In 1973 an English player called Martin Chivers was picked to play in a World Cup qualifying game against Poland. England had to win this game to qualify for the finals. A draw wasn’t good enough. As it turned out, Chivers had a nightmare that night. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get the ball past the Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski (pictured left). The match virtually boiled down to a one-on-one contest. Chivers v Tomaszewski. And Tomaszewski won.
England bombed out of the World Cup without even getting to the finals. It was a national footballing disaster of gigantic proportions. How I wanted to pat Big Chiv on the back and say “Never mind, mate. It’s only a game”. How I wanted to buy him a drink and make everything better. And as it turned out, that’s exactly what I did. But I had to wait for 9 years to do it. Because in 1982 I found myself sitting in the saloon bar of Martin Chivers’ pub in Brookman’s Park. By then I was working for ITV Sport as an editorial assistant and I was part of a film crew that were at Martin’s pub shooting a preview for the 1982 World Cup in Barcelona.
Thrilled to meet a boyhood hero for the first time, I perched at the bar with Big Chiv and chatted about that nightmare night at Wembley, when he simply couldn’t get the ball past Tomaszewski, and I asked him if he had ever watched a recording of the match.
“I’ve got a video tape of it,” he told me, “But I will never watch it until I retire from playing.”
At that time, Chiv had given up playing in the First Division, but he was still turning out as a semi-professional player for Barnet in the Vauxhall Conference.
“When you stop playing,” I said to Martin, “You should sit down for a drink with Jan Tomaszewski, and watch the game together.”
“That’s a good idea,” said Chivers. “Maybe you could organise that for me.”
Spin forward to June 2000, eighteen years later, when I found myself sitting on an aeroplane from Warsaw in Poland to London Heathrow. By then I was working for a Polish television company called Wizja TV (long story) and I was commuting fairly regularly between London and Poland. On that particular flight, I was introduced to a very large, friendly middle-aged man who worked as a commentator for Wizja TV’s sports department.
“I’m Brian,” I said. “Pleased to meet you.”
“I’m Jan,” he said. “Jan Tomaszewski.”
“Ah,” I said, “You have the same name as that very famous Polish goalkeeper.”
“I am that very famous Polish goalkeeper,” he laughed.
Within seconds, I recalled my conversation with my boyhood hero in that pub in Brookman’s Park.
“We all remember that night at Wembley,” I said to Jan, “When you were in goal for Poland and you saved everything that Martin Chivers threw at you.”
“Oh yes,” he said. “How could I forget? It is always the first subject that is mentioned when I meet any Englishman.”
“Have you met Martin Chivers since that night?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “But I would like to.”
I still had a telephone number for Big Chiv, so I rang him the following day.
“Martin, have you watched that video tape yet?” I asked.
“What tape?” he said.
“England v Poland,” I reminded him, “You once told me you’d sit down and watch it when you’d given up playing.”
“Do you know,” he said, “I still haven’t watched it.”
“Would you like to watch it with Jan Tomaszewski? I asked.
“I’d love to,” he said.
A couple of weeks later, Martin sat at the bar in his pub, with his old nemesis Jan Tomaszewski, and together they watched highlights of England v Poland at Wembley Stadium in 1973.
They groaned, they cheered, they laughed and they drank beer. It was a wonderful reunion, and with the help of a Wizja TV crew, I got the whole thing on film. I can honestly say it was the most satisfying day’s work I’ve ever done in my life. At the end of their chat, Jan asked “Martin, did you ever play in the finals of the World Cup?”
“No,” said Martin.
“Why not?” asked Jan.
“Because of you,” said Martin.