For this World Cup, too, I think that my memoirs draw attention to a few special features that have not yet been presented in this form. Of course, I hope that the reader’s interest will focus on this attention and such marginal notes or additional reflections on my part. Because simply mentioning “the scandalous match of Gijon” Germany – Austria would be nothing but boring from my point of view. In any case, I have made it my life’s motto to no longer want to judge, but only to understand. And I have a few suggestions for explaining the behaviour of all those involved in this game, which has sadly become famous, which, in my opinion, have not yet been expressed in this way and which therefore throw a somewhat different light on things. But again, let’s go in order. And “the series” is usually the chain of my associations, which doesn’t always have to be sorted chronologically.
I’m sure you gradually get used to the fact that you get a few reminders from my life “by the way”. My chess career was still going on. However, a big breakthrough did not emerge, even if a few successes were added here and there (for example, I had the rare luck to actually achieve the best overall result of all players in the 1st Chess Bundesliga in the two years for the SG Bochum 31). This year, parallel to the World Championship, there was an Open chess tournament in Berlin over 9 days and rounds, which I managed to win. And I also won my first bet…
Germany was there, as always. Spain, as the host, had the problem of getting Basques, Catalans and the rest of the Spaniards “under one hat”, as they always liked to mention. Spaniards – commonly referred to as proud – all saw themselves as independent and felt that a team should be formed for each region rather than sailing under a common flag. To this day, by the way, only native Basques continue to play for Atletic Bilbao. The team was therefore not very good (well-rehearsed) and possibly still affected by internal hostilities. This played a small role in the further course of the tournament, or, let’s say, played into the Germans’ hands…
The Germans lost their opening game 1-2 to Algeria. At last! or so I thought. What a tournament without German participation would look like could not concern me at that point. For me, it would be a matter of limiting the coverage. Austria defeated Chile. In the second group match, Germany won clearly against the South Americans, who were never quite convincing on European soil, while Austria also managed to defeat Algeria. So the last round in the group was coming up. And now comes the real scandal: the rules had not yet been changed — despite the sad experience of 1978 with the inglorious elimination of the Brazilians in the final round. This meant that Algeria – Chile was the first match of the last round. And then there is also the astonishing, but for Germany fortunate and hitherto rarely mentioned circumstance that Algeria were already 3-0 up at half-time, but conceded two more goals in the second half and “only” won 3-2.
The consequences of this result were remarkable in many respects: If it had remained a 3:0 victory for Algeria (or a higher one), only one team from Germany and Austria could have progressed. If Germany had won, it would have been Algeria and Germany, if Germany had not won, it would have been Algeria and Austria. After the 3:2 between Algeria and Chile, it was possible to determine without a slide rule that if the Germans had won by a narrow margin (one or two goals), both teams would have progressed.
Nowadays people like to talk about “collusion”. The Germans started like fire and scored the 1:0 in the 11th minute through Hrubesch. After that, however, both teams on the pitch may have realised that their opponents did not want to attack, as they were obviously satisfied with the result. And anyone who has watched football long enough will realise that it is a common way of dealing with a desired result anyway. Efforts are made to “manage it”. Time delays, player changes, also of a (defensive) tactical nature, as well as ball pushing and generally defensive, inactive play are available as means, all of which are used. The fact that here both teams suddenly realised that they didn’t have to do anything and that no one in the world could oblige them to act contrary to that, need not be due to any “collusion”. “If you don’t do anything to me, I won’t do anything to you” is more an emotional and accidental “agreement” made on the pitch.
At this point, perhaps a small digression into the world of chess: there, especially among grandmasters, there is the tiresome draw problem. The players themselves often know that they simply can’t achieve anything in a certain position and can only play for victory by taking extreme, unjustified risks. This can also be the case in the early stages of the game. The consequence then: one player “offers a draw”, the opponent considers the situation and comes to uniform conclusions, thus accepting the offer. The game is over.
But there is also a counter-aspect: there are organisers and spectators. The organiser would like to have his expenses refinanced, i.e. preferably attract as many spectators as possible. But the spectators are not willing to accept this deceptive package. They come, let’s say, after two hours of play, and half of the games have already ended in draws. So they prefer not to come at all. FIDE, the World Chess Federation, came up with an absurd rule to prevent such behaviour. This rule, the so-called 30-move rule, stipulated that a draw could only be offered if at least 30 moves had been completed.
Here, only briefly, the additional remark that due to the possible move repetition rule, which can partly also be based on forced moves, it stands in the way of such a procedure to prevent draws anyway. The rule is not feasible and has long since been abolished. Today, organisers rather try to invite combative players or offer special prizes for the most victories achieved.
The long-time German champion, Robert Hübner, who was also reluctant to submit to officials or such absurdities, then decided to subvert this rule in a match against the Australian Rogers. On flimsy grounds, the two drew their game before move 30, only to experience the reaction of the tournament directors. Hübner was of the (justified) opinion that if he wanted to draw, no 30-move rule could prevent him from doing so. The tournament administration did not want to accept the result and insisted on a replay of the game. The two players complied with the request, but not without expressing their share of sense of justice: They made 30 completely absurd moves. That wouldn’t even be called “blooper chess”, it was simply a farce. Obvious gross mistake, immediately decisive for the game, answered with an even grosser mistake. These 30 moves were executed in D-move tempo. The tournament organizers tried to “flex their muscles” and instead of giving both players half a point for a draw, they entered a 0 for defeat in the tournament tables. The game was scored as if both had lost. It was rather the game of chess that lost, in my opinion, and — the organiser. See Gijon…
Back to the Germany vs. Austria game: I was watching the game during the chess tournament and had probably already finished my game. There was a TV at the active organiser, chess pastor Früh, in the evangelical Silas church. And Arno Nickel was even prepared to sponsor me. Because I actually said after the 1:0: “Nothing more will happen.” And Arno countered with a tenner. That went to me. It was a non-aggression pact, that’s true. But it wasn’t based on an agreement…
FIFA had the buck and simply tried to pass it on to the two teams. “But you must attack, even if you have already achieved your desired result and can only kill each other” is simply nonsense. There was a result that both were happy with. And that it could come to something like this was definitely predictable.
The Germans were through again thanks to this little gift of the group constellation, and as group winners, too. The fact that they met England (again) and Spain does not sound like a “free ticket” in this case. Nevertheless, in order to acknowledge the amount of luck that the Germans believe they are always entitled to or which is “hard-earned”, may one also mention that there were tougher preliminary round groups than those with Chile, Austria and Algeria? After all, it was the World Cup!
What it means that they met England and Spain must also be briefly explained and pours further oil on the fire of a lack of sense of justice subordinated to commercial interests. The commercialisation idea was: even if we allow 24 teams to participate this year instead of 16, we will be able to fill the stadiums and increase the worldwide enthusiasm, even if it requires more security and at the same time new stadiums. In principle, this is certainly the right idea. But after taking up this plan, it was unfortunately discovered that the number 24 is not a power of two. This meant that by continuing to halve the field of participants – as was customary in previous tournaments – it was simply not possible to reach a final: 24 – 12 – 6 – 3 – a pity.
This is how this unspeakable plan came about, to install groups of three instead of quarter-finals or eighth-finals! 24 teams meant, logically, six groups of four. Each team, once qualified for the final tournament, should be allowed to play at least three matches. If the first two teams in each group advance, there are 12 teams. And what makes 12? The idea prevailed: Four groups of three! And making a “group” out of three teams (although Reinhard Mey once sang “more than two is a group”) already sounds strange – any other odd number of participants for an aesthete like me, by the way, because it never results in a straight table before all the games are finished, just think about it for a moment — but then the problem that two group games can never be played in parallel was even fixed by rule! Not a good idea and only applied once, in 82.
So Germany had to deal with England and Spain in its intermediate round. However, as mentioned above, the Spanish team was in a disastrous condition and only got there thanks to the organiser’s bonus and a few extremely generous refereeing decisions, but on top of that, the “luck of the draw”, if you want to call it that, gave the Germans the following schedule: First they played England and then Spain, with the last match being played afterwards. The 0:0 between England and Germany had a similar recall value as the 0:0 I watched in 1972 in the Olympic Stadium, because I still remember the interview with Kalle Rummenigge after the game, when he, asked about lack of quality and will to win, referred to his one shot that shaved the crossbar. Because it was pretty much the only real shot on goal in the game. And I’m really not a detractor. Certainly both teams didn’t quite know how to approach the game either, owing to the strange constellation of a three-man group in the first game.
The next game for the Germans was much more memorable. The weakening Spanish team was deservedly defeated 2-1 by a strong playing German team, despite the home advantage. This result had the following effect: Spain was out. An absolutely frustrating result for the organisers, as the preliminary round had not produced a single good performance either. For the Germans, however, it had the pleasant side effect that the Spaniards, despite their sealed elimination, would by no means let themselves be slaughtered willy-nilly in the final group match, as other teams might have done. There would simply be motivation problems, even if it was the World Cup and an international match. Not so the Spaniards, that was for sure.
Personally, I experienced the England-Spain match like this: my chess earnings had already brought me my first video recorder before the tournament – something quite exclusive at the time. And my passion for football had fallen far behind my passion for chess, but it was still great enough that I didn’t want to be deprived of the live experience. I recorded the football match at home, because I had to play a game of chess in the tournament at the same time. During the game, I had more than just symbolic “blinders” on. I see nothing but chess, and you can call me a chess maniac – I do. After the game, however, I immediately got on my bike, still wearing my blinkers. I was worried about hearing a single word anywhere about the game and the sporting fate of the Germans, who were, after all, dependent on the outcome. On the approx. 8-kilometre bike ride, I looked neither left nor right if possible, at most once for a car because of the right-of-way regulations, rushed straight to my room when I got home, lowered the shutters (also only symbolically) and rewound the cassette. The game had just finished, very late in the evening.
And I witnessed how the Spaniards really sacrificially resisted defeat. The English were once again second winners, again behind the Germans. Spain managed to keep the 0-0 score and thus helped the Germans to the semi-finals as group winners. Felix Germania, or what is it called?
The game against France that was played there is objectively the game with the highest recall value, if you look at it objectively. But the time of my favour for German success was long gone. The French were the better team. And after goalkeeper Schuhmacher “took down” Battiston, who was charging towards him, with that legendary brutal kung-fu kick, which could only result in a decision by the referee, namely the red card, if one did not want to think about abandoning the game in view of the visibly serious injury to the French attacker, my sympathies were also clearly distributed. After all, my grandmother had Alsatian roots…
Germany barely made it to extra time. And then fell behind 1:3. That had to mean the end, didn’t it? No, because how do legends come into being? By “turning” even such a game. But the turning point was to draw level. Rummenigge, the ailing captain, was substituted late on and initiated the comeback, which was completed with Klaus Fischer’s truly magnificent drop-goal to make it 3-3. The French were really in shock and in the coin toss of the penalty shoot-out there are exactly two sides: One German and one Germanic, but Kante would be Allemannic….
Again and again and again luck, luck, luck. Germany in the final. To this day, I always dread getting into a discussion about the merits of this team. But gradually I’m getting rid of that. Writing liberates you, try it once…
The final, on the other hand, I watched later in a relaxed and repeated manner. Because not only were the Germans beaten 3:1 by Italy and finally, finally stopped on this unique winning streak. No, in this game I could calmly attest them a really good performance. The whole game was just great, from both sides and you can’t speak of a deserved winner, but only in the sense that the game was even. The luckier one had won. And just this once, it wasn’t Germany. Grazie!
Maybe the medal does have a flip side after all?