If you’ve ever watched the 1981 football movie Escape to Victory (US: Victory!), one of the minor characters may have escaped your notice.
The movie, starring Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and Pelé is set in a German PoW camp where a football match is staged between the German guards and the Allied prisoners.
In one scene, a group of extremely malnourished Eastern Europeans are admitted to the camp.
After recovering their strength, a few of these make the Allied squad including the Polishman Paul Wolchek, played by none other than Kazi Deyna – who featured on my bedroom wall collage of Man City cut-outs and posters from Shoot! magazine when I was a kid.
A few days before my 20th birthday, I learned he’d been killed in a car accident in California (September 1989) and my memories and imagination transported me back by a decade to when he was ours…
Deyna, the by-then 31 year-old ex Legia Warsaw player and Polish International (41 caps in 97 matches) arrived at City in one of the first waves of foreigners to come to England and played for us between 1978 and 1981 making 43 appearances in all competitions and scoring 13 times – his time being mainly marred by injury.
However, his status as cult hero was assured when he scored 6 goals in the last 7 games in the 1978-79 season, saving us from relegation.
Many Blues agree that Deyna has the most authentic claim to being the truest forerunner of our later succession of gifted foreign attacking talent which continued of course in later years with the likes of Rösler, Kinkladze, Benarbia & Berkovic.
(See a gallery of all City’s foreign signings from 1893-2000 courtesy of the Manchester Evening News here.)
Deyna had been the star of the 1972 Munich Olympics (top goalscorer: 9 goals) when Poland took gold in a team which also featured Grzegorz Lato and Antoni Szymanowski.
He had also been one of the undoubted stars of the 1974 World Cup in a team which knocked out England, resulted in the resignation of Sir Alf Ramsay and finished 3rd after narrowly missing out on a place in the final to a lone Gerd Muller goal in a tight match.
Deyna scored 3 times in the group stages with his compatriot Lato finishing top scorer in the competition on 7.
Four years later, and after 12 years’ service to Legia Warsaw, Deyna signed for City in November 1978 for £100,000. The Blues were then in the final year of Tony Book‘s 5 year spell as manager.
Simon Curtis remembers:
Renowned high-level mover and shaker Peter Swales, an Altrincham-based television salesman who happened to be chairman of City at the time, had to include fridge freezers and other electronic goods from his South Manchester warehouse to encourage the Polish authorities to finally let their star player show his skills outside his country of birth.
His debut was on November 25, 1978 in a home game against Ipswich and in his 3 years with us, his brilliance shone through just as Kinkladze‘s would do years later, but he found it hard to deal with the
violent thuggery physicality of the English league at that time.
He struggled with injury, often turning for comfort to alcohol, something he’d been prone to throughout his life, at one time even losing his driving license in a DUI and suffering suspension while at City.
In an excellent article in These Football Times, Yousef Teclab maintains:
Deyna’s talents knew no bounds and his footballing IQ was of the highest order, which allowed the midfielder to see things others couldn’t…
…during the 1970s, [he rose] from one of the promising young talents in Poland to one of the most sought-after players in the world.
The Polish schemer often appeared almost stationary amidst the midfield mayhem, like a man watching an early-morning market being set up in rude haste all around him …
…he had an economy of pass that made everything look simple. Not for him, the wild sprayed passes from one side of the pitch to the other. The Hollywood punts 30 metres down the pitch.
There was no need, for he could open up the opposition just as easily with his brand of short, astute passes through the central areas. He would drift forward almost unnoticed into the danger areas and had an unerring shot when given the chance to take aim…
Brian Kidd recalls of Deyna:
What a player he was. The lad was iconic. He was sublime. So elegant. Such an excellent manipulator of the ball. He had so much guile and sophistication. People talk about the technique of the influx of foreign players these days. Kazi was way up there.
He was released by City in Spring 1981 by John Bond and finished his career in the North American Soccer League with the San Diego Shockers in a creditable 6 year spell.(602 appearances/267 goals).
BoltFromTheBlue salutes Kazimierz Deyna and he is hereby inducted into The BoltFromTheBlue MCFC Hall of Fame.