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Back on track with the Railwaymen of Lech Poznań - Part Two

Second part of our look at the history of Fiorentina’s opponents in the Conference League

General Views Of Poznan - EURO 2012 Venue City Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

We finished Part One with the club now called Kolejowy Klub Sportowy Lech Poznań. They had just been relegated to the second tier after the 1957 season, where they would join neighbours Warta. Let’s continue our look at the history of the side who Fiorentina will face next week in Europe.

The Fifties had seen a lot of changes both on the bench and in the boardroom, and while the A-B-C combination ended on the pitch, these guys were still around. Teodor Anioła was still playing, while both Edmund Białas and Henryk Czapczyk had spells as manager.

Anioła almost became a Warta player in 1959, even taking part in training sessions at the club, which led to a suspension from Lech. In the second division, divided into two groups, only the top club in the Northern Group would win promotion, and Lech finished 3rd in 1958 and 2nd the following season. That 1959 season and the next year saw not only Lech and Warta compete in the second tier, but they were joined by Olimpia Poznań.

1960 gave Lech an even better chance of promotion, the top division was expanding to 14 teams the following season which meant there were two promotion places up for grabs. In the end, Lech topped the group to take their place in the top flight, while Warta finished bottom of the table. Warta were relegated to the third tier where they would spend most of the next three decades.

That first season back in the top division saw Lech finish tenth out of the 14 teams, avoiding relegation. 1962 brought about a major change in Polish football, as the authorities decided to move from their traditional Spring-Autumn season to an Autumn-Spring campaign. This would bring it in line with the major championships in the rest of Europe.

Up until now, Polish clubs had struggled in the new European Cup. Often, it wasn’t even the league champions who would compete on the continent, as the authorities decided it was better to allow a team currently in form enter the tournament. The very first European Cup in the 1955/56 season, saw Gwardia Warszawa represent Poland, a club which had never even won a single league title.

Poland got their chance to enter after the English league refused to allow their champions Chelsea to enter the new competition. Gwardia played out a scoreless draw in the opening round home leg against Djurgården. The trip to Sweden, however, ended in a 4-1 defeat, against the club which Lech recently knocked out of the Conference League.

Not that Lech had any need to concern themselves with European football for now. At the end of the 1962/63 season, they were bottom of the table and heading back down to the II Liga.

They would now spend almost a decade bouncing between the second and third tier. The third division was divided into four geographical groups, and the Poznań group in the 1969/70 season contained Lech, Warta, and Polonia Poznań. Polonia were founded one year earlier than Lech but would never in their history reach the top flight.

That season saw Lech and Warta battle it out for the one promotion spot available, but it was Warta who topped the table. Lech, three points adrift of the winners, would need to wait another season. After the disappointment of finishing behind Warta, they then managed to win two promotions in a row, taking them back to the top flight after nine seasons.

Edmund Białas was back for another spell as manager, and it was the former Lech player who led the club back to the first division. On the day his side won promotion in 1972, the club broke the record for highest attendance at a second division game. 60,000 turned up to watch the game with Zawisza Bydgoszcz, the perfect way to celebrate the club’s 50th year in existence.

Lech had outgrown their ground, and that game had taken place at a stadium built back in 1929 to host the General National Exhibition. It had needed plenty of work since then, and even upon opening it came close to collapse and the first crowd there was forced to evacuate. During the Second World War it had also been a German Nazi prison for almost a thousand Jews, many died or were killed there, and those who survived were taken to Auschwitz.

It had then been the host of many Warta games and had also seen a number of Poland’s international matches. Now Lech would use it after their promotion back to the top division, at the time it was called the July 22nd stadium, but would later be renamed after Edmund Szyc, one of the founders of the Warta club. Sadly, just as with Lech’s old ground, it now lies abandoned and in ruins.

With Lech finally back in the top flight, and the club celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, there was plenty of enthusiasm around the club. It was decided that the time had come for the club to have its own anthem. A competition was launched in the Gazeta Poznańska newspaper to find an appropriate song. In the end, the winning song was not the hymn that Lech fans have been singing for over 50 years.

The competition winner was announced as ‘Password’ (Hasło) a song written by a Mr Buchwald, director of the Railway Choir. At the same time, Andrzej Sobczak wrote the words to a song called W górę serca (Up the Heart) and used the music from Yellow Submarine by the Beatles.

He was looking for something catchy that could easily be sung by the large crowds at the stadium. The inspiration for the title came from a Polish singer by the name of Wojciech Korda, from Poznań, who’s real surname was Kędziora. He apparently changed it after a stage announcer, giving him encouragement before a performance, used the latin phrase ‘Sursum corda’ which means ‘lift up your heart’.

The 1972/73 season kicked off with a home game against Legia Warszawa, the perfect opportunity to give the club’s new anthem an airing. After they listened to the Railway Choir performing Password, the band Stress then played W górę serca. The familiar tune of the Beatles music meant the crowd easily picked the song up, and it soon became the club’s official anthem.

Lech won that opening day game against Legia but ended the season just two points away from relegation. The next four seasons saw Lech keep their place in the top division, but always in the bottom half of the table. In the 1976/77 season, a poor start meant they were bottom of the league when Jerzy Kopa took over as manager. Kopa managed to steer the club to safety, again just one place above the relegation zone with only two points to spare. The following season, however, Kopa brought the club higher than it had been since 1950.

Lech finished the 1977/78 season in third place, just two points behind champions Wisła Kraków. Two signings had helped the club make a significant improvement, Polish international goalkeeper Piotr Mowlik arrived from Legia and a young attacking midfielder Mirosław Okoński also joined the squad.

That success gave the club its first ever appearance in European competition. They had now qualified for the UEFA Cup, and when the draw took place on July 11th 1978, they were paired with West German club MSV Duisburg. While the fans may have been hoping to draw one of Europe’s bigger clubs, they now saw a chance of progress, as their opponents had only finished sixth in the Bundesliga the previous season.

The Lech squad travelled beyond the Iron Curtain, unsurprisingly, by train, but they were completely outclassed by the home side. After a bright start to the game on September 13th with Okoński hitting the crossbar, the Polish side went in at the break 4-0 down.

The game ended 5-0, and although Lech managed to score twice in the home tie, the West German club again scored five. Lech had lost heavily, but the quality of the opposition was shown by the fact they went on to reach the semi-final stage.

The next four seasons saw Lech again slip down the table, but in the meantime, in 1980, they had found a manager who would bring major success to the club. Wojciech Łazarek took over during the 1979/80 season and took Lech to their first ever Polish Cup final. Here, as in Europe, they were heavily beaten, with Legia Warsaw running out 5-0 winners, but two years later they would finally lift their first major trophy.

While the 1981/82 league campaign saw Lech finish 11th out of 16 clubs, another cup run brought them all the way to the final again. This time they would face Pogoń Szczecin in the decider in Wrocław. The game finished 1-0, with Okoński scoring the goal which gave Lech their first ever trophy, and a return to Europe.

When the 1982/83 season kicked off, Lech would take part in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, but much bigger glory was just around the corner.

Part Three will bring league triumphs, more cup success, and the biggest names in Europe coming to Poznań. The Railwaymen are finally on the right track!