Snapshot: The Flying Knife

by Niklas Wildhagen

A knife thrown by a fan from Essen’s legendary Westkurve allegedly narrowly missed German international goalkeeper Sepp Maier.

The match on Febuary 13th, 1971 between Rot Weiss Essen and Bayern München has gone down in the history books as a match to remember. After conceding the first goal of the match after 8 minutes, courtesy Gerd ”der Bomber” Müller, the team from the Hafenstrasse managed to snatch a 3-1 win against the record champions in a hard-fought battle.

Essen’s somewhat impressive undefeated run of three matches against the Bavarians was however not the hot discussion topic of the day after the match was over. A short episode in the 16th minute had captured the imagination of the public instead:

After fetching the ball behind his goal, kicking a few beer bottles out-of-the-way in the process, Sepp Maier made himself ready to take his first goal kick of the match. Maier puts the ball in the exact spot from whence he wants to proceed with the game, however, the game is interrupted by a discovery Germany’s legendary keeper makes in the process. A knife is lying close by on the playing surface. In a somewhat dramatic fashion picks up the knife with his right hand, holding up high into the air for everybody to see.

Referee Jan Redelfs decided to leave the kitchen knife with his assistant, who managed to get the undesirable object removed from the pitch. Redelfs remarks later on in his match report card that, ”one beer bottle and a knife was thrown into Bayern’s penalty box, missing all the players who were involved in the match.”

Bild’s very own take

After the somewhat dramatic occurences during the match between Essen and Bayern the good people from Bild decided to enlighten the German public with their take on the situation. The paper allowed Sepp Maier to give his take on the dramatic scene in an article titled, ”Now the knives have started flying through the air in the Bundesliga.” Maier was able to tell the readers that a fan in the Westkurve had aimed the knife at him, and that the object missed him by a fraction.

The knife landed and got stuck in the grass 1 meter away from me.

”Rot Weissen Essen – Die 70er” author Karsten Kiepert asked the keeper 40 years later if the knife had been used to in an attempt to assassinate him, to which Maier answered that “the knife narrowly missed my head.”

There are still doubts if the knife in fact was thrown at Maier, or if the fan throwing the knife threw in sheer frustration over Essen’s poor performance combined with a tenable hatred for the Bavarians in general. Some of the other players on the pitch don’t remember what happened on the day as vividly as Maier does. Many of them even claim that they weren’t aware of what was going on at the time.

The referee’s match report doesn’t mention Maier by name, and would suggest that the knife was thrown onto the pitch without being aimed at anybody in particular. The TV pictures from the match aren’t of any help either. The stadiums weren’t filled with an exuberant amount of video cameras back in the 70s after all.

Finally, Maier may have perceived the knife to fly by closer than it actually did. A victim of a crime is often times subjective in his or her perception of what was going on at the time.

The offender steps forward

Given Maier’s persistence on the matter it seems rather likely at this stage that the knife in fact was meant to hit him. The man throwing the knife is probably the only person who could confirm or rebut the thesis. RWE’s fan club managed in fact to get hold off the man in question. It turned out that the offender was a 17-year-old who was still attending school. After the match the teenager faced the music, confessing his crime to the club officials. He had been frustrated by the result and had been intoxicated, the teenager explained. The club officials didn’t find out if the knife in fact had been aimed at Maier, however.

Rot Weiss Essen decided to report the crime to the police, but the club withdrew its complaints after the parents of the 17-year-old had once again apologized for their boy’s wrong doing. The DFB decided to leave matters be as well, not punishing the Rot Weiss in any shape or form. Furthermore, the boy wasn’t even expelled from the stadium for future RWE matches.

Even the good people from Bild got something new out of story in the end. One of their reporters was allowed to witness the 17-year-old’s phone call to Sepp Maier’s wife. The boy apologized for his behavior giving Bild one last chance to write about the story. If the knife in fact was aimed at Sepp Maier is probably going to remain a mystery but that won’t stop people from talking about it for years to come.

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Author:Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 27-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 and on the @AufstiegPod.
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