How one of the most impressive wins in German football history was rendered irrelevant.
It was barely one year after the match of the century (Jahrhundertspiel) between Germany and Italy when the draw for the 1971/72 European Cup took place. Borussia Mönchengladbach manager Hennes Weisweiler had already stated that he would like to draw opposition like Grasshoppers Zürich or a team from Southern Europe. There was only team he wanted to avoid – Inter Milan.
As luck had it, Borussia drew Inter. The team heard about their upcoming opponent ahead of their Bundesliga match against 1. FC Köln, and their reactions weren’t joyful. “These guys are defending so well, it’s gonna be hard to score against them”, Günter Netzer exclaimed.
No television coverage
The Westdeutsche Zeitung called the match the biggest game in the club’s history in their pre-match coverage. German broadcaster ARD were keen to offer their viewers live coverage from the Bökelberg. However, the broadcaster and the club found it hard to reach an agreement about the fee which ARD should pay.
Borussia wanted 60,000 DM plus the value added tax they had to pay to tax authorities on top of their fee, whilst the broadcaster was only willing to pay the 60,000 DM. The difference between the two sides was a mere 6,000 DM, but neither side budged and the only eye witnesses to the spectacular match were the 27,500 spectators who turned up. Amongst them 10,000 Italians, most of whom lived and worked in Germany.
The most famous piece of metal in German football history
The Foals lived up to their nickname right from the get go, starting like a race horse being released from the starting gate. Both Günter Netzer and the young and talented Christian Kulik were in splendid form. The eccentric playmaker Netzer set up Jupp Heynckes for the first goal of the match. Heynckes somehow managed to get the ball over the line as Inter defender Giacinto Facchetti and keeper Lido Vieri tried everything in their power to stop the striker from scoring.
Inter’s striker Roberto Boninsegna got the equaliser for the Italians against the run of play in the 20th minute. The striker converted a free kick after having been fouled by Borussia’s Rainer Bonhof. Boninsegna was the centre of attention eight minutes later as well.
Gladbach’s defender Ludwig Müller and Boninsegna had a short quarrel about who should get to take the next throw in on the sideline when, out of nowhere, the Italian was hit with a can of Coke. Müller still has vivid recollections of what happened after that fatal hit:
“He looked around, one of his teammates whispered in his ear that he should go down, then he collapsed.”
The Gladbach’s players stated later on that Boninsegna wanted to get up again and play on but that his coach Gianni Invernizzi had told him to stay down and to keep pretending that he was hurt. The Dutch referee Jef Dorpmans hadn’t seen the incident, but was alerted by his linesman. Inter’s players protested wildly and referee Dorpsmans made it clear to Günter Netzer that he would abandon the game if such an incident repeated itself. The game continued after the police had managed to get hold of a suspect and the can had been handed over to the referee, despite the theatrical protest of the Italians. If Ludwig Müller is to be believed, the Inter player’s outrage and their concern for Boninsegna was mostly for the gallery:
“After he had been placed on the stretcher he wanted to get up, but the Italian doctor pushed him back down, onto the stretcher. When he was carried off the pitch I saw how that actor gave one of his teammates a wink.”
(On a side note: Many Gladbach players criticised the Inter players behaviour after the match, but one should keep in mind that Germany’s unlucky 4-3 defeat to Italy in the World Cup in 1970 certainly had left its marks at that point. Italy had gone through to the next round after a number of strange refereeing decisions and the Germans felt that the Azzurri had been using almost every dirty trick in the book to win that match).
After Inter’s players put their handbags away, there was still some more football to be played. Netzer had struggled with a niggling injury before the match, but this was to be one of those magical nights. After two goals by Danish striker Ulrik le Fèvre, it was the playmaker’s turn to shine. In the 42nd minute, Netzer was given the chance to take a free-kick from 25 meters and the eccentric midfielder simply curled the ball over the wall to make it 4-1. Shortly before half time, Jupp Heynckes netted another goal after a brilliant combination between Kulik and Berti Vogts.
The second half saw Netzer score another brilliant goal to make it 6-1. Gladbach decided to drop down to second gear after that goal but the night still had another highlight in store. Klaus-Dieter Sieloff was given the chance to convert a penalty and duly buried it in the net. Inter finished the match with nine men, after their playmaker Mario Corso had to leave the pitch due to an injury and Jair had been giving his marching orders by the referee.
UEFA takes a closer look
“Only a decision from a court can deny us moving into the third round of the competition”, Netzer said after that match. Sadly he was to be proven right. Inter decided to file an appeal with UEFA, stating that the players were too afraid to compete after what had happened to Boninsegna in the 28th minute. The Italian press was outraged, suggesting that the result should be nullified and that Inter should be given a 3-0 win from UEFA. Inter went even further with their appeal, demanding that Borussia Mönchengladbach should be expelled from the competition.
UEFA in the end decided that the match should be replayed on a neutral ground. Referee Dropsmans had his own take on UEFA’s decision:
“There were a lot of Italians in UEFA’s committees at the time, and I’m not trying to be suggestive here, but Inter had the right people in the best positions.”
The Gladbach’s players’ frustration over the decision was understandable according to the Dutch referee. Dropsmans himself had seen the situation, and despite Inter’s claims that Boninsegna had suffered a head wound after the can had hit his head, Dropsmans always stated that he thought that the striker was putting up an act (meaning that he could have continued playing). Whilst UEFA concluded that the can had been full of liquid, Dropsmans maintained that it was empty. The fact that the head wound Boninsegna couldn’t be spotted on him one day after the match may have indicated that the referee’s take was spot on.
The re-match was played in Berlin and ended 0-0. Before that, Inter managed to defeat Borussia at the San Siro by a convincing 4-2 scoreline.
The can returns to Mönchengladbach
These days the can of coke can be admired in Borussia Mönchengladbach’s museum. Referee Dropsmans had given the can to his favourite club Vitesse Arnhem. However, the club decided to send the can to Germany after a request had been sent from Borussia asking to get this vital piece of Foals history back to Mönchengladbach.
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Header courtesy of dpa
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