1) “Preliminary skirmish”
There is only one little story to tell about this European Championship. And it goes like this:
Micha was my partner. We struggled the whole 91/92 season. There was no luck — or was I just incapable of perceiving it? We just managed to hold on. Michael Friedrich tormented us throughout with his ghost games, winning one after the other, gratefully accepting all the transfers, a total of DM 60,000, but when he gradually lost that money back the next season, he was suddenly broke.
Then came the final phase of the season. The European Championships were coming up. Almost all the leagues had finished. Before big tournaments there is always a longer period without playing. Only Italy was still playing. Not in Serie A, but in Serie B.
We knew Luigi. Although the name was certainly not overused in Berlin sparring circles, he was nevertheless given the obligatory nickname: “Luigi beautiful man”. He knew a couple of Italians, at least two of them small ones, in case the frequency of the jokes was too low after all. There was even a whole restaurant full of them. Luigi also wanted to show them our betting slips. Unfortunately, there were no games.
Well, I quickly entered the B series into my computer. And bravely issued a betting slip.
The Italians were really keen to play. They were all gambling, and plenty of it. Were they really just addicted to gambling? Or had they discovered a few fools? In any case, there were heaps of bets that were manifested by handwritten receipts.
But what did we discover when we looked at the bets received at home? They had all combined the same games. In numerous, different variations and combinations. One of them explained to me to reassure me: “I wanted to play 1 at Monza, but then I saw that everyone had X, so I played X too.”
I was out and about on Sunday afternoon. Curiosity, restlessness and a very strange feeling prompted me to call Luigi. I will hardly be able to forget his exclamation, almost before I could introduce myself: “Won them all.”
We gathered the necessary cash and it was time to pay off. How many knives does one need in the back? Apparently we needed quite a few, because we made another betting slip for the next weekend. It was the last day of play. Pasquale, the Italian’s forerunner, was still saying to me: “Wait a minute, have to call Italy first to see how the games are going”, trying hard to make it a joke. Today I know better. Anyway, the same scenario: all the games combined, all playing the same outcomes, in all variations.
Gradually, we were overcome by the assured feeling that Pasquale had indeed not been joking. We were facing another bigger payout. We tried to insure the bets. We had betting accounts ourselves and called one bookmaker after another. And what did we find? No one was taking money on these games. There were odds, but you couldn’t play. Or for absurd, long since changed, tiny little odds!
We called my dear friend Martin Schönegger, the old hand, the clever fox from the Vierklee betting office in Innsbruck. He found the following, comforting, words: “June is a beautiful month. I, for example, am sitting in a café right now. And there are so many other beautiful things to do: Cycling, going swimming, golfing. Only one thing you should definitely not do: Offer odds on Italian games.”
Was he also a burnt child? A realisation that probably came too late.
The Sunday call to the handsome man with the absolutely awful voice, considering the wording, yielded the expected result: “Won them all.”
We really saved well, though. Pasquale must have had a hearing error. For Pisa had not won (“I said Pisa X, Pasquale, Pisa X, not victory”; was almost like “The Sting”).
So this June gave us a lot of useful experience. Sure, everything has its price, and this really was a valuable experience. Or does the esteemed reader consider the 45,000 DM spent as “too much”?
We made a lot of new friends that way. It was actually quite easy, wasn’t it? And with their pockets bulging, even these clever Italians could no longer suppress their enthusiasm for the game. At the European Championship, they were our “main customers”. But they played all their bets with our money anyway. Winning was out of the question. The best-case scenario would have been: a little brought back.
2) The final tournament
This European Championship was still played with eight teams. Two groups of four, crossover semi-finals and the final. Six games per preliminary round, two semi-finals and the final, fifteen games in total. Still small compared to a World Cup.
What was remarkable about this tournament was that the Danes were only invited to the finals, as the qualified Yugoslavs were unceremoniously booted out due to political unrest in their own country. The Danes, as is often reported, came straight from holiday to the tournament and were anything but “well prepared”.
Our betting slips were distributed again in the old tradition at the Belmont, and wherever else there was going and interested parties. For some reason, there were always a few envious people who thought that we were “lining our pockets” there. Unfortunately, this was anything but the truth. Firstly, there wasn’t much money there and secondly, there was always just dumping. The Italians also seemed to know most of the results…
The German team had to deal with Russia (yes, CIS), Scotland and Holland (ok, you tired Dutch, I also know that just saying “Holland” is a slight). Well, it would be unrealistic to expect easy opponents in a final round. But these were at least considered “doable”. The opening game against Russia took the usual course for the Germans: they fell behind 0:1, seemed unable to avoid defeat, but were awarded a free kick in the last minute, Thomas Hässler ran on and – sank it. Familiar to the course of the game was this: Luck.
The second game had memory value for me because of the numerous – altogether four – bleeding heads. The fact that the Scots, as will-less victims, as usual, dutifully and artfully conceded a 0:2 defeat, doesn’t scratch anyone in Germany. There is always only one outcome: Germany advances. Defeats do not exist. And “we” always win, “they” always lose. The victory ensured that they would advance.
In the last group game, they had to play Holland again. Under the fortunate circumstances that they had already secured their place in the group by scoring a late goal against Russia, one could write off the 1:3 as “insignificant” or an “operational accident”. But it was recognisably more than that. The Dutch were so clearly superior and really took the Germans apart. And if one could have aimed in this case, then one would rather have chosen the Danes than Sweden as semi-final opponents. The Danes were the recreational team that had travelled to the tournament directly from MacDonalds – so the legend goes.
For us, the Dutch victory was a kind of jackpot result. We had bet higher amounts on the events “Germany scores exactly three points” and “Holland wins the group”. In addition, we “guessed” the Dutch victory in the game, as the Austrians like to say about a correct tip. In addition, we certainly saved a few payouts on the “gifts for patriots”, as many of them had certainly bet on Germany winning the group.
There are a few curiosities to report from the two semi-final matches. Admittedly, the Germans made the only good game in the whole tournament and were once again in the final with the 3:2 against Sweden. One is inclined to say “as always”. The fact that this victory was also seen as “revenge for ’58”, when Germany was accompanied by the legendary whippersnappers on the sidelines whose only task was to encourage the crowd to shout “Heja Heja Sverige”, was once again typically German. Germany is permanently taking revenge for the one defeat it has ever suffered. Surely they could have simply been eliminated a second time?
In the match between Holland and Denmark, the clear tournament favourites were on show. And they tried to play out their superiority in their usual skilful manner. Patiently building up, letting the ball and the opponent run, creating chances and occasionally making use of one of them. But this concept only worked to a limited extent in this game. The Dutch scored two goals, but conceded two at the same time. So it came to extra time and a penalty shoot-out. I can’t tell you how many times I thought “but now he’s in” and Holland will go on.
We had printed our usual betting slips for these games, but there was not much interest. Only the legendary Detlef Walden was able to participate. However, he didn’t want to bet himself, but preferred to be a bookmaker, because in his opinion the bookmaker always won. So I pressed 9,000 DM into his hand. “Detlef, you are the bookmaker. I bet Holland will go ahead.” Since Detlef has a lot of outstanding skills, but not in the field of arithmetic, we agreed, regardless of the odds, that if Holland went through, he would have to pay me 12,000 DM, but if Denmark went through, he could keep everything.
Detlef really was an experienced gambler. And he didn’t show any signs of excitement. He just pushed the balls out of the goal with his proverbial luck – and that is more than just a play on words. In the penalty shoot-out, the course was set. With as much luck as Denmark had had in getting there, the winner was virtually already decided. And indeed. Detlef was able to keep the 9,000 DM. Unforgettable was his final comment: “Kann do ma kommm. Kann do ma kommm.” And I can hear that he said this sentence about 86 times, and not just that evening. It is very important to shorten the sentence as much as possible and not to make the effort to say “kommn” at the end. That would be an excessive effort for the tongue and mouth. “Kommm” with three “m “s. Then the real Berliner is finished. “do” and “ma” save only minimally. Is the interested reader now thinking back to Detlef Walden’s abilities as a bookmaker?
The few questions I ask the universe: Why doesn’t anything like this ever happen in Germany?
By the way, poor Ronny had to pay for this financial loss once again. Ronny was a bookmaker who had already opened a small betting shop at the time of the fall of communism, but which was closed to him again and again, and who is the fateful counterpart of Detlef Walden. Ronny = bad luck. Before the semi-final, he had paid a 5.0 on Denmark advancing and we had placed DM 2,000 there – so Ronny refinanced our losses with a loss of DM 8,000 on his part. Besides, there were enough Holland enthusiasts, even before the tournament, to make up the rest.
3) The final
Well, in this final, the Germans had the bad luck that we were only going to rely on their luck this one time. My computer could not be dissuaded after the performance of the Danes, the pre-assessment and especially the observation of the match against Holland that Germany were clear favourites. We were also convinced of this and made our own bets that Germany would win the tournament. With the Italians, the usual phrase was “has Cup in hand”. Moreover, I was still naïve enough to keep saying to myself the one sentence: “Kann do ma kommm?” No matter whether the bet was good or bad. Not true?
Well, in retrospect I am relatively unsurprised that Detlef Walden is somehow right in principle. “Kann do ma kommm”. On the other hand, I also understand when a second, slightly modified sentence is used for the fate of the Germans: “Kann do nich imma kommm.” The key to (mis)success: I just have to bet them. Or?
No matter how good (or bad) the Germans were in the game. They simply lost. With 0:2. And in Denmark there has been one more legend since that day….
And I had probably found a system to create defeats for Germany?
The media reaction was the usual “distant”. There is no sadness for German fans. Not even disappointment. It immediately turns into fault-finding and finger-pointing. This second form of reaction: taking victories for granted and not even developing real joy but simply attributing it to the “German virtues” is one side that makes me not begrudge the Germans any success. The other side is the reaction to losses. And this side is actually almost more regrettable. Seeing a few tears once, a few congratulations anyway on the still brilliant result, thanks for the nice hours, the exciting games and the still plentiful victories. Thanks for the good performances, even if it wasn’t enough for the really big triumph. And you just have to admit that once again everyone played for Germany. Preliminary round over with three points against Scotland and Russia, Sweden in the semi-final, Denmark in the final? There are other calibres, aren’t there? When I think about Europe, I think of – in no particular order – Italy, Holland, Spain, England, Portugal. Where were all these countries? Why doesn’t anyone in Germany ever think about this? The answer I hear is simple: “Well, the others are just too stupid”. Then the addendum: “And the Germans 92 too.”