Since I have resolved from the beginning to do everything I write only from memory, I will remain true to this resolution in this text as well. In doing so, I am making the claim that I have already remembered what is worth remembering. And at that time, the European Championships were not of comparable importance to the World Championships. Even if this statement is still true today, there is a much greater focus on the final tournament and one can confidently classify it as a “major event”. The fact that it could by no means be so in 1972 was due, among other things, to the way the tournament was held. I don’t remember the 1968 European Championship at all – admittedly due to the fact that Germany didn’t play a role in it – but there was one special event in the 72nd European Championship that simply has to be remembered.
It must have been on a Saturday evening, because I was not only staying overnight with friends, but I also remember very clearly that I had to go to a match at the Lichterfelde stadium myself the next morning. That evening, the important England-Germany match was once again on the agenda. And it was to be played at the venerable Wembley Stadium, where Germany had lost the final 6 years earlier in extra time despite heroic resistance by the famous Wembley goal. The revenge for ’66 was then achieved in Mexico, when the Germans turned around a 2-0 deficit and also reached the semi-finals after extra time. The game that evening in ’72, however, was a different story. The world was not completely focused on this game, on this stadium. It was a real home game. And at this point, it’s good to reflect a little on this perceived and somehow acknowledged advantage:
The so-called home advantage has not only preoccupied me from an early age, but I later included it as a measurable parameter in my football programme for calculating matches. It is smaller at major tournaments because the world is watching and there are probably either too many neutral spectators in the stadium or the referee cannot whistle so “biased” in view of the attention of the world public, even if, according to my theory, often unintentionally, influenced only by the whistling or bawling crowds. In the past, it happened much more often, especially in smaller games in the European Cup that were not even covered by TV pictures, that an offside position was generously overlooked here or there if the home team was on the attack and on the other side the whistle was blown somewhat pettishly if it was possibly not offside. The same was true for the interpretation of fouls in the penalty area. Penalty here, not there.
Even on these phenomena my database gives information: the home advantage was really greater in those earlier years. Even a 0:2 was not even considered a very bad result in the first leg. “You can still turn that around.” Today, even a 1:0 would be worth more than a 2:0 or 3:1 back then. So today you would have to attribute the home advantage to the usual variables like “I know my way around here, this is MY home”, “this is my territory to defend” or even “they had a long journey” or simply “we have to get the crowd behind us, they’ll whip us forward”.
However, I was able to see for myself for the first time in the match between Belgium and Mexico that the host nation, which I recognised at the time, would always make it through the preliminary round. The Mexicans were awarded a penalty in a scene when the attacker was about a metre away from the opponent during the alleged foul and yet fell theatrically without any contact. A victory was needed. And it came in this way. Penalty and 1:0 for Mexico. I haven’t been able to erase that scene from my memory ever since, because even then my sense of justice came to the fore and something like that could spoil my enjoyment of the whole tournament. My father reassured me that it was all about the organiser. But unfair remains unfair. By the way, this theory that the host always gets further proved true until the big tournaments that were held by two nations. There, Belgium was eliminated once, later Japan once and then Austria at a European Championship, all of which were only co-hosts.
So I was with family friends. And I was able to watch this game live. It was unusual to watch without my father. I inherited a lot of my (dubious) football knowledge from him. It was watched intensively and analysed intensively. At the age of 13, as a football fanatic, you are already in a position to make your own assessments, to form your own opinion. We had our discussions and – my father was right. That’s just the way it was. But I thought along with him.
I couldn’t believe that both the host parents and their children, who were a bit younger than me, didn’t take part in the events in the way I had expected. Maybe they were watching. But other things had priority. Conversations about the day’s events or the evening meal prepared at the same time took precedence over my hosts. Surely that was not possible? Not only that there was football today. You’re not hungry there and nothing else interests you anyway. But the game, this game, everyone had to watch it. From the preliminary reports to the “funeral speeches” (in the original words of father Edzard Paulsen).
So I had to rely on myself and my thoughts, even with the analyses. What I saw, however, impressed me very much. And to this day it has gone down in international match history as “one of the great games of the German team”. One of the great games of Günter Netzer, whose national team career by no means matched his outstanding abilities, which he delivered in the 36 sometimes weaker appearances in the jersey of the German eleven. And Günter Netzer was indeed my idol. Not only had I tried to learn and imitate his outstanding shooting technique in an early football book, but I was also taken with his flowing mane in those years and was encouraged to imitate it. But I could just about cope with the fact that I was later accused of being more like Ewald Lienen…
The Germans won 3:1, “Kleines dickes Müller” scored up front, Günter Netzer was allowed to direct the game alone in the absence of Wolfgang Overath, who was always better at that position in the national jersey, with a total of 81 caps, and Katsche Schwarzenbeck cleaned up at the back reliably as usual. But the most special thing about this game was once again my own story. And it is not yet fully told.
Because: I had a ticket for the return match in Berlin’s Olympiastadion. Only one of two international matches of the Germans that I have ever watched live in the stadium. Except that we occasionally had tickets for the youth internationals between Germany and England when I was at school. So it may be that I went with greater expectations after the first leg because of the superior quality of the German team, but it may also be that I already knew that a 3:1 victory in the away game pretty much meant a ticket to the next round and that no special game could be expected. England would have had to score three goals to progress. And surely that was not conceivable?
Anyway, the memories are pretty dim. No glitz, no glory, no goal. A 0-0. A real disappointment. A cruel game. I don’t know exactly why I can remember one single scene in the game so well: A goal kick by Siggi Held that went about 20 metres over the goal. The best scoring opportunity?
The “final round” was then played with four teams in Belgium. Germany won the semi-final 2-1 against Belgium and the final 3-0 against the Soviet Union. All somehow self-evident. The team was good, no question. One got used to the victories. But these games didn’t have any special memory value for me.