Jan Tomaszewski: I won't watch Lato's team of plastic Poles
England's nemesis in 1973 tells Patrick Barclay of his disillusion with the hosts
Sunday 03 June 2012
The shaggy mane has gone along with the goalkeeper's jersey, but Jan Tomaszewski still cuts an imposing figure in his sober suit. The Pole who defied England in 1973 is now an MP and, when we met in Warsaw, it was next to the parliament building, in the lobby of the hotel where members can stayshould they require overnight accommodation in the capital. Were there such a sensible facility in London, Baroness Warsi would have been spared her current embarrassment. But Tomaszewski has contrived to land in his own spot of bother.
The hero of Wembley has been given a month's suspension by his party – he represents the main opposition, the conservative Law and Justice, which has roots in the Solidarity trade union once led by the late Lech Walesa – for criticising what he considers dilution of the national team that will kick off Euro 2012 against Greece in the National Stadium on Friday. Tomaszewski's main complaint is that at least three players are not proper Poles. He calls one "French" and two "German" and scathingly jokes that he is thinking of supporting Germany's team in the tournament "because it contains more Poles than ours".
It was partly in response to the preference of Lukas Podolski (born near Katowice, christened Lukasz but taken to Germany by his parents at the age of two) to play for his adopted country that Poland's FA, in common with many others, decided to cast its net wide. Damien Perquis, who has a Polish grandmother, made a late conversion from France and Sebastian Boenisch and Eugen Polanski were recruited despite playing for Germany in European Under-21 Championships. Nor was Tomaszewski too happy about the inclusion of Lukasz Piszczek, one of the trio from Borussia Dortmund – but in this case the objection was to the right-back's suspension, rescinded within two months, in connection with a fixed match in Poland six years ago.
"It's a disgrace," said Tomaszewski. "How can you support a national team that contains foreigners and people found guilty of corruption? It would have been better to have called up young guys from Polish clubs. In a tournament on home soil, they would have been prepared to die for the cause. They might not have won, but they would have been playing with pride and learned something from the experience. They wouldn't just be in the team because they couldn't get into the French or German sides and came here instead." He made an exception of the French-born Ludovic Obranik, whose commitment to Poland was of longer standing, but added: "While I'm looking forward to the tournament, I certainly won't be going to any of Poland's matches, because it's not a Polish team. It's just the team of Lato and Smuda."
Franciszek Smuda is the national team manager. Grzegorz Lato is the president of the Polish FA but better known internationally for his exploits on the field. He played alongside Tomaszewski at Wembley and at the 1974 World Cup (England, whom Poland had knocked out with a 1-1 draw, had promptly sacked Sir Alf Ramsey). Lato was the tournament's leading goal-scorer as Poland finished third; Tomaszewski was voted the best goalkeeper. They also played together in the 1978 World Cup. "I'm not saying Lato wasn't a great player," Tomaszewski conceded, "and I respect him for that. But as head of the national football federation he is doing something to discredit Poland."
Happier times were revisited with relish as Tomaszewski – or "the clown", as Brian Clough described him before the Wembley match – asserted: ''That was the night when the ugly duckling became the beautiful swan. Before we came to London, we didn't know we were going to become one of the best teams in the world. Beating the English did that for us. That night, we survived hell and became a real team."
Tomaszewski was beaten only by an Allan Clarke penalty as Poland rode their luck. Was it Tomaszewski's greatest display? "Actually I made quite a few mistakes," he said. "It wasn't one person who stopped England. We were like musketeers – one for all and all for one. Such was the team effort that, when I made a mistake, someone else would come to the rescue with a clearance. And, when he made a mistake, I would save him – and so on throughout the team. My best performance was probably in the World Cup itself, against Sweden, on one of our weaker days as a team." Lato scored, Tomaszewski stood firm. "I didn't make a single mistake."
After retiring, Tomaszewski became a television analyst before entering politics, being elected to represent Lodz last year. One of his first challenges was to swat aside a magazine claim that, before the fall of communism, he had given covert assistance to the secret service, reporting on fellow players and countries visited. "I don't know what I was supposed to have been consulted on," he said. "Maybe training goalkeepers, or perhaps the sex lives of ants."
Law and Justice is hardly a communist organisation: more old-fashioned conservative with a Christian flavour. Although the party's leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, reflects a view that the member for Lodz might have spoken too colourfully once too often, and although anti-racism campaigners have inevitably clambered on the bandwagon that Tomaszewski's remarks about the Polish team started, he makes no apology for his contribution to a genuine debate about international football which seems to do no more than reflect the one taking place in Britain over athletes suspected of going into the Olympic Games with the Union Jack draped around them as a flag of convenience.
It is also a debate that might have entered English football had Fabio Capello taken up the option of using Mikel Arteta, who, when with Everton, was discovered to have qualified for England through residency – and a blank sheet of international paper due to his native Spain's perennial glut of midfield talent. But the disciplining of Tomaszewski would appear to have ended it in Poland for the duration and the eagle emblem, which he says has been "profaned", will be flying on Friday, while a national hero sits at home with his principles.
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