Monday, January 2, 2012

Just like East Berlin in DDR, Warsaw did not play major role in Polish football. Polish football continued to be ‘decentralized’, lacking dominant ‘big’ clubs. But with the stellar rise of the Polish national team since 1972, the club situation was baffling: strong national team, yet not a single club becoming really strong – even the East Germans had concentrated their best players in 4-5 clubs, but the Poles did not. One result was signs of decline detected by 1976 – aging players retiring, going abroad, or simply over the hill, and hardly any new exciting youngsters. The finger was pointed at Kazimierz Deyna – one of the best players at the 1974 World Cup was rapidly fading away in the opinion of many an observer. Correspondingly, his club Legia (Warsaw) was far below the top spots – it finished 8th in 1975-76. Legia (Warsaw) – presumably, a ‘big’ name. Top row from left: Kazimierz Deyna, Tadeusz Nowak, Tadeusz Cypka, Boguslaw Kwapisz, Leslaw Cmikiewicz, Leslaw Kedzia, Zbigniew Karwoski.
Middle: Lucjan Brychczy, Adam Topolski, Henryk Bialas, Marian Nowacki, Wladyslaw Dobrowski, Ignacy Ordon – assistant coach, Andrzej Streilau – coach, Ressler – administrator(?).
Bottom: Waldemar Tuminski, Jerzy Jagiello, Zbigniew Nowacki, Marian Lachowski, Piotr Mowlik, Mariusz Lisowski, Jan Pieszko, Ryszard Milewski.
Meantime the closest to a ‘superclub’ the Poles ever had – Gornik (Zabrze) of the late 1960s – was the prime example of inability to produce strong replacements: old stars retired or went abroad (the last so far – Lubanski), and although the club still had big names (Gorgon and Szarmach), it was not a strong club anymore. And Ruch (Chorzow) was seemingly taking the perilous path of Gornik, with older players heading mainly to France. Ruch ended 4th and Gornik – 9th – in 1975-76. From a distance, the picture was somewhat different: a championship of relatively equal clubs, entertainingly unpredictable. Champions reigned for one season… it looked like tough, competitive league, and in its own way it was. However, outside Poland the clubs were quickly destroyed – the European tournaments were the real test, which Polish clubs failed year after year. So, the true meaning of the Polish league was rather equality in weakness, not in strength, and the results rather support this conclusion: the 1975-76 champion of the country was decided on goal difference! The points of the top two clubs were indicative as well – in 30 games, they got only 38 points! This is barely above 50% from an ideal total of 60 points, hardly suggesting strength. The team finishing second – GKS Tychy – ended with goal difference of only +4 goals (38-34)!
It may be exciting to see a club founded in 1971 to fight for the championship in 1975-76, but… given the age of the club and the fact it had no noticeable players, it looked like just sheer luck, chancy performance thanks to the weakness of others, rather than real strength. Were the champions better than? Winning on goal difference… which was no brainer, for +4 is hardly winning number. Champions, unable to get above 5-years old club even by a point… not convincing.
Which never matters for the champions themselves – in this case, Stal (Mielec). Their second title! And – fair is fair – those were the best years of the club – they finished second the previous year. And reached the Cup final in 1976 as well.

Stal was harvesting the fruits of the talented team built in the early 1970s – these were pretty much the same guys, winning the championship in 1973, and to a point were representative of what a winning Polish team was: a skeleton of classy players, completed with experienced second-stringers. The ‘winning formula’ was experience: the team playing long enough together and thus better amalgamated than others in a given year. Stal’s ‘skeleton’ was good enough for success: Zygmunt Kukla between the goalposts, increasingly getting better, and already on the verge of becoming national player; Krzysztof Rzesny, occasional national player, in defense; Henryk Kasperczak, getting very close to a real star by 1976 and voted Player of the Year in a recognition, ruled in midfield; and Grzegorz Lato, who was pretty much the superstar of Polish football by 1976, in attack. True, there were two players of note – Jan Domarski, the centre-forward, who was part of the great 1974 World Cup squad, and the left winger Witold Karas, who almost made the national team in 1974. But both were declining by now in contrast to Kasperczak and especially Lato. By now even the role of Lato was changing: he was the leading player of the national team of Poland, operating on wider field and increasingly involved in playmaking, no longer the speedy consumer on the right wing, who had to be fed with balls. Kasperczak was flourishing as well and if the two stars were not enough to preserve the deadly reputation of the national team, they were enough to clinch a second title for Stal (Mielec).
Since Lato was considered among the biggest world stars at the time, it was baffling that he stayed with obviously small club with no great future. The ‘why’ was answered the same way then as now: Lato was loyal to his club. He was also handsomely paid… and saw no reason to move to ‘bigger’ Polish club, for at the time it was not much of a change anyway – the stronger Polish clubs at that time belonged not to ‘great’ cities, but to smoggy industrial towns. Mielec was of this kind as well. Besides, there were no great clubs… it was the same ‘skeleton’ model as in Mielec. It was easy to remain loyal when there is no better option really. The hometown had the means – and the smarts - to pay plenty to three-four players, so even money would not be better elsewhere. Lato stayed until he went to play abroad, but respect to him: it is so easy to stop developing in such circumstances. Lato and Kasperczak resisted the temptation to be local stars fading into lazy life: they were getting better players instead, stars on the pitch, not in the pub.
Yet, even with them Stal was not strong enough – they won the title, but lost the Cup.
Stal met Slask (Wroclaw) at the final and after receiving two unanswered goals went home to enjoy a single, not a double.
Slask (Wroclaw) won their very first trophy. Like GKS Tychy, Slask were relatively young Polish club, a product of the Communist system: they were founded in 1947 and were Army club. Typically East European scheme? May be… but so far Slask did not win anything at all. Unlike GKS Tychy, they were not to be one-time wonder – the Cup signified their rise to real prominence. Slask was to stay among the top Polish clubs in the following years, already having built its own ‘skeleton’: the goalkeeper Zygmunt Kalinowski, the great libero Wladyslaw Zmuda, Roman Faber, and Janusz Sybis. Front row, from left: Jacek Wisniewski, Janusz Sybis, Krzystof Jarosz, Mieczyslaw Olesiak, Jan Erlich, Zygmunt Kalinowski, Roman Faber, Tadeusz Nowakowski.
Standing: Zbigniew Dlugosz, Krzystof Karpinski, Tadeusz Pawlowski, Henryk Kowalczyk, Marian Balcerczak, Wladyslaw Zmuda, Zygmunt Gawlowski.
So far the fresh Cup winners hardly registered as a team: Kalinowski was reserve goalie of the 1974 Polish team, not playing a single minute, and by 1976 was rarely considered a national team option. Faber was kind of ‘also run’ in terms of national team; Sybis’ days were yet to come (but not exactly remembered, when they did), and Zmuda was more of ‘one of the 1974 team’ than a star on his own right – he was to become famous a few years later. Actually, Zmuda was still referred as ‘Zmuda II’ – ‘Zmuda I’ was the coach of Slask, weirdly having the same name as the player – both named Wladyslaw Zmuda. Since the coach was the mastermind of the team, the player was to be more or less one of the creations, hence, ‘second’ at best. At the end, Zmuda I deserves his good reputation: he already formed the ‘skeleton’ of Slask and now it was time to enjoy results – the first one was the Polish Cup. Joy in Wroclaw; nothing much to the world.