The 1970s were a decade of darkness for the England national team. West Germany avenged their defeat in the final of FIFA World Cup 1966 by seeing off Alf Ramsey’s England in Mexico four years later. The Germans would dominate the next cycle of tournaments, establishing their trophy-laden supremacy over a legendary Dutch team that remains influential even today.
But for England, it was a different story. After 1970, England didn’t qualify for another major tournament until 1980 and the UEFA European Championships – they needn’t have bothered.
It was West Germany who ended England’s hopes of qualifying for the Euros in 1972, beginning the painfully slow demise of England’s World Cup winning manager. The next campaign was a three-game qualification group for the World Cup in 1974 and England beat and then drew with Wales before losing 2-0 to Poland in Chorzów. They had left themselves with it all to do, but thanks to Wales’ victory over the Poles at Ninian Park in March 1973 England had their fate in their own hands when they welcomed Poland to Wembley in October.
The prospect of failing to achieve the requisite victory clearly didn’t cross the mind of Brian Clough (who would later become a controversial side story in the Football Association’s appointment of Ron Greenwood to replace Don Revie). Clough, at the time going through his well documented feud with and resignation from Derby County, pinpointed Poland’s goalkeeper as a weak link and a probable reason for England’s triumph.
Jan Tomaszewski had other ideas and the game ended 1-1 despite frequent England attacks. Their nemesis, inevitably, was Tomaszewski. The ŁKS Łódź goalkeeper pulled off a string of occasionally bizarre saves that exposed the foolishness of Clough’s brash labeling of him as a clown. His performance at Wembley went down in history but the sad truth is that England’s profligacy in front of his goal was the real reason for their failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time.
The goal England did score came from the penalty spot and was put past Tomaszewski – who is a clown in some respects, it turns out – by Leeds United striker Allan Clarke, whose goal leveled the game after Jan Domarski had struck the ball low at the end of a Poland break and forced an unusual mistake from England goalkeeper Peter Shilton.
The result was a disaster for English football. Seven years after being crowned as world champions, Ramsey’s side had reached rock bottom. They had missed out on qualification for two successive major tournaments, and failed to reach the World Cup for the first time in their history. Ramsey was sacked a few months later and England would not play another World Cup finals match until 1982.
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