“A circus clown in gloves.”
Those were the words Brian Clough used to describe Jan Tomaszewski in the ITV studio prior to England running out at Wembley to face Poland in 1973.
For the Three Lions the mission was simple, win and you’ll be on the plane to Germany for the 1974 World Cup.
But that night Tomaszewski became one of the few people who could ever make Old Big ‘Ead eat his words - with a bizarre but effective man of the match display, despite breaking a finger early in the match.
He used his hands, feet, legs and any part of his body at his disposal to shut out the swathes of England attacks.
When he was finally beaten it was from Allan Clarke’s penalty kick, but Poland held out for a draw and it was they, not England, who went to the World Cup.
However, that performance and Clough’s words somehow complimented one another and created a lasting impression.
From that moment the stereotype of the madcap Polish goalkeeper was lodged in the English psyche like a ball which nestles perfectly into a stantion.
When Jerzy Dudek replicated Bruce Gorbelaar’s jelly legs during the Champions League final penalty shoot-out Istanbul. When Wojciech Szczesny - the son of another goalkeeper, Maciej, who famously punched Roberto Mancini to the floor during a fight in his goal - smoked in the showers following an Arsenal defeat. When Artur Boruc let Olivier Giroud score against him after attempting a second Cruyff turn in his own penalty area.
Watching each of these incidents unfold, your default setting is probably to reminisce of crazy Jan and think to yourself ‘he’s Polish, that explains it’.
To think this way may be a lazy stereotype, but I’ve seen those saves on video so many times that I have to admit that I can’t help thinking back to Tomaszewski every time Maksymilian Stryjek charges for the ball.
Boston United’s on-loan keeper may just be 18 years old but he has the confidence of a man much older when he takes to the turf.
Rushing out of his box to hack a stray long ball out of the stadium, or forcing his way through a packed penalty area to seemingly float in the air before claiming a cross, almost behind his head, may be heart-in-mouth moments for us spectators less familiar with his maverick style of play.
But Stryjek makes the unnatural look as natural as rolling the ball out to his full backs.
For him it’s not reckless abandon, it’s acting fast to clear the danger.
Goalkeeping’s number one rule is ‘don’t change your mind once committed’ and when Stryjek gets going there’s no holding back.
Besides, does anyone care how he goes about his busines when United have won all four games since his arrival?
At Sunderland, his parent club, they reckon Stryjek has all the attributes to play in the Premier League.
Only time will tell whether he will progress that far, or to his national team, just as Tomaszewski did more than 40 years ago.
Right now Stryjek has the gloves. But he’s no clown.