The first major international championship of my life time saw the beginning of a dominance of international football which has continued to this day. The 1972 European Championship was the first of three consecutive appearances in the final for West Germany, which along with their success in World Cups has helped to cement the legend of the Germans as the kings of the international tournament.
After seeing off England in the quarter finals, the Germans had beaten the hosts in the semi-final to set up the clash with the Soviet Union. The match was shown live on both the BBC and ITV, with the BBC’s coverage featuring the commentary of Barry Davies.
The match kicked off to a cacophony of air horns as the Germans mounted their first attack. Started by mercurial skipper Franz Beckenbauer, “Der Kaiser” immediately attracting the attention of Davies, who commented “Beckenbauer starting and no doubt will continue at a stroll”.
Davies could in truth have been talking about the German side as whole, as they completely dominated the match from start to finish. The opening minutes saw Soviet keeper, Evgeny Rudakov forced into action, sprinting from his goal-line “like a jack rabbit” to block the onrushing Gerd Muller.
Muller had scored four goals against the Soviet’s just weeks earlier in the inaugural game at Munich’s Olympic Stadium, and with a phenomenal goal scoring record in international football was obviously the greatest threat for the West Germans.
Wave after wave of German attacks rained down on the Soviet’s defence, Hoeness hitting the cross bar with a header as the West Germans dominated the opening 15 minutes. It would be a further 12 minutes before the breakthrough would be achieved.
The goal was the culmination of a breath-taking passage of play. Firstly the tormentor of England in the quarter final, Gunter Netzer unleashed a fierce shot from 30 yards which cannoned off the crossbar. The ball fell to Jupp Heynckes but he was denied a goal by a fine save by Rudakov. Unfortunately for the Russians, the ball fell to the arch poacher Muller who drove the ball home for his 50th international goal in just his 41st appearance.
The goal was just desserts for a German side that were so much better than their opponents it was difficult to see how the Soviets had made it to the final. They had squeezed past Hungary in the semi-finals, but were in danger of being blown away in the final. Without Rudakov in goal, the lead could have been more, the Soviet keeper denying Heynckes from doubling the lead by smothering his far post header.
The side from behind the Iron Curtain were offering no real attacking threat, restricted to hopeful long range strikes, all though one of these from Revaz Dzoduaschvilli forced Sepp Maier to touch over his crossbar.
Soviet resistance crumbled in the opening fifteen minutes of the second half. German possession play suddenly sprang forward, a through pass finding Herbert Wimmer bursting forward to fire home from the edge of the box. “Slow, slow the suddenly strike” observed Davies who added, “Such an easy goal for Wimmer, the slow build up by the Germans creates the goal which could settle it and allow them to really turn it on.”
Davies also turned incredibly prescient, talking about the forthcoming World Cup, saying “it’s going to take an awfully good team to stop them winning the World Cup in their own land in 1974 … perhaps the Dutch might be the best bet.”
The West Germans knew the game was won, but any complacency they might have shown, was snapped out of them by their skipper. After some sloppy play saw them concede possession just outside their own area, Beckenbauer tidied up before berating his team-mates: “Beckenbauer’s got time to tell his defenders to wake their ideas up and then calmly plays the ball back to his own goalkeeper”. The calmness with which Beckenbauer would play the game would revolutionise the sweeper role for the next few years.
The manager Helmut Schoen was also unhappy with the sloppiness slipping into the German play, but would have been delighted with the response which saw his side sweep forward again to seal the victory.
The ever dangerous Muller burst forward from the centre circle before feeding the ball to Heynckes on the edge of the box. The Borussia Monchengladbach player played an instant pass which was miscontrolled by Schwarzenbeck, the ball falling into the path of Muller who had continued his run and swept the ball in from 8 yards out. “They were looking for the linesman but he’s not going to put his flag up” said Davies “That’s the answer to the manager and the others who thought they were taking things too easy.”
The remaining half hour saw the Germans toy with the Soviet Union, keeping possession and frustrating their opponents, whilst still always probing and looking for a goal. “I sense that Don Revie will be enjoying this. The sort of thing we saw from Leeds United two or three times last season… That’s a high compliment to pay them” said Davies, who was there for the BBC on the legendary afternoon when Leeds demolished Southampton.
The rest of the game turned into a eulogy by Davies about the potential of the German side, which all turned out to be correct. As the game drew to a close, the pitch became surrounded by German fans who broke over the walls and crossed the athletics track to stand on the touchlines, which Davies compared to the 1923 FA Cup Final at Wembley, “all we need now is the White Horse.”
It must have been deja-vu for some of the Russian side who had been in the Dynamo Moscow team which had lost to Rangers in the Cup Winners Cup Final a few weeks earlier, but unlike the Scots, the German fans managed to stay off the field until the final whistle, when the pitch was invaded, scenes summed up by Davies as “really marvellous.. tell you what this game is all about. 22 players kicking a ball around a football field and it means such emotion like this.”
I may only have been a couple of months old, but it’s those sentiments which have seen me follow this wonderful game throughout my life time. My “first” season was over, and so were the glory years of the England team. The next campaign would see the beginning of a barren and depressing period for English international football.