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Born: Friday 23 June 1916, Kattowitz, German Empire (now Katowice, Poland)
Died: Saturday 30 August 1997, Karlsruhe, Germany (aged 81)
Polish striker Ernest Wilimowski has a claim to fame which gives him a unique place in World Cup history. The first player in the history of the competition to score four goals in one match, he is also the only player to score four in a game and still finish on the losing side. During the Second World War, he took German citizenship and also represented that country at international level, leading to him being seen as a traitor by the Communist regime in Poland.
Wilimowski was born Ernst Pradella in Kattowitz (now Katowice) in Upper Silesia during the First World War, to German parents. He lost his father at a very early age as a result of the war and his mother married a Polish man, whose surname he took. When Upper Silesia was partitioned following a referendum after the war, Wilimowski found himself a Polish citizen but always considered himself to be 'Upper Silesian'. Like many players of his generation, Wilimowski's first experiences of football were in the streets of his home city and while growing up he also played ice hockey and handball.
Usually playing at inside-left, his first club was 1. FC Kattowitz, a club with German roots. At the age of 17, Wilimowski moved to Ruch Wielkie Hajduki, the club now known as Ruch Chorzów, ahead of the 1934 season. He would remain with Ruch until the outbreak of the Second World War and within a few weeks of making his debut received a call-up to the Polish national team for their short tour of Scandinavia. He played against Denmark and Sweden, scoring his first international goal against the Swedes in Stockholm.
Wilimowski's first season with Ruch brought 34 goals, the most of any player in the league, as well as a championship medal. That marked the beginning of a run of three consecutive league titles for Ruch, with the third in 1936 seeing Wilimowski share top goalscorer honours with team-mate Teodor Peterek. Poland were well fancied for that year's Olympic Games in Berlin, but Wilimowski found himself dropped from the team because of his off-field lifestyle and without him, the team could only finish fourth.
Ruch lost their league title in 1937, but won it back the following year with the fearsome strike partnership of Wilimowski and Peterek scoring 40 goals between them. Wilimowski was back in favour with the national team and finally got a chance to play in a major tournament in the 1938 World Cup in France. In the straight knock-out tournament, they faced a strong Brazilian side in the first round and the match turned out to be one of the all-time World Cup classics.
Poland trailed 3-1 at half-time, but Wilimowski was not going to let his World Cup debut end in defeat without a fight. He scored twice in six minutes early in the second half to level the scores and after Brazil had edged ahead again, completed his hat-trick in the 89th minute to force extra-time at 4-4. In the extra period, two goals from Brazil's Leônidas da Silva seemed to put the South Americans out of sight, but Wilimowski was still not finished. With two minutes to play he scored his fourth to pull the score back to 6-5, but Poland could not find another equaliser. Wilimowski was the first player to score four in a World Cup finals match, but amazingly still finished on the losing side.
In 1939, Wilimowski was leading the league goalscoring charts having scored a record 10 in one game against Union Touring Łódź and scored a hat-trick on what would prove to be his last game for Poland, a 4-2 over Hungary. However, that season had to be abandoned due to the German invasion and the start of the Second World War. He signed the Volksliste, declaring his affiliation with Germany and returned to play for 1. FC Kattowitz, who the Nazis were trying to turn into a model club for a German Upper Silesia. In 1940, he most to PSV Chemnitz and would never again play for a Polish club.
He was drafted into the German national team, scoring twice on his debut against Romania. In all, he scored 13 goals in 8 games for Germany to add to his 21 in 22 matches for Poland. Wilimowski is the only player to score international goals both for and against Germany. During the war Wilimowski served in the German army, but was allowed leave to play football. He appeared for various clubs, including 1860 Munich for whom he scored in the 1942 German Cup final win over Schalke 04. The war almost brought great personal tragedy when his mother was imprisoned in Auschwitz because of her relationship with a Russian Jew, but she was ultimately rescued with the help of famed Luftwaffe pilot Hermann Graf.
After the war Wilimowski remained in Germany, unable to return to Upper Silesia where he was seen as a traitor by many Poles. After a season with SG Chemnitz-West, he moved to West Germany and eventually settled in Karlsruhe where he had been stationed for part of the war. Over the course of the next 15 years he appeared for many different teams including VfR Kaiserslautern and a very brief spell in France with Racing Strasbourg. He was also briefly player-manager at Offenburger FV. Wilimowski played on until 1959, by which time he was 43 years old, appearing mostly for lower division clubs.
After the end of his playing career, Wilimowski ran a restaurant for a while as well as doing factory work. He desperately wished to visit Katowice, but was banned by the Polish authorities. He was even refused permission by the Polish FA to visit the national team when they appeared in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. After the fall of Communism, he was finally offered the chance to return home for Ruch's 75th anniversary but declined as his wife was in poor health. Two years later, Wilimowski died in relative obscurity in Karlsruhe, at the age of 81.
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- Published on Monday, 20 February 2012 19:46