Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 74-Poland’s Golden Boy (1974)

Poland have had some prolific goalscorers in their time but none have been more well known and loved in Poland and yet underrated outside of Poland than the great Grzegorz Lato. Lato (born in 1950) was a star with his club Stal Mielec and had first shone in Germany when he won a gold medal with Poland at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

By the 1974 World Cup in West Germany the 24 year old was a bona-fide star for Poland with blistering pace on the right wing and a reputation that went largely unnoticed because of the fact Lato was not allowed to leave Poland to play for another club on the continent until he was 30. In their opening match in group four Lato scored a decisive double against Argentina and then another double in the 7-0 thrashing of Haiti before they rounded off the first lot of games with a 2-1 win over the 1970 runner up Italy.

In the second round which was another group stage (no quarter finals or semi finals in this tournament) Poland and Lato rolled on. Lato scored the decisive goal in the 1-0 win over Sweden, another winner against Yugoslavia (2-1) but in their vital final match against West Germany (a virtual semi-final) a water logged pitch that was a bit beyond a joke in Frankfurt robbed Lato of his pace and trickery with a goal from the great Gerd Muller getting the hosts in to the final.

Lato was not done though and scored in the 1-0 win over Brazil to get bronze and win the golden boot, the only Polish player to ever win the honour. His seven goal haul was also two clear from the next two on the golden goal list with former Socceroos 2-IC Johan Neeskens and Lato’s fellow countryman Andrzej Szarmach next up. Lato also set up a number of goals during the tournament with his timed runs and ability to slink in behind a defence unnoticed.

In the 1978 World Cup in Argentina Poland were again a force and made it to the second round but Lato could only score two goals. By 1982 Lato wasn’t the pacy winger with the supermodel looks any more, instead he had a more Bruce Doull look going but adapted his game to his aging body and led Poland to another third place in the World Cup with a huge amount of assists and ended up with 10 goals in 20 World Cup appearances. Not bad for a winger.

Following football he went in to politics and was a left wing senator in the Polish Government which was followed by a stint as the president of the Polish FA. Some of his ‘highlights’ when President of Poland’s governing football body were his clashes with then coach Leo Beenhakker including an incident where clearly drunk he went on to national television and announced Leo was sacked following a another Polish loss. He also said he’d resign if Poland didn’t make the quarter finals of Euro 2012. They didn’t and he refused.

One of the great underrated players in the history of the tournament, Lato was a star who would have been playing in the Champions League in this day and age on a regular basis but instead had come from a time where he lived in a paranoid Soviet controlled nation and defecting was the only way to playing for a Manchester United or a Bayern Munich.

Poland at the World Cups in 74, 78 and 82 also punched above their weight regularly in their golden era and both the individual brilliance of Lato and collective brilliance of the team can be seen as memorable moments in the World Cup.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. Chris Weaver says

    Lato, Szarmach, Gadocha, Boniek, Zmuda, Gorgon, Lubanski, Tomaszewski, Kasperczak, Deyna…

    What was it about Poland at this time that saw them produce such excellent and diverse talents?

    Maybe it had something to do with the privilege and gratitude these men had in being athletes at a time when Poland had a horribly low standard of living, even by the standards of the Communist Bloc. To have food, reasonable apartments, access to adequate healthcare and the ability to travel must have been an extraordinary stroke of luck.

    Many believed the best player of this generation didn’t even play at the 1974 World Cup – W?odek Lubanski. He tore knee ligaments in the victory over England at home in June 1973. (There’s footage of the game on YouTube – the fireman’s lift he’s given off the ground and into a waiting ambulance probably wasn’t ideal treatment!)

    I’d also love to have seen more footage of Kazimierz Deyna.

  2. Chris Weaver says

    Lato, Szarmach, Gadocha, Boniek, Zmuda, Gorgon, Lubanski, Tomaszewski, Kasperczak, Deyna…

    What was it about Poland at this time that saw them produce such excellent and diverse talents?

    Maybe it had something to do with the privilege and gratitude these men had in being athletes at a time when Poland had a horribly low standard of living, even by the standards of the Communist Bloc. To have food, reasonable apartments, access to adequate healthcare and the ability to travel must have been an extraordinary stroke of luck.

    Many believed the best player of this generation didn’t even play at the 1974 World Cup – Wlodek Lubanski. He tore knee ligaments in the victory over England at home in June 1973. (There’s footage of the game on YouTube – the fireman’s lift he’s given off the ground and into a waiting ambulance probably wasn’t ideal treatment!)

    I’d also love to have seen more footage of Kazimierz Deyna.

Leave a Comment

*