Polish Ekstraklasa

What started out in 1927 as “Polska Liga Piłki Nożnej” (Polish Football League), has evolved to today's “Ekstraklasa”, Poland's top category, where the country's best teams have been competing for almost a century now. The competition has had its fair share of controversy since day one, in its long history there have been moments, incidents, scandals, that everyone in Poland who loves football would prefer to forget, but no matter what, football has been and remains a national passion in the country, and its top Championship is where its football heart has been beating for decades now.

History

The Polish Championship's first year in 1927 was full of drama, first because it was boycotted by Cracovia, one of that era's best teams in the country, and then because it was decided between another Cracow club, Wisła Kraków, and 1. FC Kattowitz, a team supported by the German minority living in and around Katowice (which is the Polish name of the city, while Kattowitz is the German version of it).

Football in Poland remained ethnically and politically charged for decades. Once World War II was over and the country's borders had been redrawn, it was communism that played a major role in how the clubs and the Championship itself were run. Since the nineties, far-right extremism in the stands of several stadiums has been a problem, one that certain clubs have been unable or/and unwilling to address.

Purely football-wise, Górnik Zabrze, Ruch Chorzów, Wisła Kraków, Legia Warszawa and Lech Poznań, have earned the right to be historically considered the country's “Big Five”, winning the vast majority of the Championship titles. No one doubts that Górnik have 14 of those. Officially, Ruch have just as many, and Wisła have one less, even though there is that infamous 1951 title. That season, the Cracow club won the league, but for some reason the Polish Football Association gave the Championship title to Ruch, winners of that season's Polish Cup.

Having written all that, another thing no one can doubt is that in many statistical categories everyone is looking at Legia's back. The Warsaw club have played in Poland's top category more years than any other club, they have played more games, gathered more points, won more matches, and scored more goals than anyone else. Actually, combining Championship and Cup titles, Legia are second to none, and the way they're going after 2010, their distance from the rest of the “Big Five” will only grow bigger.

Fans' passion-aside, what makes Ekstraklasa stick out and make it the envy of even several western European countries, is the fact that its games are played in mostly modern, beautiful, and football-specific stadiums. Poland invested heavily in stadium infrastructure after being named co-host of Euro 2012 (along with neighbouring Ukraine), with magnificent new football temples opening to the country's football-crazy public before that summer. Ever since then, new stadiums have been delivered, and what's maybe even more impressive is that modest clubs as well, like Jagiellonia and Podbeskidzie (to name just two of many) can be proud of having new, modern, football-specific stadiums, that even much bigger teams in countries where football is played at a higher level would love to have, and currently can only dream of.

League system

Ekstraklasa is the top level of the Polish football league system. The second division is since 2008 known as I Liga (or with alternative spelling 1. Liga), or Pierwsza liga. An overview of the current national league system is presented in the table below.

Table 1. Polish football tiers
Club Tier
Ekstraklasa 1
I Liga (Pierwsza liga) 2
II Liga (Druga Liga) 3
III Liga (Trzecia Liga) 4
IV Liga (Czwarta Liga) 5
Klasa okręgowa (Liga okręgowa) 6

Below the sixth tier the league is played on district level. When Ekstraklasa was inaugurated for the 2007-2008 season, the rest of the levels were degraded one step; I Liga that before was the highest became the second and so on.

Stats

Teams with most titles

Statistics of all Polish clubs that have won the top league more than once, concerning the period 1927-2017.

Table 2. Clubs and Ekstraklasa titles
Club Titles
Górnik Zabrze 14
Wisła Kraków 14
Ruch Chorzów 13
Legia Warsawa 12
Lech Poznań 7
Cracovia 4
Widzew Łódź 4
Polonia Bytom 2
Stal Mielec 2
ŁKS Łódź 2
Zagłębie Lubin 2
Śląsk Wrocław 2

In addition, Warta Poznań, Garbarnia Kraków, Szombierki Bytom and Polonia Warsaw, have won one time each. No title was rewarded in the 1938-1939 season due to the World War II.

Audience

Capacity of Ekstraklasa stadiums

The table shows the capacity of all Ekstraklasa club stadiums (based on the teams that participated in the league season 2017–2018). Lechia Gdańsk's Stadion Energa Gdańsk is the biggest in the league with capacity over 40,000 people. However, the biggest stadium in Poland is National Stadium, which was constructe to stand ready for Euro 2012 and has since been used for national football matches and other events.

Table 3. The stadium capacities in the Ekstraklasa season 2017-2018
Team Stadium name Capacity
Arka Gdynia Stadion GOSiR 15,139
Bruk-Bet Termalica Stadion Termaliki Bruk-Bet 4,595
Cracovia Marshal Józef Piłsudski Stadium 15,016
Górnik Zabrze Ernest Pohl Stadium 24,413
Jagiellonia Białystok Białystok City Stadium 22,372
Korona Kielce Kolporter Arena 15,550
Lech Poznań INEA Stadion 43,269
Lechia Gdańsk Stadion Energa Gdańsk 43,615
Legia Warsawa Polish Army Stadium 31,800
Piast Gliwice Stadion Piast 10,037
Sandecja Nowy Sącz Stadion Termaliki Bruk-Bet 4,595
Śląsk Wrocław Stadion Wrocław 42,771
Wisła Krakówa Henryk Reyman Stadium 33,268
Wisła Płock Kazimierz Górski Stadium 10,978
Zagłębie Lubin Stadion Zagłębia Lubin 16,068

Players

Records

The name “Legia” shows up again while presenting the league's top scorer. Legendary Polish (despite the German name and origins) striker Ernst Pohl, scored 43 goals in 55 matches for Legia in the mid fifties, before moving to Górnik Zabrze, whom he served for a whole decade, scoring another 143 goals in 209 league games. His total of 186 goals is slightly bigger than Lucjan Brychczy's, who finished his career having scored 182 goals, wearing only Legia's (again) jersey, from 1954 to 1972.

The top name in the “all-time most appearances” list is a different case, since Łukasz Surma not only tops the list, but he is still playing, meaning that his 524 games played record will be even bigger by the time he decides to retire.

Famous players

Some of the most famous players that have participated in the Polish Ekstraklasa are:

Ernst Pohl who played in Legia Warsawa and Górnik Zabrze 1953–1967 is the top goalscorer in the history of the league with 186 goals.

References:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekstraklasa
https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekstraklasa_w_piłce_nożnej
https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Pohl
https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Łukasz_Surma