He did not play for any of those great clubs in Europe during his career, but his contribution to the clubs he represented and the way he cemented his place on the international map with extreme displays in three World Cup’s (74, 78, 82) and two Olympics (72, 76) is a story not told enough.
Grzegorz Lato played most of his career at Stal Mielec, a club dominating the Polish game during the 70’s and early 80’s. Lato had great impact and was the top goalscorer in many of his seasons with 117 goals in 295 league games over a period of 14 years.
His name was first and for most attached to his goal scoring heroics in the 1974 World Cup, scoring 7 goals in 7 games and winning the bronze with Poland. He continued to score goals for his country and goals were scored also in the next two World Cup’s bringing his tally to a total of 20 goals.
At this time it was restrictions for footballers in Poland and it was impossible for players to leave and play abroad before the age of 30, but as soon as Lato had passed this age, lucrative offers came his way with New York Cosmos showing interest.
Lato decided to neglect the NASL giants and instead sign a contract with Belgian top club Lokeren. He joined Lokeren in 1980 and played 64 league games and scored 12 goals. His influence was part of the success of the club ending runners-up both in the league and cup.
Before his move to Belgium, Lato had won the Polish league twice and the cup once, he had also reached the quarter finals of the European Cup with Stal Mielec. In his collection of medals and honours you would also find an Olympic gold (72) and silver (76). Winning the 1974 World Cup golden shoe might be the one trophy that really made Grzegorz Lato very special.
He made his debut in the Polish national team in 1974 and by the time he played his last in 1981 he had added up 100 caps and scored 45 goals. Grzegorz Lato was of course in the line-up at Wembley in that 1-1 appearance that shocked most of the World and in real made it clear that England would never be part of the 1974 World Cup.
Lato surprised everyone when he made a decision to leave Lokeren and sign for Mexican club Atlante. A year later Lato decided to move to Canada and continued to play at amateur level for Polonia Hamilton, a club started by Polish immigrants. He continued playing until 1991 when he finally hang up his boots.
He continued to live in the game and had manager positions at Stal Mielec and Widzew Lodz among those and later also seen as a top figure in the Polish FA.
He had a great eye for goal, a fantastic acceleration and ability to really show his best when in mattered, especially as a Polish international playing a vital part in all those historical events of their national team during the 70’s and early 80’s.