Reasons to be fearful of Poles have diminished over years for England

England and Poland are more familiar with each other than most international teams after being paired together in qualification groups. Richard Sutcliffe reports.

IT is a fixture that for nigh on 30 years England have invariably approached with a degree of anxiety.

Memories of Jan Tomaszewski and the night he almost single-handedly denied England a place at the 1974 World Cup finals have seen to that.

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So, too, has the experience of taking on Poland in their own country, where the welcome is usually hostile and the local hooligans have been intent on making life as difficult for anyone, be they players or supporters, sporting the Three Lions.

Hence why – whether the fixture is being played at Wembley, Old Trafford, Poznan, Warsaw or Chorzow – the build-up to a clash with the Poles is usually peppered with a few soundbites from the England party of how difficult the game is going to be.

The briefest of looks, however, at how England have fared against Poland since that infamous night in 1973 when a goalkeeper labelled as “a clown” ahead of kick-off by ITV pundit Brian Clough ushered Sir Alf Ramsey towards the exit door as his team crashed out of the World Cup tells a very different story.

In 13 meetings, England have won nine and drawn four. The Three Lions also boast a commendable goal scoring record during that time with no less than 24 goals flying into the Poland net during games that have all had something riding on them due to being either qualifiers or, as was the case in 1986, taking place at a major finals.

Poland, in contrast, have managed just five goals. It is a statistic that few expect to have changed markedly by the end of tonight’s qualifier in Warsaw.

Football in the former Soviet state is at something of a low ebb.

Not only did Poland flop badly as one of the co-hosts in Euro 2012, but none of their domestic teams qualified for either the Champions League or Europa League group stages.

To further deepen the gloom, the hoped for lift of appointing a new manager in Waldemar Fornalik failed to materialise as his opening game was lost 1-0 to Estonia.

Since then, Poland have played two World Cup qualifiers in Group H – drawing 2-2 in Montenegro and beating Moldova 1-0 at home.

They also beat South Africa 1-0 on Friday.

Even allowing for this upturn in results, however, there is a nagging suspicion in Poland that England will be far too tough an opponent tonight.

It hasn’t helped that defender Damien Perquis has already spoken of his desire to swap shirts with Steven Gerrard at the final whistle.

This wish might not be quite on the level of last Friday when a San Marino played asked for Wayne Rooney’s shorts at Wembley. But, nevertheless, Perquis going public about his pursuit of a souvenir like a star-struck teenager still smacks of the Poles seeing themselves as little more than a lower league team going to an Arsenal or a Chelsea in the FA Cup third round.

Poland do have a couple of star names in their ranks, namely Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski – the Borussia Dortmund pair who recently showed against Manchester City what a threat they can be.

But Blaszczykowski is out tonight with an ankle injury and Lewandowski, reportedly a target next summer for Manchester United, continues to divide opinion in the bars of Warsaw as to whether he saves his best performances for club rather than country.

Polish football is, therefore, a long, long way from the glory days in 1974 and 1982 when they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Another factor in England’s favour tonight is that the game will be played in the state-of-the-art stadium built at a cost of £255m for the recent European Championships.

As anyone who attended one of the five Euro 2012 games held in the Polish capital last summer will be able to testify, the new National Stadium boasts the very finest facilities and even has a retractable roof.

To the current generation of English footballers used to the luxuries of a gleaming Wembley, tonight will represent a home from home – something far from the case on past visits.

In fact, the only previous trip to Warsaw by a Three Lions side was in 1999 when Kevin Keegan’s side ground out a goalless draw at the home of club side Legia.

Back then, three sides of a stadium that has since been knocked down and replaced were an open oval of former terracing crudely converted into seating areas. A tall main stand ran down the other.

The security fences were imposingly high, but that didn’t stop the locals from placing scarves of opposition teams on the top and then setting fire to them.

Poznan and Chorzow, the other venues to host England, were equally hostile with one visit to the latter in 1993 seeing fans of Legia Warsaw, GKS Katowice and Lechia Gdansk stage running battles among themselves as the England fans looked on in bemusement. My own trip to the same venue 11 years later for a qualifier Sven Goran Eriksson’s side won 2-1 was also anything but pleasant as the locals waited in the surrounding park to pick off any stray groups of visiting fans.

When the Three Lions claimed victory or even a draw in such intimidating arenas, it was a noticeable achievement.

Nowadays, however, visits are altogether less threatening and it is highly unlikely that Rooney, Gerrard and the rest of the star names will tonight feel the kind of anxiety previous teams have, no matter how high the locals raise the decibel levels.