When you’ve been following the ‘beautiful game’ as long as I have, you’ve seen a few World Cup tournaments. I think I remember elements of Chile 1962, but can definitely do so with the one that followed four later as England were crowned as champions of the world. The downside of this of course means that I’ve also seen some skulduggery of the lowest order in the four yearly event that should present the highest standards of the game.
The genius of Maradona was sullied when when he punched Argentina past England and then was banished as a drug cheat in the 1994 tournament. Harold Schumacher assaulted French full back Patrick Battiston with a malice that may have earned a prison sentence had it occurred anywhere but on a football pitch. And then Luis Suarez reprised his dental belligerence by biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in last year’s tournament.
For conspiracy and mass inclusion however, there’s one instance that stands out, and it involved neither violence or cheating per se. No-one was banned. Indeed both of the ‘guilty’ parties progressed in the tournament, and the only injuries and damage were to broken hearts and shattered dreams. It occurred in the 1982 tournament in Spain – the very same event where Schumacher displayed an aggression well beyond the pale, but on this occasion the problem was a lack of aggression, rather than a surfeit of it.
The West German squad arrived on the Iberian peninsula as European champions, and seemed keen to prove that the nationalistic stereotype of aloofness and arrogance was in fact an understatement. To be fair, it was a confidence built on fact. They had cantered through the qualifying group, winning all eight games, racking up 33 goals in the process. Their self-assurance was probably enhanced another notch or three when they were placed in a group with Chile, Austria – who they had defeated twice in qualifying – and Algeria, with their opening game against the seemingly no-hoper Africans. Five years previously, Pele had forecast that an African country would win the World Cup before the turn of the century. The Germans clearly did not think this would be Algeria.
How confident were the Germans of beating Algeria? Reports suggest that the rating had surpassed ten. “We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs,” one player is supposed to have commented, whilst another predicted it would be so easy he would be smoking a cigar throughout. Manager Jupp Derwall has been reported as saying that her did not show his squad a video of their opponents as his players would merely have laughed at it, and he would get the next train back to Germany should his team come up short. How much descriptions of such hubris are true, and how much is delicious post-game adornment is difficult to say. The simple fact was however that Algeria thoroughly merited a thrilling 2-1 victory. For the record, Derwall did not buy a railway ticket the following day. This blooded-nose for the Germans was however, merely a prologue of the story to come.
In the second round of group games, Austria defeated a seemingly tired Algeria, whilst West Germany responded to their humiliation in the grand manner, comfortably and comprehensively dispatching Chile. Then, the final round dawned and Algeria were comfortably ahead 3-0 against the seemingly hapless Chileans at half-time in their game. If they could hold that margin until the final whistle, only a freak result of the order of 4-3, 5-4, etc, between the Germans and Austrians could deny them a place in the second round. As they eased down in the second period however, the South Americans found a measure of pride and scored twice to give the result an air of respectability. This meant that the Africans would still qualify unless Germany beat their near neighbours by a one or two goal margin. Unfortunately, these were times before Fifa had recognised the folly of not having final group games played simultaneously, hence the two European countries knew what was required before they kicked-off.
What followed has been described as ‘Der Nichtangriffspakt von Gijón’ (the non-aggression pact of Gijón). Even Eberhard Stanjek, commentating on the match for German television said: “What’s happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football.” Relating events on ITV, Hugh Johns remarked that, “This is one of the most disgraceful international matches I’ve ever seen,” and that the game had been brought “into disrepute.”
The bare facts are that West Germany’s muscular striker Horst Hrubesch bundled a cross into the net with less than a dozen minutes on the clock to both open and close the scoring. The resulting 1-0 victory to Germany saw both them and Austria qualify, with Algeria dispatched to the ‘unlucky losers’ column of the analysis. Dig a little deeper though and there’s substantial evidence to sustain the assessments of both Stanjek and Johns.
Of course both teams knew of the arithmetic and at 1-0 to the Germans, both were safe. Clearly, in the midst of a game there’s little time for a formal declaration of a truce, but word of mouth can be passed around and messages understood. As the whistle went for half-time, and the teams left the field, an unnamed German player can be seen running over to an Austrian player, placing an arm around his shoulder and indulging in intense conversation. Quite what was said is unclear, but a number of stories have circulated that a pact was agreed during the break among at least some of the players on both sides. The story has been denied by some of the players who took part, whilst others have refused to comment. To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies however, ‘Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?’
As the second period progressed, back-passes and possession of the ball became very much the order of the day. Although some players seemed keen to progress the game, such dalliances were few and far between, and diminished as time went on. A video of the game reveals that the crowd in the stadium quickly and increasingly became restless at the apparent non-match being played out before them. Certainly, in the last fifteen minutes or so neither team shows any interest in moving forward, with both intent on parking a whole fleet of buses in front of their goals. Was this the case though? Statistics can of course be twisted to support any theory, Opta however, the statistics experts in the game, have revealed some interesting facts.
In the entire second half, there were only three shots, none of which were on target, and West Germany made a mind-bogglingly low eight tackles. Pass completion rate across the 45 minutes was over 90%. Austria had a pass completion rate within their own half of the field of 99%, whilst West Germany’s was 98%. It hardly conjures up an image of the height of competitiveness. But enough of empirical evidence, what of the anecdotal variety. I’ve already mentioned snippets of the thoughts of two television commentators viewing the game, but they were only brief extracts of a couple of examples.
Stanjek goes on to declare that, “You can say what you want, but not every end justifies the means.” Johns, as the game nears it’s conclusion sums up his feelings by referring to the referee, Bob Valentine. “A few seconds on Bob Valentine’s watch between us and going-home time. And what a relief that’s going to be. Breitner for Briegel for Stielike, names that run off my tongue at the moment and leave a nasty, nasty taste. Stielike … quality players who should all be in the book of referee Bob Valentine for bringing the game into disrepute. This is one of the most disgraceful international matches I’ve ever seen.” Reading the words they seem cutting and harsh, but it must be remembered that Johns was no waspish pundit with vapid views. Here was a fairly measured and mellow observer, feeling he had been watching something eminently distasteful.
Some Algerians amongst the crowd were seen to be waving money at the players in anger, whilst others sought unsuccessfully to scale the fences separating players from crowd. Stenjak was however not the only non-neutral observer angered. I’ve seen reports that one German fan is seen to be burning his national flag on the terraces, although I can’t say that I have first hand evidence of this. Former German international Willi Schulz is on record as calling all 22 players “gangsters,” with one German newspaper carrying a banner headline declaring, ‘Shame on you!’ Sentiments were similar across Europe’s press. A Spanish ‘paper described the game as ‘The Anchluss’ and a Dutch one described the game as “football porn.”
The Algerian FA appealed against result but, even in these pre-Blatter days, of course nothing happened. An enquiry decided that nothing outside of a game can change its result – aside from an half-time conversation perhaps. One thing that did change however was that from that time, all final group games would be played simultaneously. Which, perhaps provokes the question as to why, if nothing was wrong, was any change required.
To their credit, after the appeal was rejected, the Algerians took the matter with great dignity. They left the tournament with much more respect than that retained by the Germans and Austrians who continued on. It’s surely only dullard logic that would declare an over-emphasis on this particular pierce of chicanery because it was perpetuated by the West Germans, seemingly always the ‘bete noir’ of English football. It takes two to tango – or waltz, in fact – and Austrian complicity in any pact must have been secured if it was to work. Is there however some small satisfaction in noting that the Austrians went little further in the competition, and that the Germans lost to Italy in the final. One wagers that the Azzurri would have been very popular in Algeria on that day.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for ‘theaspirer’ website).