By Brian Blickenstaff
You can say what you want, but not every end justifies every means"
-- Eberhard Stanjek, German television presenter, 1982 World Cup
On Sunday, seconds after Silvestre Varela broke 300 million American hearts by heading Cristiano Ronaldo's 95th-minute cross past a stranded Tim Howard, I sent out the following tweet: "Klinsmann is on the phone with Löw already, right?" With both the United States and Germany needing a draw when they meet on Thursday to guarantee advancement into the round of 16, the easiest thing would be for Klinsmann to call his former assistant, Joachim Löw, who is now manager of Germany, and fix the match. Of course, I was only kidding. I don't expect the two German coaches to do anything of the sort.
But a similar thought bubble had appeared over the heads of journalists the world over, and certainly those in the post-match press conference, where Klinsmann was repeatedly asked about collusion. "There will be no such call," Klinsmann said when asked if he'd phone his friend. "The US is known to give all they have in every single game, otherwise Mexico wouldn't be here," he added.
A different manager -- perhaps one who isn't German -- wouldn't have stood for that line of questioning. Maybe the reason Klinsmann kept his cool was his knowledge that the sort of collusion he was being asked about has precedent in the World Cup, that the case involved Germany, and that it seriously damaged the reputation of the German national team for decades to come. Klinsmann wanted to leave no doubt.
I'm talking, of course, about the Schande von Gijón (the Shame of Gijón), an incident that changed the World Cup forever.
In the first group stage of the 1982 World Cup (there were two group stages back then), West Germany drew Algeria, Chile and arch-rivals Austria. "It started with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Algeria, whom the Germans totally underestimated," Uli Hesse told me by phone. Hesse is a German football historian and journalist. (His book, Tor! The Story of German Football is required reading for those interested in the German game.) "That was seen as a major disaster: the result, the game, everything."
Thanks to a Karl-Heinz Rummenigge hat trick, the West German team began to set things right by destroying Chile in their following match, 4-1. And then came the Austrians.
"Just four years before [the 1982 tournament] we had the famous game in Cordoba [in the 1978 World Cup] where West Germany were beaten by Austria," Hesse said. "A famous moment from that day in '78 was the Austrian television commentator who went totally nuts when Austria beat Germany, the game meant so much to him and for the country."
The West Germans weren't just beaten, they were knocked out of the World Cup altogether by their smaller neighbors. "So there was also this sense that this ['82] match was between two rivals," continued Hesse, "and the Germans could get revenge for Cordoba and knock Austria out of the tournament."
It didn't go down like that though. When the two teams met in Gijon, Spain, they did so with the knowledge that Algeria had already beaten Chile the day before and that if West Germany won by one goal to zero, both teams would go through. Sure enough, West Germany scored in the 10th minute, and then, as David Goldblat writes in The Ball is Round, "the next 80 minutes were played out as a grotesque and interminable kickabout." Although no one has ever proved outright collusion, neither team really tried to score.
"Things which mean a lot to fans, such as rivalries and so on, were of no concern to these players," Hesse told me.
Fans the world over were outraged, and West Germany supporters were horrified. In contemporary German soccer, there is a lot of talk about fair play and doing the right thing for the sake of competition. But this German team clearly didn't come from that school of thought. They were contemptuous under criticism, arguing that advancing was all that mattered. "When German supporters gathered in front of the squad's hotel to get the team to justify themselves," Hesse writes in Tor!, "the players threw water-filled balloons at them from the windows of their luxury suites."
The West Germans went on to defeat the French in arguably one of the greatest matches in World Cup history. Battling back from a 3-1 deficit, Klaus Fischer leveled things with a bicycle kick, before West Germany won on penalties. But the match was marred by an incident in which West German keeper Harald Schumacher clattered into France's Patrick Battison, knocking Battison out along with two teeth. Schumacher was completely unremorseful, saying it was fair play before offering to pay for Battison's dental work.
The German team lost in the final to Italy, but for many West German fans, it was too late. The team's scandalous display to that point had already turned an entire generation of German fans away from the national team.
"It was everything about the tournament," Hesse said. "It was just that you see Germany proceeding from round to round even though they play badly in the first game, even though they trample fair play under foot in the second game, even though they almost kill an opponent in the France game, they end up in the final.
"There was a keen sense of this being unfair. The German team wasn't received well at home, even though they reached the World Cup final. It was just a general feeling that they left a very bad image, and I think that haunted Germany for a long time."
The Schande von Gijón haunted FIFA too. On Thursday, when the US plays Germany, Portugal and Ghana will play simultaneously, which is how the final group match has played out in every major tournament since the '82 World Cup. Does that mean Germany and the US won't just wink at each other and pass the ball around?
Hesse predicts Germany will win 2-0. Others are not so sure. "Cosy draw between USA-Germany [is] against spirit of this World Cup," Ian Darke, ESPN's legendary play-by-play man, tweeted this morning. "But if it's 1-1 on 75 mins why cut each other's throats when draw suits both?"
* * *