Kazimierz Deyna: Man City's Polish connection

Poland captain Kazimierz Deyna joined Man City in 1978. GettyImages

England versus Poland on Tuesday with a place in the finals of the World Cup at stake. Many have already made the connection to a dramatic, energy-sapping match between the two nations almost exactly 40 years ago to the day, when Sir Alf Ramsey's side failed to beat Poland at Wembley in a game that included so many shots on goal that it would not have been unreasonable for the Poles to surrender exhausted and flattened.

They did not surrender, however, and went on to take the lead through a skimming shot from Jan Domarski that needed a penalty equaliser from Allan Clarke to bring the sides back to parity. All too little too late, as the teams drew 1-1 and England slipped out of the World Cup. Poland went on to make quite a name for themselves in the West Germany finals of 1974, finishing in a well-deserved third place.

The bulk of the side that played so resiliently at Wembley -- keeper Jan Tomaszewski, full-backs Antoni Szymanowski and Adam Musial, giant stopper Jerzy Gorgon, Robert Gadocha, the elegant Henryk Kasperczak, and goal machine Grzegorz Lato -- would see their names up in lights as Poland reached two of the next three World Cup finals' third-place playoff games. It was the golden age of Polish football on the international stage, a time when a nation in the grasp of Soviet ideology freed itself long enough to display hitherto hidden talent.

What, you may ask, has all of this to do with the Manchester City page of this esteemed website? Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. For the leader of this bunch of talented individuals was perhaps the most gifted player of the entire group. A little later in his career he would play in the sky blue of City, even later plying his trade in the U.S. for six years with the San Diego Sockers of the North American Soccer League (NASL) before tragically having his life cut short in a car accident. His name, of course, was Kazimierz Deyna, captain, inspiration and golden boy of the golden generation.

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An army lieutenant in the Polish forces, Deyna had already made his name as an elegant midfielder with Legia Warsaw by the time he arrived on the damp tarmac of Ringway Airport late in 1978 to begin negotiations to move abroad and sign for City. It was not a simple process. Renowned high-level mover and shaker Peter Swales, an Altrincham-based television salesman who happened to be chairman of City at the time, had to include fridge freezers and other electronic goods from his South Manchester warehouse to encourage the Polish authorities to finally let their star player show his skills outside his country of birth. Swales had a reputation for putting a spanner in any works that needed smooth oil and lubrication instead, but eventually, against all the odds, he prevailed -- and Deyna walked out onto the Maine Road turf a Manchester City player for the first time on Saturday, Nov. 25, 1978, in a home game with Ipswich Town.

It was perhaps the most astute piece of business Swales managed in his long career in charge of the club.

As Richard Bott wrote in the following day's Sunday Express, the game was "astonishing, absorbing and riveting. And what a bewildering debut for the Polish army lieutenant Kaziu Deyna, wearing a City shirt for the first time since his £130,000 move from Legia Warsaw." This match would actually typify Deyna's first few months at City. An explosion of wild and reckless football (that saw City right-back Kenny Clements carried off with a broken leg versus Ipswich) that moved at such a pace, the Polish schemer often appeared almost stationary amidst the midfield mayhem, like a man watching an early-morning market being set up in rude haste all around him.

Gradually, as with all players of this great game who possess class and skill, Deyna came to terms with English football and, despite often being left out for less-accomplished teammates, he eventually revealed his full range of skills to his adoring Manchester public. He had an economy of pass that made everything look simple. Not for him, the wild sprayed passes from one side of the pitch to the other. The Hollywood punts 30 metres down the pitch. There was no need, for he could open up the opposition just as easily with his brand of short, astute passes through the central areas. He would drift forward almost unnoticed into the danger areas and had an unerring shot when given the chance to take aim, scoring 12 goals in his 38 games with the club.

That his life was cut so tragically short at the age of 41 is still a source of great sadness to those of us who were lucky enough to see him stride the muddy pitches of England in that short but delightful spell in the First Division at the end of the '70s. For a club that has more than one reason to think warmly of its association with this giant ex-communist-block country, Kazimierz Deyna was undoubtedly the greatest link of all between Manchester City and Poland.