Laying the blame at Hunter's feet

As England prepare to face Poland at Wembley tomorrow, Ken Jones recalls the teams' historic match 23 years ago

Footballers of Norman Hunter's time swore you could hear his famous left foot cocking. So what was in Hunter's mind at Wembley 23 years ago when a tackle attempted with the foot he used mostly for standing on resulted in a goal that would prevent England from reaching the 1974 World Cup finals, and lead to Alf Ramsey's dismissal as manager?

Strange, but until last week, nobody had asked Hunter for an explanation. "It was so unlike you," I said, "and it doesn't get any better when they show it on television."

Hunter smiled. A smile was always the truth about him. A hard player for sure, but always up front, nothing devious. And the tackle, the wrong- footed blunder wide on the half-way line when trying to dispossess Grzegorz Lato that so uncommonly misrepresented his reputation?

After all these years I can still see Hunter moving in for the kill and thinking to myself that people in the royal box at Wembley were about to receive a visitor. "That was in my mind too," Hunter chuckled. "Then the bastard checked. It caused me to go in with the right peg, which was never a good idea, and I missed him."

Compounding Hunter's error, Peter Shilton dived over Jan Domarski's shot - "He could have thrown his hanky at the ball and made a better job of it," somebody said that night - and England, frustrated time and time again by Jan Tomaszewski's eccentric but effective goalkeeping, were up against it.

Described famously on television as "a clown" by the then Derby County manager, Brian Clough, Tomaszewski had the last laugh. If aided sometimes by the woodwork, he thwarted England with practically every part of his body: hands, feet, legs, torso, even his backside. One shot struck the back of his head.

"Every goalkeeper needs luck, and you have to acknowledge Tomaszewski's courage, but it was an amazing performance. Like nothing I'd ever seen," Gordon Banks said. "The further it went, the more he must have felt unbeatable and, of course, that gives a team the confidence to keep going, no matter how heavy the pressure."

The only effort that got past Tomaszewski was Allan Clarke's equalising penalty kick six minutes after Poland went in front. The clamour increased. Surely, it was felt, England would now break Poland's resistance.

Ramsey, however, was growing anxious. Forsaking a position in the stands - "Why has Alf got the team doctor sitting next to him?" Clough had sniped vindictively when addressing the nation - he went down to join the England trainers and substitutes on the touchline. Among them was Bobby Moore, whose error against Poland in Katowice four months earlier was partly responsible for making victory at Wembley essential. "Put somebody on," he implored.

Never happy with substitutions, Ramsey sat stony-faced as England threw attack after attack at the Polish defences. Finally, he conceded to Moore's urgings. "Kevin, get stripped," he ordered. Kevin Keegan jumped up, peeling off his tracksuit. "The other Kevin," Ramsey snapped.

With less than two minutes left to play, Kevin Hector made his international debut and missed what was probably the best chance of the match, sending a header inches wide. It was over. Five months later, Ramsey, the feted hero of 1966, was fired.

Shortly before that fateful Wembley encounter, I went with him to watch Poland play a friendly against the Netherlands in Rotterdam. On the return journey, Ramsey confided that he had thought seriously about recalling Geoff Hurst. "These people will be very difficult to break down, and there still isn't anyone in England better than Geoff at taking defenders out of position," he said.

"Of course, if I picked him we'd both get slaughtered before a ball is kicked. Especially in view of what Geoff has achieved for England, I don't think it would be fair to saddle him with such a responsibility. But I've been very close to bringing him back."

Unaware that senior Football Association officials were conspiring against him, Ramsey saw England's first failure to reach the World Cup finals as a reason for tactical change. "I think I've gone as far as I can with the present system," he said. "It's time to try something different, but I'm not sure I have the players to take it on."

England's next match, a friendly against Italy at Wembley in November 1973, saw Moore in the now fashionable role of sweeper. When England lost 1-0, Ramsey's days as manager were numbered.

England and Poland have met many times since, twice critically, but never in a game to match the drama and excitement of 23 years ago. "You can be sure that none of the England players - the Polish players too - are ever likely to forget it," Hunter said. "I was used to turning out in big matches, but the atmosphere that night was exceptional."

What if Tomaszewski's luck had deserted him? If Ramsey's last throw of the dice had made a hero out of Hector? England would have gone through to the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany, Ramsey would have survived, perhaps for a further four years, and Don Revie would have remained with Leeds United. Certainly England would not have been absent from the finals for a total of 12 years.

In that sense, Tomaszewski influenced history. Or was it Hunter? Or Shilton? "Who can tell?" Hunter asked. No wonder they call it a funny old game.

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
Arts and Entertainment
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems & Data Lead – Oxfordshire – Permanent – Up to £24k

£20000 - £24000 Per Annum 28 days holiday, free parking, pension: Clearwater P...

Digital Media Manager

£38000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Primary Supply Teacher

£115 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

Primary Supply Teacher in Stevenage

£115 - £121 per day: Randstad Education Luton: primary teacher Hertfordshire

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?