Every shirt is a travelogue waiting to be written...
In this strange time of self-isolation, lockdowns, football postponements and being unable to travel for the foreseeable future due to the worldwide impact of the Coronavirus, I thought that I would share some of my travel stories using my extensive football shirt collection over the next few weeks. Up next, a journey through southern Poland and the history behind the unique shirt of KS Cracovia...
Featured Shirt: KS Cracovia (2008/09 season)
Within my football shirt collection, there are some obscure gems that hail from European football leagues such as Poland’s Ekstraklasa that are both rare to find and eclectic in nature such as the KS Cracovia shirt by the Polish manufacturer Zina from the 2008/2009 season.
I first become aware of KS Cracovia because of Danny Dyer’s excellent ‘The Real Football Factories’ documentary back in 2006 after he visited Poland as part of the series. There is intense football rivalry between the two Krakow-based clubs Wisla Krakow and KS Cracovia and the derby was even banned during the 1990s due to the excessive levels of crowd violence. The match is similar to Glasgow’s ‘Old Firm’ derby with its religious connotations and divisive city-wide support.
Cracovia has long been associated with the city’s Jewish cultural past whereas Wisla was once owned by the Communist-era Police force. The Wisla vs. Cracovia match has been described as a ‘Holy War’ and been the scene of running street violence and football hooliganism over the years.
Just 500 metres separates the two sides and both stadiums are sandwiched between housing estates and a tram line. Walking around the streets of one of Europe’s most popular city break locations, you probably wouldn’t realise that there one of the fiercest football rivalries in Europe played on the fringe of the historic centre.
I visited KS Cracovia’s stadium (Marszałek Piłsudski Stadium) whilst on a cycle tour around Krakow and southern Poland back in 2013. I have been to Poland several times including a winter city break to the capital Warsaw, but it is the city of Krakow that I have spent the most time in.
When I first started working at Freewheel Holidays back in 2011, I flew to Poland to go on the Krakow and Dunajec Path cycle tour and rode several of the daily stages over a few days. Whilst I didn’t cycle the whole tour, I did see first hand how the local cycling infrastructure was receiving significant European Union investment to attract more international cycling tourists with improvements to surfaces and route signage.
Picture: Mt Trzy Korony (Three Crowns), Poland / Slovakia border
The Krakow tour has grown into one of the most popular cycling holidays on offer as customers who have cycled in more familiar places such as Austria and Germany look to cycle somewhere different the following year, yet in ultimately familiar European surroundings. The focus of the cycle tour is around Zakopane, the well-known Polish resort that is popular with skiers in winter but then changes into summer hotspot with walkers, mountaineering enthusiasts and cyclists all enjoying the surrounding Tatra National Park. Prices are much cheaper in Poland compared to Western Europe without compromising on quality and overall experiences.
I remember the Dunajec cycle tour through the Pieniny mountain range well as it was a clear, bright, yet cold day. I was riding with Maciej, the owner of the local cycle operator and as we passed the famous 981 metres high ‘Three Crowns’ peaks, the temperature dropped dramatically and my feet started to freeze. Bear in mind, it was November and I could hardly pedal due to the numbness.
The gorge cycle route was also covered in shade and as the sun went down behind the mountains, the temperature dropped even further. Whilst at a cafe stop for sausage soup and bread, I had to ask the owner if they had any plastic bags to cover my feet to keep out of the cold. She didn’t have any nor really understood my request and I had to battle on to the next hotel. It was only when we arrived at the indoor pool in the hotel at the touristy, yet out of season spa town of Szcawnica that I warmed up and saved my toes!
Poland is one of my favourite European countries and I always enjoy my time there. It is also one of those countries that can feel quite adventurous to cycle through especially away from the main tourist sites in Krakow for example. Often upon returning, I make frequent visits to my local Polish shop for jars of traditional Bigos stew and excellent local mineral waters to remind me of my travels there.
If you would like to book a cycling holiday starting in Krakow, have a look at the Krakow and the Dunajec Cycle Path cycle tour with Freewheel Holidays.