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Reliving the shame of Spain

On Tuesday, while I was waiting for the final part of my Finke homage to go up on these webpages, I checked the wire reports coming in every five minutes or so.

That's because we had been tipped the Miroslav Klose transfer to Bayern would be announced and, being good journalists, we wanted to have corroboration before reporting on the latest monster signing in Bavaria.

At four minutes to three, sid (the sports information service) finally announced that Werder had confirmed the move would go ahead and things got quite busy at the office.

But not for long. About half an hour later, a rumour began to spread that former national coach Jupp Derwall had died at 80 years of age, and now we were watching the wire reports again. A few minutes past four, an obituary appeared on the German FA's homepage.

You could have learned a lot about more or less recent German football history just by watching the aisles and the various rooms in the office building during the next hour or so.

The younger members of the staff, those in their early twenties, were busy discussing the Klose transfer and whether Bayern would win the league by ten points or more.

Those of my colleagues who are in their late twenties or early thirties were racking their memory and scouring websites to find something meaningful to say about Derwall's life and career.

When they came over to us, the so-called veterans (no, my hair's not grey and I can still walk around without a stick), to ask for an opinion they were surprised to find us rather taciturn and undecided.

At last I said: 'Just write what you want, I can't help you. This guy was certainly a decent man. But he was also the scourge of my childhood.' And those who are old enough to know what I meant nodded their heads.

On the day before Derwall's death, Monday the 25th of June, almost every newspaper had run on story on the 25th anniversary of the 'Shame of Gijon', the darkest moment in the history of our national team. The Financial Times Germany headlined 'Treason Against Sportsmanship'; Die Welt spoke of 'legal fraud'; my local paper, quoting a Dutch magazine, mentioned 'football pornography.'

They all referred to the match against Austria at the 1982 World Cup, in which both teams ran down the clock for long, very long 75 minutes, knowing the 1-0 scoreline would see both through at the expense of Algeria. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said it was 'the worst-case scenario concerning the public image of all who played a part in it. And the very worst was that they never got it.'

Derwall, the national coach, played a major part in it and was one of those who 'never got it', never understood what was so unsporting about playing backpasses for over an hour.

We wanted to progress, not play football.
Derwall on West Germany's World Cup Anschluss with Austria, 1982
What everyone watching, from the tv commentator to the writers to the fans at home in Germany, regarded as cynical, cowardly and unworthy of a national team competing in the World Cup was merely professional as far as Derwall and his players were concerned. 'We wanted to progress, not play football,' he said so coolly that it sent shivers down your spine.

I was sixteen when I watched that game and saw the people in the stands who were waving banknotes at what I still regarded as my team. I was told that the police had to hold back fans who were so outraged they came close to invading the pitch. The next day, I learned that the players had derided a group of German supporters who had congregated at the team's hotel to demand an apology.

And ten days or so after that, Harald Schumacher committed that awful foul on Patrick Battiston in Seville and then watched with utter lack of interest as the lifeless Frenchman was stretchered off.

'After what had happened in Gijon and Seville, no one was in the least dejected when Germany lost the World Cup final,' the Westfälische Rundschau reminded us on Monday. This is correct, and even a bit of an understatement.

Many people forgave, but never forgot. And some could not even forgive. They would never again be able to unconditionally root for the national team.

It's sad but also fitting that Derwall would die on the very day after Germans had been reminded of Gijon so thoroughly. Because for all his achievments and his merry, often indeed charming personality, Derwall was never considered a successful coach and he wasn't loved.

Yes, he did win the 1980 European Championships and also reached a World Cup final.

He does hold a record for 23 consecutive unbeaten games with Germany. But he was a hero only in Turkey, where Galatasaray offered him a lifetime contract in the late 1980s.

Perhaps his image of the also-ran stemmed from the early stages of his career, before he became a coach with the German FA. At Fortuna Düsseldorf, they lauded him as an elegant player and a newspaper said his style was 'a treat for the eyes.' But he didn't win anything, losing no less than four Cup finals (and another two as a club coach, in Switzerland and Germany).

Or perhaps it wasn't the results. Perhaps it was that Germany played such uninspired, boring football when he was at the helm, a development he aggravated by alienating the most gifted player of this generation, Bernd Schuster.

Or perhaps it was just bad, sad timing. Derwall seemed to always follow in the footsteps of Helmut Schön, first as a coach for the Saarland FA, then as assistant coach of the national team, then as national manager. And when he finally got to the top he had to find out that all the great players from the 70s had gone. And that the shadow of the universally adored Schön was very long.

Still, none of this is an excuse for Gijon. Then again, Tuesday's news also raised a question for me. Shouldn't you be able to forgive after a quarter of a century? Yes, you should. Rest in peace, Josef 'Jupp' Derwall.

  • Uli's seminal history of German football, Tor!, is available online.

    Also available: Uli's Flutlicht und Schatten for all you German scholars to gen up on the history of the European Cup.

  • Any thoughts on this article? Email us.