On 10 August 2019, Piłka.uk writer Ryan Hubbard releases his book From Partition to Solidarity: the first 100 years of Polish football. The following is a short excerpt from the book’s Chapter 18: Mundial.
The Polish national team flew into London a few days prior to their World Cup Qualifying group decider at Wembley, and were greeted by newspaper reports predicting a comfortable victory for Alf Ramsay’s England team. The consensus was that the defeat four months earlier in Chorzów had been all down to the Three Lions’ failure to perform, and at Wembley, with a place at the World Cup on the line, there could only be one outcome. England were the founders of the game, had never failed in qualification for a World Cup, and had won it only seven years earlier—the idea that they might not reach the tournament at all was seen as utterly absurd.
“…I don’t just look for the England victory I confidently expect anyway. I look for us to run away with it, win easily, qualify gloriously.”
– Frank McGhee; Daily Mirror; 17 October 1973
The British press were also far from kind towards Górski’s men, with one newspaper even going as far as to make jibes about the players’ appearance. Likely in an attempt to undermine the task ahead of Alf Ramsay—a man whose job he was after for himself—Derby County manager Brian Clough singled out Tomaszewski for criticism on television, labelling him a “circus clown in goalkeeper gloves”, while his assistant Peter Taylor referred to the Poles as “donkeys”. Ramsay too showed signs of arrogance when, having been offered a recording of Poland’s 1-1 draw against the Netherlands by ITV, he reportedly snapped: “We know how to beat Poland—we don’t need any films!”. He also told the Daily Mirror prior to the game that his players “know they are better than the Polish team” and “know they are good enough to win”. However, the England coach had been concerned enough to travel to Rotterdam to watch the game in person; having played as a right-back during his country’s infamous 6-3 defeat against Hungary 20 years earlier, he knew all too well about the consequences of underestimating teams from Eastern Europe.
“Walking onto the pitch at Wembley, I had legs of jelly. I was thinking: ‘Please, don’t let it be another 7-0!'”.
– Jan Tomaszewski
The Polish team may have been acquainted to the vociferous supporting roar of the Śląski, but at Wembley, with the noise now directed towards them, it was nothing short of intimidating. The shrieking, whistling and chants of “animals” continued for the duration of the Polish national anthem, and as the teams lined up for kick off there was no respite. The Poles’ nervousness could have proved costly almost straight away: just 45 seconds were on the clock when Tomaszewski rolled the ball on the floor, blindly unaware that Allan Clarke was standing nearby. As the Leeds United striker pounced, Tomaszewski was able to react quickly enough, diving on top of the loose ball—but not before Clarke had begun to swing his right foot, making contact with the keeper’s left hand. It was later revealed that Tomaszewski had broken bones in his fingers, and had been forced to rely on copious amounts of painkilling spray to see him through to the final whistle. The challenge woke him from his stupor too, and he went on to produce one of the finest goalkeeping displays ever seen under Wembley’s iconic Twin Towers.
That isn’t to say Tomaszewski’s performance was perfect; several times, with a rush of blood to the head he found himself out of position, only to have his blushes spared by either a crucial defensive block or wayward English shooting. But the saves he did make were bordering on the sublime, and spurred on by their custodian’s self-inflicted need for bravery, on the occasions that Tomek found himself in trouble the Polish defence were willing to throw themselves in front of everything that the English attack could muster. The hosts could, and probably should have been at least three goals up at the break. Despite the onslaught, they entered the dressing rooms at half-time on level terms.
Ramsay was by far the happier manager of the two at the break, and although his players had begun to show signs of frustration, he encouraged them to continue as they were—for all of their domination, surely a goal would eventually come. Meanwhile, Górski told his team to remain resilient in defence, and predicted that as the game wore on the English would become frustrated and begin to panic—then, maybe his forwards could capitalise, and perhaps even put them in front.
Twelve minutes after the restart, it was Górski’s prediction that was proven correct. Lato was the architect, gambling on a punted ball forward by Kasperczak which should have been cleared with ease. But rather than hoof into the stands, Norman Hunter elected instead to keep the ball in play to start another attack, and found himself dispossessed by the rampaging Lato before he’d even had a chance to take a second touch. Lato continued to bomb forward, and in space created by Gadocha’s decoy run he found Domarski, who hit a first-time shot that squirmed past Shilton’s feeble dive, to give the Biało-Czerwoni the unlikeliest of leads—a fifteen-second counter attack which left Wembley in stunned silence.
England responded to falling behind by continuing in the manner that they had played the entire game and were handed a chance to equalise from twelve yards moments later, when Adam Musiał was adjudged to have felled Martin Peters just inside the box. Peters later admitted to tumbling a little easily, but considering that they had made over 20 unsuccessful attempts at Tomaszewski’s goal so far, even a penalty kick wasn’t met with much confidence. Clarke, though, was the most confident man in the stadium, and sent the ŁKS stopper the wrong way to level the scores.
Though finally beaten, Tomaszewski was not in the mood to give up, and produced a string of stunning saves throughout the final half-an-hour to keep the English attack at bay. The finest of the night was saved for last: with just minutes remaining, Clarke sent a right-footed thunderbolt from seven yards towards the top corner of the net; but whilst wheeling away in celebration of almost certainly sending his country to the finals, he was left aghast to see Tomaszewski’s yellow-sleeved arm appear from almost nowhere to miraculously parry the ball away from goal. “I knew then that they would not score again”, remembers Tomaszewski; however, in the final embers he would still be reliant on Antoni Szymanowski’s perfect positioning on the line to deny substitute Kevin Hector a dramatic winner.
“The end, Ladies and Gentlemen! The end! Poland are in the World Cup Finals! Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the truth! This is the truth!”
– Jan Ciszewski
From Partition to Solidarity: the first 100 years of Polish football will be released on 10th August 2019, in both paperback and eBook formats, from Amazon.
The Kindle version is now available for pre-order!
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