Fan art in Warsaw

The capital of Poland since 1596 Warsaw is a dynamic European capital city. Poland’s largest city and the nation’s urban, cultural and commercial centre, this is a city that was completely destroyed during the period 1939-1945.  From the ashes and rubble has come a rebuilt majestic capital; one based on the work of wonderful Italian Bellotto who was the court painter of the Polish King during the 18th century.

Today, almost every building in Warsaw dates to the post-war era – with what little remains of the old structures being confined largely to the restored districts of Stare Miasto the ‘old city’ and Nowe Miasto the ‘new city’.  Alongside these stands the most distinctive monument of them all in the Palace of Culture and Science also known as the ‘wedding cake’.  Built during the 1950’s this classical Stalinist ornament has a dominant place in the city centre containing museums, staterooms, conference facilities within its 42 floors.

Just as the city of Warsaw has become a modern and well laid out city so the main football club – ‘Legia’ reside in a modern football stadium built on the site of the old crumbling Polish army stadium.

Formed by Mashal Pilsudski’s legionaries in 1916, the Central Military Sports Club or ‘Legia Warsawa’ began playing at its current home in 1930.

The golden years for Legia came at the commencement of the 1960’s.   Legia boasted a squad with many famous Polish national team players including Kazimierz Gorski and Lucian Brychczy.  Like many of the teams in Eastern Europe, the club was helped through an association with the military. Many of these teams were also helped by the national sporting adherence to athletic excellence, a concept so favoured by the communist rulers.

With it being almost impossible to leave the country due to the restrictions of the communist regime, the Polish league had an assortment of strong sides and the national team a squad of class players.

The Legia squad included players such as Tomaszewski and Denya the latter of whom is regarded as the clubs’ greatest ever player.  During the 1970’s the club made a huge impact in European football and likewise did the same during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  An appearance was gained in the semi-finals of the 1990-1991 UEFA Cup Winners Cup and progress was made in the UEFA Champions League when Legia met English Champions Blackburn Rovers.

A celebration of such rich football traditions is unsurprisingly central to much of the art and graffiti dedicated to Legia Warsaw. Dispersed across the whole of Poland (such is the esteem Legia are held in across the country) a large number of artistic groups have been established many of whom have the aim of glorifying the history of the club, former players and club traditions.

LegiaNaturally, this type of football art is not unique to Legia but these artistic groups use a variety of templates, ideas and concepts to bring colourful imagery often across themes such as friendships, former player and gender to great eye-catching projects related to the club.   The subjects of the art are like the artists themselves; namely highly diverse but nearly always reflects across club symbolism, fanaticism, iconic players, traditional links or historic domestic trophy wins.

A lot of the graffiti in Poland occurs in similar places to that it exists within other countries, namely along railway lines or on train carriages. In many working class neighbourhoods, the art can be politically incorrect in a tone particularly if located near areas of poverty or industrial decline.  In the case of the work dedicated to Legia, its best creative forms are located in urban areas in close proximity to the Legia stadium.

Much of Poland is rural and one of the indications of approaching a city or town can be the slow but steady proliferation of meaningless tagged graffiti. Communities rightfully can tackle problem graffiti in neighbourhoods through awareness such as raising education amongst artists. This can move towards ensuring that any young people involved are aware of the legal impacts of these chosen artistic actions. In the case of Legia Warsaw, a lot of the work is clearly welcomed amidst an ‘our ground, our rules’ mindset and proves to be central to the visual locality of the stadium. In its current form, this set of art dedicated to Legia plays a key role in fostering nearby urban regeneration and promoting what is a hugely creative club culture.