by Rob Shepherd
Even for those who were not remotely born then, the events of that night 40 years when Poland knocked England out of the World Cup are familiar.
Roy Hodgson takes England into tonight’s game dismissing the role of history, especially that long ago.
He has a point. Then again for Poland that game still has a special meaning to players who would have been told tales about the legends of ’73 as they started to make their way in international football.
The Polish are a particularly proud nation, as indeed the mass of their 18,000 fans will show tonight by unfurling a massive red and white flag as a mark of respect to the English who – under the banner of Great Britain – stepped into the Second World War after Poland had been invaded.
The presence of so many Polish fans will create a passionate atmosphere so even if Poland can’t qualify they will be playing for pride and some perhaps for a move to the Premier League.
And Southampton goal keeper Artur Boruc knows he could play his way into the list of Polish legends if comes close to emulate one man…
The 1-1 draw, which eliminated England from the 1974 finals, was of course most memorable for the goal keeping heroics of Jan Tomaszewski who stuffed Brian Clough’s Clown taunts down this country’s throats.
England approach Tuesday night with a nagging fear of de ja vu.
Even if Poland are not as strong a team now as they were back then (they went onto finish third in the 1974 finals) they still have two menacing forwards in Borussia Dortmund’s star striker Robert Lewandowski and club mate winger Jakub Blaszczykowski. And the keeper Boruc is a serious item too.
As indeed was Tomaszewski who went into politics and TV punditry when he hung up his gloves. But I can assure you he has a sense of humour.
In September 1999 in Warsaw on the morning a decisive European Championship game, a match between the Polish and English press had been arranged.
We had Trevor Brooking and Terry Butcher and they had Zbigniew Boniek and Tomaskzeski as their “ringers”.
I was a bit peeved to have been left on the bench; although it may have had something to do with the early start and me missing the team bus and getting changed late.
Anyway mid-way through the second half with the game locked at 1-1 I got sent on up front.
As the final whistle loomed a cross come over from the right and my scuffed near post shoot fooled Tomaszewski, dribbling over the line at the far post; 2-1 England !
I couldn’t contain my excitement. I jumped into the giant arms of Big Jan, then 51 but still an item between the sticks, planted a kiss on his cheek and exclaimed: “That’s for 1973, you clown!”
He burst out laughing and we had a great chat after.
What people tend to forget is how soundly Poland had beaten England (who were wearing a curious yellow and blue kit) in the home game of the group back in 1973.
It was a match which brought Bobby Moore’s England career towards its end. Indeed he was dropped for the return at Wembley before playing for the 108th and final time in a friendly against Italy a month after Poland had pulled off their amazing backs-to-the-wall draw
Moore was at fault for both Poland’s goals in the 2-0 defeat in Chozrow – the only time Poland have beaten England, who have won 10 with seven drawn in 18 meetings – especially the second when he got caught in possession deep inside his own half. To compound England’s woe Alan Ball was sent off in that game and he missed the Wembley return.