They Created the Great Widzew

For over 110 years of Widzew history its football team included many players. We cannot list all of them here so we decided to remind only a few of them.

Zbigniew Boniek

He arrived at Widzew in 1975 at the age of 19. In 1976/77 season the club from Lodz was the Polish Premier League runner-up for the first time in history and qualified to the UEFA Cup football club tournament. In the round of 32 the team from Lodz faced the famous Manchester City. In England Widzew drew 2:2 and Zbigniew Boniek scored the two goals for the club from Poland. These were his first steps as a major star on international stage. Then there was the 1978 World Cup where he showed his skills scoring two goals against Mexico.

Over the period 1979-1982 Widzew dominated in the domestic league being twice the champion of Poland and two times the runner-up. In Poland Boniek was already a star. He earned himself recognition in Europe through, inter alia, his outstanding performance in matches in the round of 16 with Juventus in the UEFA Cup in 1980. In Lodz Widzew won 3:1 and in the second leg the rivals made up for the losses suffered in the first match but after the extra time the game was still tied. A penalty shoot-out determined which team advanced to the next round. Boniek scored the final shootout-winning goal securing Widzew the success.

Between 1975 and 1982 he appeared in Widzew in 172 games and scored 50 goals. After the World Cup in Spain in 1982 so fantastic for the Polish national team and for Boniek (he scored four goals, including three against Belgium) he signed a contract with Juventus. The Italians bought him for USD 2.3 million, an exorbitant amount at that time. In Juventus together with Michel Platini (France) they made an impressive duo.

In Juventus Boniek appeared in 81 matches and scored 14 goals. In 1982 in the “France Football” Ballon d’Or ranking he ranked third amongst the best football players in Europe. In the same year the readers of “Przegląd Sportowy” [Sports News] daily voted him the best Polish athlete. Playing for the team from Turin in 1984 he won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Super Cup. One year later he celebrated the winning of the UEFA European Champions Cup and Italian championship title. After three seasons he moved to Roma where he played till the end of his football career. Currently Z. Boniek is the President of the Polish Football Association (PZPN).

Józef Młynarczyk

In 1980 as the top goalkeeper in the Polish Premier League and a member of the Polish national team he joined Widzew, a club that was building its legend. With this club he was twice the champion of Poland (1981 and 1982). On top of that he appeared in legendary games of the club from Lodz in European cups, including the unforgettable battles with Liverpool and Juventus. When in 1982 the national team of Poland finished in the third place in the FIFA World Cup in Spain, he was already famous in the world of football. Młynarczyk stayed in Widzew until 1984 and appeared in 78 games.

Having turned 30 he first arrived in Bastia and joined FC Porto one year later. With the latter team he won, i.a., two Portugal championships, UEFA European Champions Cup in 1987, UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup. He appeared in 42 matches of the national team of Poland.

Having completed his career as a football player, Młynarczyk worked as a coach in football clubs and national teams. In FC Porto he coached, e.g., Vitor Baia, a legendary goalkeeper in this club. When Andrzej Strejlau, Jerzy Engel and Stefan Majewski were head coaches of Poland national team he was a member of the coaching team. He also worked as a goalkeeper coach, i.a., in Lech Poznań and in Widzew.

Włodzimierz Smolarek

He made the first steps in his career as a football player in the club by the name of Włókniarz [Textile Worker] in Aleksandrow Lodzki from where he arrived at Widzew in 1973. Between 1977 and 1979, as a compulsory military service, he had to play for Legia Warszawa. In 1979 he came back to Lodz and quickly became a leading player of the best club team in the history of Polish football.

In Widzew Smolarek appeared in 181 matches and scored 61 goals. In 1980 Widzew was the Polish Premier League runner-up which qualified them to play in the UEFA Cup. The Lodz team first eliminated Manchester United and in the next round they faced Juventus with famous Dino Zoff as its goalkeeper. In Lodz Widzew won 3:1 with the team from Turin. Smolarek scored the third goal despite, as it turned out later, a knee injury. He would not slow down for a second.

His unbelievable ambition, aggressiveness and bravery earned him the opinion of one of the best players in the history of Widzew. Fans will always remember his appearances in Poland national team, in particular against the USSR during the World Cup in Spain in 1982. The scoreless draw advanced the Poles to semi-finals. Smolarek was one of the heroes, he skilfully stalled for time „dancing” with the ball in the corner showing his outstanding technical skills.

In 1986 he left Widzew being already a legend. Smolarek spent two seasons in Eintracht Frankfurt, then he played for Feyenoord Rotterdam and FC Utrecht. He appeared in Poland national team 60 times, scored 13 goals and nine times was its captain.

W. Smolarek died unexpectedly on 7 March 2012. Widzew honoured him by reserving for him the shirt number 11, with which he played. No one at Widzew will ever get to wear this number. In February 2017 the Lodz City Council named a new street adjacent to the stadium after Włodzimierz Smolarek; official opening took place on 14 June 2017. The ceremony was attended, inter alia, by Smolarek’s son Euzebiusz, also a football player and a former Poland national team member.

Tomasz Łapiński

In the 1990’s no-one could imagine Widzew without Tomasz Łapiński, one of the best stoppers in the Polish football. He arrived in Lodz in 1987 from Pogoń Lapy and spent 12 years at the club. He contributed to the winning of two national championship titles in 1996 and 1997 and a Super Cup of Poland in 1996. In 1996/97 season he appeared in five out of six games Widzew played in the group stage of the Champions League.

He played for Red, White & Red in 313 matches. Despite numerous offers from the top European football leagues, including the English, German or Italian one, he would always refuse to leave Poland. One of the reasons was … his fear of flying.

– In the period of my best performance as a player in Widzew, in the Champions League I had plenty of offers. Managers would chase me and I did not answer their phone calls or refused immediately. They were giving me documents ready to sign; Liverpool, Roma, West Ham United, I did have lots of opportunities in those times. But my decision had already been taken and it was as it was. I have told you on some occasions why I decided that way. Largely it was because of my fear of flying. I knew I had such a problem so it made no sense. It was my fully conscious choice. I have always realised its consequences – he explained in an interview.

His firm and very efficient performance in defence discouraged many the then top strikers in Poland. He appeared in 36 matches of the Poland national team and won the silver medal at Barcelona Summer Olympic Games.

Łapiński came back to Widzew several times in different roles as a coach or advisor to the Board. Currently, he is a sports commentator and he is trying his hand at… writing. In March 2019 his first novel “Trash” was published, in which football fiction mixes with reality while corruption, gambling, and adultery are the main themes.

Franciszek Smuda

Franciszek Smuda was the author of Widzew success in the 1990’s. He was brought to Lodz by Andrzej Grajewski, one of the then owners of the club, who supposedly told Smuda - living then in Germany - that if he makes it for the next training session in the morning he will become the manager of Widzew. He made it.

Smuda transfer to Widzew turned out to be an excellent idea. The team completed the season 1995/96 without a single defeat in the whole regular season; an absolutely unprecedented back track record in the Polish Premier League. They competed on equal terms in the UEFA Champions League storming into the group stage after two games with Broendby and later ambitiously faced the top European teams, such as: Borussia Dortmund or Atletico.

Fans loved the then Widzew for their attitude, offensive style, playing till the very last moment and their fighting spirit. They owed most of the above to Smuda, who managed to select players of appropriate skills and qualities to the team, he knew how to reach out to them and, in addition, he proposed drills and patterns that were totally new to the Polish football. Until today we can hear legends about the importance he attached to players’ fitness and his winter preparatory training camps.

Pressing and domination were the foundations of his preferred style. From the beginning till the end Widzew had to play its own game and go on attacking from any position. We were to be aggressive and stay focused to the nines – said Dariusz Gęsior, one of the Widzew players in the 1990’s.

Having left Widzew, Smuda was the manager at clubs, such as Wisla Krakow, Lech Poznan, Legia Warszawa, and Odra Wodzislaw. He won national championship with Wisla and the Cup of Poland with Lech. With the latter club he successfully represented Poland in the UEFA Cup. In 2007/2008 season the team from Poznan advanced to the round of 16 of the final tournament. In 2009 he was appointed the head coach of the national team and he managed it during the UEFA Euro 2012 held in our country.

He has been coming back to Widzew on four more occasions. Recently in the early 2017/2018 season which ended with the advancement of the team to the second division. Although he did not stay at the manager’s position till the end of the season, he surely added one more brick to the club’s reconstruction.