Warsaw

History of Polish Football

21 Nov 2016

The idea of establishing a Polish national football association came only after Poland had itself re-emerged as a bonafide country at the end of World War I. Although some clubs had already been established within the partitioned parts of Poland, it took them two years to meet and create what is now known as the PZPN (Polish FA) at the end of 1920. The first championship was won by Cracovia, from Kraków, in 1921.

The Polish side’s first international came on December 18, 1921. Due to the complicated political situation of the time, only several countries could be approached for a match, most of whom turned the opportunity down. With the selection process taking shape, thirteen players took the 36-hour trip to Hungary to play there. The subsequent narrow defeat was regarded as a good result – after all, Poland was yet to join FIFA and Hungary were playing their 80th international match.

Despite an impressive appearance at the Olympics in 1936 (fourth place), the first important tournament for Poland was the 1938 World Cup in France. Fate was not on Poland’s side, as the draw put them up against the mighty Brazil and even today this match is still regarded as a classic. The first half was all Brazil as the Canarinhos, led by the legendary Leonidas, took a 3-1 lead into half-time. But the second half was time for the Ernest Wilimowski show as he scored three times to earn his team a draw and extra-time. As legend goes, Leonidas played bare-footed in extra time and completed his hat-trick with two fine strikes, cancelling out a fourth Wilimowski goal. Wilimowski’s legacy is still much debated in Poland despite his record of 10 goals in a game still being a Polish league record. As a Silesian and native German (like Podolski and Klose in modern day football), Wilimowski went onto represent Germany before finishing his career and settling there after the war.

It took a while for the national team to settle after the disastrous effects of the Second World War, yet by the late fifties, several new stars were born that would lead the team into the next few decades including names such as Ernest Pohl, Gerard Cieślik and Lucjan Brychczy. It took a further ten years, however, and the appointment of coach Kazimierz Górski in 1970 to make Poland a stronger team. Only eighteen months into the job Górski had led his side to the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, with Kazimierz Deyna (later of Manchester City) scoring twice in an exciting 2-1 win over Hungary in the final.

Just a year later, one of the most famous matches in Poland’s history was played at Wembley. After a heroic performance from goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski – nicknamed 'the clown' by Brian Clough – a one-all draw was enough to earn Górski’s side a place at the 1974 World Cup finals. Impressive performances in West Germany, including defeats of Argentina and Italy and a 7-0 thumping of Haiti in the group stage, saw Poland up against the West German hosts in the semi-final. The match was played in horrible conditions on a water-logged pitch (many Polish fans will still claim the Germans watered the pitch despite heavy rain to nullify the Poles’ passing game) with the only goal of the game coming from Gerd Muller. In the match for third-place Poland were better than Brazil and Grzegorz Lato, who went onto become president of the Polish FA, scored his seventh goal of the tournament winning the Golden Boot in the process (incidentally beating his strike partner Andrzej Szarmach, whose tally stood at 6).

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