Loss to Poland in 1973 still haunts England

The ghosts of the past still haunt the England as it prepares for a crucial World Cup qualifier against Poland at Wembley Stadium in London. Photo: Will Wayne Rooney lead England to victory (AP)

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2013 — The ghosts of the past still haunt the minds of some English fans as England prepares for its crucial World Cup qualifier against Poland at Wembley Stadium in London on Tuesday night. England need to beat Poland to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil next year, however, a game long ago on Oct. 17, 1973, which crushed the hearts of many  and ultimately ended the career of England coach Alf Ramsey, still rattles the nerves and awakens nightmares.

Back then, England, which was still basking in the fading sunlight of its 1966 World Cup win, needed to beat Poland at Wembley to advance to the World Cup. The Three Lions had lost 2-0 on the road against a very good Polish team and now found themselves with their back to the wall needing a victory.

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Comments in the pre-game build up didn’t help. Famed Derby County coach Brian Clough had labelled Poland’s goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski “a clown” and Clough’s sidekick, Peter Taylor, had called the visiting team “donkeys.”

According to a story of the game on FIFA.com, the Polish coach Kazimierz Gorski told the players before the match, “You can play football for 20 years and play 1,000 times for the national team and nobody will remember you. But tonight, in one game, you have the chance to put your names in the history books.”

Tomaszewski, the Polish goalie turned out to play a stunner. By some accounts, England had 35 shots to Poland’s two. The visitors took the lead on a goal from Jan Domarski. England responded as Allan Clarke converted a penalty kick, but the game ended at 1-1 before 90,587. Some English players left the field in tears.

The draw meant that England would fail to reach the World Cup for the first time since they first entered the event in 1950, while Poland moved on to event hosted by West Germany at England’s expense. Ramsey, who had led the team to glory in 1966 and the quarterfinals in 1970, coached two more friendlies and was let go the following April.

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The tie with Poland game signaled the end of England’s greatness and a golden generation. The team failed to reach the 1976 European Championship and the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Polish goalie Tomaszewski, went on  to earn the nickname “Tomek” and “The Man That Stopped England,” and was named Best Goalkeeper in at the 1974 World Cup, where he saved two penalties in two different games and helped Poland claimed the third place spot.

Since that fateful night England has earned seven wins and two ties against Poland in World Cup qualifying.

Now 40 years on, England coach Roy Hodgson will need to inspire his team, the likes of Wayne Rooney, etc. to get the win its needs. For Poland, only pride is on the line this time and a chance to play the spoiler.

As Hodgson and his team prepare for Tuesday’s game, they might wish to recall the Three Lions 2-1 win over the Poles on Oct., 12, 2005 when goals from Michael Owen and Frank Lampard propelled England to the World Cup in Germany the following year.


Note: The lineups from the game on Oct. 17. 1973.

England: Shilton, Madeley, Hughes, Bell, McFarland, Hunter, Currie, Channon, Chivers (Hector 85), Clarke, Martin Peters (c)

Poland: Tomaszewski, Szymanowski, Gorgon, Musial, Bulzacki, Kasperczak, Lato, Cmikiewicz, Deyna (c), Domarski, Gadocha


John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times for 20 years. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.

Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon or email jhaydon@washingtontimes.com


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John Haydon

John Haydon has covered soccer for The Washington Times for two decades. He has reported on international soccer events in Germany, South Korea and Spain. John hails from Birmingham, England and has lived in the Washington D.C. region for over twenty years.  

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