Monday, May 31, 2010

When Poland broke our hearts

On Sunday night, London's Royal Festival Hall hosted an unusual football event.


While three big screens played the infamous 1973 England v Poland World Cup qualifier in its entirety, an ensemble of Polish folk, classical and rock musicians belted out a boisterous soundtrack to accompany it.

Huge Aston Villa banners slung along the sides of the Clore Ballroom gave a clue as to the evening's instigator - Nigel Kennedy, the enfant terrible of UK classical music who became a household name in Britain twenty years ago for his unusual image: A yobby football lad, albeit with a mockney accent, who at the same time brought Vivaldi to the masses with the elan and sophistication of the finest musicians. Instead of a violin case, Kennedy preferred a carrier bag, instead of black tie, a Villa shirt.

An indication of how big Kenned
y had become was that he was flown out to Sardinia during Italia '90 to entertain the England squad with a flourish of the Four Seasons.

Football still clearly matters for him as he took the stage in a Villa shirt with 'Agbonlahor' on the back, and alongside the claret and blue were the red and white stripes of KS Cracovia, his adopted Polish club (he lives in Krakow with his Polish wife.)

For 'Nigel Kennedy's World Cup Project', the now middle-aged wild one, s
till sporting his trademark quiff, jammed with the at times industrial roar of his Polish entourage, while the time capsule of the famously fated qualifier played out above them. Some Polish lads had come with shirts and scarves as if for a real match, cheering and clapping every wonder save from 'the clown' (as Brian Clough famously called him), Jan Tomaszewski.

The match itself was fascinating, even if the result was known beforehand. England needed t
o win to qualify for the 1974 World Cup and deserved to progress in terms of the enthusiasm and physical endeavour they displayed at Wembley. But despite laying siege to the Polish goal and peppering Tomazsewski until he sneezed, Alf Ramsay's men could only draw 1-1. Poland went to Germany; England stayed at home and Ramsay, England's so far only World Cup-winning coach, got the sack.

The attack-attack-attack style England played that night created many a
six-yard box scramble and last-ditch Polish tackle, but despite the overwhelming dominance of England, the Polish net only billowed once. I could not help feeling a good team today would take a more psychological approach and try to draw the opposition out and hit them on the counter once it was clear they were going to stick every man behind the ball and play for a point.

Top-level football today is about playing in phases - understanding when to funnel men into attack, when to put men behind the ball and when to frustrate and tire out your opponents by maintaining possession. This 1973 England had but a single phase - an attacking one, which soon became predictable as one ball after another was lobbed into the box or thumped down the channels.

From
a spectator's point of view it may have been fun to watch one team trying to scorch the other from the off, but the joy of a high-octane opening would become a frustrating toil by the end as the Polish woodwork wallowed in its charmed life and England huffed and puffed increasingly desperately.

Kennedy's men strummed and stroked and drummed away happily, but almost oblivious to the events on-screen; not a silent film accompaniment, rather background music amplified so loud the match became a distraction high above. An odd evening therefore, but hats off to Kennedy for flying football colours in unfamiliar surroundings, and reminding us of how far, or not, England has come in 37 years.

England 1:1 Poland, 17th Oct 1973, Wembley, Att: 100,000

England - Shilton, McFarland, Hughes, Hunter, Madeley, Currie, Bell, Peters, Chivers, Channon, Clarke
Poland -
Tomaszewski, Szymanowski, Bulzacki, Gorgon, Musial, Kasperczak, Cmikiewicz, Denya, Lato, Domarski, Gadocha



(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


World Cup Posters

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