A statue of Kazimierz Deyna, one of Polish football's greatest players, was unveiled in Warsaw this evening after an emotional day when his ashes were brought to their final resting place at the city's Powązki Military Cemetery.
The statue is the first monument in honour of a footballer in Poland and stands outside the home stadium of Legia Warszawa, the club where he made his name in a 12-year period that brought 304 appearances and 94 goals.
Deyna died at 41 in a car crash in the United States in September 1989 and was originally buried in San Diego but 23 years later, his ashes have been brought home and today the Polish football world took the opportunity to say a final farewell as it stopped to remember the former Legia and national-team icon.
Following a requiem mass and funeral service, the urn containing Deyna's ashes was placed on the famous Avenue of Merit – known in Polish as Aleja Zasłużonych – in the Powazki Military Cemetery, where some of Poland's most celebrated sons and daughters are buried.
I am very touched that after all these years Kazimierz has returned home," said his widow, Mariola Deyna. "This monument is honouring him and his passion for football, but also I must thank the fans, who never forgot about him."
Deyna's urn was placed close to the grave of Kazimierz Górski, coach of the Poland team that he helped lead to an Olympic gold medal in 1972, as well as third place at the FIFA World Cup two years later. Polish sports minister Joanna Mucha said this proximity was only fitting. "It is no coincidence. Both made history and now they are both part of history."
A funeral was held for Deyna at the cemetery, where there was an army gun salute and supporters of Legia sang in his honour. Legia fans also provided a guard of honour at the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army where a requiem mass was earlier celebrated.
"It was an incredible sight, with so many fans in scarves and shirts with Deyna's face on them. He was, he is and he always will be a legend of Legia," said Jerzy Kraska, a team-mate of Deyna at the Munich Olympics, where he scored nine goals.
"It was a beautiful ceremony," added Kraska. "It is good that 'Kaka' is back in our country. Now on special anniversaries, we can go to the cemetery, light a candle and lay flowers. Until now it was quite impossible. Just as the priest said,
Deyna was a great player and great man. We can only regret that he left us so early. But now he is here forever."
Also present were Franciszek Smuda, the Poland coach who played alongside Deyna at Legia from 1975-77; Jacek Gmoch, Deyna's former coach; and Andrzej Kraśnicki, head of the Polish Olympic Committee. Kraśnicki said: "Deyna was an important member of our Olympic family. He won gold and silver medals [the latter in 1976], which now seems impossible to achieve."
Deyna's statue is two metres tall and is cast in bronze with an illuminated base. An attacking midfielder, he won two league titles with Legia and the Polish Cup before moving abroad for spells at Manchester City FC and San Diego Sockers.
He played 97 times for Poland and scored 41 goals but Władysław Stachurski, a team-mate with Legia and Poland, offered another reminder of his human qualities when he said: "
Deyna was unique, he was one of a kind and that will always remain in our memory. He was a team leader on the field, and off it was calm and quiet."
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