Poland 1972-1974 – the World Cup’s lost champions

WHEN England crashed out of the 1974 World Cup in the qualifying tournament, considered a major shock at the time, Poland, their conquerors, were seen as also-rans, a relative minnow that had audaciously knocked-out the 1966 champions.

Yet if the British media had been as informed as they thought they were, it would have realised that this game, which ended 1-1, was almost as significant as Hungary’s 1953 triumph at Wembley stadium. The Poles didn’t win, but they were, like the Magyars, reigning Olympic gold medallists. Hungary won the Olympic tournament in 1952, Poland 20 years later. In 1954, Hungary finished runners-up in the World Cup, in 1974, Poland were third. Both teams had other things in common, not least that they were both beaten by West Germany.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Polish club football provided some tough opponents in European competition, especially on their own turf. Like many Eastern Bloc nations, there was an air of mystery about clubs from Poland, Hungary and East Germany, to name but a few.

Górnik Zabrze, for example, provided Manchester United with a difficult hurdle in the 1967-68 European Cup, with United only narrowly going through on their way to winning the competition. Górnik, and Poland, had an excellent forward in the form of Wlodek Lubanski, but he would miss out on his country’s finest hour in the World Cup through injury.


Poland’s resurgence really started in 1970 with the appointment of Kazimierz Górski as coach. Górski played just once for Poland in his career, in 1948, but his coaching abilities were never in doubt. The fruits of his work came to the fore in the 1972 Olympics in West Germany, where Poland played some stunning football. They scored 19 goals in six games before reaching the final against Hungary, winning 2-1 in Munich, in front of 80,000 people. Even then, nobody expected Poland to qualify for the 1974 World Cup – they had England in their group, after all. But England, undoubtedly, paid little attention to Poland’s Olympic success and underestimated Górski’s team.

The qualifying group also included Wales and when Poland were beaten 2-0 in Cardiff in March 1973, there seemed little chance they would emerge from the three-team group. However, a 2-0 victory against England that summer in Chorzów changed the dynamic of the group. By the end of September, England were under immense pressure as the Poles were now on top and needed just a draw to qualify. In the end, they got just that and England were out.

History has been written to some extent, because Poland were not highly-rated in 1973, but their performance in West Germany served to reassess their qualities and also put England’s exit into some context. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, as they say.

But Poland had a tough group in West Germany, including Argentina and Italy as well as Haiti. Two countries with a World Cup pedigree would surely be too strong for the Poles – at least, that’s how the script was written. Without Lubanski, Poland would struggle. How wrong the pundits were.

Poland had a number of trump cards that most people were unaware of. In goal they had Jan Tomaszewski, the keeper that was dismissed as a “clown” by Brian Clough but was responsible, more than most, for denying England a place in West Germany. At the heart of the defence was Jerzy Gorgoń, a giant centre half who could also score goals. In midfield was the jewel in Poland’s crown, Kazimierz Deyna, a visionary player from Legia Warsaw. Deyna’s performances in 1974 made him one of the most coveted players in Europe, but the communist regime in Poland prevented him from moving abroad.

Poland’s forward line had few equals, comprising Grzegorz Lato, Andrzej Szarmach and Robert Gadocha. The balding Lato looked older than his 24 years, but his speed and finishing made him one of 1974’s stars. He played for Stal Mielec, a club from a small town in south-eastern Poland that was synonymous with aircraft manufacturing. Stal were surprise Polish champions in 1972-73, with Lato their leading scorer. With Lubanski unfit, Poland’s goalscoring hopes rested with him. By the start of the World Cup, Lato had won just 13 caps for his country. His partner up front was 23 year-old Szarmach of Górnik Zabrze, a player who had a very cavalier look about him and possessed pace and sharp finishing skills. Both Lato and Szarmach benefitted from the wing play of Robert Gadocha of Legia Warsaw.

Formation of Poland’s national football team before the match against Yugoslavia (2:1) during the 1974 FIFA World Cup in Germany: Kazimierz Deyna, Jan Tomaszewski, Jerzy Gorgon, Zygmunt Maszczyk, Antoni Szymanowski, Henryk Kasperczak, Andrzej Szarmach, Adam Musial, Grzegorz Lato, Robert Gadocha, Wladyslaw Zmuda.

Surprise package

Poland began their 1974 campaign with realistic expectations. The favourites for the competition were West Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands. Italy and Argentina were among the next bracket so Poland had a considerable challenge. The first game, in Stuttgart, saw Argentina needlessly give the ball away to the hungry and fleet-footed Poles, who scored twice in the first eight minutes. In the seventh minute, goalkeeper Daniel Carnevali dropped the ball at the feet of Lato from a corner and the number 16 had the simple task of scoring. Then Szarmach made it 2-0, breaking free and sending a left-foot shot drive past Carnevali. Argentina pulled a goal back on 60, but Lato took advantage of a poor throw-out by Carnevali to make it 3-1. Babington’s scrambled effort in the 66th minute reduced the deficit again, but Poland were worthy winners and made a few people sit up and take notice.

A 7-0 win against Haiti (who Italy had made hard work of in the first group games), underlined the goalscoring power of Poland, with Szarmach and Lato sharing five goals. Then it was Italy, an azzurri team that included Dino Zoff, Sandro Mazzola, Giacinto Facchetti, Fabio Capello and Pietro Anastasi. Poland went 2-0 ahead thanks to a header from Szarmach and a superbly-taken first-time shot from Deyna, and future England manager Capello netted five minutes from time for the Italians. Poland were the only team to come through their group with a 100% record, and they’d scored 12 goals in the process – they were now being taken very seriously.

Poland 1974, their men and matches

    Arg Hai It Swe Yug WG Bra
3-2 7-0 2-1 1-0 2-1 0-1 1-0
2 Tomaszewski, Jan * * * * * * *
4 Szymnanowski, Antoni * * * * * * *
6 Gorgoń, Jerzy * * 1 * * * * *
9 Żmuda, Władsław * * * * * * *
10 Musial, Adam * * * * * *
12 Deyna, Kazimierz * * 1 *1 * *1 * *
13 Kasperczak, Henryk * * * * * * *
14 Maszczyk, Zygmunt * * * * * * *
16 Lato, Grzegorz *2 *2 * *1 *1 * *1
17 Szarmach, Andrzej *1 *3 *1 * * *
18 Gadocha, Robert * * * * * * *
11 Ćmikiewicz, Lesław S S S S S S
19 Domarski, Jan S S *
5 Gut, Zbigniew S *
21 Kmiecik, Kazimierz S
20 Kapka, Zdzisław S

Beaten at water polo

In the second stage, Poland were in the same group as Sweden, Yugoslavia and West Germany. It was, arguably, the easiest of the two, for the Dutch and Brazilians were in the other section. There were no semi-finals as such, although the media expected that the meeting between the hosts and Poland on July 3 in Frankfurt would decide who would qualify for the final.

The two teams worked their way through the group, West Germany beating Yugoslavia 2-0 and Poland 1-0 winners against Sweden – a Lato close range header – on June 26. Four days later, the Poles beat Yugoslavia 2-1 (Deyna penalty and Lato) and West Germany won 4-2 against the Swedes. The group was shaping-up as predicted.

July 3 was a stormy day in Frankfurt. The skies were apocalyptic, almost Wagnerian. The Waldstadion pitch was sodden, putting the game between the two best teams in Group B in doubt. The kick-off was delayed while the groundstaff tried to remove the excess water. It eventually got underway, but the surface prevented Poland from playing their normal game. Sometimes, the ball stopped dead on the puddled pitch, on other occasions, it merely skidded. If the game had been played in 2018, it would probably have been abandoned. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining contest, with both teams going for victory – Poland had to win, while the Germans would qualify with just a draw.

Sepp Maier, West Germany’s imposing keeper, was at his best to prevent Deyna, Lato, Gadocha and Henryk Kasperczak from scoring. At the opposite end, Uli Hoeneß missed a penalty kick, his weak effort saved by “the clown”. With 15 minutes remaining, Rainer Bonhof’s run into the area ended with the ball rolling loose to Gerd Müller, who scored with a low shot. It was enough to send West Germany through to the Munich final. They were relieved, in fact, West Germany’s Paul Breitner claimed that Poland were the best side in the 1974 World Cup. On the eve of the final, Poland secured third place, beating Brazil with Lato’s seventh goal of the competition, winning him the golden boot.


Poland’s near-glorious summer opened the world’s eyes to some of the outstanding players that were shining behind the Iron Curtain. Deyna, for instance, was courted by a veritable A-Z of European football, but most players were prevented from moving until they turned 30. Deyna eventually joined Manchester City in 1978 and sadly, died in a car crash at the age of 41.

As for Poland, they were narrowly denied a place in the last eight of the European Championship in 1976, having the misfortune to be in the same qualifying group as the Netherlands. But they were back in the World Cup in 1978, opening the competition with a 0-0 draw against West Germany in Buenos Aires. They won the group and reached the second stage, beaten by Argentina and Brazil. Their team, which was largely the same as 1974, with a few additions, now included Zbigniew Boniek. They finished third again in 1982.

1974 will always be remembered for being the World Cup of Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer, but it was also the summer of Poland and a wonderfully skilful, expressive team. They have had their heroes since in Poland, but the team of 1974 is the benchmark that every Polish team has to live up to. It’s a tough task.


Photos: PA

Poland crowns a new champion

FOR the first time in 28 years, a new name has been engraved upon Poland’s football championship trophy. Piast Gliwice, a team from Upper Silesia, have won their first ever title, outshining reigning champions Legia Warsaw, who had won the Ekstraklasa in five of the last six seasons.

Piast finished four points ahead of Legia, clinching the title on the last day when beating Lech Poznań 1-0 thanks to a goal from Polish under-21 international Piotr Parzyszek.  The club’s Stadion Piast had never known anything like it and was packed with a record crowd of 9,913 to see the Piastunki (the custodians), win the big prize.

Piast’s side, coached by former national team manager Waldemar Fornalik, includes Englishman Tom Hateley, the 29 year-old son of former England striker Mark Hateley and grandson of the late Tony Hateley. There’s also players from Spain, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Denmark, Slovakia and Slovenia in the multi-national squad.

This is a club that has had identity problems in the past, changing its name 22 times throughout its history. The closest they had come to success before lifting the title was the runners-up spot in 2016 (two points behind Legia) and two cup final defeats (1978 and 1983). They have been in the Europa League twice before, but they will now enter the UEFA Champions League for the first time.

The Polish government is keen for the country’s clubs to make an impact in the competition. The Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, recently announced that investment will be made in “football innovation”. He said: “We want a Polish club to play in the Champions League and be able to play against the best.”

There’s a lot going on in Polish football at the moment, underlining the ambition for football in the country. Attendances in Poland have been increasing significantly in recent years, with a 47% increase in the years 2003-2018 – the best growth rate worldwide. In 2018-19, however, gates appear to have fallen, perhaps due to two-phase league programme.

Nevertheless, there is a growing appetite to make Poland a force again in European football. A new state-of-the-art training centre is being established by Legia Warsaw, along with the LegiaLab, which will be dedicated to research and development.

At the beginning of May, Poland hosted a conference on how science and technology could influence and affect football. The Science4Football event brought together speakers from Poland and other parts of Europe to provide some insights around some of the innovations that are shaping the game.

Polish football officials are doubtless aware of the worrying trend among the top clubs – fewer club-trained players in the Polish Ektraklasa squads. According to CIES Football Observatory, 40% of players in the top division in Poland are expatriates, with only 13% club-trained – in other words, reared by the clubs themselves. This is a figure that has got lower in recent years as the percentage between 2009 and 2018 for Poland is 16.4%.

Poland is currently hosting the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with games being played in six locations (Warsaw not being one of them). There’s not a single Piast Gliwice player in the squad and they are also conspicuous by their absence from the senior Polish team.

Polish clubs have been missing from the Champions League group stages for most of the past 20 years and Piast will have to start in the first qualifying round in their bid to have a protracted – and lucrative – run in the competition. Chants of “bring on Barcelona” from beer-soaked celebrating fans in Gliwice are a little removed from the reality of the situation – but you have to let the dreamers have their moment. More sobering is the gulf between Polish domestic football and the likes of Barcelona and the Premier is huge – the average wage of a Polish top level footballer is €92,000 per annum.

Just getting to this stage is a major achievement for a club whose own wage bill is reputed to be one sixth of Legia Warsaw’s. Nobody gave them much of a chance, but it was the 1-0 win at Legia at the start of May that made people sit up and take notice.

Right now, a city that has had a big reliance on the mining industry and a population of 182,000 is enjoying an unlikely triumph that can be compared to Leicester City’s Premier League win of 2016. Another victory for the little man! Enjoy the moment.