We always seem to be playing Poland, don’t we? In fact, we’ve only played them four times in the last 22 years. But every time we do, there is a sharp intake of breath, and it is sold as some sort of big threat, or a dangerous opponent. But when you go to the record books you find we’ve played them 19 times and have won 11, drawn 7 and lost just once.
The supposed danger of Poland is based entirely on the loss to them in 1973 and then the subsequent draw at Wembley which prevented us from qualifying for the World Cup, a game that you will have to be well into your 50s to really remember. Even in that game we absolutely thrashed them 1-1 but so traumatic does it seem to have been that some can’t let it go.
But English football media frequently won’t let go of the past, referring to games that are 48 years ago as though they happened the other day and thus Poland, no matter how many times we beat them – and we’ve won by a 17-5 aggregate in winning seven and drawing two games since 1993 – will always be portrayed as some sort of existential threat.
It’s odd really. Other nations who are perfectly decent sides are wholly disregarded as teams ‘we should be beating’ and yet Poland, because of that 1973 draw, is still painted as a difficult game.
We have an arrogant domestic game which, for no good reason, thinks it is the gold standard. So if you don’t play here then you must be a bit rubbish really. We overlook the fact that many nations are getting better, and while they might never win anything, will usually give pretty much anyone a good game.
Poland is yet another of those. They must be respected, the same as every side but should be, but equally they should hold no special fear.
The 1973/74 side was a once in several generations side which ended up finishing third in the rain at West Germany. Today, Poland’s reputation rests almost wholly on the broad shoulders of goal machine Robert Lewandowski, who is absent from this game with an injury, and its ability to produce good ‘keepers.
While there will be replays of that 1973 game beforehand and those of us who watched it live will once again shrink briefly back into our 12-year-old selves, feeling again the sting of the carpet burn on our knees from repeatedly slumping to the floor as yet another chance is spurned, we will not go and sit on the stairs and have a good cry if we get a draw this time, though we may, as my father did, throw his newspaper at the TV and shout “bloody rubbish”.
It was long ago and far away, the world was younger than today, so it’s time to finally let go of the past.