Matty Cash could make his debut for Poland in Andorra on Friday and then he will travel to Warsaw for Monday’s home match against Hungary. The latter will be the first time the Aston Villa full-back will have set foot in the country his grandfather was forced to leave 81 years ago.
“We lost my grandad six years ago – he’d definitely have been very proud to see me represent Poland,” says Cash as he prepares to take an exciting new step in his career and contribute a happy new chapter to a remarkable family tale.
It is a tale that reflects part of Poland’s turbulent history and explains why a Slough-born 24-year-old who speaks little Polish will be fulfilling a long-held dream when he wears the country’s colours. “It’s quite a crazy story really, a bit complicated,” says Cash as he begins recounting how his grandparents ended up in England.
Ryszard Tomaszewski, Cash’s maternal grandfather, was born three years before the outbreak of the second world war in the city of Stanislawow, which was then part of the Second Polish Republic but is now in Ukraine (and named Ivano-Frankivsk). Ryszard’s father, Wladyslaw, was killed in a war that brought atrocities and ruin to the city, whose people suffered at the hands of the Nazis and then the Red Army.
In 1940, after the Soviet Union took control of the city as part of the dismemberment of Poland, Ryszard was deported to a work camp in Siberia with his mother and two sisters. They languished there for nearly two years.
In July 1941, after Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin’s need to forge new alliances resulted in the Sikorski-Mayski agreement being signed in London between the Polish prime minister and the Soviet ambassador to the United Kingdom. The next month Stalin granted an “amnesty” to the tens of thousands of Polish citizens held in Soviet camps. The Tomaszewski family were released.
They set about trying to build a new life. First they went to Iran, then to India and then to Tanganyika, whose British colonial rulers agreed to set up camps to accommodate 6,000 Poles formerly held in Soviet captivity.
In 1948, after six years in Africa, the Tomaszewski family boarded a ship back to Europe, arriving in Liverpool in the hope of settling at last. Ryszard was 12. He did well at school and qualified as an engineer before, in 1964, meeting a Polish woman who was over visiting her sister in Ealing.
Ryszard and Janina fell in love and got married. Their daughter, Barbara, is Matty Cash’s mother. His father is Stuart Cash, a former left-back who played for a number of clubs including Chesterfield, Brentford and Rotherham.
“This has been a very proud moment all around my family, especially on my mother’s side,” says Cash of the call-up. “I’ve got relations in Poland but I’ve never been there and never met them, but my mum has been on the phone to them constantly and everyone is so excited.
This has been a very proud moment all around my family
“Even the response I’ve had from people on social media has been unbelievable. I can’t wait to get going and meet everyone. I only speak a few words of Polish but my mum speaks it fluently and she has been helping me brush up.”
The next two matches are crucial for Poland’s World Cup qualification hopes: win them and they could finish above England in Group I or, more likely, secure a play-off place. It is a good time for Cash to join up.
His desire to represent the country is not new: it is just that the Polish FA’s previous president, Zbigniew Boniek, had a policy of not tapping into the Polish diaspora. When Cash first got in touch, he was rebuffed. That changed when Cezary Kulesza took the helm of the Polish FA in August.
“The last president, I believe, didn’t really want to listen to me,” says Cash. “Not in a rude way, he just wasn’t into the idea of me coming to play for Poland. But the new president came and he has been really helpful and wanted to get it done quickly, as did the manager [Paulo Sousa]. That all helped push it on.”
In October, his application for a Polish passport was approved. “A few days before I went to the Polish embassy to pick it up the manager rang me and said it would be great for us to have a sit-down,” says Cash.
“So we did and it was really positive, a great chat. About the way we’re going to play and he went through loads of things about tactics, formations, what training will be like.
“I feel like I can definitely fit into it, 100%. I already knew from watching their games how passionate and aggressive they play so hopefully I can implement that too.
“We spoke about the importance of getting me in the mix now. The games we’ve got coming up are very important and I’ve prepared myself for it. It’s going to be brilliant. The fact that the game against Hungary will be my first time in Poland just makes it more special. I’ll be doing everything I can to help me and the team get to the World Cup.”