1973 England: Poland
In 1973 the illusion that England were a great footballing super power still held sway. Of course they had won the World Cup in 1966 and reached the quarter finals in 1970 after an epic match with Brazil. And the exit from that 1970 tournament was surely a fluke, losing to West Germany after going two-nil up, some see that as Peter Bonetti’s fault, deputising in goal at short notice for a sick Gordon Banks.
There had been the disappointment of not qualifying for the European Championship in 1972, but then that wasn’t a real competition then, thought to be some Johnny-come-lately thing the Europeans got up to in between World Cups. So it wasn’t really a problem that West Germany had beaten us 1-3 at Wembley in the qualifying round play-off.
Reality BitesQualification for the 1974 World Cup was serious, although the mood at the time was that it was a foregone conclusion. Even when it came down to the final match, with the winner going through to the finals in West Germany the following summer, the English press and football pundits thought that a win was on the cards. A draw, however, would see Poland go through rather than England.
England had started the qualifying round with a 1-0 victory over Wales, the other team in the three-country Group 5, but then drawn the return match 1-1. Sir Alf Ramsey was still the England manager but had been receiving increasing criticism over his cautious tactics and inappropriate substitutions.
England were then caught out in Poland, losing 2-0 in a match that marked Bobby Moore’s 105th cap, one behind Bobby Charlton’s then record, but unfortunately also highlighted his fading abilities to the extent that he was not in the team for the return game at Wembley. In the meantime, Wales and Poland had won each of their home matches against each other but Poland had the better goal difference.
Setting Up for the FallAnd so to the final match, one of the rare occasions, at that time, when a qualifier was to be shown live on the BBC, so that as many people as possible could endure the pain. With Moore on the bench, Martin Peters was now the only survivor of the 1966 team. Peter Shilton had taken over in goal from Gordon Banks after the car crash the year before which robbed him of the sight of one eye. Despite the confidence, or perhaps complacency, there was a tense atmosphere in the stadium, and this increased as the first half unfolded without England scoring.
Send in the ClownThis wasn’t for lack of trying. Shilton was virtually untroubled for the whole of the first half as chance after chance at the other end was either missed or saved by the Polish goalkeeper, Jan Tomaszewski, who was having a legendary match. The none-too-subtle Brian Clough had labelled Tomaszewski ‘a clown’ and had to eat his words later as he pulled off save after save.
In the second half it was more of the same, until suddenly, in virtually the only Polish attack of the match, Lato latched onto a pressure-relieving ball from defence and evaded Norman Hunter to sprint down the left. He then sent the ball over to an unmarked Domarski on the right who shot under the diving Shilton to take a shock lead. Shilton explained later that he was perhaps too focused on trying to make the perfect save and hold on to the ball, and wished that he’d just concentrated on blocking it whichever way he could.
Efforts to breach a packed Polish defence continued apace, and eventually, after Martin Peters was fouled on the edge of the area, Allan Clarke coolly slotted the resulting penalty home to equalise. Re-doubling their efforts, England continued to press and create chances but none went in. Ramsey eventually made a substitution on 85 minutes, a like-for-like swap of Kevin Hector for Martin Chivers which was too late to change destiny.
The AftermathTomaszewski later said that it wasn’t his best performance and that he had had a great deal of luck, but there were a number of top quality saves during the match. In addition, an objective view of the English performance would undoubtedly conclude that, with a few exceptions, England's chances simply had not been well taken.
Poland proved their worth as a side by going on to the semi-finals of the World Cup tournament, losing 0-1 to the eventual winners, West Germany, and even beating Brazil in the play-off for third and fourth places.
Both Martin Peters and Bobby Moore played three more games for Ramsey, with Moore finally bowing out on 108 caps, Peters 67, and Ramsey himself was sacked toward the end of the 1973-4 season, making way for Don Revie, the successful Leeds manager. No one realised at the time that England would not be attending a World Cup for many years.