I am sure Roy Hodgson’s England squad don’t need telling, but, ahead of Tuesday’s must-win clash with Poland, I’m sending them this message, nevertheless: “Let’s have no clowning around at Wembley.” In saying so, I refer, of course, to that fateful night, 40 years ago, when Poland goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski defied Sir Alf Ramsey’s star-studded team, denying England a place at the World Cup Finals in the process – after being branded a “clown” by Brian Clough. Cloughie, presumably, was trying to destabilise the Poles by dismissing their keeper, but the jibe backfired as Tomaszewski produced the display of his life to restrict England to a 1-1 draw, reminding us that any keeper is just as capable of having a blinder as a horror show.
In that match, for example, Peter Shilton, the best English goalkeeper I played with or against, in a golden era that boasted Ray Clemence, Gordon Banks, Peter Bonetti, Joe Corrigan and the two Phil Parkes’s (of Wolves and West Ham), allowed a tame shot from Domarski to go under his body. And that after the legendary Norman “bites yer legs” Hunter had missed a tackle on the halfway line to let Lato speed clear to set up the goal that killed our World Cup hopes. At the other end, the “clown” Tomaszewski was having the night of his life, keeping out the likes of Allan Clarke, Martin Chivers and Mick Channon. Yours truly, by the way, was watching on TV, while recovering from career-threatening back surgery.
Now, that Poland team sported world class talent in the form of Lato, Gadocha and Kazy Deyna, who went on to be a favourite at Manchester City. The side we face on Tuesday is ranked a lowly 65th in the world – but, once again, it’s a case of England beware! I trust there will be no dismissive pre-match jibes about the keeper who will try to stop Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge in their tracks, namely Southampton’s Artur Boruc, a player who is good enough to relegate Arsenal’s excellent Wojciech Szczesny to the sub’s bench. And we must hope that Borussia Dortmund forward Robert Lewandowski is not sufficiently stung by Poland’s failure to qualify for Brazil that he turns in the type of world-class performance of which he is capable. In short, the danger signs are clear. England must ignore the ranking that puts them 48 places ahead of their opponents, acknowledge the omens of 1973 and knuckle down and get the job done, just as they did against Montenegro on Friday.
I would leave out 35-year-old Frank Lampard because I do believe the demands of two such vital matches in five days are too much for one of his age. Lampard is a superb athlete but this might be asking too much. As my friend and mentor and former Everton team-mate Jimmy Gabriel used to say about the advancing years: “Age is like a screw in your back that steadily comes loose – and, suddenly, falls out.” I am sure Jack Wilshere, left out of the starting line-up on Friday, would do a great job against the Poles, playing alongside Steven Gerrard. I was surprised that Hodgson left out Wilshere, but I must applaud the England manager for his selection of Andros Townsend, who terrorised Montenegro and showed us why he is keeping out not only Aaron Lennon but also £30m new boy Erik Lamela, at Tottenham. Let us hope Townsend can do a similar job on Tuesday. He is giving Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas what we managers call a “nice problem.”
PS. I’m shaking my head in despair at the fuss on Twitter as a result of ITV presenter Adrian Childs’ quip about Polish builders ahead of Tuesday’s match. I really cannot see the problem. Childs’s tongue-in-cheek remark about needing some building work doing is as harmless as jokes about Irish labourers or Asian restaurants. If you are offended by that, then I suggest you get a life!