Gdansk has always been on the periphery of Polish football, a northern satellite far removed from the big spheres of Warsaw, Chorzow and Lviv – that all changed in 1983.
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Gdansk has always been on the periphery of Polish football, a northern satellite far removed from the big spheres of Warsaw, Chorzow and Lviv – but for one glorious moment in 1983 KS Lechia Gdańsk eclipsed everyone.
There was little inkling of what was to come as the Green and Whites, a yo-yo side since their 1945 creation, kicked off 1982/83 hoping to make an impression in the second tier after promotion. They did more than that, beating KS Ruch Chorzów and WKS Śląsk Wrocław to reach the Polish Cup final. A 2-1 win against GKS Piast Gliwice sealed the title.
Five weeks later Jerzy Kruszczyński's late goal earned victory over titleholders KKS Lech Poznań in the inaugural Polish Super Cup. The good times rolled on. The following season they graced the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, including a memorable tie with Juventus, and booked a return to the Ekstraklasa after a 21-year absence. True to form, within four years they were on their way back down.
By 2001, a combination of organisational and financial problems saw the side founded by immigrants from Lviv, now Ukraine, relegated to the sixth tier. Within eight seasons they were back among the elite, much to the delight of their famous fans, who include former Poland president, Lech Wałęsa, and prime minister Donald Tusk. Arch-rivals KS Arka Gdynia were less pleased: they lost five of their six derbies before being relegated in 2010/11.
Based 20km away in Gdynia, Arka can trace their roots back to the 1920s; for Lechia and other minor sides in Gdansk, such as SKS Polonia Gdańsk, life began in 1945. There has always been a strong footballing tradition, though. The city's first side, BuEV Danzig was established in April 1903, winning the regional championship in 1912, a feat matched by SC Preussen Danzig in 1934.
Former AJ Auxerre striker Andrzej Szarmach is Gdansk's most famous footballing son, scorer of 32 goals in 61 internationals during Poland's 1970s golden age. He registered five at the 1974 FIFA World Cup as Poland finished third, then helped them to Olympic silver two years later. Defender Janusz Kupcewicz was in the side that came third at the 1982 World Cup while ex-FC Schalke 04 centre-back Tomasz Wałdoch won 74 caps between 1991 and 2002. Sławomir Wojciechowski and Grzegorz Szamotulski also turned out for Poland.
Home town of Olympic gold medallists Zygmunt Chychła (boxing, 1952) and Adam Korol (rowing, 2008), Gdansk is represented in the top divisions of Polish rugby, ice hockey and women's volleyball. Wybrzeże Gdańsk are three-time national speedway titleholders while the club's handball won ten championship before being wound up in 2003 (they reformed seven years later). Former player Bogdan Wenta is coach of Poland's men's handball team. Other notable sports include fencing and gymnastics, and Gdansk hosted the Table Tennis European Championship in October 2011.
Did you know?
Lechia's only taste of European competition came against Juventus in the 1983/84 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. They lost the first leg 7-0 in Turin – future UEFA President Michel Platini scoring twice – but put up more of a fight in the second leg which they lost 3-2, the winning goal on the night scored by Juve's Polish forward Zbigniew Boniek.