when he was younger. Pogoń suddenly scored again. It was 2-1 for the local team. By that point the Ruch block was pretty full, but they were not particularly loud.
The Lads from Szczecin then rolled out a banner that read “Szczecin wita fanatyka” written with Iron Maiden’s signature typography. I thought that was the coolest thing ever, so imagine my surprise when they unrolled a huge flag of Eddie (Iron Maiden’s mascot) that covered the whole stand. I lost my shit. That was now the coolest thing ever. And then the whole block lit up with tens of flares! The ultras outdid themselves three times in a row within minutes. They seriously put on a super solid show. Great support from start to finish.
The match ended 2-1 for the local side. We were convinced by Pogoń Szczecin. We liked the atmosphere, the club, the stadium. It was all in all a proper, honest football experience. We were pleasantly drunk, in a good mood, and still savoring that awesome choreo that left the whole ground covered in a giant cloud of smoke. We got a beer for the way, and just as we were leaving, yet another guy asked us where we were from. “United States of kurwa America!? Cool!” There was nothing to be afraid of in Szczecin. The fans were passionate and very friendly—though you definitely don’t want to fuck with them!
Feeling in a great mood, we went into a pub on our way to the station—and totally forgot to check the train schedule. Long story short, we missed the last train back to Berlin. It was 11 pm. Luckily there was a bus departing at 2 am. What was there to do other than going back to the bar? We did just that, stayed there for a few hours, took the bus at two, and woke up back in Berlin.
Hope you enjoyed the text. A bit of a long read but I hope it was entertaining.
Long live groundhopping! Share with me and my readers your most memorable football experience in the comments below, and don’t forget to like my page on Facebook to help Between Distances grow. Also, don’t forget to check out and support From Boothferry to Germany!
Greetings from Berlin, Seb