Or how the Bild Zeitung possibly made sure of Germany’s 1974 World Cup victory… Possibly…
This story has it all. Mystery, conspiracy, and nobody really knows what has happened. To this very day there is no official version of how the ”pool controversy” at the 1974 World Cup in Germany came to be. And, of course the good people of the Bild Zeitung are involved as well. But, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the very beginning of the story.
The 70s saw Dutch football for the first time prominently featured in Europe. Rinus Michels Ajax Amsterdam side had invented a new kind of football, a fluid system that was attractive to watch, possession based and reliant upon players switching positions at all times, thus being rather unpredictable for the opposition and hard to defend against. Michels’s successors at Ajax continued to play the same style of football, and players like Johan Cruyff, Wim Suurbier, Ruud Krol, Gerrie Mühren, Arie Haan and Johan Neeskens, just to mention a few players, built one of the most perfect units European football had ever seen. The team around this core of players managed to win the European Cup three times in a row, being Euroe’s most feared side at the time.
For the 1974 World Cup, Rinus Michels took players that had been very succesful at the highest European level to the international stage. Besides the super star Johan Cruyff there were players like Rep, Neeskens, Haan, Suurbier, Krol, Keizer and many other internationally proven players. There were a few problems though. Sophisticated Ajax stopper Barry Hulshoff was injured, forcing Michels to play the midfielder Haan in defense, Gerrie Muhren refused to join the team in Germany, because his son was ill at the time and the goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed was rather old at the age of 34 and hadn’t played for the national team since 1962 before the Netherlands friendly against Argentine shortly before the World Cup (Jongbloed played a total of 24 matches for the Netherlands, 12 of these matches came at World Cups). Michels wanted to play his style of football that he had developed at Ajax, but the team he picked relied also on some players who weren’t used to that kind of football from their teams, and they had very little time to gel with the other players before the World Cup in 1974 started.
However, these problems didn’t stop the Dutch from playing one of their best, if not the best, World Cup campaigns of all time. Uruguay and Bulgaria were sent packing after the Dutch had defeated them 2-0 and 4-1 respectively. The Oranje fought a tough battle against Sweden that ended 0-0, but this match is still one of World Cup history’s most special moments, because the world got to see the Cruyff turn for the very first time.
Michels men continued their good run in the second group round, thrashing Argentine 4-0, before handily defeating East-Germany 2-0 and in the final and deciding group match beating Brazil in an intense match that saw two memorable goals by Neeskens and Cruyff.
Here are the highlights from the Brazil vs. Netherlands encounter.
With a goal difference of 14-1 and 11 of 12 possible points taken, the Netherlands surely seemed to be a very strong opposition for the West-Germans who had struggled in their first match against Chile, narrowly winning 1-0. Afterwards Germany won against Australia to qualify for the next round, but in their last match of the first group phase the West-Germans actually lost against East-Germany. The second group phase saw Germany winning their three matches against Yugoslavia, Sweden and Poland. In the last match against Poland Gerd Müller got the only goal of the match, on a rain heavy day sending the Germans to the final in Munich with a bit of luck.
The girls by the pool
While the on pitch action from this World Cup is exciting enough to chronicle in a book bigger than Ulysses, there is always something happening off the pitch the grabs the public’s imagination and attention as well. And, if there is some dirt to be dug up by the media the Bild Zeitung usually isn’t far away, as is the case here. Only one day before the final Bild released a story that was dirty and spectacular enough to get the public to speak about something else than the on pitch action at the World Cup and the upcoming excitement of the final.
According to the paper four unnamed Dutch internationals and two naked German girls had a naked pool party by the swimming pool of the Wald Hotel shortly before their match against the Brazilian national team. To drive home that point the paper chose the headline ”Cruyff, Champagne and Naked Girls”, above the picture of an empty swimming pool. Germany’s biggest tabloid claimed that it had pictures of the event, and triggered thereby a reaction from the Dutch camp. Rinus Michels angrily denied that the story was true at a press conference before the final, accusing the paper of waging psychological warfare.
Michels was probably right in the assumption that Bild had no ethical concerns printing that story. Arie Haan said later that the Dutch players were surprised about the Bild story.
“Johan said, ‘There’s a big problem’, 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.”
Furthermore, Haan stated that the story had an impact on the Dutch team:
“We changed a little bit that night. 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.”
Left back Ruud Krol believes that the story didn’t affect the players attitude going into the final:
“… 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.”
After the Word Cup there were claims that the paper had hired escorts and bribed security guards to get the story. What really happened is still unknown to this very day, but Dutch playwrite Johan Timmers told David Winner in the book ”Brilliant Orange” that something might have happened. While doing research for the play ”De Reunie” he and Leopold de Witte wrote, Timmers uncovered something interesting. After having talked to some of the wives of the players Timmers came to this conclusion:
”All the wives say: ”It defenitely happened, but my man wasn’t there.” That’s a contradiction. So I think something did happen. The way everybody denies it so vehemently, I think they’re trying to cover something up – otherwise they would just laugh about it.”
Cruyff’s night on the telephone
Johan Cruyff’s wife is said to have been very upset about the story in Bild. She and her husband spent allegedly the entire night on the phone, talking about what might have happened or what didn’t happen, keeping Cruyff awake before the vital final. This might have kept one of the finest footballers of the 70’s off his game in the final, giving Germany and Berti Vogts, who stuck to Cruyff like a stamp during the entire final, a vital advantage.
It is still rumored that Cruyff chose to never play again for his country in a World Cup, because he promised his wife not to stay away from his family for such a long time during this phone call. Cruyff has adamantly denied that, stating that he wanted to spend more time with his family after the 74 World Cup. The football legend has seemingly been a good dad, and was ”very playful” according to his son Jordi. Cruyff managed otherwise to stay outside of the limelight of unpleasant headlines throughout his entire career.
The boot deal
However, there were also a few crucial moments and elements to that final that could be considered more important to the outcome in the end than simply that scandalous story Bild ran just before the final. Rob Rensenbrink was injured against Brazil shortly before the Dutch were to take on the Germans in the final. However, Rensenbrink passed the fitness test before the final, but was not really fit because of his pulled thigh muscle.
Some rumors claim that Rensenbrink only played in the final because he had a deal with his football boot supplier, that would bring him a lot of money if he played in the final. Rensenbrink denies that allegation, stating:
”Yes, there was a contract, for a few thousand guilders. I forgot how much. But that’s not why I wanted to play. Of course not. It was the final of the World Cup – I wanted to play very much.”
And, if this all this isn’t enough to create conspiracy theories, there is still the fact that the referee of this final was Englishman Jack Taylor. Taylor rightly gave a penalty to the Dutch after only one minute of play. After the kick off the Oranje kept the ball for almost an entire minute, ending in Cruyff’s darting run into the penalty area, where he was tripped by Uli Hoeness. A clear penalty.
However, Franz Beckenbauer knew how to make the best of a bad start to the game for the Germans. After Mr. Taylor had blown the whistle for the infringement in the box, ”Der Kaiser” approached the referee saying ”Your are English, of course”, thus implying that Taylor wasn’t treating the Germans fairly due to the history between Germany and Great Britain. This was the first and only time anybody had evoked history in a World Cup final according to David Winner in his excellent book ”Brilliant Orange”.
Beckenbauer’s mind trick seemingly yielded results. In the 24th minute Bernd Hölzenbein went down rather easily in the penalty box after an encounter with Dutch defender Wim Jansen. The referee blew the whistle giving the Germans a penalty. Mr. Taylor later said that he wrongly had given a penalty to the Germans. However, it needs to be added that Gerd Müller scored his second goal in the second half, but this goal was wrongly annulled due to the officials seeing a offside position.
The drama in the German squad
Germany’s team managed to produce some drama of its own, but the in-house fighting between the players and the German FA came before the World Cup. Upon hearing that the players from Italy and the Netherlands would get 100.000 DM if they won the tournament five days before the tournament started, the German squad demanded that the DFB (German FA) upped its win bonus to that amount. However, there were strong elements in the DFB against that, and national team coach Helmut Schön was disgusted by the players greed. Schön even wanted to send all 22 players home at one point, and offered his resignation during the negotiation process between the players and the DFB.
In the end the DFB made a last-minute offer, granting each players 70.000 DM as a win bonus for the tournament. When the players voted on the offer the votes were tied, 11-11, but Franz Beckenbauer instructed the players to accept the offer, ending the drama surrounding the win bonus. Had Schön gotten his way, and sent all 22 players home, Germany would have fielded a second string team while the likes of Breitner, Beckenbauer and Vogts would have watched the World Cup from the comforts of their homes.
Did Bild make the difference?
The 1974 final was probably one of the most intriguing matches in World Cup history. Two of football history’s best national teams squared off against each other, and one of the most dramatic and most entertaining matches of football was played. Many footballer lovers still consider it a tragedy to this very day that the Netherlands didn’t win the final against Germany (well, mostly everybody outside of Germany, let’s be honest). A very understandable point of view, considering how the Total Football style of the Dutch was something revolutionary, which is still talked about, over 40 years after it initially was conceived. Did Bild make the difference? Was Cruyff’s late night phone conversation, the boot deal or Franz Beckenbauer’s cunning responsible for the result?
Well, it is impossible to give a definite answer, as it is still unknown what really happened to this very day. However, it is still rather interesting to think about that small things can make a vital difference in a match of football. If Bild never would’ve published that story, the Netherlands might have won, and this article would’ve been about the drama in the German camp asking if that caused the defeat in the 1974 World Cup final. To put your minds at rest for just a little while at least, Bild has never claimed any credit for the 74 World Cup win, maybe an indication that even they think that there were so many different elements in play before and during that final, it is impossible to tell what made the difference in the end.
Here is the entire final on Youtube.
Maybe none of the above mentioned factors made a difference. The Dutch took an early lead, humiliated the Germans on the pitch for more than 20 minutes, and as Johnny Rep put it, ”forgot to score the second goal”. Rep himself had multiple chances to get the equalizer in the second half, but the usually so reliable striker either missed or was kept out by an excellent Sepp Maier. Maybe it was just sheer luck that made Germany win this trophy in the end? Even the German players who were in this final agree that the Netherlands played the best football at the 74 World Cup. Johan Cruyff himself isn’t upset about the fact that the Netherlands didn’t win the World Cup this year, and the best Dutch footballer of the 70s found some words to describe the Dutch team of the 70s that most football fans would agree with.
“There is no medal better than being acclaimed for your style.”
Feel free to leave a comment below.
David Winner, ”Brilliant Orange – the neurotic genius of Dutch football”
Uli Hesse, ”Tor – The history of German football”
Chris Hunt, ”The story of the 1974 World Cup”
Alexis Mirbach, ”Des Kaisers Revolte führt zum Titel”
Ernst Bouwes, ”Hard to explain”