Fears of terrorist attacks, tales of money-grabbing players and, in the end, the Germans walk away with the trophy. This is the story of the 1974 World Cup but in many ways it could be today's.
The West German football team had come a long way in 20 years. Excluded from international football after World War II, they had struggled for re-acceptance and recognition. With determination and meticulous planning, they had brought about a miracle that restored national pride to a broken people, achieving the greatest upset in World Cup history by winning the trophy in 1954. But by 1974 they were no longer the underdogs – Germany hosted the tournament as reigning European champions, having dazzled with their style and finesse when winning the Henri Delaunay Trophy in 1972. Though not as strong as two years earlier, West Germany were expected to win this World Cup on home soil.
After the intense heat of Mexico, teams had to deal with a completely new set of playing conditions in West Germany, as rain blighted many of the key fixtures in the tenth World Cup. The Germans had employed a computer to calculate the best dates to play the fixtures but it had proved as reliable as a weatherman. The competition had a new, solid gold trophy: bigger, more dramatic, and simply called the FIFA World Cup. The format of the competition had also changed significantly, with a second group stage replacing the knockout phase. The top two teams in each group progressed to the second round, where two groups of four would battle for a place in the final.
Yet far from feeling like the dawn of an exciting new era, there was a sense of fear as the finals approached. The Munich Olympics of two years earlier had been blighted by the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists, and West Germany was suffering from its own urban guerrillas, the Red Army Faction – also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group – who were waging a damaging terror campaign across the country.
With the Cold War at its height, there were other security issues of concern for the hosts, brought about by the qualification of East Germany for the first time since the two countries were separated after the war. Drawn together in the same group, East and West Germany would meet for the first time ever and to add spice, just weeks before the tournament, West German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, had been forced to resign after it was revealed that one of his personal assistants was an East German spy. So, as the teams prepared to kick off, security was at an all time high, giving the impression of a war zone rather than a World Cup.
That security extended to the West German training camp, in rural Malente in the very north of the country. “It was a difficult time for Germany,” says keeper Sepp Maier. “The Baader-Meinhof Group were at the peak of their activities. We were very heavily protected because of this, with many policemen with us in the training camp. We were a bit incarcerated, and couldn’t move around as freely as footballers like.” Left-back Paul Breitner remembers the camp being “like a fortress”.
With little to occupy their time other than training, and under constant security supervision, the boredom at Malente caused the atmosphere with the German camp to deteriorate. Worse, captain Franz Beckenbauer had to contend with a fractious and demanding squad who had money at the top of their agenda.
“The players demanded a certain fee if they won the World Cup,” explains journalist Marcus Brauckmann. “This was unheard of as football was considered to be sacred of money issues. It was considered an honour to play for Germany. The 1954 players were saints, they played for nothing, or for very little, so the 1974 players were expected to do the same.”
In fact, money was a dominant theme of the 1974 World Cup, as players fought for larger rewards in the face of newspaper headlines branding them “greedy”. The Scottish squad arrived in the midst of a dispute with kit manufacturer Adidas, pushing manager Willie Ormond to the brink of quitting, while the Dutch squad had been involved in hard-nosed bonus negotiations, invoking the wrath of coach Rinus Michels before accepting a lucrative incentive scheme.
Star player Johan Cruyff, meanwhile, refused to wear the national team’s new strip with its three Adidas stripes on the sleeve, insisting that it would be a clash of endorsements, as he was signed with Puma. Amazingly the Dutch football federation relented and Cruyff was allowed to play in a tailor-made kit featuring just two stripes.
Meanwhile, just five days before the start of the tournament, a series of heated negotiations broke out between the West German squad and the Deutscher Fussball Bund. The players had learned that the Italians and the Dutch had been promised bonuses in excess of DM100,000 (then £16,000), compared to their own offer of just DM30,000. “There was a real haggling session,” says Maier. “Helmut Schön [the West Germany coach] said we were greedy and that people would spit on us in the street if they found out. He wanted to have nothing more to do with us.”
The arguments extended through the night, and by the early hours of the morning both Paul Breitner and coach Schön had their suitcases packed. Schön had even threatened at one point to send all 22 players home and contest the World Cup with a second string squad, FIFA having been notified that there might be a last minute change. After much discussion, the DFB made a final offer of DM70,000 per man.
The squad, who had voted democratically on every offer, was split evenly, with 11 players still holding out for the DM75,000 they had demanded. This time Beckenbauer took the initiative and instructed the squad to accept the offer. It seemed that the host nation were going to have a team for the tournament after all.
“Having dazzled with their style and finesse when winning the Henri Delaunay Trophy in 1972, West Germany were expected to win this World Cup on home soil.”
The 1974 World Cup kicked off on Friday June 14 at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin and West Germany started slowly. The behind-the-scenes bonus negotiations might have been resolved, but the side struggled to impress their own home crowd after a mediocre victory over Chile. A 3-0 win over Australia followed but the performance fooled nobody. Towards the end of the game the cheers turning to jeers; Beckenbauer spat at the crowd after being abused for giving the ball away.
The fans had turned against Germany’s negative approach and there was an atmosphere of mutual disdain. Yet all would be forgotten if they could defeat East Germany. It was what the country expected, what their Dresden-born coach Helmut Schön wanted more than anything. The stage was set for the match everyone had been waiting for, the head to head between two Germanys and two ideologies.
“Football in the German Democratic Republic [East Germany] was at that time not so popular with the officials, because it did not yield medals at the Olympics,” recalls East German midfielder Jürgen Sparwasser. “Once they wanted to forbid it but then the people went on the barricades and the state couldn’t do anything about it. At first people were happy to have qualified. Then of course came the draw and there was a hullabaloo, because many people also supported West Germany. Many expected that we were going to leave the stadium having lost 5-0.”
Maier remembers how the loyalties were split between the two German nations. “When we had to drive from Malente to Berlin we passed through the GDR,” he recalls. “People on the streets were waving flags – not GDR flags but German flags. They gave us the thumbs up, although the GDR was in fact an opponent in our group.”
“Where I lived in the East you could view Western television so we experienced the tension to the run up that was happening in the West,” says Sparwasser. “The first games didn’t seem so important, but that game was in the news every day.”
West Germany had qualified for the next round already, while after beating Australia and drawing with Chile the East Germans needed just a point to be certain of progressing, but this didn’t detract from the significance of the game or from the pressure on Helmut Schön’s team. The West German coach had been forced to leave the East in May 1950 to stay true to his football principles and winning the match would vindicate his defection.
But the match didn’t go according to Schön’s script, his team unable to break through the East German wall of resistance. Frustration was spreading. Then in the 77th minute, frustration turned into disaster for the West Germans, Sparwasser collecting a long ball from Hamman, rounding a defender and lifting the ball over Maier.
The only Germans making a noise were 2,000 fans from the GDR who had been specially vetted by the Party and deemed politically correct enough to attend. “There was deadly silence,” recalls Sparwasser. “The stadium was quiet. Our 2,000 fans made a noise for 10,000, but it was accompanied by booing and whistling. We had hit the enemy where it hurts him most. It stung them badly.”
For Schön in particularly, the defeat was devastating. “After supper the players sat together until three or four in the morning, drinking and smoking,” says Maier. “Schön came in and said, ‘Cigars and all this smoking won’t help’. Then he went to bed and we were left alone again.”
“After the panic of initially just wanting to go home we realised we didn’t want that, we didn’t want to look ridiculous,” says Breitner. “Earlier we’d been negotiating like megalomaniacs about what we would get when we were world champions, and now it looked like we would be going home in the second round. That could not be allowed.”
Schön took the defeat so badly that the next morning he was still locked in his room alone, refusing to eat with the players. In the afternoon a packed press conference had be cancelled. With Schön unable to speak, the West German football federation had to accept that their coach was facing up to something approaching a nervous breakdown.
“He was an extremely sensitive person,” explains Breitner. “He even went as far as saying to himself, ‘I’m going home now, I don’t want to expose myself to this any longer’.”
His right hand on the pitch, Beckenbauer was the man who came to the rescue. From that point Beckenbauer attended press conferences alongside Schön, speaking eloquently for the coach about the games and tactics, and deflected all the media attention. Beckenbauer’s thoughts on a restructuring of the line-up, including dropping Uli Hoeness who he had heavily critisised, were implemented as the West German captain transformed the attitude and the look of his team. “From then Helmut Schön did not make the calls by himself,” explains journalist Marcus Braukmann. “Franz Beckenbauer did.”
The West Germans were gathering strength at just the right time. And by finishing behind the East Germans in their group, it meant that they had avoided Holland, Argentina and Brazil in the second group phase. While West Germany had been struggling to kick-start their World Cup, a new team were adding some colour to the proceedings. Led by the charismatic Johan Cruyff, Holland set the opening round alight. The Dutch had no real pedigree on the world stage, having made just fleeting appearances at the 1934 and 1938 World Cup finals, and even their current team had struggled during the qualifying stages, but the appointment of Barcelona manager Rinus Michels as coach just three months before the tournament was the catalyst for the side of 1974.
“Money was a dominant theme of the 1974 World Cup, as players fought for larger rewards in the face of newspaper headlines branding them ‘greedy’.”
A former Ajax coach, his team was built around the stars of the all-conquering Ajax club side and they cut a swathe through the group stages, their unique and spellbinding brand of ‘Total Football’, in which players switched positions and roles with astonishing versatility, won the heart of the competition – and a generation.
For Michels, playing beautiful football was a serious business and he demanded a high level of professionalism from his team on the pitch. Off it, however, the Dutch appeared to approach life in a more relaxed manner than the bickering West Germans. With their beautiful long hair, laid-back attitude and hippy love beads, the Dutch were the pin-ups of the 1974 World Cup.
In contrast to the Germans, locked away like monks at their training base, here was a team who liked a good time. “We were very easy living and we had parties,” recalls Arie Haan. “Because we did not know anything about a world tournament, how you have to behave, we were just normal. We played our game and after the game you were free.”
Holland topped their group after a 2-0 win over Uruguay, a goalless draw against Sweden and an impressive 4-1 rout of Bulgaria, enough for them to top the group and qualify for the last eight along with the Swedes.
While the tournament’s new champions of free-flowing football were cruising through their opening group, the once mighty Brazil were proving that they were clearly not the force that they had once been, playing a more cynical, defensive game to compensate for the fact that their team no longer boasted the same level of individual skill.
Brazil scraped through the first stage on goal difference, edging out Scotland, with whom they’d shared a goalless draw. They were joined in the second round by Poland and Argentina, the Poles edging out Italy after an impressive 2-1 win.
In the second round Group A was comprised of Argentina, Brazil, East Germany and Holland, with Poland, Sweden, West Germany and Yugoslavia in Group B. With no semi-finals, the teams who finished top of their respective groups would go straight through to the World Cup final.
Brazil began with something approaching their old swagger, beating East Germany 1-0, then Argentina 2-1, but they couldn’t live with a Dutch side approaching the peak of its powers. After comfortable wins over Argentina 4-0 and East Germany 2-0, two second-half goals from Cruyff and Neeskens saw Holland run out 2-0 winners over Brazil, who ended the game with ten men after the dismissal of Luis Periera.
Brazil had tarnished their reputation, while Holland had scored 14 goals and conceded only once on the way to the final. Many now assumed they were well on their way to a first and hugely deserved world championship. “It was fantastic,” Ruud Krol recalls. “But of course you realised that by beating the world champions, it did not mean that you become world champion.”
Meanwhile, in Group B slowly but surely the West Germans had finally started to click. Spurred on by an inspirational Franz Beckenbauer, they beat Yugoslavia 2-0 and Sweden 4-2 to set up a crucial decider with Poland, a match the West Germans only needed to draw.
Poland were yet to be defeated at the World Cup, and in Grzegorz Lato they had the tournament’s most prolific striker. He had scored a vital second-half winner in the 2-1 victory over Yugoslavia that brought Poland face-to-face with West Germany for a place in the final. Torrential rain caused the kick-off to be delayed due to a waterlogged pitch, as the Frankfurt fire brigade brought in to pump water from the quagmire. “The first 20 minutes were more like a game of chance,” recalls Sepp Maier. “You couldn’t play a straight ball because it kept getting stuck. If it hadn’t been a World Cup match, an important one, you could have written it off as a big laugh.”
Poland’s best chances came in the first half, Robert Gadocha and the prolific Lato forcing Maier into a couple of excellent saves before Gerd Müller snatched West Germany’s winner 14 minutes from time. “As a footballer my aim was to once deliver a perfect game,” says Paul Breitner. “That means 90 minutes without making the smallest mistake, to have played perfectly. I have never achieved it, but Sepp Maier achieved it in this game. You can’t play better as a goalkeeper than Sepp played on that day.”
On the surface the 1974 World Cup finalists couldn’t have been more different, but in reality both were exponents of their own kind of Total Football. West Germany had taken the European Nations Cup in 1972, their style described by The Times as “elegance and inventiveness”, while the backbone of the Dutch team came from Ajax, European Champions three times in a row.
“The idea of total football was that that everybody can play in every position, that everybody plays in the team and could go where he wants,” explains Ruud Krol. “It takes a lot of discipline. You must have the freedom to go forward, knowing that the position behind will be filled. You need quality players. At that time we had one super player and maybe five or six world-class players, and the rest were of top European level.”
But while the Dutch may have been disciplined on the pitch, off it their approach to the tournament was incredibly cavalier. And on the eve of the final itself, it came back to haunt them. Under the headline ‘Cruyff, Champagne and Naked Girls’, German tabloid Bild Zeitung claimed that the night before the Holland-Brazil game, there had been a ‘naked party’ in the swimming pool of their hotel, involving four unnamed Holland players and two German girls. The newspaper claimed to have pictures but none were ever published.
“Johan said, ‘There’s a big problem’,” recalls Arie Haan. “I read the paper and we were a little surprised, a little bit confused. This was the first time we were confronted with this kind of journalism.”
“I don’t think it affected us,” says Krol. “Of course we read it, but we were focussed on the final. They would try to do anything to win for the home country. Everywhere is the same.”
“We changed a little bit that night,” says Haan. “Before we did not think, but afterwards we were starting to know what it was like to be famous, to be the best. Everybody was looking at you and everybody was following you. That started with the articles. Then came the pressure and the stress – the women were on the phone.”
Whether the story was true or not, and it has never been proven either way, it has been said that Johan Cruyff’s wife kept him on the telephone all night. “Players wives were coming on the phone and asking, ‘What’s going on, I thought you were playing football, not swimming in hotel pools with naked German girls’,” says journalist Auke Kok, “The worst was Danny Cruyff as she just kept calling and calling.”
Where before everything had been peace and harmony, now with the final just hours away, instability threatened the Dutch camp. Even so, their confidence remained high. “They had played a marvellous tournament with beautiful victories in a spectacular and impressive playing style,” Rinus Michels recalled. “There was a lot of confidence that they could repeat it against Germany.”
As a nation, the Dutch still had very strong feelings about the Germans, an enmity that dated back to the occupation of Holland during World War II. The memories were still fresh for many people, not least Wim van Hanegem, who would give the best Dutch performance in the final. “Every time I played against German players I had a problem because of the war,” he has said. “Eighty per cent of my family died in the war; my daddy, my sister, my two brothers. And every game against players from Germany makes me angry. The Germans were good players but arrogant.”
To the Germans, Dutch confidence appeared more like arrogant overconfidence. “About an hour before the game the Dutch were behaving as if they were singing and celebrating as if they were world champions,” says Paul Breitner. “I still recall them playing ‘Tulips From Amsterdam’,” adds Maier. “And then I thought, ‘We’ll pluck those tulips today alright!’”
“On the surface the 1974 World Cup finalists couldn’t have been more different, but in reality both were exponents of their own kind of Total Football.”
In front of a crowd of 77,833 in Munich’s Olympiastadion on July 7, the World Cup final began with a hitch. “The thing I remember most is that with all the German efficiency,” says referee Jack Taylor, “we were just about to kick off and I noticed that there were no corner flags. We had to wait, with millions of people watching around the world, while some little man runs all the way round the ground to put the corner flags in position.”
The game would prove just as eventful. The Dutch kicked off, moving the ball around from player to player, just out of reach of the Germans. The home crowd whistled in anger as they saw the inability of their players to touch the ball. Cruyff picked it up in the centre circle, ambled towards goal, then accelerated past his marker Berti Vogts and into the box, only to be felled by Uli Hoeness. The referee pointed to the spot and after a move of 17 passes, the World Cup final had its first ever penalty.
“The Germans hadn’t even touched the ball and all of a sudden we’ve got a penalty in under a minute,” recalls Taylor. “It was a penalty, a blatant penalty.” In an attempt to intimidate him and imply he was biased, Beckenbauer waved his arm at Taylor and said, “You are an Englishman, of course”.
Johan Neeskens scored from the spot and the Germans went into shock. “We were paralysed,” says Breitner. “The Dutch didn’t realise how demoralised we were.”
“They really were the best team at the tournament,” says Maier. “But they were arrogant. They went into the lead and thought they’d easily get three or four. The two countries could barely stand each other. They wanted to show us up a bit, but they didn’t succeed.”
“We were a little bit arrogant on the pitch,” says Ruud Krol. “We had so much confidence that we could win.”
The Dutch continued to dominate with their taunting game of possession football, but they couldn’t have foreseen what would happen next. In the 25th minute a surging run from Bernd Hölzenbein was brought to an abrupt end as he threw himself over a tackle with the ball running out of his reach. Taylor blew for a penalty, although to many in the crowd it appeared to be a schwalbe, the German term for what the English would call a dive, something that Hölzenbein had quite a reputation for. ““That was his speciality,” Franz Beckenbauer has recalled. Sepp Maier agrees. “I have no penalty. Those who knew Hölzenbein knew very well. He simply flew over.”
Breitner converted the spot-kick, and the Germans went on to snatch the lead two minutes before half-time through Gerd Müller. As Müller flashed a loose ball across keeper Jongbloed and into the net, Dutch TV commentator Herman Kuiphof uttered the line that would always encapsulate the moment for many of his viewers: “Zijn we er toch nog ingetuind” – “They’ve tricked us again”.
So cagey for so long, West Germany were back in the game. It was now the Germans who looked like the disciples of Total Football, as they took the Dutch on at their own game. Crucially, the terrier-like Berti Vogts was getting the better of the insipid-looking Cruyff and the West Germans were now in the driving seat in every way. “It was 2-1 when we came off at half-time,” remembers Maier. “Schön said, ‘Just another 45 minutes and we’ve won the World Cup’. But things aren’t that simple.”
The Dutch were down, but far from out. “We tried to make pressure, pressure, pressure,” says Krol, “but the ball didn’t want to go in.” Like Poland before them the Dutch simply could not find a way past Maier. “To me five minutes seemed like three hours,” says Maier. “When the Dutch came at me, as they did all the time in the last half hour of the second half, I didn’t even have time to look at the clock.”
But somehow they held firm, and finally came the sound that the whole of West Germany had been praying for, as Taylor blew for full-time. “The joy was indescribable,” says Maier. Paul Breitner agrees. “I never dreamed of becoming world champion – it was never imaginable, never reachable, never achievable. But at that moment I was incredibly satisfied.”
In his third world cup Franz Beckenbauer had finally led West Germany to the top spot. But even in victory there was rancour. That evening, as the players arrived at Munich’s Hilton Hotel for the post-match banquet, they discovered that their wives were not welcome to attend. Disgusted, they promptly left the building to celebrate in a bar.
For the Dutch the defeat was catastrophic. Cruyff, then only 27, announced he would not compete in the next World Cup, unprepared to leave his wife and family again for such a long period. Four years later, despite huge efforts to change his mind, Holland went to Argentina without him. Beckenbauer would go on to win the World Cup again, this time as manager, when he led West Germany to a third World Cup title in 1990. But in 1974 the Germans had proved yet again that through resilience, determination and sheer hard work, they were unbeatable.
Chris Hunt is the author of ‘World Cup Stories: The History Of The FIFA World Cup’ (Interact Publishing)
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