Kazimierz Deyna – soccer star, who got used to America
September 1, 1989, marked the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. On that day, numerous celebrations took place all over Poland. In faraway California, a white Dodge Colt took off Interstate Route I-15 by Miramar Road. It was 1:25 a.m. There was almost no traffic, and the skies were clear. Despite this, the Dodge hit a truck on the side of the road with full momentum. A 41-year-old man sitting behind the steering wheel was killed on the spot. His name was Kazimierz “Kazik” Deyna, a world-famous Polish soccer player living in San Diego.
The Olympic Games (Germany, 1972) Deyna's career was remarkable. On September 10, 1972, Deyna, together with the Polish national team, reached the Olympic Games' final and played against Hungary. The Hungarians led 0:1 to the break. Then, Deyna scored two spectacular goals, which gave the Polish team the gold medal. It was the first prominent international cup won by a Polish soccer team. This spurred a wave of excitement throughout the country, installing Deyna as a national hero. Since then, September 10 has been designated as "Soccer Day" in Poland.
The Soccer World Championship (Germany, 1974)
A year later, the Polish national soccer team qualified for the Soccer World Championship (WM 1974), eliminating the reputable English team in the qualifying round. It was an unexpected sensation. The Polish national squad, considered an outsider during the WM 1974, defeated world powers Argentina, Brazil, and Italy, winning third place. The brain of the team was its captain Kazimierz Deyna. The world sports press and other media showered Deyna with compliments. In his interview for a soccer magazine, Brazilian football king Pele called Deyna "the greatest revelation of the competition." He said, "we knew many great players before the championship, with Cruijff at the forefront (…), but the 27-year-old Pole showed the highest quality." Shortly after, the renowned soccer magazine "France Football" ranked Deyna as Europe's third-best player.
No wonder that after WM 1974, many leading football clubs dreamed of having Deyna play for them. But Deyna refused all of their offers. The Prince of Monaco even sent his secretary to Warsaw to arrange for Deyna to play for AS Monaco. Everything was in vain. Polish law of the 1970s was to blame: an athlete could only apply for permission to leave the country and play for a foreign club if he or she was at least 30 years old. The other issue was that Deyna, as all Legia Warszawa players, was officially an officer of the Polish People's Army as the army owned the club. Officers of the communist military forces were not allowed to work outside of the Eastern Bloc.
“There are things worth more than dollars.”
In 1977, the propagandist (and as a result) highly-detested communist daily Soldier of Freedom printed Deyna's firm statements on the rumors of his possible transfer: "My life's fate is connected to the Polish People's Army, and I intend to remain loyal to it. (...) So I don't think it is necessary to return to the topic of my search for happiness in teams in Western Europe. After all, in the life of an athlete, there are things worth more than dollars."
After the next Olympic Games (during which Poland won a silver medal) and World Championship in 1978 (no medal), Deyna was still the shining star and considered one of the world's best soccer players. In September 1978, Deyna, as a member of the so-called Rest of the World team, played against the New York Cosmos. This match ended amicably, with the teams tying 2:2. After the game, the club owner and Pele, who ended his career in Cosmos a year earlier, offered Deyna a contract for the New York team. Deyna refused as he had other professional plans.
In the United Kingdom. Manchester City
At this point, Deyna was over 30 years old and could apply for an official leave to play for a western team. But the American League was not Deyna's dream - he wanted to play in the best league in the world. And indeed, he did. His club Legia Warszawa signed a transfer contract with Manchester City, one of the leading English clubs. Interestingly, as Deyna was still formally an officer of the Polish People's Army, he needed to be removed from the army members' list first. In Deyna's case, the decision was approved by the Minister of Defense.
The amount of Deyna's transfer – 120,000 British pounds - may come as a surprise considering today's transfers of world-leading soccer players. Neymar transferred to Paris PSG for 222 million euros (2017), Mbappe for 180 million euros to Paris PSG in 2018, and Countinho for 145 million euros to Barcelona in 2018. Long-standing soccer fans know that transfer rates in these amounts were unheard of in the 1970s.
The transfer to England seemed unhappy for both the player and the club. Deyna, the artist - who was the leader of one of the greatest soccer teams in the world in the past decade - found himself incapable of being the leading player in the Manchester City team. He became nervous about the situation and made no secret of his dissatisfaction. He criticized the English game style in general and Manchester City in particular. Unable to maintain his lead player position, he threatened to leave the club. Tensions grew, and misunderstandings multiplied in part due to Deyna's limited English proficiency. During matches, he gave an impression of a restrained, hesitant, and fearful player, as one Polish sports journalist noted. Again and again, Deyna was seating on the bench.
His alcohol problems started to become visible. In January 1981, after a late-night out drinking at a pub, Deyna decided to get behind the wheel. He did not stop for traffic, provoking police to chase Deyna until the police car collided with another vehicle. The crash caused several injuries and severe damage to another car. Deyna suffered consequences from many sides, not the least from his employer. The U.K. police took his case seriously. Then an offer from San Diego came. The Manchester City club immediately agreed to release Deyna, and he quietly left England for the United States. He played his first game for San Diego Sockers on March 28, 1981. Ted Miodonski, a Polish-American sports manager, was behind this transfer.
"Escape to Victory" with Sylvester Stallone
Before Deyna moved to the United States, he was featured in an American sports war movie, "Escape to Victory" (stylized to "Victor"). It is a fictitious story of Allied POWs who played against Germans in a soccer match, hoping to use this opportunity for their escape. The movie was filmed in Hungary. It was directed by Irish-American John Huston and starred top-notch international actors, to mention Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine (U.K.), and Max von Sydow (Sweden). The film also starred professional soccer players: Bobby Moore, Paul Van Himst, Pele, and many others.
In the United States (1981-1989). “For me, it’s very tough thinking of different jobs.”
Deyna played for San Diego Sockers for seven years. He played outdoor soccer until 1984, along with indoor soccer. Remarkably, Deyna played five Major Indoor Soccer League seasons with the Sockers, winning five championships. After 1984, he played indoor soccer only until 1987, but seldomly appeared in matches after 1985. "I didn't play much last season," Deyna told a Los Angeles Times reporter in 1987. Indeed, he had one goal and six assists in just 13 games. "Newman [the coach] doesn't understand soccer," Deyna continued. "He thinks Kazee is not fast enough. Brain is fast. Soccer is not a 100-yard dash (…). I still feel good. I have to play soccer." He also bitterly added, "I was born a soccer player. For me, it's very tough thinking of different jobs."
Deyna's financial disaster
Ted Miodonski became more than a sports manager to Deyna while he was in the United States. Having a second career as an investor, Miodonski proposed a joint business plan to Deyna and his friend, Franciszek Smuda (b. 1948). Acting through a Liechtenstein-based company, Miodonski invested in the construction of hotels. Both Deyna and Smuda lost all of their savings – several hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. Deyna took this loss severely.
It was a commonly held belief that Miodonski cheated Deyna and Smuda. Even Stefan Szczepłek, Deyna’s biographer, called Ted Miodonski “dishonest.” However, a few years after his book about Deyna was published, Szczeplek expanded on this thought:
I wonder if I did not hurt this gentleman [Miodonski] too much. For years there was a widely accepted opinion that Miodonski was a dishonest manager. But Franciszek Smuda… pointed out that maybe Miodonski, who handled Deyna's money…did not cheat him consciously. He just went bankrupt. He lost all his money, Deyna's and Franciszek Smuda's.
Deyna had a chance to be given another job opportunity in his club. Instead, one day he became so nervous that he wanted to pounce on Coach Newman with his fists. This incident prematurely ended his employment with the San Diego Sockers. Later, Deyna made a living by coaching kids’ summer camps.
His problems with alcohol continued in the United States. According to the Municipal Court Records, Deyna was convicted for drunk driving several times; he was arrested on Aug. 7, 1984, May 14, 1987, and October 29, 1987. “For two of these convictions,” wrote Los Angeles Times in 1989, “he was given 180-day jail sentences, which were both suspended after two days. His driving license was temporarily suspended after the third conviction, according to the State Department of Motor Vehicles, he was driving legally at the time of the accident.”
We have reports from Deyna’s friends that he occasionally discussed returning to Poland. In the life of an immigrant, such dreams are common. However, Deyna did not take any specific action towards this goal. Janusz Marciniak of San Diego, a close friend of Deyna’s, describes this in the following way:
Kazik was broken. In 1989, Kazik was invited to play in a veterans’ tournament in Denmark, which is so close to Poland… Before Kazik went to Denmark, he talked with me several times about his plans to visit his relatives and friends in Poland after the tournament. But he simply had no money to arrange such trip.
Franciszek "Franz" Smuda, a professional soccer player and later coach of the Polish national team, visited Deyna for the last time on Christmas 1988. He recalls: "I think Kazik became a little bit American. He had a problem with English initially, but by then, he was already getting along. (…) He didn't know what to do with his life. But he also didn't say he would return to Warsaw (…). Kazik got used to America."
In the summer of 1989, Deyna separated from his wife Mariola and moved to another apartment in San Diego. Their divorce was on the way.
Funeral in San Diego (1989) and Warsaw (2012)
On the night of September 1, 1989, Deyna was driving too fast. And he had too much alcohol in his blood – 0.2 percent (2,0‰), as the police later informed the local press. The police report showed no signs of braking during the accident.
Deyna was laid to rest on September 9, 1989, almost exactly 17 years after winning gold at the 1972 Olympics at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego. 23 years later, his wife Mariola brought Deyna's remains to Poland. In June 2012, Deyna was buried at the Avenue of the Distinguished at the Powazki Military Cemetery in Warsaw.
The same day, a monument of Kazimierz Deyna was unveiled in front of the Legia Stadium in Warsaw. It was the first monument dedicated to a soccer player in Poland. And his jersey number, 10, has since been retired by Legia Warsaw and the Sockers.
Gallery of Kazik Deyna in the United States. All photographs by Janusz Marciniak, with permission:
Further reading in English:
Further reading in Polish:
Biography of Kazimierz Deyna. 544 pages. Available as ebook.
Special thanks to Janusz Marciniak for his time spent on several phone interviews and providing the photographs for this publication.