KEIR RADNEDGE REMEMBERS —- When, 50 years ago this very day, Geoff Hurst turned and shot for goal in the 1966 World Cup Final this writer was sat up in the stadium level with the corner of the penalty box on the opposite side of the pitch to Soviet linesmen Tofikh Bahramov.
My immediate, instinctive reaction was that the ball, after it struck the underside of Hans Tilkowski’s crossbar, had crossed the goal-line before spinning back out into play and been headed over the top by Wolfgang Weber.
Of course, what I believed I had seen was not logical. But years of playing the game and watching the game and writing about the game would teach me that football is not all about logic.
I was reminded of that ‘Wembley moment’ when I sat in the stadium in Bloemfontein in the 2010 World Cup and saw Frank Lampard’s shot strike the underside of Manuel Neuer’s crossbar and spin back out into play.
Of course Germany’s players – ‘West’ back in those days of 1966 – were furious with referee Gottfried Dienst and with Bahramov.
That was natural. Understandable. These were crucial moments in not only the match but the entire 1966 World Cup and the Germans had just gone 3-2 behind.
In the end it was 4-2. England had been the better of the two best teams in that World Cup. ‘Teams’ in the full sense of the word.
Argentina had been technically and creatively the most talented but their strengths were undermined by the weakness of their players’ fragile temperament.
Both England and West Germany had come into the final building up momentum. England had scored a magnificent semi-final win over Eusebio’s Portugal while the West Germans had ground down Lev Yashin’s Soviet Union.
England’s fans have always respected German teams and players, seeing a similarity in northern European styles and physicality. Franz Beckenbauer had been the most outstanding newcomer in 1966; Lothar Emmerich and Sigi Held had impressed English fans in the Cup-winners Cup against West Ham and Liverpool; Uwe Seeler was a typical ‘English centre-forward.’
The only obvious weakness, which England and their fans expected to exploit, was Tilkowski. He had, as English fans say, ‘Dracula tendencies’; that is, he was allergic to crosses. The newspapers even suggested that manager Helmut Schon was considering playing young reserve Sepp Maier out of concern for crosses aimed at Hurst and Roger Hunt.
In the event the two finest players of the World Cup, the young Beckenbauer and veteran Bobby Charlton, had cancelled each other out.
Subsequent eruptions of interest down the years in Hurst’s second goal have prompted little more than a shrug of the collective English shoulder.
The referee awarded a goal. The scoreline is in the history book. And, after all, German football has gone from strength to strength at World Cup level with triumphs in 1974, 1990 and 2014. By contrast England have never again achieved the heights of 50 years ago.
Almost as if the Hurst goal was a Mephistophelean pact with the devil: “Let us win this one and we will never expect to win the World Cup again.”
Goal-line technology has removed any possibility of a repeat. A victory for logic, albeit a defeat for the mystery of the game.
This writer has watched and admired German football down all the years since then. The rivalry with England, English football, English clubs has been intense and never one-sided: Liverpool came out on top of their memorable duels with the Borussia Monchengladbach of Netzer and Vogts in the 1970s, Chelsea defeated FC Bayern in Munich in the Champions League Final of recent memory.
Only this past May England defeated Germany in Berlin a pre-Euro 2016 friendly match. With hindsight it was a match with lessons which went unheeded on both sides. England went to France with higher expectations than they deserved and Germany, perhaps, did not heed the warning signs.
But the football connections between the two nations run much deeper. On an individual level Bert Trautmann was hugely popular while keeping goal for Manchester City in the 1950s and early 1960s. He was not the only prisoner-of-war who stayed on through football. Bristol City, one of my own local, home-town clubs, had inside forward Alois ‘Alec’ Eisentrager on their books in the early 1950s. There were others.
In 1958 it was the medical skills of staff at the Rechts der Isar hospital in Munich which saved the lives of surviving victims of Manchester United’s tragic air crash.
In recent years England’s Premier League has set an example pursued by the DFL in terms of revenue-generating marketing and promotion. But, in an example of the culture and societal gaps, the EPL is a far more aggressively commercial operation than the Bundesliga: German clubs have a closer social interdependence with their fans than English clubs.
The natures of English and German football have diverged over the past 50 years. The German game has become more technically and tactically sophisticated, the English game has become more energetic and entertaining. But the similarities remain more numerous than the differences: Jurgen Klopp’s successful transition from Dortmund to Liverpool proves the point.
Oddly ‘that goal’ from the 1966 World Cup Final has proved more an issue of unity than division.