by Richard Bowdery
Brian Clough famously called him a clown. But this clown’s antics between the sticks were no laughing matter for England or for their legion of fans under the ‘big top’ at Wembley on October 17th 1973.
England had to beat Poland in their final group match to qualify for the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany. No other result would do. And they set about their task like men possessed. Yet despite wave upon wave of attacks on the Polish goal their keeper, Jan Tomaszewski, played out of his skin to deny England the breakthrough they so desperately needed.
Then in the 59th minute the unthinkable happened. Grzegorz Lato was fed the ball on the left wing and raced past Norman ‘bites ya legs’ Hunter as though he wasn’t there. He slotted a pass across the England penalty to Jan Domarski who struck a low shot past the despairing Peter Shilton and into the net.
With England now needing to score twice there was even greater urgency to their play as they lay siege to the Polish goal.
Hopes rose in the 63rd minute when England were awarded a penalty for a foul on Martin Peters. Leeds United’s Allan Clarke scored from the spot to level the match.
But although they breached the Polish defence time and again they were unable to apply the killer punch.
When the final whistle sounded the Polish players’ jubilation contrasted starkly with the dejection felt by the England team, some of whom were in tears as they slumped to the Wembley turf.
As the England manager, Alf Ramsey, trudged off the pitch he must have realised the death knell had sounded on his reign.
A few short months later the FA sacked the man who had brought English football its greatest prize.
As journalist and author Leo McKinstry has said “England’s most successful manager would have had a legacy fit for a hero had it not been for the malevolence of the FA chief Harold Thompson.”
Forty years on almost to the day all the talk is off that game in 1973 and parallels are being drawn between that match and the game England must win to be certain of a trip to Brazil next summer.
Whilst a defeat won’t end England’s hopes of going to the finals as it did back then, with the Ukraine team expected to steamroller San Marino in their final group match, a draw for England will mean they have to negotiate their passage through the play-offs. And there are some tasty sides that could stand in their way.
And there is a final twist in the tail of the clown who laughed all the way to Germany in 1974. It was reported that he allegedly spied for Poland’s communist secret police.
In 1986 the Newsweek Polska magazine printed a story that alleged Tomaszewski was ‘a voluntary consultant’ who had been ‘acquired’ under the code name Alex. All very cloak and dagger.
In his defence the keeper who worked for the Polish Football Association after hanging up his gloves in 1982, said: “I have never reported on anyone and was never a collaborator for the secret police. I do not know what I could have been a ‘consultant’ on. Maybe about training goalkeepers, perhaps the sex lives of ants…”
It is rather ‘odd’ that these allegations surfaced just after Tomaszewski became an MP for the Law and Justice Party who were intent on rooting out informants and communist spies from public life. Neither do the documents make clear in what capacity he is alleged to have ‘consulted’ on.
Looking back it’s a pity England didn’t engage in a bit of spying themselves; They might have discovered that the clown was in fact quite a capable shot stopper. Let’s hope Roy Hodgson’s backroom staff have engaged in a bit of espionage themselves to check out the opposition, before Tuesday night!