November 27, 2009

A Sport for Gentlemen Played by Thugs

Some random thoughts on football
(Yes! What you Americans call "soccer"!)


As so many of my writing, this bit of scattered thoughts, patchy memories and lack of knowledge about football started at an online forum. Somebody complained about the, I kid you not, RECENT loss of patriotism in football and I remembered that – hey! – there had even been German mercenaries already when I was developing my first interest in football as a very young girl.

Golden boy Helmut Haller, born 1939 at Augsburg, shown here as (nota bene!)
ITALIAN Footballer of the Year 1964 with the "Pallone d´Oro" trophy.

As one of the first German footballers together with Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, Haller went to Italy where he won with his club AC Bologna 1964 the Italian Championship. He later joined FC Juventus Turin where he became again Italian Champion with the team in 1972 and 1973.

Haller participated in three World Champion­ships: 1962 in Chile, 1966 in England and 1970 in Mexico. His biggest success was the second place at the WC in England 1966, where he had scored the German team in the lead with the 0:1 goal.

The defender Schnellinger, the other one of those German "golden boys" in Italy in the Sixties, had been of equal importance. Born 1939 in Düren near Aachen he went to Italy to join AC Mantua (1963/64), AS Rome (1964/65) and was showered with championships during his time with AC Milan from 1965 to 1974.

Both men were members of the peerless German team that was cheated out of the World Champion's title by a Soviet linesman and a Swiss referee at Wembley stadium in 1966.

I was a girl then, but I still remember their names:
Hans Tilkowski, Uwe Seeler [c], Horst Dieter Höttges, Willi Schulz, Lothar Emmerich,Wolfgang Weber, Karl Heinz Schnellinger, Franz Beckenbauer, Siegfried Held, Helmut Haller, Wolfgang Overath.

At the last minutes of regular time England sought to deliver the killer blow against an ex­hausted German team, and the crowd began to celebrate victory. With the clock running down and the crowd singing "Rule Britannia", Germany won a free—kick 35 yards out for a push from behind by Ray Wilson on Sigi Held. It resulted in a goal scored by midfieldman Wolfgang Weber (2—2, 89"). England barely had time to kick off again before the referee brought normal time to an end. A FIFA World Cup final was going into extra time, notably for the first time in its history.

With the England players unhappy after seeing victory snatched away from them and the Germans exhausted and suffering from cramp after their eleventh—hour efforts, the first period of extra time started slowly. And then came maybe THE most controversial moment in FIFA World Cup history.

As England built from defence, Ball made ground down the right flank. His cross found Hurst, unmarked in the box and with enough time to turn and shoot. The ball banged against the underside of the bar, bumped down (on the line? behind the line?) and turned away. Almost all 22 players gathered round as referee Dienst from Switzerland consulted lineman Tofik Bakhramov. Seconds later, the players in red jerseys ran jubilantly back to the half-way line whilst those in white gathered round the referee in protest — the goal had been given (3—2, 101")!

The second half of extra time brought more end-to-end football and Germany once again threw their last reserves of energy into the search for an equalising score. In the final seconds of the game, as England doused Germany's final attack, the legendary British sports reporter Kenneth Wolstenholme stated that "some people are on the pitch. They think it's all over…" At which point Hurst burst down the inside left channel and rifled home a shot into the top corner…. "It is now!" (4—2, 120"). Hurst later admitted that his shot was merely an attempt at sending the ball as far into the Wembley stands as possible in order to kill time on the clock. Then his striker's instincts took over, thus writing his name in the annals as the first ever scorer of a hat-trick in a FIFA World Cup final and turning himself into a national hero.
England won. German captain Uwe Seeler congratulates Banks (l.), Hunt
is consoling Schnellinger (m.)

"We Lost 2:2!" Bild, the German tabloid, may have screeched the next day. But captain Uwe Seeler did the only right thing to do and staunchly kept his team away from any exaggerated expression of protest. Germany had played a magnificent tournament and lost in the final with grace and dignity.

One last thing about golden boy Helmut Haller: After the historic game, he had nicked the ball and kept it, he who had scored the first goal for Germany. He gave it to his son for his fifth birthday, who played with it and kept it, until it was given back to England after some pretty graceless brouhaha in 1996. The English tabloids, in their usual delicate and oh-so punny-ha-ha way, delivered headlines like "Haller Has Only One Ball" in the process. (Well, don't they just like us Germans, but who cares. As we have beaten them so many times since 1966 that they may as well get lost or better: drop dead.)

The "Glückauf" stadium [left] of the legendary football club Schalke 04 in the steel and coal town Gelsenkirchen, 1924 in the glow of the steel furnaces. "Glückauf" is the miners' greeting and can be translated, very roughly, into "with luck back up again".

"I didn't steal it, I just had my foot on it when the game ended" was Helmut's comment.

Guys like Haller and Schnellinger played hard for Germany, although they were, relative to their times, highly paid professionals playing for foreign clubs. The times that a boy would play his guts out because the only thing he knew was that he'd never want to go down to the mines again, had been gone even then.



The legendary couple from Schalke 04, the brothers-in-law Ernst Kuzorra and Fritz Szepan with their Schalke team mate Hans Tibulski [FLTR] in the dress of the German national team, Hannover 1932, where they beat Denmark 4:2. All three players came from those families who had immigrated from Masuren to West Germany in the middle of the 19th century to work in the coalmines of the Westphalian Ruhrgebiet. German football was dominated by them even until WWII and beyond. Those were boys in their mid-to-late twenties, mind you. Times have changed and so has the way life treats those boys.

"The best football players thrive in the worst air, down in the valleys of the reddish-brown cinder dumps, in the abrasive smother of the blast furnaces, in the sad alleys of the workers' quarters, where life flows like a sticky runnel of sorrow, beer, sweat and and petty loans."
Quote from the book "Nobody Gets around God — The Life of Reinhard 'Stan' Libuda".

Reinhard "Stan" Libuda was arguably the best outside-right that Germany, and thus the world, ever saw. He tragically died quite young, miserable and totally impoverished and the quip about "God" has in fact no religious implications.
Somewhere in his native Ruhrgebiet some fan had, to a placard saying "Nobody Get's around God", added with pencil: "Nobody — but Libuda!" He was better at the "Matthews trick" than the legendary Stan Matthews himself, thus "Stan". No — on his better days, NOBODY was able to stop him. If you ever saw him move [see picture on the left], he was one of the few choice players who were able to turn the sport into an aesthetic pleasure, if not an art form.

I think for the players it was at all times mainly the will to get on in life, then to get out of only too often dangerous, sometimes fatally dangerous, working conditions, now for a bomb, celebrity status and glossy magazine notability, or rather notoriety. Gosh, who would waste another look on yobbo David Beckham and his irredeemably vulgar slut of a wife had they NOT that celebrity status!

Leave the patriotism thing to the supporters.

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