Snapshot: Thomas Helmer’s phantom goal

April 23rd 1994 will forever be one of the most curious days in Bundesliga history.

It is the 32nd match day of the 1993/94 season, and Bayern München are currently chasing the Bundesliga title, while 1. FC Nürnberg are barely above the relegation places hanging on for their lives. Bayern are two points ahead of Kaiserslautern, and Nürnberg have a healthy four point gap down to the relegation places(Editors note: Only two points were awarded for a win back then). Nürnberg would happily settle for a draw away in the Olympiastadion, while Bayern had to win the match, given the fact that Kaiserslautern were likely to beat relegation candidates SG Wattenscheid 09.

The match started out with Nürnberg defending, causing a headache amongst Bayern’s attacking personnel. ”The first time there was any danger was in the 26th minute”, former Nürnberg player Manni Schwabl recalled 12 years later when being interviewed by the German football magazine 11 Freunde. Referee Hans Joachim Osmers had rewarded Bayern with a corner kick.


Schwaab placed himself at the near post, where he in the following moments witnessed one of German football’s most controversial moments. Schwaab himself can still describe the situation in great details:

The corner kick came at great speed into the box, landing in the box where it was headed on. Thomas Helmer was there, but Lubos Kubik was covering him tightly. Despite being guarded Helmer, somehow, managed to get to the ball. I had glanced towards the situation, seeing Kubik on the ground and our goalkeeper Andreas Köpke had already descended into a dive. Helmer squeezed the ball past the wrong side of the post, and the audience moaned in discontent. I was making my way towards the goal line to get ready for the goal kick. But, suddenly the entire stadium erupted into cheers.

What had happened? Whilst everybody had seen that the ball had missed the goal, linesman Jörg Jablonski had just seen the ball cross the line from across the other side of the pitch, and waved his flag signalling a goal. Referee Osmers hadn’t seen the ball go out of play, and relied on the information his linesman had given him, and gave the goal.

Take a look at Helmer’s phantom goal.

Helmer the main figure

Thomas Helmer himself isn’t particularly keen on talking about his phantom goal. When asked by German broadcaster NDR in April of 2012 to tell the story from his point of view, Helmer said:

Given all the things I have accomplished during my 17 years as a professional, it is extremely bitter to be reduced to that one goal.

In an earlier interview Helmer had stated:

Well, the referee should have approached me, and we should have talked about the situation. The rules actually state that he has to do so, I wasn’t aware of that rule back then. In the end, I think both of us acted wrongly.

Helmer himself showed off some of his finest skills later on in the match. Nürnberg had managed to equalize in the second half, but Helmer managed to get Bayern back into the lead with a beautifully struck shot from 17 meters.

Ironically enough, it was Thomas Helmer who brought down Christian Wück towards the end of the game, giving away a penalty to ”Der Club”. Referee Osmers had heard about his blunder during the half time break, and these days he honestly admits that he hoped for Schwalb ”to smash that ball into the back of the net, giving Nürnberg the point which they needed”, somewhat redeeming him of his terrible mistake. Raimond Aumann in the Bayern goal had different plans, and kept Manni Schwalb’s weak penalty out.

The goal’s consequences

Helmer’s goal was certainly the hot topic of the day after referee Hans-Joachim Osmers had blown the final whistle. Had Manni Schwalb’s penalty gone in, Nürnberg might have never handed in a complaint to the DFB. Three days after the controversial goal, the DFB held its hearing about the incident. As a result of the hearing a re-match was scheduled.

This time around the Nürnberg defense managed to keep out Bayern for 47 minutes. Mehmet’s Scholl first goal in the 47th minute was followed by four more goals, seeing Bayern grab two vital points.

Schwalb’s missed penalty in the first match meant in the end that Nürnberg got relegated, being equal on points with Freiburg, because of their dire goal difference. Bayern München were three points ahead of Kaiserslautern at the end of the season, winning the Bundesliga championship for the 12th time.

Referee Hans-Joachim has a picture of the goal hanging on the wall of his office.

The goal has also followed the referee and his linesman. Jablonski continued to be a linesman and referee for another season after his massive blunder, but stopped afterwards, because ”the aftermath of this goal was that every call was getting questioned every time I officiated.” Jörg Jablonski was done as a professional referee after the 1994/95 season. Hans-Joachim Osmers on the other hand continued to officiate for quiet some time. Osmers managed to redeem himself through a boat load of good performances in the end.

These days Osmers has a picture of the phantom goal hanging in the office, jokingly saying that ”this goal stays with him each and every day”.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 32-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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