Their players have only just received their first income since July, and even that is still not enough to make a decent living: this is not the Premier League, not even Portsmouth. But even this small mercy for the players was all thanks to one fan, whose last will was to donate some money to his beloved club.
The story of Hutnik Krakow’s faithful fanbase doesn’t start there, though.
They used to face the likes of Henry and Barthez at Monaco, and they also own the highest score of all Polish teams in the history of the UEFA Cup — a 9-0 win against the rather obscure Xazri Buzovna from Azerbaijan. Yet their European adventures from 1996 are just a legend close to fading away nowadays. Hutnik Krakow may be leading their 4th league group at the moment, but they may soon vanish from the football map.
Hutnik Krakow’s Rise
Established in 1950 by the socialist authorities, Hutnik was supposed to provide entertainment for the working class of Nowa Huta — the first town to be built from start to finish in Poland following socialist urban planning ideas. Just as Nowa Huta, with its immense Lenin Steelworks, was seen as an unwelcome gift for nearby Krakow’s citizens, Hutnik’s stadium was a nightmare neighbour for the pictoresque Cistercian Abbey.
Since Nowa Huta’s incorporation into Krakow in 1951, the club had to settle for being the outsiders in the football landscape of the city, which already hosted several successful teams. Without much history or success, Hutnik and its following had to work hard to forge an identity for themselves.
Over the course of time, the working class club from Krakow’s most unliked district has done well to prevail and earn a few honours. Though cynically called “wellies” due to the working clothes worn by steelworks employees who have made up much of the fanbase, the club have managed to garner some prestige: Hutnik qualified for the UEFA Cup in 1996, beaten by star-loaded AS Monaco.
Hutnik Krakow’s Supporters Stand Up
After success came a sudden and dramatic demise. Relegated in 1997, 2000 and 2008, they have ended up in Poland’s 4th league, now millions in debt and unlikely ever to return to their former heights. But one thing the club does have, though, are faithful supporters who have shown remarkable spirit over the recent seasons.
Forget about stars in luxury cars, Hutnik fans have lent one player a bike so that he could attend training. They have offered shelter to several others who had nowhere to live and couldn’t afford to rent an apartment. They have also prepared sandwiches for junior players and covered injury treatment expenses. In June, they collected money during one game so that their players could go for the second leg of a tie a day earlier instead of taking a long and tiring bus journey right before the match. Some of them are even organising blood donation charities.
And most recently this month, came a show of a new level of faithful support: An anonymous elderly supporter called the club, informing them he was offering a reward for the players if they won the next game — of nearly $2,000. The coach and administration staff were stunned – no player had received a wage for over two months, and only several of the oldest were told of the unexpected bonus. After a difficult 3-2 win in Andrychow, the coach asked the players to wait in their lockerroom, while he and the team’s captain went to the fan’s house to collect the prize.
It turned out the supporter, who had lost his leg in an accident, is elderly and suffers from a very serious disease. For years he had not been to any of Hutnik’s games due to his condition, but after every game his voice was heard on Hutnik’s office phone asking for the final score. He also read the papers, listened to the radio and asked his neighbour about recent affairs. Now, expecting to pass away soon, he chose to donate his money to aid beloved Hutnik.
Michał Karaś is an occasional contributor to Pitch Invasion. Find him at Stadiony.net. With credit to Piotr Jawor’s coverage of Hutnik Krakow in Gazeta Wyborcza.