Every self-respecting football fan knows perfectly which team is the oldest one, however not everyone knows its history. Cracovia has been renowned for its openness and tolerance, especially towards the Jews who gave foundations to the club and provided many activists and football players. The history of Cracovia consists of rises and falls. As a generally academic and Jewish team, it had its greatest sports achievements before the war. After the war had ended, it was brutally marginalised by the communist authorities. Despite their persecutions, the “Stripes” was a brand still acknowledged in the whole Poland and many people identified themselves with them.
We will probably never find out who published the announcement in the most popular Krakow newspaper. Nowa Reforma [New Reform] in issue No. 132 of 13 June 1906 announced: “An academic footballers’ club (football play) is being established in Krakow. The football exercises start on Wednesday, 13th day of the current month. All persons willing to belong to the club are asked to come to Dr. Jordan Park on Wednesday at 6.00 p.m. in front of the pavilion.” The persons who must have come were the students of the Jagiellonian University, called at that time “the academics”, Franciszek Boczarski and Bernard Miller (law), Rajmund Szolz and Stanisław Wójtowicz (philosophy) as they played in the first matches, results of which were published in the Krakow press. Possibly, there were also “the students”, as the pupils of gymnasiums, especially the King Jan Sobieski Gymnasium, were called - Adolf Holoubek, Mieczysław Pollak and Józef Lustgarten.
The 1930s was a time of increasing fascism in Europe. Hitler’s order found recognition in many countries. Also in Poland the activity of national democratic environments, aimed especially at the Jews, increased.
One of the first demands was introduction of the numerus unus rule at the Polish universities, i.e. introducing a limit of Jewish students. The Jagiellonian University, introduced numerus unus in the academic year of 1937/38 to all faculties. The limit for Jews amounted to 10% of places. The authority forced also economic boycott of Jewish salesmen, and in several cities it even rose to pogroms. In such atmosphere of violence, opposing the fascist armed squads required real courage. In the football world they postulated numerus nullus, that is a total access prohibition for the Jews. Such regulation was introduced by some sport clubs. The statutes of Wisła Kraków banned non-Poles from membership. On the break of 1937 and 1938, Warta Poznań brought a request of introducing the Aryan paragraph excluding from the Polish Football Association all non-Catholic clubs, referees and players. It was supported by Wisła Kraków and AKS Chorzów. Cracovia, backed up by Pogoń Lviv and ŁKS Łódź, stood up for the right of the Jews and other ethnic minorities. The anti-Semitic regulations were not adopted due to objections of the governmental authorities. They League authorities, however, were in favour of them. The disobedient clubs were under constant pressure. Cracovia did not submit to these rules and this is where their problems with the referees came from. In the 1938 season, the referees whistled constantly against Cracovia and allowed brutal game against its players, whereas the Stripes, when being fouled with impunity and meted out justice for themselves, were disqualified immediately. The most peculiar moment of that campaign was, however, annulment of a home match won by Cracovia over Polonia, after the referee had published self-criticism in a newspaper. The match was ordered to be replayed - that was the only case in the history of the Polish football. Cracovia lost the replay and instead of third place, it came seventh.
The name played surely a crucial role. Besides, Cracovia, from its very beginnings, was an open and democratic club. The designers of the club’s badge - a flag with four white and three red longitudinal stripes - which has been used in an unchanged form since 1908, was the “international” trio: Englishman William Calder, Jew Józef Lustgarten and Pole Wacław Wojakowski. Three nationalities, three religions… Cracovia’s players featured the Englishman Calder, the Austrian Singer, the Czech Just, the Hungarian Obert, just to mention only the most important names. The champions’ team in 1921 was made of a strange conglomeration of people - beginning with an owner of a vast estate (Stefan Popiel), through a medicine student (Stanisław Cikowski), a Jagiellonian University philology graduate (Tadeusz Synowiec), a car mechanic (Bolesław Kotapka), a teacher (Józef Kałuża), a bank clerk (Leon Sperling), ending with a house painter (Edward Strycharz). Cracovia never posed racial or religious barriers.
The history and tradition of Cracovia may become a model of cosmopolitanism and openness which are characteristic for Krakow. The Poles are still fond of the club which embodies everything that was beautiful and valuable in the pre-war Poland. Many unique people sympathised and sympathise with Cracovia, among them: John Paul II, Norman Davies, Mieczysław Fogg, Walery Goetel, Jerzy Harasymowicz, Gustaw Holoubek, Nigel Kennedy, Jerzy Pilch, Józef Piłsudski and Kazimierz Wyka. The popular “Stripes”, as Cracovia is usually called, can and even should become the flagship of the reviving Jewish sport in Poland.