Włodzimierz ‘Włodek’ Lubański: That damn day in June
“It’s the most important match of my entire career.
It’s much more than that.
It’s the most important match in the history of my country.
A win today would mean having one and a half feet at the next World Cup to be held in West Germany next summer.
Last year we won the Olympics.
It was a great result, but the Olympics, in football, are little more than a European Championship for teams from Eastern Europe, since the West and South America cannot send their best teams.
This great triumph, however, unblocked us.
It gave us the self-confidence that today makes us face any opponent without any reverential fear.
It has already been a few years since our best teams made their way into the major European club competitions.
Three years ago with my Gornik Zabre we even reached the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup after eliminating such big teams as the Scottish Glasgow Rangers and the Italian Roma, only succumbing to the English Manchester City in the final.
In the same season, Legia Warsaw (our great rivals in their homeland) made it all the way to the semi-finals of the most important event, the European Cup Winners’ Cup, losing to Dutch side Feyenoord who went on to win the event.
And let’s face it … we are a good team!
In goal is that madman Jan Tomaszewski.
Scary just to look at him. One hundred and ninety-three centimetres of muscle.
When he comes out on high balls, I guarantee you that it’s better to move!
In the centre of defence is my team-mate Jerzy Gorgon, another giant of six feet, but with two exquisite feet. He often sets up our manoeuvre.
In midfield, a genius plays.
His name is Kazimierz Deyna.
He has a technique and vision of the game that has few equals.
Almost all our manoeuvres pass from his feet.
We are portrayed as ‘enemies’ and not only because we are the captains of the two strongest teams in the country, but also because there is this eternal argument between which of us is the strongest.
“What an idiotic discussion!” said Tomaszewsky on television a few days ago.
“All I know is that we are lucky they are both Polish !”.
Great Jan !
Exactly what both Deyna and I think.
In attack, alongside me, there are two other phenomena: Gregorz Lato and Robert Gadocha.
The former is one of the strongest and fastest wings around.
He starts on the right, but is very good at squeezing towards the goal in the spaces that I manage to open up for him with my constant movement.
I play with the number 9 on my shoulders, but I don’t like standing still in the area waiting for the ball.
On the other wing is my partner from Gornik Gadocha.
He is a more traditional winger. He plays almost on the touchline but has a very special characteristic: although he plays on the left wing he is a natural right winger who likes to squeeze towards the centre of the pitch.
There is a great understanding between us and he knows perfectly when to serve me the ball in the spaces or look for the triangle and then go for the finish.
There will be 80,000 of our compatriots in the stands at the Slaski Stadium in Chorzow this afternoon to cheer us on.
Against us we have a great team.
Sir Alf Ramsey’s England, who, even if they are in the process of renewal after the world title seven years ago and the decent Mexican World Cup three, are still a great team.
We have confidence, so much confidence.
The World Cup will be played on our doorstep.
In that Germany that our parents still haven’t forgiven after what they put us through less than 30 years ago.
At that World Cup we also want to be there.
This afternoon we can write history … and then tonight drown in vodka together with millions of Poles!
t is 6 June 1973.
At the Slaski Stadion in Chorzow in front of 80,000 spectators Poland – England are played.
Up for grabs is a place among the 16 finalists of the World Championship that will start in West Germany exactly one year later.
England is an excellent team.
On the bench still sits Sir Alf Ramsey, the man who took the English masters to the roof of the football world seven years earlier.
Only three are left of that feat: midfielders Alan Ball and Martin Peters and captain Bobby Moore. But there are such outstanding footballers as Leeds striker Allan Clarke, goalkeeper Peter Shilton and Derby County’s rock-solid defender Roy Mc Farland.
Only, on that 6 June 1973, there was just no match.
The technique and speed of the Poles were a constant source of embarrassment for the English rearguard, which swerved wildly.
Only seven minutes were needed for the Poles to take the lead.
It was Gadocha’s free-kick from the left on which Bobby Moore, to anticipate Lubanski, touched the ball just enough to put Shilton out of action.
Exactly the tonic the Poles needed.
Buoyed by the incessant cheering of their supporters Lubansky, Deyna and his team-mates repeatedly embarrassed the compassed English rearguard, who were in serious difficulty in containing Poland’s attackers.
At the start of the second half came the final knockout goal.
It was again Bobby Moore who was the negative protagonist for the English.
The elegant West Ham defender was surprised by the determination and speed of Lubanski, who first snatched the ball from the English captain’s feet and then launched himself towards Shilton’s goal and beat him with an angled shot that touched the post before ending up in the back of the net.
Poland, with the advantage of two goals, could play on velvet.
They left the initiative to the English whose attempts, however, broke against the very solid and organised Polish defence.
Less than ten minutes have passed since Lubanski’s fine goal when something happens, however, that somehow spoils this very important triumph.
After an exchange with Gadocha, it is full-back Kraska who launches Lubanski on the left flank.
His speed was double that of Mc Farland, who had no choice but to attempt a desperate sliding intervention.
The English defender managed to skim the ball but then hit Lubanski full on the right leg, on which the striker was leaning.
Lubanski still managed to take a few steps before falling to the ground in a rather strange, almost clumsy manner.
So much so that, with the Polish striker on the ground, Mc Farland rails against him, convinced that the Polish number 10 is just making a show of it.
It only takes a few seconds, however, to realise that the injury is instead very serious.
Lubanski is carried by arm out of the field and loaded, rather hastily to be honest, into an ambulance.
The diagnosis is devastating: rupture of the cruciate ligaments in his right knee.
At that time, full recovery is considered impossible.
Lubanski will be off the football pitch for 20 months and will obviously have to miss that World Cup in Germany that will consecrate his Poland as one of the strongest and most spectacular teams of the post-war period.
Leaving all Polish fans forever suspended the question “But with Lubanski at the World Cup in Germany, how would it have ended?”.
Lubanski would only manage to return to a football pitch in the early months of 1975 in what would be his last season with Gornik Zabrze, after 13 years of unbroken militancy.
For him, the Polish federation even made an exception to its strict regulations by allowing him to go and play for a foreign club team before he turned 30 (as happened, for example, to Deyna, Lato or Szarmach who had to wait until that fateful date).
For Lubanski to come forward is not a top team.
There are too many doubts about his full recovery.
Taking this risk is little Lokeren, a team from the Belgian First Division … who will do one of the most lucrative deals in their history!
Lubanski may have lost something of that fantastic ‘change of pace’ but he is a player with first-class technique and football intelligence.
And in the non-transcendental Belgian league (which, however, in those years produced two great teams such as Bruges and Anderlecht) Lubanski returned to being that prolific striker he was in Poland.
In his first five seasons he scored 83 goals in 171 games before beginning his downward parabola in the early 1980s.
His performances with Lokeren brought him to the attention of Polish coach Jacek Gmoch, who took Lubanski with him to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.
For Lubanski it was a chance to play that World Cup that bad luck had prevented him from playing four years earlier.
… but neither he nor Poland are the same as they were at that wonderful time.
“Wlodek” Lubanski played as a starter in the first two matches against Germany and Tunisia, but then left the starting place to the young and very strong Zbigniew Boniek, contenting himself with taking over in the final matches.
After his time at Lokeren Lubanski, at the age of 35, moved to Valenciennes in the French second division.
Here he played an extraordinary season, scoring a whopping 28 goals in 31 games, but not enough to guarantee ‘Les Athéniens’ a return to the top division.
Lubanski would play two more seasons, again in the French Second Division with little Quimper before hanging up his boots in May 1985, at the age of 38.
A career divided in two.
From 6 June 1973 onwards that of an excellent striker.
Before that 6 June that of a fantastic player … for many, the best Polish footballer ever.
ANECDOTES AND TRIVIA
Wlodziemierz Lubanski made his debut for the Polish national team at the age of 16 years and 188 days. The youngest footballer in the history of Polish football. It was in a friendly against Norway in which Lubanski scored a goal.
Lubanski, with 48 goals in 75 matches, is the second highest scorer ever in the history of the Polish national team. He will only be surpassed by Robert Lewandowski on 7 October 2017, when his hat-trick on that day will overtake Lubanski … albeit after 90 games with the national team!
Another personal record for Lubanski is that he won the top scorer’s table of the Cup Winners’ Cup, an event in which the winners of the national cups participated, two years in a row (1969-70 and 1970-71).
In 1968, Gornik Zabrze was invited to South America for a series of friendly matches. Brazilian journalists presented the Polish team as ‘the team where Lubanski, the white Pelé, plays’.
During his time at Lokeren in 1980, compatriot Gregorz Lato arrived.
Even for him, now in the waning phase of his career, there was no chance to play for a big foreign club before he turned 30.
However, the two immediately regained the understanding of their time together in the national team and Lokeren, in the first season with Lato and Lubanski together, achieved the best result in their history: a second place in the league behind Anderlecht and a Belgian Cup final, which ended with a defeat at the hands of Standard Liège.
With the two of them, forming the attacking trident, a ‘certain’ Preben Larsen Elkjaer.
In 1969, when Lubansky was only 22 years old, Real Madrid approached the Gornik management with an impressive offer: a million dollars all round to have the young Polish talent in their ranks. Even President Santiago Bernabeu himself will travel to Poland for the negotiations. It was common knowledge in the football world that when Real Madrid’s ‘El Jefe’ fell in love with a footballer, there was nothing that could stop him. The strict Polish laws, however, did not give him a break either. And despite the truly sensational sum for the time, Santiago Bernabeu had to return to Spain without the object of his desire.
When Lubansky received the Polish federation’s approval for his transfer abroad in 1975, offers also arrived from French Monaco and Spanish Atletico Madrid.
But Wlodek had already chosen.
‘Lokeren was the one who was most interested and with great persistence. The negotiation with the Polish federation was not easy but the Lokeren managers did not give up. So I signed for them and I have never regretted this choice,’ Lubanski himself has always admitted with great honesty.
Perhaps the biggest night in the history of this small Flanders club came in the 1976-77 season. Lokeren participated in the UEFA Cup and after eliminating Luxemburgers Red Boys Differdange in the second round they met Cruyff’s Catalans Barcelona, Neeskens and co. In the first leg at Camp Nou, the Belgians were defeated by two goals to nil, but in the return match, two goals in the first half by Verheyen and Dalving put the qualification back in the balance. “We played the match of a lifetime. Barcelona panicked and for the entire first half the Spaniards were at our mercy,’ Lubansky himself recalls of that evening. In the second half, however, a goal by Johann Cruyff was enough to give the Catalans qualification. “That evening was unforgettable. Our feat was celebrated by all the Belgian newspapers. For the first time, Lokeren wrote its name on an important page of European football,’ Lubanski still proudly recalls.
Finally, a necessary correction: in almost all biographies on Lubanski, English midfielder Alan Ball is credited with the intervention that actually conditioned Lubanski’s career. This is not correct: the intervention was by central defender Roy McFarland who, again to be fair, did not even commit a foul on that occasion, touching the ball sharply first to unbalance Lubanski who was in fact injured by misplacing his foot after the clash with the English stopper. Alan Ball was actually sent off for a bad foul in the final minutes of the game … but Lubanski had been out injured for about half an hour …
Lubansky’s biography is one of 38 recounted in the book https://www.urbone.eu/products/questo-e-il-nostro-calcio