Ryan Hubbard3 Comments


Ryan Hubbard3 Comments
Włodzinmierz Lubański.jpg

The 1974 World Cup Qualifying campaign tends to bring back a lot of haunting memories for England supporters. With England needing victory against Kazimierz Górski's Poland side at Wembley, a stunning display from Jan Tomaszewski - labelled by Brian Clough prior to the game as "a clown" - kept the Three Lions away from the tournament in West Germany, and secured passage for the White Eagles. But whilst England's dreams of regaining the world title they had lost three years previously faded on a cool October evening in London, Poland's hopes had already been dealt a massive blow in the first meeting between the sides, four months earlier in Chorzów.

When people outside of Poland try to name the greatest Polish players in history, it's understandable to see the names that they go for. Zbigniew Boniek, Grzegorz Lato, Kazimierz Deyna - they all make deserved appearances on the list, whilst mostly remembered abroad for his performance at Wembley, Tomaszewski always finds himself amongst them. One name who doesn't tend to be mentioned in the same breath however, finds himself both ninth on the list Polish international caps, and way out in front of the pack for the country's all-time goalscorers. Enter, Włodzimierz Lubański.

Born two years after the conclusion of World War Two, in the newly-reclaimed Upper Silesian metropolitan town of Gliwice (the same town as Lukas Podolski), Włodek started out playing for Sosnica Gliwice as a 10-year old - where his father was the club's president. By the age of fifteen, young Lubański had already begun to attract the attention of some of the region's big clubs, and in 1962 he signed a deal at then 3-time Polish champions Górnik Zabrze.

Making his début in a league game against Arkonią Szczecin, Włodek's first season saw him help the club to their fourth title. Alongside the already established Poland and Górnik legend Ernest Pohl, Lubański staked an early claim for a starting position with four goals in his eight league games.

With youth international performances already under the teenager's belt, it didn't take long until the senior team took an interest in young Włodek. Lubański eventually made his début for the Białe-Orły in a September 1963 friendly against Norway in Szczecin; and at the tender age of 16 years and 188 days, he became the youngest ever goalscorer for Poland - netting the third in a 9-0 rout.

With more international appearances deservedly following, 13 domestic goals in 24 games from Lubański helped Górnik to their second successive title in 1964; and with his goal-rate quickly increasing, his 9 goals in 13 appearances during 1964/65 were key to securing the club a league and cup double.  However it was in 1965/66 when Lubański - now just turning 19 - really started to blow the league away. Netting 23 times in just 18 appearances, Włodek picked up his first Golden Boot award - an award he would go on to retain for a further three seasons.

After winning the league title in 1966/67, Górnik entered the 67/68 European Cup buoyed with confidence. Two goals from Lubański in a first round tie against Djurgardens helped to set up a second round tie against Dynamo Kyiv - who had eliminated defending champions Celtic in Round One. There, another first-leg strike from Włodek - as well as one in each leg from Szygfryd Szołtysik - pushed Górnik into the quarter finals with a 3-2 win on aggregate. However, that was as far as they were to go. Drawn against eventual champions Manchester United, a 2-0 loss at Old Trafford shattered Polish hopes. But whilst they were dumped out of the tournament, there was one last silver lining for the Silesians. The return leg, played at Chorzów's Stadion Śląski, saw 21-year old Lubański salvage some pride with the only goal of the game giving the Trójkolorowi a famous 1-0 victory - the Red Devils' only loss on the way to lifting the trophy.

Although their European exploits had caused quite a stir in Poland, Górnik's league performances had not. 24 goals in 24 games from Lubański was not enough to stop Górnik's streak of five league titles grind to a halt, as their biggest rivals Ruch Chorzów finally broke the red, white and blue stranglehold on Polish football. Although two successive championships for Legia Warszawa in 1969 and 1970 moved the league trophy away from Silesia for the first time in 11 years, Górnik - still led by Lubański - didn't remain empty-handed. After a Polish Cup win in both 1968 and 1969, the Silesian club entered into the 1969/70 European Cup Winners' Cup, where they proceeded to go further in continental competition than any other Polish club had ever gone before.

With seven European strikes to his name, Lubański was instrumental in Górnik's progression - past Olympiakos, Glasgow Rangers, Levski Sofia, and AS Roma via the aid of three games and a coin toss - to the final in Vienna. There they met Joe Mercer's Manchester City side containing the likes of Colin Bell, Neil Young and Francis Lee; but despite being described by Mercer's then-assistant Malcolm Allison as "in the same class as Eusebio", Lubański was unable to help Górnik turn over a 2-0 half-time deficit as Górnik eventually went down 2-1.

Despite losing their first ever European final, Górnik began to pick up their domestic form. A Lubański penalty helped Górnik to win the 1970 Polish Cup against old enemy Ruch; whilst 24 goals from Włodek were instrumental in Górnik picking up back-to-back League and Cup doubles in 1971 and 1972. By the time that the 1972 Munich Olympics came around, Lubański had been suffering a slight dip in form; and in the tournament he was overshadowed by Legia's midfield pair of Robert Gadocha and Kazimierz Deyna who netted 14 times between them. But Captain Lubański's experience still meant that he was considered an important part of Górski's side - playing every minute and grabbing a couple of goals as the White Eagles went on to claim the gold medal.

Following the high of becoming Olympic Champions, Górski's national side were drawn a tough qualifying group for the 1974 World Cup - having to make two trips to the British Isles to face a Wales side containing Terry Yorath and John Toshack, and then Alf Ramsey's England side, who just seven years earlier were crowned World Champions themselves.  Whilst a late-march trip to Cardiff proved fruitless - two second-half Welsh goals being enough to dent Polish hopes of qualifying - Górski's side finally kick-started their campaign at Chorzów's Stadion Śląski in June against England. 

Seven minutes into the game at Wembley, a Robert Gadocha free kick caused pressure in the England box; and with the ball flying past Peter Shilton, the hosts were 1-0 up. Until now, still nobody is sure who got the final touch to send the ball past Shilton. Polish midfielder Jan Banaś is credited by many as the goalscorer, although replays show that the final touch could have been made by the outstretched leg of Bobby Moore.  Although there is doubt over the scorer of the first, there is no question as to who netted Poland's second. Gambling on Bobby Moore trying to play his way out of trouble, Lubański pressured the England captain and dispossessed him with ease. Quickly bearing down on Shilton, Włodek fired in off the keeper's near post - giving the Białe-Orły an unassailable lead.  However just seven minutes after putting the game beyond England's reach, Poland were to suffer an injury blow that would see their star striker out for two years. After latching on to a ball forward, Lubański skipped past England defender Roy McFarland - only to see a very late tackle from the Derby County man bring the him down. Stretchered off the Chorzów turf, the 26-year old would play no further part in helping his team successfully qualify for the 1974 World Cup, or take part in the competition itself.

Despite Lubanski's absence, Poland went on to perform brilliantly in West Germany. Group Stage defeats of Argentina and Italy were punctuated by a 7-0 demolition of pool whipping boys Haiti. Grzegorz Lato, Kazimierz Deyna and Andrzej Szarmach netting all but one of Poland's 12 goals.  The trio carried on their form in the second group stage defeating both Sweden and Yugoslavia to set up a clash with West Germany where the winner would progress to the final. But with the pitch in awful condition following torrential rain, Poland were unable to capitalise on their speed which had caused massive problems for opponents in their previous five games.  With the Poles providing less than their normal amount of attacking prowess, a second half strike from Gerd Muller was enough to separate the two sides - sending the hosts into the final. Whilst the Germans eventually went on the lift the trophy, Górski's White Eagles were left to wonder how they would have done with their star striker Lubański, as they picked up their bronze medal with a 1-0 win over previous winners Brazil.

When Lubański finally did return to action in the 1974/75 season, he managed five league goals for Górnik in 12 games; but as Górnik only managed a seventh place finish, Włodek found himself ending his 13-year association with the club. During the summer of 1975, he found himself on his way to Belgium, signing for newly-promoted KSC Lokeren.

Forty-three goals in his first three years in Belgium helped Lubański secure a seat on the plane to Argentina for the 1978 World Cup; however with the striker now into his thirties, he found his opportunities becoming increasingly limited under new coach Jacek Gmoch.  In qualifying for the tournament, Gmoch generally had preferred to look towards Grzegorz Lato as his main striking option, whilst also giving chances to a young star-in-the-making who was earning great reviews at Widzew Łódz - Zbigniew Boniek.

Lubański's brace against Denmark in qualifying for the 1978 tournament eventually proved to be his last competitive goals with the White Eagle on his chest; and whilst he did manage goals in friendly games against Luxembourg and Czechoslovakia in 1980, Wlodek eventually brought his international career to an end with an impressive 48 goals in 75 appearances - a record that still stands today.  Even after his international retirement, Lubański continued to find the back of the net. An almost one-goal-per-game record for Valenciennes in France was followed by 14 goals at Stade Quimper before the striker eventually announced his retirement from the game in 1986.

With a career spanning a total of 23 years, and a record that stands at 327 goals in 590 competitive games games, Włodzimierz Lubański remains as one of Poland's greatest ever strikers. But Polish fans will forever wonder if it hadn't been for that Roy McFarland's tackle back in 1973, could they really have overcome West Germany and lifted the World Cup.

Ryan is a regular at IBWM and you can read more from him at the excellent EKSTRAKLASAreview.