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A football king, who knew "Sir Thaddeus" by heart...

Cracovia's wooden goal, and inside it, among the players, Józef Piłsudski. Edward Rydz-Śmigły and Józef Kałuża stand next to the brigadier. This photograph was taken in 1917, shortly before Piłsudski was arrested by the Germans and detained in a fortress in Magdeburg, at a time when the legionnaires' football teams played against Cracovia. Today, the Pilsudski Cracovia Stadium is located on ul. Józefa Kałuży.  But the fact that Kałuża was one of the greatest legends of Polish football and the coach of the national team, who was most successful before Kazimierz Górski, is something Poles are not aware of in general.


"Józef Kałuża, the legend never dies" - is the slogan on a Cracovia supporter's flag. "The Napoleon of Polish Football," "Kraków's Messi" - this old and new nickname of Józef Kałuża was eagerly mentioned by the media when in 2017, on the initiative of supporters, his monument was erected in Kraków.

He was 3 cm ... shorter than both Napoleon and Messi – standing at just 166 centimetres tall. The fact is, however, that he had - in unparalleled times, of course - statistics similar to those of the famous Argentinean.  According to one of them, he scored 465 goals in 416 matches as a footballer - this includes his appearances for Cracovia, the Kraków team and the Polish national team Even though he didn't take penalty kicks or free kicks!


Best coach before Kazimierz Górski

After that, as a coach of the Polish national team, he won fourth place at the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 and was the first to qualify for the World Cup Finals in 1938, where our national team played one of the most beautiful matches in its history, losing  5:6 to Brazil. And just before the war, the team under Kałuża's leadership defeated Hungary the reigning runners-up with a score of 4:2. Poland had to wait until 1974, when the Kazimierz Górski was the coach of the national team, before Poland qualified for the World Cup finals again...

These statistics do not reflect one more important role of Kałuża - in independent Poland he was a co-creator of the model of an athlete-intellectual. He knew the whole "Pan Tadeusz" by heart, played the violin, was a Polish language teacher, journalist and columnist, author of a textbook for learning football tactics.

The Germans were aware of his prowess and in 1939 they wanted him to take over the function of "sportfürher" in the General Government. Kałuża was one of the few members of the board of the Polish Football Association who remained in the country. The Germans hoped he would organise an association under their administration. He refused. "Let the young play - however, we cannot make it appear that sports life in our country, conquered by the invaders, continues normally," he said to the young people at the time.


"We've gained a leader in him."

Józef Ignacy Kałuża was born on February 11, 1896 in Przemyśl, the son of Andrzej and Magdalena, née Peter.  His father was an officer, which had an impact on the values his son was taught. He had four brothers.

Kałuża’s entire football career was connected with Kraków, where he moved when he was 7 years old. Stanisław Mielech, a forward for Cracovia and a soldier of the Legions, he recalled the beginning of his acquaintance with Kałuża: "My first meeting with Józek took place at Błonia in Kraków. We had our own "crew" there, which Przystawski, Domagalski, Świszczowski, Pałasiński, Tondos, Kowal and others were a part of. Whatever you might say, we had skill with a ball We would go one on one with opponents just to be show of our dribbling prowess, which we considered to be the most important of football skills. Scoring a goal, if the goalkeeper was not nutmegged, was not worthy. Our crew was known as the best  in Błonie."

One day they were planning to play a match with an some opponent, but they didn't have a full team. A 15-year-old boy accidentally got himself caught up in it. Mielech remembers: "Some little, inconspicuous youngster, listening to our negotiations with this opponent, suddenly spoke out:

- I can play. I'll play forwards.

- And what crew have you been playing so far?

- In Podgórze.

It was almost an insult to us. Podgórze was, in our minds, a district unnecessarily added to Krakow, "unimportant" in terms of sports. And here someone from Podgórze had ambitions not only to play in our crew, but also to lead our attack, an attack of the best crew in Błonie! We laughed cordially at it, and he only looked at us ironically.

The game quickly put them straight: "We started playing and... that day we met Józef Kałuża. Before he was that inconspicuous youngster. What he was doing on the pitch at the time was an artistry we didn't know yet. He played differently than all of us. The ball was listening to him, sticking to his leg. He was a great at dribbling, but it was difficult to impress us with a dribble. However, we were taken aback by the way je struck the ball, how he approached it, running out to positions, releasing balls to midfielders to pass onto the wings. His play connected our unconnected individual performances and gave them a sense of meaning. How easy it was to score goals with him. From this match we gained the leader and promoter of our football efforts".


Chocolate not for Kałuża

Józef Kałuża started playing football in Polonia, a school team, then Robotniczy Klub Sportowy, or RKS Kraków. In 1911, he went to Cracovia. For more than 18 years, that’s how attached football players were to club colours... Kałuża himself mentioned it in a 1926 article in "Przegląd Sportowy" ("Sports Review"): "Football artist - Józef Kałuża: About himself and his companions from the pitch": "Krakow's Błonia, the cradle of a number of famous players, allowed Cracovia to find talent in me in 1911. Not even having the opportunity to show as a  reserve, already in the spring of 1912 I was in the first team... Despite being 15 years old and lighter than a featherweight, the coach of Cracovia, Kożeluch, put me permanently in the first team".

Soon he was going to spoil coach Kozeluch's system of motivating football players. He was rewarding players with chocolate for hitting a specific place in a goal. But shortly he had to exclude Kałuża and Mielech, the quoted forward from the spoils. For a simple reason: there was no enough chocolate for the others.


An immoral game with bare knees...

At the same time, he attended a Teachers' Seminar in 1911-1915. The school did not necessarily look favourably on his successes. "As a student and a football player at the same time - I did not always meet with sympathy from the school authorities. All sorts of jokes to confuse the vigilance of the school management finally ended in 1913. I was "fired" for taking part in the game.... one which was immoral because I had bare knees. But in a few days I went back to school, thanks to an intervention." – Kałuża remembers. He finally managed to graduate from the Teacher's Seminar, where he passed his baccalaureate in 1915. From 1917 he worked as a Polish language teacher at the Stanisław Żółkiewski Primary School in Kraków.

He joined the first team in the spring of 1912 at the age of 16. He made his debut on 7 April 1912 in a friendly match against BEAC Budapest, which ended with a 5:0 result and he scored one of the goals. According to Mielech: "Cracovia's attack was led in 1912 by the Singer from Vienna, the same who, after returning to Vienna, played in the Austrian national team against Italy and scored two goals. What a surprise it was to Kraków’s sports scene, when it became known that Singer was giving up his place in the attack of some Kałuża, an unknown lad, and was himself transferred to the position of a central midfielder. It turned out that this surprising decision was absolutely right. "Cracovia's management made no mistake in entrusting Kałuża with the position of centre forward. From 1912 onwards, for 18 years, Kałuża led the attackers of the club, laying the foundations for the greatness of Cracovia," wrote Mielech. Despite his low stature, Kałuża was great with his head.

It is interesting to note that Kałuża had a record of 13 goals scored during one match: Cracovia-Klub Lotników Kraków, ending with a score of 30:0.


The thieves apologize on their knees

The caricature of Gustaw Rogalski, an illustrator and former Cracovia player, depicted Kałuża with a sceptre and in a crown – as the king of footballers. Among the many anecdotes showing the popularity of Kałuża, there was one where he was said to be robbed by four pickpockets in the street. When they realized who they had taken the wallet from, they ran after him and apologized, almost on their knees.

In 1923 he married Józefa Dudziak, with whom he had a daughter Irena. As Kamil Podowski wrote in the article "Józef Kałuża - the father of the great Cracovia" on the website, at that time there was talk of the "Kraków football school", which "boasted an offensive style, consisting of staying on the ball and playing in a triangle. Each district then had a few "representations" that fought for the primacy of its own territory and in the whole of Kraków.”

Mielech noticed that the successes of Kałuża were contrary to the stereotypes according to which a footballer must be an athlete or a record runner. Nothing like that! The key to success was intelligence and instinct: "He was of average height, frail and at risk of tuberculosis for some time. He did not run at 100 m in record-breaking times, and the strength of his shots was also average. Nevertheless, he was the fear of all the goalkeepers. He scored goals thanks to the extraordinary accuracy of his shots, which he fired off from every position, and thanks to his phenomenal orientation when in the box. "Kałuża has eyes around its shirt," they said. He had some kind of instinct to line up with the ball and feel its way towards the target.


The football temperament would drive him to arguments

He also had the features of a pure breed forward who knew how to deal with the most experienced goalkeeper: "Józek knew it well that most goals are scored when the goalkeeper is in motion, in balance and his manoeuvres deliberately provoked the goalkeepers to change their position. He was reliable when it came to scoring when one-on-one, the goalkeeper was running out of the goal against him to reduce the shooting angle. As Podowski writes, "on the pitch he turned into a purebred, morbidly ambitious sniper, who, like a turret of a tank, only turned and set his sights to inflict a deadly blow". He wasn't an angel in the field clashes: “The temperament of the field often led him to argue with referees who indulged him on account of his brand and achievements.”

Meanwhile, after a game, he changed completely: "Outside the pitch, he was a completely different man - cheerful and modest." In 1913 he became the champion of Galicia together with his team. In 1921 he won the Polish Championships and was Top Scorer. Between 1924 and 1929 he was the ream captain. He played regularly until 1929. His last appearance in Cracovia took place on May 25, 1931 in a friendly meeting against Wisła Kraków (4:3).

He achieved record results, even though he never took free kicks and penalties, which could further increase these statistics. "For the former he lacked “killer” strikes, and for the latter, nerve. The more valuable was his record of goals scored from volleys and combinations in comparison to other "top scorers" like Reyman, Peterek or Kossok. - explains Mielech.


The Aryan paragraph

He could not beat the record when it comes to his debut in the Polish football team, because there was no independent Poland on the map when he started playing at the highest level. He made his debut in it only in 1921 in a match against Hungary in Budapest, losing 0:1. He was then 25 years old. "Józef Kałuża had a fever, Ludwik Gintel suffered from severe tummy pains. It was snowing and raining in the morning, so the pitch was slippery and muddy. In such conditions, in December 1921, the first Polish national football team had to play. The result of the meeting was 1:0. Unfortunately, we were the losers." - This is how the game is described by the website.

If one is to believe this account taken from the "Przegląd Sportowy", "at 9 a.m. the waiters brought breakfast to the players. There was no more talk of sleeping. Most of them are still in bed, some of the players hit the town at 10 o'clock. All unsettled, sluggish, cloudy as the sky on this day." As the author wrote, the Polish national team was a young team, just like the reborn Second Republic. The team from the banks of the Vistula did not arouse much interest: only 8 to 10 thousand fans sat within the 30 thousand-seat stadium. The idea of establishing a national team was born two years earlier, during the founding convention of the Polish Football Association.

Kałuża was a member of the national team until 1928. As Mielech points out, in Poland there was an abundance of centre forwards often almost geniuses. This did not change the fact that Kałuża "in the Polish team had a "permanent place" as a centre forward. Despite the fact that at that time such great forwards as W. Kucharski, H. Reyman, Staliński and T. Grabowski played, Kałuża was never moved to another position.

After the end of his football career, Kałuża was the coach of Cracovia. “He was a special coach. He was able to put together a team, use its greatest assets, such as individuality, and wisely introduce new players. Before he could lead the Poles, he had to prove his effectiveness on a league level.” - writes Podowski.

He also became a journalist and published sports articles, known for his accurate analyses. He wrote texts on a typewriter that he published in "Przegląd Sportowy" and "Raz dwa trzy" (“One two three”). They included reviews of football matches and articles on football training. Several works on this subject were published in the "Cracovia Bulletin".

He also continued to teach at school, and from the class he taught, from the class which he took over in 1939, he supposedly made a great choir, which sang in the Corpus Christi church in Kazimierz. In the club, he effectively opposed the introduction of the so-called Aryan paragraph, which discriminated against Jewish football players.


At the World Cup for the first time...

On 21 February 1932, during the pre-war congress of the Polish Football Association (not to be confused with the post-war communist organization that still exists today), Józef Kałuża was elected the association captain of the federation, i.e. the national team manager. The first steps were not easy - the national team was not able to qualify for the World Cup in 1934 once again. The first spectacular success came in 1936 at the Olympic Games in Berlin, where Poland took fourth place, defeating Hungary 3:0 and in the quarter-finals Great Britain, the cradle of football with a score of 5:4. Only in the semi-final did the team lose 1:3 to Austria, and in the match for third place 2:3 to Norway. The atmosphere of the Olympics in Nazi Germany was special. "They went there without knowing what would happen next. I remember my father was afraid. When he returned, he said he had seen one of Hitler's speeches and was terrified by what he had heard. He knew that war was inevitable," remembered Prof. Irena Kałuża, the footballer's daughter, in her book “Cracovia means Krakow”.

The qualifiers for the World Cup in 1938 brought Poland success. Józef Kałuża's charges defeated Yugoslavia 4:0. 20 thousand spectators sat at the Legia stadium at noon. But the scale of interest in this game is reflected in a note from the local newspaper. "Dziennik Bydgoski" wrote that between 5:00 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. 157 fans called to ask for the result of the match. The 0:1 away defeat against Yugoslavia was immaterial. For the first time in history, Poland went to the World Cup!


The devils themselves versus Brazil

Manager Józef Kałuża and coach Marian Spoida decided that the same players who defeated Yugoslavia in the qualifiers will go the finals. The only change was the appearance of Fryderyk Scherfke from Warta Poznań. He replaced the injured Jerzy Wostal from the AKS Chorzów.

The draw was terrible - Poland had to face the favourites, Brazil in the 1/8th finals. Poles were losing 1:3 until the break, but - as "Kurier Warszawski" wrote - after the break "the downpour pushed Brazilian people, accustomed to dry areas, out of the game. In 14 minutes, the Poles made up for the loss”. According to "Przegląd Sportowy", the end of the regular game time went as follows: "Peracio risks a distant bombshell, hoping for a slippery, heavy ball. His calculation was spot on: it hits the crossbar, bounces back and along Madejski's neck slides down to inti the goal... Piątek.... chases the ball, goes past two opponents, still enough strength for a shot... passes... Scherfke barely touches the ball... crowd in front of the goal, again the ball returns into play... straight to Wilimowski's feet and here fate catches up it. It's 4:4 again."

And that was the result of the match in regular time. "If, enchanted by the Brazilian technique, the neutral spectators were ready to give them the advantage and victory, they must now objectively admit that the Poles are also devils. To save yourself from such a hopeless position, you need strong will and ambition, and nerves." - ...analysed " Przegląd Sportowy". The 5:6 defeat in extra time against a world powerhouse went down in the history of Polish and world football. Let's add that four goals for Poles were scored in this match by Ernest Wilimowski, who Kałuża trusted immensely, and one by the already mentioned Scherfke.


Gas masks in the stands

For the last time, Józef Kałuża led Poland on 27 August 1939, four days before the outbreak of the war. The match showed progress and lack of complexes of the Kałuża team. The white-and-reds won 4:2 against the world reigning runners-up, Hungary. "The match was one of the most beautiful games ever played in Warsaw. It was accompanied by constant applause", reported "Gazeta Polska". The national team played the match in the stands filled with... uniforms and gas masks. Colonel Kazimierz Glabisz, the President of the Polish Football Association, said at a post-match banquet in the Officials' Club of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "Polish footballing started its post-war history with a match with Hungary and who knows if today's match is not the last before the war”.


There shall be no pretence that life will flow normally

As I wrote, during World War II, Kałuża was one of the few members of the board of the Polish Football Association (PZPN) who remained in Poland. He rejected all proposals for cooperation with the German authorities, which proposed, among other things, taking up the position of "sportfürher" in the General Government. He told them he wasn't allowed to do so by his state of health.

The jubilee publication on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Cracovia wrote about it in such a way: "He could not endure that the merciless enemy, exterminating everything Polish with as much hatred as it did for Polish culture and science, referred to Polish sport, plundering all stadiums and condemning Polish youth to forced inaction or to practicing sport somewhere far beyond the city limits. Kałuża was in favour of young people playing football. However, he believed that these competitions should not create the impression that life in the country was normal.”

He was involved in secret teaching during the occupation. "He taught us Polish language and taught us from what he knew, because no textbooks could be used. "He knew "Sir Thaddeus" by heart... - remembered his pupil, Stefan Szlachtycz.

In the fall of 1944, he was infected with an ailment that caused him to develop meningitis. There was a war going on and the vaccine with penicillin to save him was unavailable.


In memory and in the heart

He died on October 11th, when he was 48 years old. He was buried in the New Podgórski Cemetery in Kraków. Stefan Szlachtycz remembered his semi-conspiracy funeral as such: “It was a day in October that was sunny but very cold. In the late afternoon it took place at the end of the cemetery. Perhaps there were about 50 people gathered. It took place quietly and secretly, because there was a concentration camp nearby and a lot of Germans, and every large grouping was looked upon badly and could be interpreted by the Germans as an attempt at something conspiratorial. It was done in silence. There was a Cracovia flag unfurled for a moment above the earth grave. In this way one of the most wonderful people, whom I carry in my memory and heart for the rest of my life, passed away.”

In 2006, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of Cracovia football club, the vote for the most outstanding sportsman in this century's history took place. Among the representatives of all disciplines, the winner was Józef Kałuża. In 2017, at the initiative of Cracovia's fans, his monument was erected in front of the stadium by the Kraków-based artist Professor Czesław Dźwigaj.


Piotr Lisiewicz


Tekst ukazał się w Nowym Państwie 4/2019 


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