A far-flung outpost of the German empire, about three miles west of the border with Congress Poland (part of the Russian Empire), the industrial town of Kattowitz had grown considerably since the opening of the railway between Breslau and Kraków in 1848. Kattowitz itself was a predominantly German town with a small Jewish community. In the industrial suburbs and surrounding towns and villages, often housed in distinctive brick-built tenements called familok, Polish-speaking Silesians formed the majority of the work-force in the many coal mines and steel works. In this diverse environment, the first sports clubs played an important role in the promotion of national identity. Poland hadn't existed as an independent nation-state since the beginnings of partition in 1795 and Polish sports clubs, inspired by the Sokół youth movement, went hand-in-hand with the wider cultural-and-linguistic revival.

Kattowitz was home to three football clubs, all formed in 1905, all German: Preussen, Germania and Diana. They dominated the local Oberschlesien league, which began in 1906-07 and acted as a qualifier for the South-East German championships, the winners of which went on to compete in the National play-off finals. This Upper Silesian league was won by Preussen in 1907, 1908 and 1909; Germania in 1910 and 1911; Diana in 1912; Preussen in 1913 and SSV Beuthen 09 in 1914 before being suspended for the First World War. The industrial town of Beuthen was just over 7 miles to the north-west of Kattowitz, connected by the sprawling Silesian Interurban tram network, one of the biggest in Europe. None of the Upper Silesian teams made it through the qualifiers, beaten by teams from cities on the road to Berlin, from Lower Silesia and Brandenburg, such as Breslau and Cottbus (who in turn fared badly in the National play-off finals).

One of the most heavily industrialised and densely populated areas in Central Europe, Upper Silesia became the focus of intense debate at the Versailles Treaty negotiations in 1919. The Polish delegate Roman Dmowski was hostile to the interests of the German and Jewish business communities, who he saw as a threat to any potential Polish state. Dmowski, a nationalist, had long viewed aggressive Germanisation policies as potentially far more effective against the Poles than the Russification policies of their eastern neighbour. He wanted an ethnically homogenous state (where minorities would be forced to assimilate) with strategic additions (such as an access corridor to the Baltic sea in the north and ownership of the industrial heartlands in the south-west) to supplement what would otherwise have been an isolated and overwhelmingly agricultural nation. In response, the British prime minister Lloyd George is famously thought to have said that giving Upper Silesia to the Poles 'would be like giving a clock to a monkey.' He wanted Germany to retain the region so that they could earn back the money to pay war reparations.

A plebiscite was arranged by the League of Nations in March 1921 to determine the outcome and opposing campaigns were set up to persuade Upper Silesians to vote either to remain part of Germany or to join the new Polish state. Concerned that German industrialists were being coercive and that the vote would be (and had been) manipulated, Polish nationalists staged a series of uprisings in 1919, 1920 and 1921. As part of their battle for hearts and minds they also set up sports clubs, including Ruch Hajduki Wielkie in 1920 in the steel town of Bismarkhütte, four miles west of Kattowitz, with the name Ruch ('movement') widely understood as a coded reference to the movement to join Upper Silesia with Poland. Over 85% of the voters in the town of Kattowitz voted to remain part of Germany, although in the surrounding district this figure was less than 45%. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the potential for further violence meant that the League of Nations had to partition the area between East and West. The Eastern part (including Kattowitz/Katowice and Bismarkhütte/Hajduki Wielkie) would join with Poland, although it would be given a degree of political autonomy from the national government in Warsaw. The Western part (including Beuthen/Bytom, Hindenburg/Zabrze and Gleiwitz/Gliwice) would remain German. Despite partition, this was still very much a single urban agglomeration, connected together by the tram network, and the large German minority based in Katowice were only ever a few miles away from the border and the political developments that were taking place behind it.

Upon its resumption after the war, the Oberschlesien league was won by SSV Beuthen 09 again in 1920 and 1921 and for a fifth time by FC Preussen 05 in 1922. However, now that Kattowitz/Katowice was part of Poland, Preussen 05 were unable to travel to fixtures for the South-East German championship because of visa problems, which resulted in them leaving the league entirely the next season. Under pressure from the Polish football authorities (who had been reluctant to accept any former German clubs at all) they were forced to change their name. The authorities didn't like the new name, 1. FC (Erster Fussball Club) Katowice, but were obliged to accept it as the German minority were legally entitled to name their organisations using their native language. 1. FC also kept their club colours of white shirts and black shorts (i.e. the colours of the Prussian flag and the German national team). It seemed that, in gaining a mineral-rich industrial base, Poland had also inherited a stubbornly patriotic minority who would prove extremely difficult to assimilate.

In March 1927, the Polish Football League was established, with 1. FC Katowice and Ruch Hajduki Wielkie amongst the 14 founder members (along with 3 teams each from Warsaw and Lwów, 2 teams each from Kraków and Łódź, and one each from Toruń and Poźnań). Perhaps inevitably the rivalry between the two leading clubs was characterised in terms of national conflict, with one Polish newspaper labelling a decisive match towards the end of the 1927 season as a 'holy war' between the German club 1. FC Katowice and the Polish club Wisła Kraków. In front of an excited crowd of around 20,000 in Katowice, the referee make a series of controversial decisions. 1. FC striker Ernst Joschke had an apparently good goal disallowed for offside. When Wisła (already 2-0 up) were awarded a late penalty, 1. FC goalkeeper and captain Emil Goerlitz (a German who in 1924 had become the first person from Upper Silesia to play for Poland) led his players off the pitch in protest, leaving Wisła captain Henryk Reyman to stroke the ball into an empty net. The match was abandoned after a pitch invasion and the referee had to leave under police protection. Polish newspapers began clamouring for 1. FC's expulsion from the league. The Polish FA tried to diffuse the situation by calling up two 1. FC players to the national squad: forward Karol Kossok and defender Otto Heidenreich. Kossok accepted the invitation; Heidenreich declined, stating that he couldn't represent the Polish national team because he wasn't Polish.

A second-place finish in that first season in 1927 turned out to be the high point in 1. FC Katowice's tumultuous 40-year history. They slipped to 5th in 1928 (amidst further claims of referee bias) and were relegated in 1929, never to return to the top tier. The year 1929 can also be seen as the beginning of Katowice's 10-year golden age, with the completion of the Silesian Parliament building a grand reminder of the city's new role as the centre of the only autonomous voivodship in Poland. As 1. FC Katowice faded into relative obscurity, their local rivals Ruch Hajduki Wielkie rose to become the most successful team in Polish football, winning four consecutive league titles between 1933 and 1936 before adding a fifth in 1938. Just as 1. FC played in the black-and-white colours of the Prussian flag, Ruch played in the blue-and-white of Polish Upper Silesia (yellow-and-white being the colours of German Upper Silesia). Generous financial backing from the local steelworks allowed Ruch to buy 1. FC's talented 17-year-old striker Ernest Wilimowski in 1933 after winning their first league title. He would go on to represent Poland, memorably scoring four goals in a match against Brazil in the 1938 World Cup (before defecting to Germany during the Second World War).

In 1933, 1. FC Katowice, now playing in a local league, were forced to re-name themselves 1. KP (Klub Piłkarski) Katowice. In 1934, during a match against Śląsk Świętochłowice, the side once again felt that they were on the receiving end of some questionable refereeing decisions, leading to rioting amongst the fans and subsequent calls from the local FA for the club's forced dissolution. The club's chairman, Georg Joschke (the older brother of Ernst Joschke), was also a prominent member of the Young German Party in Poland (who had close links with the Nazi Party in Germany). Hitler's Germany and Piłsudski's Poland had only recently signed a Non-Aggression Pact and Joscke was able to use his political influence to ensure that 1. FC were only excluded from the league until the end of the season.

One of Hitler's aims was to unite all ethnic Germans under one rule. He achieved this in stages with the Anschluss in March 1938 and the annexation of the Sudetenland in October 1938. The Free City of Danzig was around 95% German (and a Nazi stronghold from 1933 onwards) but had been given autonomy on terms favourable to Poland according to the Versailles Treaty. Hitler now wanted this reversed. He also wanted to build a motorway through the Polish corridor, connecting Berlin with Königsberg in the German exclave of East Prussia. The Polish government were opposed to both measures. Of course there was also a large German minority in Eastern Upper Silesia, which must have been unsettling for the government in Warsaw.

In June 1939, 1. FC Katowice were banned for promoting and supporting the interests of Nazi Germany. By this time, Hitler had unilaterally withdrawn from the German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact and talks over the future of Danzig/Gdańsk and the Polish corridor had broken down. On 23rd August, a German-Soviet non-aggression pact was signed, with a secret protocol that Poland would be divided between the two powers. On 1st September, the German invasion of Poland began. On 4th September, the Great Synagogue of Katowice was set on fire by the Nazis, who established Jewish Ghettos in nearby Będzin and Sosnowiec (one of which was later used as the setting for Art Spiegelman's Maus). 18 miles south-east of Katowice, residents of the industrial town of Oświęcim were evicted to make way for the now infamous concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Eastern Upper Silesia was directly annexed by the Third Reich and 1. FC Katowittz were re-formed, again under the chairmanship of Georg Joschke who was now district leader of the local Nazi Party. Joschke set about re-building the team by signing some of the best players from across the region, including Ernest Wilimowski from league champions Ruch Hajduki Wielkie (who, like all other Polish sports clubs, had been officially liquidated on 2nd September 1939). As a reward for their promotion of the German national cause in Poland throughout the inter-war years, 1. FC were allowed to join the Gauliga Schlesien without having to qualify competetively and finished 4th in their first season in 1941. The league was rearranged the following year, into Gauliga Oberschlesien and Gauliga Niederschlesien. 1. FC joined the ten-team Gauliga Oberschlesien, finishing 7th in 1942, 8th in 1943 and 7th in 1944, never managing to qualify for the national play-off finals and failing to live up to expectations that they would be a model side for the purposes of Nazi German propaganda in Upper Silesia. In fact, given that their predecessors FC Preussen 05 had won the first three Upper Silesian leagues back in 1907-09, it was rather an ignominious ending for the club who had been Polish vice-champions in 1927. Their last match was a 1-2 loss to Preussen Hindenburg on 14th January 1945, shortly before the Red Army's liberation of Katowice.

After 40 years of football in the borderlands, there was no way forward for 1. FC Kattowitz 05, who had always been sharply defined as a German club. The immediate post-war period saw the forced migration of all Germans from Upper (and Lower) Silesia. In their place came refugees from Eastern Poland, including the city of Lwów, which was now part of Ukraine and arguably the birthplace of Polish football. Teams from Upper Silesia, including Ruch Chorzów (formerly 5-times champions Ruch Hajduki Wielkie), would go on to dominate Polish football in the communist era. With its 120,000 capacity, Stadion Śląski in Chorzów (opened in July 1956) was to become the de-facto home of the Polish national team (at least until Poland hosted Euro 2012). Katowice (formerly Kattowitz and officially re-named Stalinogród between 1953 and 1956), was now over 185 miles from the new German border at Goerlitz (which was only officially recognised by the German government in 1990). Polish immigrants from Western Ukraine now heavily out-numbered the local Silesian population of Upper Silesia (many of whom, as volksdeutsche, had either left or been forced out along with the Germans). Within its new borders, Poland had been almost completely Polonized. There are still traces of Katowice's German history in the city's architecture (as in Wrocław and Gdańsk). But where Upper Silesia is unusual compared to other former-German parts of moden-day Poland is in the survival of the local Silesian dialect, where interestingly the word for football is not piłka nożna but fusbal.

You can read more from Tom at GZM Football Union.

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AuthorTom Riley