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93. Euros Special: Scotland and Poland

Jun. 13, 2024


In this Euros special it’s a game of two halves as Pete and Ryan take to the podcast pitch to talk football. Discover the desert in Poland and learn about their least likely fan, plus find out what it takes to be a kit provider to the national team. And learn how 15 minutes of football was all it took to make Scottish sporting history.

In this Euros special it’s a game of two halves as Pete and Ryan take to the podcast pitch to talk football.
Poland is located in Central Europe. It’s bordered by seven countries.. Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania.

And it’s a country with various landscapes, there are mountains, rolling hills, flat plains – even a sandy desert!

Called the Błędów Desert, it’s the only natural desert in Europe, with sand that reaches up to 70m deep and covers an area of around 32 sq km (12 sq mi) – or roughly 4,300 football pitches.

In terms of the whole country though, Poland covers an area of around 312k sq km (121k sq miles) - making it roughly half the size of a France, or 42 million football pitches. That would be more than enough to give everyone in Poland their own football pitch, because the current population of the country is 38 million people, of which, only 1.7m live in the capital city, Warsaw.

Warsaw is a city that was obliterated by the Nazis during WW2, but was completely rebuilt and is now considered a thriving European metropolis.

It’s also home to the Stadion Narodowy - the largest association football arena in Poland, and big enough to accommodate 58,000 spectators.

Their resident football team is the Polish national team – better known to their fans as ‘The Eagles’ - which refers to the country’s national symbol – the crowned white eagle.

But they’re also known as, ‘The White and Reds’ – which refers to the two horizontal stripes on the Polish flag which are white and crimson.

Visit the Stadion Narod-owy for a game, and you’ll of course see these flags flying around in the crowd, but more obviously, you’ll see scarves flapping about too, each of them emblazoned with the word ‘POLSKA’ which of course is the Polish name for Poland.

The scarves and flags are traditionally held aloft before the start of each game, when everyone stands for the national anthem, a tune written in 1797, by Jozef Wybicki, and which reflects the spirit of the Polish people, by emphasizing their hope and perseverance.

It’s called ‘Dąbrowski Mazurka’, meaning ‘Poland Is Not Yet Lost’.


The most famous Polish football fan is a Roman Gladiator. That’s right, Maximus Decimus Meridius, short-lived gladiator, and one time commander of the Armies of the North and the Felix Legions under the Roman Empire – is a fan of the Poland football team.

I am of course talking about Hollywood legend, Russell Crowe, star of the movie Gladiator, who in 2016, tweeted his support to the Poland squad, saying: “Kuba !! Well done Poland. More hard work to come. Do boju Polska!!”

This was received warmly by fans, and he has since become something of a beloved figurehead for supporters of the team. He even earned himself a free ticket to their future games.

The most famous Polish footballer of all time is related to Adolf Hitler. Well, that’s the unfounded rumour that was circulated online in January of 2024, at any rate.

We’re talking about Poland’s superstar striker, Robert Lewandowski.

He’s the captain of the Poland national team, and is widely considered to be one of the most successful strikers of all time, having scored a staggering 600 goals for both club and country - 82 of which have been for Poland, making him their all-time top goal scorer.

He has been named Polish Footballer of the Year a record eleven times, Polish Sports Personality of the Year three times, and the best FIFA Men's Player multiple times.

Trophy-wise, he has won the league cup 10 times, the UEFA Super Cup, the Champions League, and the FIFA Club World Cup.

He holds the European record for the fastest hat-trick in Champions League history - scoring 3 goals in 4 minutes during one match - and holds the world record for scoring 5 goals in 9 minutes during another game in 2015.

But yes, the rumours that Lewandowski’s grandmother was Adolf Hitler’s sister, Paula Hitler – has not been proven at all.

Although it is confirmed that he is a superstitious fella, insisting on wearing two different socks for each game - one longer than the other, which he says brings him luck on the pitch.

History of Football in Poland
Alright, here’s a whistle-stop tour of the history of the Polish national football team.

So, the story begins in 1919 with the creation of the Polish Football Association, shortly after World War I when Poland regained its independence after 123 years of being divided out between the Russian Empire, the German Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The national team played its first official international match in 1921, playing against Hungary – a game which they lost 1-0.

A number of friendly matches and regional tournaments followed, with Poland struggling in each game - most notably at the 1924 Olympic games when they again played Hungary, and lost 5-0.

But through all these trials and tribulations, Poland start to build some consistency - and their performances start to improve.

They made their World Cup debut in 1938, facing Brazil no less, in a thrilling close-fought match that ended 6-5 in favour of Brazil.

Unfortunately, their international football ambitions were put on hold during WW2, when the Nazi party invaded the country and killed roughly 6 million people.

With the war over, the team, like the cities, began to rebuild, returning to international competition in the late 1940s.

Thirty years passes with little to note, but then 1972 rolls around, and the Poland national team win gold at the Munich Olympics when they defeat Hungary in the final, 2-1.

Poland enter the 1974 World Cup and achieve one of its greatest ever successes by finishing third – an achievement that included beating Brazil 1-0 in the third-place match.

Two years later the team win silver at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Then again place third in the 1982 World Cup.

This was a golden age of football for Poland, and earned them a lot of respect on the international stage, with a reputation for being a physical and powerful team.

Unfortunately, things turned sour soon after, with Poland failing to qualify for eight major tournaments during the 80s and 90s.

Things improved slightly in the early 2000s, qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, but crashed out early during the group stage.
In 2008, they entered the Euro 2008 tournament, but again crashed out again during the group stage.

In 2012, they co-hosted the Euro tournament with Ukraine, which was considered to be a huge success in terms of hosting, but not for the football, as again they crashed out during the group stage.

Four years later though, they enter Euro 2016, and surprise everyone by reaching the quarterfinals – where they were eliminated in a penalty shootout with Portugal.

This success only lasted a couple of years though, because in a tragic return to form, they failed to escape the group stages in both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020.

They did slightly better in the 2022 World Cup, managing to enter the Round of 16, before being eliminated in a 3-1 loss to France.

So, that brings us to today, where Poland will be participating in Euro 2024, fielding a team filled with world-class talent.

But their chequered history in major tournaments draws some uncertainty about their overall prospect for success.

Regardless, Poland continues to be a respected and competitive force in international football and I wish the team and the nation all the best!

When I first started researching this, I was fantasising about finding a story of a Polish football fan whipping off their clothes and streaking across the football pitch in the nude.

I was picturing news articles and interviews with the streaker, imagining how their controversial actions had caused the Polish government to intervene, prompting the Polish football association to implement new measures to prevent this happening again…

But none of that happened. Not a single naked Pole throughout the entire year.

So, I was left with the daunting task of doing much less sexy research.

And what I settled on was perhaps the most obvious thing.. the clothes the players wear on the pitch.. their ‘uniform’ or ‘kit’.

So, let’s start with the basics.. a soccer kit is comprised of shirt, shorts and socks.

The players wear studded boots too, but they’re not considered part of the official uniform – they usually wear their own boots, often provided to them for free as part of private sponsorship deals with major sports companies like Adidas, Nike and Puma.

In terms of the kit then, as you might expect of a national team, the colours reflect those of the national flag - which as we said earlier, for Poland, are white and crimson.

That means that when playing at home, Poland wear a white shirt, with red shorts and white socks - and when playing away, they sport an all-red strip (sometimes with white shorts).

On the rare occasions where Poland play teams that wear similar colour kits (like Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Turkey or Chile), they also have a third kit which is either blue or black – currently, it’s navy blue with white-red sleeves.

And, apart from some minor changes, like striped socks during the 1920s, the design has remained relatively unchanged since the team’s first match in 1921.

So that’s the kit, and as it is, it’s a pretty classic and straight-forward uniform.

Polish fans love it, and they spend millions of Polish Zloty (the national currency) buying the latest replica shirt.

For the fan, it’s a fun way of showing support to the team, but the footballing industry, it’s an important part of their business model.

Because, globally, all national football associations rely on replica shirt sales to provide a significant source of income, the revenue from shirts goes towards development of youth teams, improvements to infrastructure, and just general operations costs.

And to keep that revenue flowing, it’s important that new shirt designs are produced on a regular basis, usually every couple of years, or whenever there is a new tournament.

That way, fans can put aside their old shirt and buy the latest version.

And this isn’t a new concept… frequent changes in national soccer shirts started to appear around the mid-20th century, with small changes being made to the kit on a frequent basis.

Changes like the placement of the badge, the size and shape of the shirt collar, the colour of the hem of the sleeves, advances in the material of the shirt itself.. all contributing to a subtle shift in design that retains the ‘original look’ while being significantly different enough that people are willing to pay for them.

This isn’t a small job, it requires the help of sports clothes designers, and manufacturers large enough to handle their production.
Before the 1950s, national teams usually had their kits made by small, local manufacturers, but as dedicated sportswear brands, like Umbro in the UK and Adidas in Germany began to specialize in the production of football kits, it made sense for football associations to form partnerships with them.

The first company that Poland signed a contract with was Polsport, a company that originally manufactured black-smithing equipment, but who in the 1920s transformed into a company that made sports equipment and clothing.

In 1974, Poland switched from Polsport to Adidas as their main kit supplier, before moving to Admiral and then back to Adidas again in 1993.

Then they signed a deal with Lotto, before shifting to the services of Puma, then over to Nike, before going back to Adidas again, then back to Puma, then Tico, and back to Puma again in 2001.

This contract lasted for seven years, during which time, they produced a number of new shirts for the national team, sadly, many of which were considered by fans to be largely uninspiring.

And so, with the contract with Puma due to expire and Euro 2008 rapidly approaching, the Polish Football Association held a special commission to reconsider their agreement with Puma and start looking for a new technical sponsor to replace them.

This meant proceeding with the Polish FA consulting with the various suppliers, hearing their sales pitches, and eventually gaining all the information they needed for the board to take a vote.

Unfortunately, a decision was not easily reached, with rumours of various board members having been privately ‘encouraged’ to vote for certain suppliers.

But in the end, while the vote was not unanimous, the Polish FA vice-president, Rudolf Bugdol, felt there was enough of a consensus that a decision could be reached for a deal to be made with Nike.

Now the details of this agreement remain unreported, but at the time, Nike were making significant moves to expand their presence in the world of soccer – and Poland would have been a good jewel to add to the already bejeweled roster of international teams that they supplied kits to.

Teams including: Malaysia, the USA, Belgium, Indonesia, Albania, Australia, Portugal, Netherlands, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, Russia, Solvenia, New Zealand, South Korea, Estonia, India, Singapore, Maldives, Seychelles, and Brazil.

Nike had even acquired the UK brand Umbro a year before in 2007, and therefore picked up the contracts to supply the shirts for those teams too.
So, adding Poland too was likely an important strategic decision for Nike, and possibly the reason that they were willing to spend what Polish media speculated was 30 million euros for a 6-year deal.

If true, this was a significant bump from the 2.5 million euros that Puma had been previously been paying.

So, anyway, regardless, Nike acquires the contract to supply the Polish national team with kits and sports equipment until 2014, and Nike immediately start work on a new home shirt design.

In December 2008, they release an image of the new Nike shirt on Polish news website TVN24, saying that it would be worn first in a friendly game against Wales on February 11th 2009.

Unfortunately, Nike’s designers had been a little to brave in their creative choices, removing the traditional iconic white eagle crest and replacing it with the word 'Polska' instead.

Needless to say, this was a bad decision, and Polish fans made their thoughts known.

One fan wrote on a supporters forum.. “nike surprises me with this new radical desgin, I MEAN REALLY THESE GUYS ARE WORKING THEIR ASSES OFF, I THINK THEY ARE GOING TO CHANGE THE WAY FOOTBALL SHIRTS ARE DESIGNED WITH THIS DESIGN” which he followed up with a clarification saying .. “OH YEAH THAT WAS SARCASM”

Anyway, the noise was sufficiently loud enough that Nike quickly changed the shirt design and promptly returned the eagle crest to it’s rightful place on the front.

This was a bumpy start, but things quickly smoothed over as a series of new shirts in fancy new quick-wicking materials, trims, collars and placements, were met with approval by the fans.

And today, 16 years after the initial contract was signed, Nike continues to hold the contract to supply Poland’s kit.

Scotland is a country located in the North of the British Isles and forming one part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We went there on our 50th episode and Ryan you popped back to Scotland for episode seventy three, Ryan and Pete’s excrement adventure.
Think kilts, heather and bagpipes and you won’t go far wrong.
The Scottish national team play in dark blue from top to toe, and their away kit is a light blue, so they’ve really committed to the blue.

The crest is a circle or roundel with a shield inside it. In the middle of the shield is a lion rampant, meaning he’s standing up and he’s surrounded by 11 thistles (number of players in a team). At the top is says ‘Scotland’ in case the thistles weren’t enough of a clue and "Est 1873" on the bottom.
Which is a bit of a spoiler for the history section.
The Scottish national team play in Hampden Park in Glasgow – actually the third Hampden Park in Glasgow as it’s moved around a few times.
And if they have an anthem, I think it would be Flower of Scotland.
Written in the 960s by folk musician Roy Williamson, one of a folk trio called The Corries. The lyrics focus primarily on the Wars of Scottish independence and Robert the Bruce.
The Scottish Football Association adopted "Flower of Scotland" as its pre-game national anthem in 1997
Ironically there is no official national anthem for Scotland the country.
But it does have an army – and the supporters of Scotland are known as the Tartan Army.
As for the most notable player, well, Kenny Dalglish holds the record for Scotland appearances, having played 102 times between 1971 and 1986, including our year of 1976.
He’s also their top scorer alongside Dennis Law with 30 goals scored and he is widely considered to have been Scotland’s greatest ever player. Which is probably why he is also known in Scotland as King Kenny.
Scotland has 42 teams playing across it’s four leagues. Each has their own pitch, of course, so that’s 42 pitches. So you’d need 16 million sets of 42 pitches to make a France.
Football in Scotland Facts
The football dugout was invented in Scotland.
Donald Colman was a coach at Aberdeen from 1931. He wanted to be able to shout so the players could hear him without having to stand out by the pitch in all weathers. And he also wanted to be able to see his players footwork.
So he told the people of Aberdeen and thus Pittodrie stadium became the first stadium in the history of football to have dugouts.
If you do something stupid or foolish in Nigeria, you might be called a Dundee or possibly a Dundee United. This insult derives from a 1972 tour of West Africa by Dundee United, who were playing amateur West African teams, and apparently they stunk the place up.
They played five games, won one, lost two, drew two.
The Renaissance, a Nigerian newspaper reported: “Dundee United came – a first division Scottish team! They played football – second rate. And Nigerians were treated to second rate amateurism.” They then called for an official inquiry into the fiasco and signed off with “Dundee fare-well. For Ever, Good-bye.”
And that is how the city of Dundee has become part of the lexicon in a nation four thousand miles away.
Sorry Dundee.
Scotland boasts one of the oldest recorded football clubs in the world with records going back to 1824.
It was called, with brilliant economy, the Foot-Ball Club of Edinburgh. Membership lists and accounts of the club between 1824 and 1841 are held in the National Archives of Scotland. Although it does make you wonder if they were the first club, who exactly they were playing.
This was before there was even an FA, which wasn’t formed until 1863 in London and set standard rules for football.
That event though did kick off in the 1860s and 1870s the formation of some early Scottish football clubs, notably Queen's Park who were a major force in the early days of Scottish football, and also the two most famous Scottish clubs today, Celtic and Rangers.
In 1873 the Scottish formed a Football Association of its own – the Scottish FA.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, England and Scotland are the oldest national teams in the world and they were the two teams featured in the first official international match ever played.
It was played on 30 November 1872 at the West of Scotland Cricket Club's ground in Glasgow the two teams went head to head.
And it ended on a nil-nil draw. Gripping stuff.
And you recall I mentioned Queen’s Park as a dominant team – well they provided all eleven of the eleven players for Scotland.
Then there was a few decades of playing internationals mostly against England, Ireland and Wales.
Then the international scene starts to develop but it’s not until 1954 that Scotland goes to their first World Cup – spoiler alert – they do not win.
One notable match they did win though was in 1967 against the England side that had won in the World Cup a year before in 1966. Before the game England were unbeaten in 19 internationals so expectations were not high for Scotland. But they did the business, beating England 3–2. Apparently the victory led fans to call Scotland the "unofficial world champions" but just to be clear, they were not the world champions.
In 1974, 1978 and 1982 Scotland managed to qualify for three consecutive World Cups – and went out in the first round, , every single time and every single time it was on goal difference.
For the 1986 World Cup they qualified rather dramatically – on the day they won the game that put them through, their manager, Jock Stein suffered a heart attack and died.
The role was then filled by an up and coming manager named Alex Ferguson but Scotland again went out in the first round, and Alex Ferguson left the international management game and settled for managing a small, obscure team called Manchester United.
In total Scotland have qualified for the World Cup eight times, but never got past the group stage.
They’ve made it to the European Championship four times, with similar results.
But they’re back in 2024 and when I checked, odds on Scotland to win Euro 2024 were at 260 to one. Which put them about 17th out of 24 teams most likely to win. But I would observe, one place above Poland in the odds table.
So good luck Scotland.
We’re here to talk about Hot in 1976 and as luck would have it, 1976 was a famously hot year, particularly in the UK.
Hot and dry.
The period from May 1975 to August 1976 was the driest since records began in 1717. Plants failed to grow, reservoirs dried up and huge clouds of ladybirds were everywhere, thriving in the dry and the heat.
The ubiquitous slogan that year, like ‘keep calm and carry on’ was “Save water, bath with a friend”, which is as good advice today as it was then.
Eventually parliament passed the Drought Act 1976 giving the government powers to turn off water supplies to homes or businesses if it had to if it had to.
This really did the trick – in the same way as taking an umbrella out with you seems to cause the rain to dry up, passing the drought act got it to start. The heavens opened and they never had to use the more substantial powers the act allowed.
But that doesn’t have anything at all to do with football in Scotland.
And worse, Scotland didn’t even qualify for the Euros that year, and they wouldn’t until 1992.
So I’m going to talk about a different kind of heat in Scottish football.
As well as temperature heat, there’s heat as in a popular attraction. Something that is very exciting and that many people want to see.
And then there’s heat as in a great amount of attention, pressure and even danger ‘things are getting a bit hot around here’.
So we’re going to meet a player who was was hot stuff, and who also had to take the heat.
Paul Wilson
On Thursday, 23 November 1950 in Bangalore, India, there was born one Paul Wilson.
His mother was Dutch-Portuguese of Indian descent and his father was a Scottish RAF officer.
Before young Paul was two years old, his family returned to Scotland, to Glasgow.
He liked a bit of football, did young Paul and by the time he was 17, he had been recruited to the Celtic reserves.
For those who don’t already know, Celtic is one of the two powerhouses of Scottish football, along with Rangers, with both teams based in Glasgow and fuelled by a fierce rivalry.
And at this time, Celtic had a remarkable youth team, they were, in fact, hot.
Known as the Quality Street Gang, and not to be confused with the Manchester criminal gang of the same name, this was a group of incredibly talented reserves, including a young Kenny Dalglish.

A couple of examples of how good this young team was include 1968 when to win their Reserve League Cup section they needed to beat Partick Thistle Reserves by at least seven goals. The final score - 12–0.
One time Scotland manager Bobby Brown asked Celtic manager Jock Stein to lend him some players to provide some opposition for a practice match. Stein sent his Quality Street Gang and they beat the Scottish national team.
And one of this gang was young Paul Wilson.
In 1970 he made his debut with the senior team in a European Cup match against a Finnish team named KPV Kokkola. He made a terrific start by scoring twice in that match. Although that becomes marginally less impressive when you learn that Celtic won the game 9–0. But still, a hot start for young Wilson.
But now he was playing for the main team he was also exposed to the heat of abuse, and being non-white, he was particularly the target the racism of the terraces of 1970s Scotland.
Racist chants would be sung particularly by Rangers fans, and racist abuse rained down on him as he played.
And I'm not going to share any examples, but suffice it to say it was easily enough to get you cancelled today.
In an interview with the Scotsman newspaper Wilson said " “I got it right bad but was strong and able to never react, retaliate or gesture because I had grown up with all this racism."
Which is a sad fact in itself, but there it is.
Instead he decided he would respond with his football.
In fact in the same interview he talks about what his Manager Jock Stein would say about the abuse
"Answer them by scoring, he would say. ‘How about if I score two?’ I’d say. And I did.”
And indeed he did. In fact one of his hottest moments came in the 1975 Scottish Cup Final against Airdrie in front of a crowd of 75,000, when he did indeed score two goals, giving Celtic a 3-1 victory and with it, the cup.
And as for Scottish international football, Paul Wilson made a historic contribution there too.
On February 5th, 1975, Scotland were in Valencia trying to qualify for the 1976 European cup.
At the start of the game, Paul Wilson was on the bench .
Early in the game, Joe Jordan scores for Scotland – one nil .
Then, in the 67th minute, Alfredo Megido equalised for the Spanish .
The minutes ticked by until the 75th minute of the game when, in hopes of pulling in a final goal Scotland Manger Willie Ormond turns to Paul Wilson, and says “You’re on.”
He takes to the pitch.
And… he doesn’t score.
Unfortunately, Paul Wilson was not able to provide a fairytale end to this story, and Scotland did not qualify for the 1976 Euros.
In fact it was both the first and last time Wilson would play for his country.
However, that 15 minutes of play made history as it meant Paul Wilson was the only non-white player to be capped for Scotland in the whole of the 20th century.
A notable feat that can never be taken away from him.
Wilson remained at Celtic until 1978 when he moved to other clubs for a couple of year.
And he eventually ended his football career in 1980 at the age of 29.
He did other jobs and eventually died in 2017 aged 66.
But there’s an interesting postscript to this story – when I read about it I assumed this meant he was the first non-white player for Scotland, but not so .
In fact, a player named Andrew Watson got there first.
His father was from Orkney and his mother was from British Guiana.
And he turned out for three matches for Scotland between 1881 and 1882.
And he didn’t just play, he actually captained the side in his first match.
And now Andrew Watson is widely considered to be the first black person in the world to play association football at international level.
So, Paul Wilson and Andrew Watson, we salute you.

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