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4:38pm on Thursday, 17th October, 2013:

Defeat and Revenge


England beat Poland 2-0 at Wembley on Tuesday. 40 years ago today, they drew 1-1 with Poland at Wembley and failed to make it to the 1974 World Cup finals.

I was at that match on 17th October, 1973, as part of a school trip. This was in the days when kids could skip lessons to go on a school-organised trip to watch a football match 250 miles away. The trip was organised by the teach who taught gardening (yes, we had gardening as a subject, although I never took it). His name was Mr West, whom all the kids referred to as Westy - to the extent that some of them thought "Westy" was the name given to the subject of gardening, as in "we've got Westy next". The subject did have a formal name, something to do with agriculture I think, but no-one ever used it.

Anyway, Westy used to organise trips to go watch football at Wembley. Because he'd been doing it for years and we'd never caused any trouble, he managed to get about 30 tickets for the crucial match against Poland. It was mainly for 14-year-olds, but not enough of them wanted to go so there were 2 spots left for 13-year-olds. We'd had to pair up when we applied (so everyone had at least one friend with them). Our names were all put into a hat; the name of my friend, Greg Donkin, was drawn out, so we got to go. Even at the time, I had a strong suspicion that not all the names were put into the hat, and that Westy preferred to have younger kids along who wouldn't cause trouble so he rigged it a bit. Still, I didn't case - I was going to Wembley to see England beat Poland and get into the World Cup!

As it was, although England peppered the Poland goal and took something like 35 shots, Poland scored first. Poland only needed a draw and they held out. England equalised through an Alan Clarke penalty (which was taken at the end I was sitting at), but it wasn't enough. We were knocked out of the World Cup.

This meant that the school trip to Heidelberg in Germany the following summer was not as football-oriented as it might have been had we won.

Even though we weren't pleased at watching a game which is now regarded as the turning point of a long era of decline for the national team, nevertheless we had to concede that the Polish goalkeeper was actually rather good.

Damn. 40 years on and it still rankles...

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