Pole adored by Greeks

The media in Poland regard the football team's silver medal as a severe defeat. Their opinion is shared by the fans. So there are only a few dozen of them waiting for the red and white team at Okęcie airport.

1974, Kazimierz Górski is on the football Olympus. He is adored by the nation and the national team, whom he has just led to third place in the world. The more courageous even propose changing the name of the town of Kazimierz Dolny and adding the coach's name to it.

However, the selector is thinking about winning more laurels, already elsewhere. Especially as there is an opportunity - both the Polish Football Association (PZPN) and Górski himself are being approached by foreign clubs with job offers. Mainly German, and the most concrete one is a proposal from Hertha Berlin - there they want the Eagles' coach right away. He is willing to accept the offer and informs the activists, but willingness alone is not enough - the approval of the "highest factors", i.e. the Communist Party, is also needed. The green light is not forthcoming, and the subject gets blurred.

Why did the "coach of the millennium", as he was called, think about leaving the national team just after achieving the greatest success in the history of Polish football? Did he want to develop, and the opportunities for development were in the West? Did he feel that with Jan Tomaszewski, Kazimierz Deyna or Robert Gadocha he had already reached the top and would not repeat the World Cup medal? Had he had enough of the party-official intrigues surrounding the national team? Or was it simply that Kazimierz Górski, as a man who feels best on the coaching bench and at home, could not find himself in the limelight, which became more and more intense after the World Cup?

The latter answer may be the closest to the truth, especially as the interest in the national team continues unabated over the following months, with fans and journalists hoping for more wins and successes, while the 'silver eleven' are not always able to live up to these expectations.

Burnt-out Eagles Games

Before the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, the red and white team suffered five defeats in a row, and the press did not leave a dry thread on them. Commentators were also merciless - legendary sports journalist Bohdan Tomaszewski argued that more athletes should go to the Olympics instead of footballers, while another celebrity among commentators of the time, Jan Ciszewski, advised that Polish footballers should rather watch the Games at home.

Not only is the atmosphere around the team dense, but within the team it is also rife with conflict. On the one hand, agents are hanging around the players during training camps, promising them financial gold in the hotel bars. On the other hand, senior players do not want younger players in the team, regardless of their potential - Zbigniew Boniek among them. "Deyna told my father that he didn't need anyone new next to him," recalled Dariusz Górski, the coach's son.

Frustration pours out of the players - Leslaw Ćmikiewicz, for example, would take a marker and write the names of the countries we were losing to on the ball and then kick it with all his might - and the coach, but the situation had not improved before the Olympics.

The national team flew to Canada like a beheading, and the team's morale was not boosted by the fact that, before his departure, Górski informed the players that he was leaving after the Games. At the time, he had already been offered a job by Kuwait - the Arabs offered him decent financial terms, and on top of that, the selector was able to take a company to the Arabian Peninsula: four players and four coaches.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE Some journalists will later claim that he left the national team for money, but can he be accused of that? The "coach of the millennium" has already done his bit for the national team, and besides, he was not the type of man to look first and foremost at the money.

Simply put, Górski felt that his relationship with the Eagles had burned out, that he was no longer able to inspire them, stimulate them to play, to proverbially bite the grass on the pitch.
A hero's welcome - 1974 Polish national team led by Kazimierz Górski finished 3rd at the World Cup in West Germany. Photo: PAP/ Wlodzimierz Ochnio
The national team's performance at the Olympics thus resembled a sine wave - from the colourless game against Cuba (0:0) and Górski's scolding of the players at the press conference ("All the football professors, everyone plays as they see fit"), through Andrzej Szarmach's two goals and victory in the semi-final against Brazil, to the quick knockout in the final against East Germany (after 14 minutes Poland was losing 0:2, it ended 1:3). After the game, the manager will be reproaching himself for agreeing to bench Jerzy Gorgon, who complained of knee pain - without him, the defence resembled a sled, with each horse pulling in its own direction.

The media consider the team's silver medal a severe defeat, and their opinion is shared by the fans. There are only a few dozen of them waiting for the red and white at Okęcie airport. Compared to the crowds cheering on the Polish streets two years earlier, this is a big gap.

Mexican stop

Something is over, but also something is beginning, Górski wants to start working with some foreign club. He's set his sights on the aforementioned offer from Kuwait - he selects players and staff members, and meets with an Arab sheikh in Warsaw.

However, the authorities make difficulties, the formalities drag on, and finally the impatient Arabs give up on the Pole. Instead, they reach for a coach from the Czech Republic.

Nor will Górski's job at Swiss Neuchâtel Xamax pan out. As a result, Mr Kazimierz flies to Mexico in November 1976, where he is to teach a coaching course. And it turns out that this is a stop on the way to...Greece.

Behind Gorski's appearance at the Acropolis is Manos Mawrokukulakis, manager of Panathinaikos Athens and also a shipowner with a hefty wallet. A man with a sense of humour, but in the autumn of 1976 he was no laughing matter. The number 5 was on his mind, and in a particularly negative context. His team had just lost its fifth game in a row and was only fifth in the league - and was preparing for another fifth (!) season without a league title. The coach, and not just any coach, but Brazilian Aymoré Moreira, the 1962 World Cup champion (with the likes of Pelé, Garrincha and Mário Zagallo in the squad), paid the price for the players' poor performance.

Mavrokukulakis has a Pole in mind as his successor, but he doesn't know which one: he dreams of Kazimierz Górski or one of his co-workers from the 1974 World Cup, Jacek Gmoch or possibly Andrzej Strejlau.

Fortunately, there is someone who can help Mawrokukulakis with his choice: the Greek ambassador to the People's Republic of Poland and a Panathinaikos fan in one person. On the phone, the diplomat recommends Gorski - "A great professional, in addition with a very good character: nice, cultured, polite" - but warns that the coach is now on a trip. His interlocutor does not intend to wait. He contacts the ambassador in Mexico and the latter catches up with the former selector of the red and white at the training centre.

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The ambassador is as feverish as a Greek activist. If only 'mister Gorski' agrees, we can book a flight to Athens right away. The coach does not say no, but points out that he must visit Warsaw first. So the conversation between Gorski and Mawrokukulakis takes place in one of the capital's travel agencies. Mr Kazimierz is not greedy, he does not put prohibitive conditions on work or pay, he only demands an interpreter for himself.

The men come to an agreement, and as Greece is a politically 'digestible' country for the communists, the coach packs his bags. Further events move at lightning speed: On 1 December he returns from a course in Mexico, and already on 4 December he is on his way to Athens.

Poland bids him farewell without regret. Some fans, who not long ago carried him on their shoulders, would now gladly send him into sporting retirement. Kazimierz Górski is left alone, unsure of what he will find when he arrives.

Meanwhile, a royal welcome awaits him already at Athens airport: hundreds, maybe even thousands of 'Clovers' supporters with white and green flags, chanting "Gorski, Gorski, Gorski!".

However, the moments of emotion are accompanied by a number of questions: will the coach manage to acclimatise to Greece, will he, although conciliatory, not allow himself to get in over his head with the Athenian players, and will he be up to the challenge of winning the championship?

Sheriff economical with words

Let the statistics speak first: 4 times Greek championship title (1977 - Panathinaikos; 1980, 1981 and 1983 - Olympiakos Piraeus), 3 times Greek Cup (1977 - Panathinaikos; 1980 - Kastoria; 1981 - Olympiakos), Balkan Cup (1978 - Panathinaikos). And who is behind these cups and medals?

From the accounts of co-workers and protégés, a picture emerges of a modest but self-conscious coach who almost always remains calm, cares for a good team atmosphere and, when it comes to tactics, does not look for square eggs. Greek journalist Christos Sotirakopulos in his biography of Gorski described him as 'a big name with a small ego.' How different he was from today's coaches: Mourinho or Guardiola" and added: "[Górski] knew that a given player can afford to play seven and if he plays seven-and-a-half, that's great. But if you can afford a ten and you play a six, you are not fit for the team."

Both Polish and Greek footballers recall that Górski was a protector of athletes rather than a strict boss. Someone who would ask about the family, comfort with a kind word and, if need be, give a penny. However, those who pigeonhole him as a guy with little coaching ability are mistaken. It is a fact that Górski was not a tactical innovator, nor did he play with intricate post-match analysis. He used simple but effective means to victory.

An example is the additional Greek championship match between Olympiakos and Aris Thessaloniki at the end of the 1979/1980 season, won by Polak's team 2:0 (in the regular season both teams accumulated an identical number of points). His recipe for the title was as follows: "cover every one of your own. And for that, quick lunges and accurate shots, even from longer distances".
Sports Champions Ball in 1974. TVP star Krystyna Loska and star among coaches Kazimierz Górski. Photo /bpt/ PAP/CAF - Tadeusz Zagoździński
He was flexible - when he realised that Panathinaikos players were not comfortable with actions based on long passes (he preferred such attacks in the Polish national team), he abandoned this way of playing. He allowed the " Clovers " to attack the way they like - on the ground, with dribbling; while he required a large number of shots, even from a distance and even without a reception. In coach-footballer relations, he was sometimes collegial, but he set boundaries, and when someone crossed them, he drew consequences.

It was not without reason that Stanislaw Dygat called Górski a 'sheriff economical with words'. In Greece, three players - Mimis Domazos, Antonis Antoniadis and Borivoj Djurdjević - found this out. When, during a European Cup match against FC Brugge, the first refused to enter the pitch, and the other two entered but were making a fuss, after consulting the president, the coach parted company with all of them. And yet Domazos was a Panathinaikos legend (he had played there for 18 years), while Antoniadis is a five-time Greek league top scorer...

They shout, they clap, they honk

A scratch on Kazimierz Górski's image as a coach of Greek clubs is his performances on the European stage - he was not successful neither with Panathinaikos nor with Olynpiakos. Someone malicious might also add that his adventure with the 'Clovers' ended in not very pleasant circumstances. A group of players, led by goalkeeper Vasilis Konstandinu, rebelled against the Pole. The goalkeeper told him straightforwardly: 'We don't want you to continue to be our coach'. Górski resigned from his position.

The Greeks, however, still adore him. Not even "mister Gorski's" taking over the helm of Olympiakos, Panathinaikos' biggest rival, changes this. When he drives with the Polish Television (TVP) team from the airport to the stadium, for one of the Greek Cup finals (the envoys flew in especially for this match), all the drivers who recognised the coach are shouting, clapping, honking.

A Pole cannot dream of passing quietly through Athens' Omonia Square - all the pub owners invite him for a meal or a drink, and often both. Another situation: when Górski is seen by a policeman writing a ticket to a Polish tourist in Athens, he lets it go: he tears up the document and only asks the trainee to "give those heavyweights from Thessaloniki and Piraeus a beating". And one more thing - some venues in the capital have "Górski corners" with his photo and a Panathinaikos pennant.
What is it that so captivated the people of Greece? Maybe the results, or maybe the fact that he's a man of his own, a man to dance with and a man to tell roses to. He will drink beer with the fans in a taverna, write down basic Greek words and their translations on tiny pieces of paper in a café, or ask Krystyna Loska to bring him pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut, sausages and mushrooms from Poland.

For the first time, Górski bids farewell to Hellada in 1981, a few months before martial law. He had already been preparing to return to the country several times before, but the final decision was made after three painful events: the trampling of dozens of fans during a match between Olympiakos and AEK Athens (February 1981, 21 dead), the earthquake in Corinth and Athens (also February, more than 20 dead, 8,000 buildings destroyed) and the death of PAOK Thessaloniki coach Gyula Lóránt during a meeting with Olympiakos (May, dies of a heart attack).

He would return to Greece later in 1983, managing to lead the Piraeus team to its last championship title, take over another club, Ethnikos, and finally work at Panathinaikos, this time as an advisor.

It is worth mentioning that Mr Kazimierz's worthy successor to the league throne was none other than Jacek Gmoch, who won the Greek championship with Panathinaikos and Larissa in the 1980s. The two men competed several times in the league and one of the matches between their teams was reportedly watched by as many as 35,000 spectators....

Kazimierz Górski died on 23 May 2006 at the age of 85.

– Tomasz Czapla
–Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: 1977: match between Śląsk Wrocław and Panathinaikos Athens. In the photo - Panathinaikos coach Kazimierz Górski. Photo: PAP/Adam Hawałej
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