Football prepares to start again in Poland tonight, with the Miedź Legnica – Legia Warszawa cup match tonight (26th May 2020). This is one of the remaining two quarter final ties in a tournament which only had 5 matches left to run, when the country shut down due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. While that match will be played behind closed doors and fanless, it is still a sign that life can get slowly back to normal. In days gone by I have written about Polish football, attended over 100 matches in the country across visiting over 20 stadiums. As part of that research and the fact that Poland is an underdog like Northern Ireland, I always like to remind people about these geek stats about my home country and my resident country…
- Northern Ireland are the smallest country (1.7 million people) to qualify for three World Cups.
- Poland won the Olympic Gold at football in 1972.
- Northern Ireland are the current British Champions, winning it in 1984.
- Poland came third in the 1974 World Cup but had the BEST record at the tournament and also scored the most goals – beating Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Yugoslavia, Haiti and Sweden.
- Northern Ireland are the smallest nation to ever reach the last 8 of the World Cup.
- In cumulative World Cups 1974, 1978 and 1982, Poland have the best record overall, yet they only have 2 bronze medals to show for it.
- Northern Ireland’s only defeats at World Cup tournaments are to teams who won the thing. Bang!
While those stats are all good, it means that even though Poland has Olympic World Champions, where are the Polish World Cup winners? Is winning the World Cup everything??
Lionel Messi – never won the World Cup.
Cristiano Ronaldo – never won the World Cup.
Just Fontaine – scored 13 goals and still didn’t win the World Cup.
Johann Cruyff – his team was leading in the final and he still didn’t win the World Cup.
George Best – never played in the World Cup.
George Weah – never played in the World Cup.
Kazimierz Deyna – won the Olympics and finished third in the World Cup.
While those legendary footballers all might light up the world on the pitch – they didn’t get their hands on the number one trophy in football – the World Cup. First it was the Jules Rimet Trophy from 1930 – 1970. Since 1974, it has been the FIFA World Cup. Only 9 countries have officially won it (full men’s game):
West Germany (3)
Poland have been third on two occasions, 1974 and 1982 as well as winning the Olympic Gold medal in 1972. While I will cover Poland’s Olympic Gold Medal winning superstars separately at some point, today is all about these guys…move over, Robert Lewandowski.
These guys are from Poland and they won the World Cup…
Richard Herrmann (West Germany 1954) (Katowice)
Richard Herrmann from Katowice is actually Poland’s first ever World Cup winner. The epic footballer was born in modern day Katowice (Poland) in 1923, when the area was officially a part of Germany. But nowadays, that city is as Polish as they come, so the town can claim a World Cup winner. Ryszard played in Katowice for a team called FC Kattowitz, which was then a German team. That team ceased to be after the Second World War and Katowice is of course now an integral part of the Republic of Poland. Herrmann was a bit of a journeyman, playing football all over the show including in Derby in England, USA and in Frankfurt, Germany. He was a Prisoner of War. Herrmann also turned down the chance to play football for the famous club Torino in Italy.
Richard scored in the 1954 World Cup in the 8-3 defeat to Hungary and won a World Cup winner’s medal in the 1954 World Cup final. The irony being that this was a 3-2 over Hungary in the same tournament, and by current geographical birthright, Richard wouldn’t even be German. I found a really decent article in Polish about Richard, but very few photos of him survive online nowadays.
Miroslav Klose (Germany 2014) (Opole)
Of course the most famous Polish World Cup winner also happens to be the highest goalscorer in World Cup history. Just Fontaine, Maradona, Ronaldo and Gerd M,u,e,l,l,e,r can all move over. They don’t even come too Klose to Miroslav. Miroslav Klose comes from Opole in the west of Poland, but selected Germany as his national football team of choice. In fact, he even played against Poland in the World Cup.
In 1986, Miroslav only knew TWO words in German. He comes from a traditionally sporting family in Poland. His father played for local Polish side Odra Opole and his mother was a Polish national handball player. Despite all of that, the family left Opole and eventually Miroslav Klose made his debut for Germany in 2001. His international career with the Germans flourished, as he won FOUR World Cup medals (1 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze!), even beating the likes of Lothar Matthaus and Pierre Littbarski who were on 3. (1 gold, 2 silver). Miroslav scored 5 times at the 2006 World Cup, becoming top scorer. He eventually won the World Cup in 2014 when Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the final (a match I was at). After all that, does he wish he had done it all with Poland?? Who knows, what could have been. It’s history.
Łukasz Józef Podolski (Germany 2014) (Gliwice)
Born Łukasz Józef Podolski in the city of Gliwice, this is another story of what could have been. Podolski is from the city which currently (as of May 2020) boasts the Polish football champions, Piast Gliwice. I personally visited Gliwice and watched Northern Ireland play there in 2017. Playing for FC Koln later on, is he Polish in disguise? Not quite but certainly a lot of drama was involved…
In late 2003, Paweł Janas the Polish boss was meant to check Podolski out – at the time Podolski was playing well in the Bundesliga, and of course was still eligible to play for Poland as he hadn’t yet been called up by Germany. For whatever reason, Janas ignored the request claiming “we have much better strikers in Poland…I don’t see a reason to call up a player just because he played one or two good matches in the Bundesliga”. Even though Podolski himself was gutted and was still interested in representing his birth country Poland, the Germans saw the potential and the rest is history. Not only did he play for the Germans in three World Cups, but he won it in 2014 and finished third in 2006 and 2010. Again, crazy what might have been…
While I found out about those three (at least) Polish born World Cup winners, I also encountered some other interesting footballers, with a sad tale…
Fake News – White and Red Herrings
These next footballers are the white and red herrings – they might sound a bit Polish, and they won the World Cup but they are not Polish…
Heinz Kwiatkowski (West Germany – 1954)
Heinz Kwiatkowski won the World Cup with West Germany in 1954. The name is where it ends. There might be some ancestral roots, but all facts lead to the fact that he was born in West Germany, he speaks German, his nationality is German and he won the World Cup for West Germany.
Jürgen Grabowski (West Germany – 1974)
Jürgen Grabowski was a World Cup winner in 1974 for West Germany. Though he sounds Polish, he wasn’t. There might be some ancestral roots with Jurgen too, but all facts lead to the fact that he was born in West Germany, he speaks German, his nationality is German and he won the World Cup for West Germany, this time in 1974.
And the Sadness – Rest in Peace
Gaetano Scirea (Italy – 1982)
Head coach: Kazimierz Górski