Lech Poznan (Polish pronunciation: [lɛx ˈpɔznaj̃]) is a Polish professional football club based in Poznan and currently competing in the Ekstraklasa, the nation's highest division. The club is named after Lech, the legendary founder of the Polish nation.
The club was established on 19 March 1922 as KS Lutnia Debiec, later changing its name several times. From 1930 until 1994, the club was closely linked to Polish State Railways (PKP). As a result, its popular nickname is Kolejorz [kɔˈlɛjɔʂ], which means The Railwayman in local slang. The club's debut in the Polish top division took place in the year 1948. The brightest era of Lech was in the early 1980s and early 1990s. Lech has won the Polish league a total of seven times, most recently in 2015, and is the most popular football club in the Greater Poland region.
Formation and early years (1920–1945)
In August 1920, a group of young activists from the Catholic Youth Association decided to split off and form their own football team. The founders of the club were: Jan Nowak, Antoni Dyzman, Jan Dyzman, Leon Nowicki, Jozef Magdziak, Kazimierz Zmuda, Stanislaw Nowicki, Stefan Fiedler, Jozef Goslinski, Leon Stachowski, Jozef Blumreder and Jan Wojtek. The origin of Lech can be traced back to 19 March 1922, when it was officially registered as a football club. The club's first official name was Towarzystwo Sportowe Liga Debiec. In September 1922 the club gained a football pitch on Grzybowa street. The first match for the club was played in May 1922 against Urania Staroleka, which ended in a 1–1 draw. The club started its foundation in a low tier league, which at the time was the Class C.
The club achieved promotion in 1928 to the Class B after six years of being in Class C. In 1932 the club was promoted to Class A where the biggest teams of the region played. From there they could get promoted to the First National Division, but the club would not achieve that goal before the outbreak of World War II. In autumn of 1933 the Klub Sportowy Kolejowego Przysposobienia Wojskowego Poznan ("Poznan Military Training Railway Sports Club") was founded or KPW. In 1945, shortly after the war ended, sporting officials made Lech the first club from the city.
Downfall and the Miracle of Blazejewo (1947–1979)
In 1947, the Polish Football Association (PZPN) decided to create the first national division (Ekstraklasa). At first, the club was not admitted to the top flight, but the Kolejorz ("the railwayman", the popular nickname of the club) filed an appeal and the PZPN decided, in a special meeting, to extend the First Division to 14 teams, including the KKS (at that time called Kolejowy Klub Sportowy Poznan) and Widzew Lodz. The first match was against Widzew Lodz which Widzew won 4–3.
The club changed its name again in January 1957, this time to Klub Sportowy Lech Poznan and in December to Kolejowy Klub Sportowy Lech Poznan, which lasted throughout the history of the team. That same year turned out to be one of the worst for the club, since it finished last and was relegated to the second division. Lech only gained twelve points in 22 games, despite having striker Teodor Aniola, the club's top scorer, with 141 goals and top scorer of the Polish championship in three consecutive editions (1949-1951). Along with Edmund Bialas and Henryk Czapczyk, Aniola formed the famous trio known as ABC. During that period, the club managed to finish third in the First Division twice, as the best result, before its relegation to second division.
Lech managed to return to the first division in 1961, but after two seasons with poor results, the blue team was relegated again in 1963. The club even went down to the third division, then known as the Interprovincial Division (Liga miedzywojewodzka), in one of the biggest sports crisis of the organization. In 1972 the club returned to the first division, in which they had to fight again to avoid relegation every season. Coach Jerzy Kopa, who arrived from Szombierki Bytom, was responsible for reviving Lech spectacularly. He took over the team in 1976, when they were bottom of the table. Kopa gathered players at a training camp in Blazejewo, saved the team from relegation and twelve months later qualified for the first time to play in Europe after finishing third in the league, just two points behind the champion, Wisla Krakow. Therefore, this transformation became known as The Miracle of Blazejewo. The club's first participation in the UEFA Cup in 1978-79 was brief, as they were eliminated in the first round by MSV Duisburg.
Golden age of Lech (1980–1993)
The arrival of coach Wojciech Lazarek in 1980 at the club was key to overcome third place and European participation. That year the team reached the final of the Polish Cup for the first time, losing 0–5 to Legia Warsaw in Czestochowa. Two years later, the club managed to win the first title in its history, the Polish Cup, by defeating Pogon Szczecin 1–0 in Wroclaw.
The league championships of 1983 and 1984 went down in history as they were the first two league titles of the Kolejorz and for winning on such tight margins against Widzew Lodz. The first league championship for Lech was a point of advantage (39) over Widzew (38). The 15 goals scored by the top scorer of the tournament, Miroslaw Okonski and the participation of other players like Krzysztof Pawlak and Jozef Adamiec were very important to win their first league championship. Meanwhile, the championship of the following season both teams staged an exciting tournament and tied at 42 points. Lech defended championship by having a better difference of goals than Widzew to break the tie. That season was historic for the blue team, as they got their first double by becoming champions of the Polish Cup, after winning in the final at Wisla Krakow (3–0).
As Polish champions, Lech participated for the first time in the European Cup, although they could not pass the first round in the two seasons. In its first season it was eliminated by Athletic Club. In the first leg in Poland, Mariusz Niewiadomski and Miroslaw Okonski scored the first two Lech goals in the tournament and the team won 2–0. However, the return match in San Mames was a nightmare for the Poles and the Spanish team qualified by winning 4–0. The following season the team faced the current champion, F.C. Liverpool, who won by a 5–0 aggregate.
In 1988, Lech won another Cup by beating Legia in Lodz in the penalty shootout. In the second round of the European Cup, Lech faced Barcelona, coached by Johan Cruyff. After finishing the two games in a 1-1 draw, Barcelona, in the end the tournament, could only eliminate Lech in the penalty shootout.
Jerzy Kopa returned to Lech in 1990 along with Andrzej Strugarek and Kolejorz returned to be proclaimed league champions for the third time. Andrzej Juskowiak was the top scorer of the tournament with 18 goals and his team finished with 42 points, two more than the runner-up, Zaglebie Lubin. Henryk Apostel, however, was the coach who led Lech to two new championships in 1992 and 1993. The first one was achieved with a win over GKS Katowice, while the second one tied in points with the second team, Legia, and only won because Legia was penalized for disputed match fixing.
In the autumn of 1990, Lech played one of the most spectacular qualifiers of the last decade in the European Cup. At Bulgarska street stadium the Polish club defeated Olympique Marseille 3-2 in the first leg of the second round. The return match at the Stade Velodrome, the French team, thrashed Lech 6–1, in a match in which most of the Polish players complained of food poisoning. Since 1993 the club entered into a major financial crisis and had to sell its most important players to continue in professional football.
New disappointments and successes (1994–present)
Lech managed to stay in the middle of the table and their best result was fourth place in 1990, which allowed him to play in the 1999-00 UEFA Cup, where they eliminated Liepajas Metalurgs in the qualifying round and were defeated by IFK Goteborg in first round. However, just a few months later, in 2000, Lech was relegated to the second division after 28 years of presence in the top flight. Lech's first season in the second division was a disaster, as they were very close to falling to the third division. It was only with a great effort that the club was saved from relegation and even won the promotion the next season to the first division.
In their first year of the return to the I league (2002–03) Lech focused on ensuring permanence. The following season began with a very negative dynamic for the Kolejorz. After five days, the club hired a new coach, Czeslaw Michniewicz. The unexpected appointment of the young coach turned out to be a shock, since Lech finished the season in sixth position. Most important, however, was the conquest of a new Polish Cup by defeating their great rival, Legia Warsaw, in the final two games in 2004. Several days later, the fans celebrated in Poznan the victory of Lech in the Super Cup against Wisla Krakow. Although the next two seasons did not bring any success of that proportion, Lech managed to finish at the top of the table at the end each season with coach Franciszek Smuda.
Smuda formed a strong team with the arrival at the club of players like Robert Lewandowski, Hernan Rengifo, Semir Stilic, Marcin Zajac and Rafal Murawski. In the Ekstraklasa 2008–09 season, Lech had a great season and finished in third place and qualified for the UEFA Europa League thanks, in part, to the 14 goals scored by Robert Lewandowski. On 19 May 2009 Lech won the Cup for the fifth time by beating Ruch Chorzow with a solo goal by Slawomir Peszko at the Silesian stadium.
The following season, Jacek Zielinski replaced Franciszek Smuda (who was hired as national coach) as coach of Lech. With many of the players who achieved third place and the cup last season, Zielinski managed to make Lech champion for the sixth time in its history in the 2009-10 season. The striker Robert Lewandowski returned to be a reference in attack and was top scorer of the championship with 18 goal differential. In their participation in the Champions League 2010–11 they were eliminated by Sparta Prague in the third round and without Lewandowski, who was transferred to Borussia Dortmund. One of their most successful European appearance was in the UEFA Europa League 2010–11, in which they eliminated Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk to enter the group stage of the tournament for the first time. Lech managed to qualify as second in the group with Manchester City, leaving Juventus and FC Salzburg out of the tournament. However, they were eliminated by Braga, runner-up of the tournament months later, in the round of 32 after winning in Poland (1–0) and losing in Portugal (2–0).
This page also has a version in other languages: Лех (russian)