No matter how much football you have coursing through your veins, the Polish experience represents something unique. Arriving at Legia, you sense this immediately – and even more so on the occasion of a big match, like, for instance, August’s clash against Legia’s historic Silesian foes, Górnik Zabrze.
Converging on the ground like an army of ants, one is carried towards the stadium in a sea of pristine white jerseys. Filing almost reverentially past the statue of Kazimierz Deyna – one of the club’s defining heroes – the pre-match buzz is intoxicating and the air thick with pent-up tension. With kick-off still over half an hour away, already you can hear the hardcore warming up their vocal chords from inside the ground.
Unlike Germany and England, Polish football lacks a specific pre-match drinking culture, but even so drinking options do exist: for the seminal Legia experience, join the more exuberant fans and assemble first in Źródełko, a sweaty, steamy timber cabin, before swarming past the colorful fan artwork that adorns the concrete pillars of Trasa Łazienkowska.
With your destination reached, stop in for one more pint at Legia’s own official bar below the Żyleta. Set next to a club shop dealing out the requisite scarves and mugs, this sports bar has a slick, polished look far removed from the other neighborhood meeting spots. Even so, the atmosphere is charged and leaves no doubt as to the size of this match.
Yet it is inside the ground that this becomes truly apparent. Whether you enjoy football or not, it is impossible not to be stirred upon hearing the traditional pre-game rendition of Sen o Warszawie. A classic 60s anthem from the pen of Czesław Niemen (a.k.a. ‘the Polish Bob Dylan’), this epic ode to Warsaw is steeped in sentimentality. Lustily recited before each Legia home game, seeing the crowd rise as one before belting it out word-for-word is an exhilarating sight that sends tingles down the spine.
This, though, is just a prelude – an opening war cry that sets the tone for the match up ahead. You see, no matter how the team might be faring, the backing delivered by Legia’s faithful never falls short of being thunderously ferocious.
Tonight, however, the game has been lent added significance, falling as it does on a landmark birthday. Speaking to supporters beforehand, we are told that today’s date marks the 18th anniversary game of one of their ringleaders. To honor this, a volley of fireworks are unleashed on kick-off and are swiftly followed by a salute of burning flares.
With Zabrze’s own boisterous following entering the ground on around the 10-minute mark, the atmosphere ratchets up to impossible new levels. Often leaving UEFA (as well as Polish football’s own controlling authority, the PZPN) red-faced and raging, Legia’s fans are not averse to presenting stunning banner drops and ‘tifo’ displays and for this match, their awareness of current affairs is demonstrated by a humorous banner poking fun at the visitors and the Odra River crisis – immediately, it is followed by billowing green smoke bombs that add to the general sense of spectacle.
Not to be outdone, Zabrze, too, reveal their own banner in the second-half and pair it with a flash of pyrotechnics. As theater goes, it is exceptional entertainment, and despite trailing 2-0 never does Legia’s support show signs of waning. When the team pull a goal back with seven minutes left, a new wave of belief surges around the stadium.
Entering injury time, the equalizer that comes feels almost expected – instantly, this seething cauldron explodes, temporarily turning the ground into the world’s largest bouncy castle. Enough to induce a migraine, the volume is astonishing.
So, too is the experience. Whilst the attendance has been given as 23,000, for ‘real feel’ it would help to add a zero. Breathless in its excitement, it has been an evening to cherish – one that leaves no doubt as to the extraordinary passion that this club arouses.
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