The European Championships were gradually upgraded, or, if you want to put it spitefully, the commercialisation was more and more in the foreground and the paying spectators were far from being lured to the limits of their financial capacity. Final tournaments were organised, with 8 participants, two groups of four teams each, i.e. 6 games per group, then crosswise semi-finals, followed by a final. The participants in the final tournament were determined by a qualification round, in which all European countries took part one after the other and which was then played out over the two years between the World Cup and the European Championship. The eight lucky participants were all guaranteed at least three games, as in the World Cup, and the stadiums were easily filled, and the television income was secured by broadcasts to practically all (European) countries. For me, this meant that the anticipation of such a tournament was growing.
Privately, I had ended my relationship with Ilona shortly before the European Championship, especially because I realised later that I would hinder her rather than help her to maintain it. She had a new boyfriend soon after and not much later two children with him. Our contact remained friendly and in her honour I gave my first daughter the same name as she gave hers: Chiara. I had finished my retraining in autumn 1987 and immediately got a permanent job at Standard Elektrik Lorenz, or SEL and later Alcatel, in software development. My holidays were carefully planned so that I could take part in all the big backgammon tournaments. Being able to win was a much more pleasant feeling than having to win.
So I played a chain of big tournaments from spring to summer, and all of them quite successful – the corresponding biographical chapter is presumptuously called “Jackpot-Pauli” — including the tournament in Hamburg during the European Championships. We had a hard time understanding the connection between the suddenly so high hotel prices and the semi-final match between Holland and Germany…
In any case, I had picked up a betting slip for the first time before the tournament. I saw myself very much as a football expert and also mathematically I felt up to some tasks. Nevertheless, we – partner Micha and I – made our first bets only intuitively. We decided to deposit 2000 DM in a betting account at “SSP overseas betting” in England and, in the usual gambler’s expression of the time, “flatten” them.
We also had a few good ideas for the opening match between Germany and Italy, some “safe bets” from our point of view. An opening match between such great nations simply had to end 0:0. The princely reward we were to receive was more than adequately reflected in the odds of 6.50, we thought. In addition, there were odds of 4.0 on the equally certain event of a draw at half-time and a draw at the end – the inevitable consequence of a 0:0 game. And, in case all the ropes should break – i.e. the teams should score goals, unequally distributed over the halves, but still the same number overall – we also “hedged” the remaining 600 DM on the draw, which was also too high in our estimation at 3.20. We did not think about losing. Loss was out of the question…
So the game started and we were, paradoxically, sure of victory because of the secured draw. The teams went into the dressing room with a 0:0 score. It couldn’t be helped, could it? The first half of our jackpot was in. Mancini then gave the Italians a 1:0 lead and even if such an event normally causes me to restrained inner jubilation (a later chapter on the 2006 World Cup will talk about how every time Germany scored there were crowds of booms in my vicinity – probably in yours as well – but when Italy scored 1: 0 in the semi-final for Italy against Germany shortly before the end of extra time, only paralysed horror prevailed far and wide, which was literally “blown up” by the one single Italy-instead-of-China firecracker that I carefully saved from New Year’s Eve; I just had to get that off my chest here; But in this context, you should also note my slightly Italophile tendencies with the children’s names “Chiara”, “Giulia” and even the big boy with the Ben-“Luca” still carries a part of Italy with him), but in this case it only made my and Partner’s jaw drop – that couldn’t be true? ?? For once, we ourselves were real Germans for a good half hour and even relied on one of the virtues so often attributed to our people. And this one very special “virtue” is only attested to by me – at most abroad, but there only behind closed doors, the fear of the beast is too great – but loudly and audibly everywhere. This virtue is called HAPPINESS.
In the game, it consisted in the fact that Germany, as the host, was not allowed to drop out, as usual. Before the tournament, a new rule was put into effect for the goalkeepers. They were only to be allowed to hold the ball in their hands for three seconds and then kick it away. When the Italian goalkeeper let the ball go after only 3.1 seconds, the referee called timeout and awarded the Germans an indirect free kick in the penalty area, much to the amazement of the Italians and the spectators. This was converted to 1:1. That’s how it remained, both were content with the draw, which was part of our preliminary assessment.
The bet on the 0:0 was lost, but both the half-time final score and the draw bet were in, won. The bottom line is 2000 DM, if I remember correctly.
For Micha, common sense prevailed. Although he had made the bets wisely and was convinced in principle of an advantage, he knew that without a reasonable basis, one would need luck to win even more in the further course of the tournament. For me, on the other hand, the joy of playing and conceit — these related to superior individual assessments — were more or less in balance and I decided to continue. I paid Micha in cash and from then on I had the account alone.
My own mental research just revealed that the backgammon tournament in Hamburg was the weekend before the semi-final. I remember watching the last group game of the Dutch against Ireland with Wim Kieft scoring the lucky winner shortly before the end on a big screen in the casino of Hamburg at the Kleine Fontaney in the Interconti. It was this lucky circumstance that got the Dutch into this semi-final in the first place.
We decided to stay in Hamburg for a few more days, as it was possible to play Black Jack there under particularly favourable conditions. Thankfully, my pockets had filled up even with the jackpot winnings, so that the feeling of being in Hamburg was simply that of a “big wide world”.
The astonishment mentioned at the beginning of the chapter came before the night from Tuesday to Wednesday, when our hotel room contract, which had been kept for an indefinite period, was unceremoniously cancelled by the reception in the morning. “We’re sorry, you’ll have to vacate the rooms, we’re fully booked.” We were both able and willing to pay and initially thought this was a bad joke. However, when asked, it was confirmed, while we gradually realised the connection between the semi-final match and the booking out. So we simply drove back to Berlin and watched the game there.
Personally, I had made my form of arrangements for the game. The video recorder was already programmed anyway — I wanted to be able to watch such a major event with relish later — but the bets were also placed. And for the first time I was able to back up my contempt for the fatherland and for happiness in monetary terms in this game. I was firmly convinced that the Dutch had the better team. But I didn’t just bet on Holland winning or advancing. My football mind intuitively advised me to place a bet on the final score at half-time. I was convinced that the teams would first “feel each other out” in a cautious first half and not take too many risks. So my bet was: half-time X, and in the end Holland would win. In short: X-2. The odds were 6.50, which would have been justified under the circumstances that Germany was indeed the favourite (as my database told me much later). However, I had my own opinion… Or was that just resentment?
I had also just fallen in love with Andrea – you can read the details about that in the chapter responsible for it – and I spoke to her beforehand to tell her about my bets. 300 DM on such an event might seem rather modest compared to the thousands that were regularly “at stake” in my backgammon matches, but I knew very well that one could not simply conjure advantages out of a hat and that I was more likely to get a hefty portion of beginner’s luck.
The game started and I confess to feeling a certain anticipation and excitement. It was, to my mind, the launch of a new career. I knew there was a lot of work to be done, but in my mind the right approach was gradually crystallising. And in the betting market, daily turnovers, perhaps high to very high, were possible. And with the amount of betting offers, there just had to be mistakes hidden somewhere. The elation in the run when you win just like that is hard to describe. In principle, you count every win as deserved somehow. You attribute it to superior play in backgammon, better judgement in football, a better understanding of the game in chess, ignoring the little coincidences that are necessary. One likes to suppress the idea of “luck”. Whereas with a series of five lost games, matches or bets, one very quickly invokes the word “bad luck”.
The first half resulted in the expected cautious feeling-out and I rarely had the feeling that my assessment and bet – on the half-time draw – was in danger. No real scoring chances. Half-time was over and the first part of the bet was fulfilled. Now all that was left was for Holland to turn it on and win the thing!
The second half started with a bang. The Germans were awarded a penalty, the justification for which I don’t want to make any judgements here. It was typical, I thought. Even if, with a lot of goodwill from the German point of view, the game could be described as “just about even” up to that point, there was no way the lead was justified. Luck again, that outrageous? I sank down in my armchair and, as usual in such circumstances, began to philosophise.
Even before I could formulate the right results of these thoughts, the referee had mercy on me and the gradually improving Dutch. He also gave a penalty over there, which had the same size of justification as the one over there. I straightened up again and pushed the ball over the line – although DSF hadn’t yet given me the witty idea of simply tilting the TV for this purpose, for the purpose of accelerating the ball. 1:1! Gradually, I not only sat upright in my armchair in a feverish fight for justice (by the way: at this very point I was thinking about how much DM I would sell my soul for and now be for Germany), because the Dutch were now really playing the Germans up against the wall. Every move seemed so well thought out, the Germans were one step too late in every duel and had nothing to offer except fighting spirit. From the 80th minute onwards, I stood in my armchair and abruptly changed my position towards the table when van Basten reached the long ball in front of Kohler and — I also see the gap, past the keeper on the left, with the long leg, yes, it trundles over the line, it makes it, it passes! The 2:1! My underground immediately turned into a dance floor. I already had the phone to inform my beloved of the happy, late, but of course completely deserved, outcome at the final whistle. She called me a “gambler”, but smiling, which I was happy to put up with for the moment….
In the other semi-final match, I had also “guessed” in the same way that the Russians would win against the Italians, but only with 100 DM at the same odds, and had also bet the Russians to win the tournament at odds of 8.0 before the semi-final, so that I could also look forward to the final relatively calmly. I still had a good bet on the table and had already secured a total profit of over 2500 DM.
But I didn’t begrudge the Dutch the victory, they were simply the best. And van Basten’s dream goal can only make you click your tongue, even if it costs money at that moment. I was very reconciliatory with him…