Article by Oskar Beck

This story and more can be found in the new sports book “UND ALLES WEGEN ALI


World Cup in England 1966: “This greedy Kraut”

The third goal at Wembley has been avenged: Helmut Haller stole the World Cup ball that wasn’t in the goal in 1966 after the final whistle – and sold it back to the English for a lot of money years later.

Recently, a 16-year-old robbed a liquor shop and forced the handover of high-proof drinks under the threat of force of arms – but the punishment was mild, the judge found extenuating circumstances due to a difficult childhood.

I know what he means.

Because a childhood can’t be more difficult than mine. I was eight at the first World Cup I saw, that was in 1958, and we were shamelessly cheated in the semi-final against the Swedes. But above all, in 1966 there was also that traumatic key experience that a growing 16-year-old normally can’t cope with without becoming delinquent – that unbearable moment on the unspeakable 30 July 1966 when Rudi Michel shook the sentence into his ARD microphone that no German ever forgets: “No goal! No goal! Or is it? And now, what does the referee decide?” Gottfried Dienst, the Swiss whistle, decided: goal.

The German Football Association is opening the exhibition “50 Years of the Wembley Goal” this weekend and will hopefully unveil a memorial so that such an injustice never happens again. But in any case, the English have already received the right damper: The auction house “Sotheby’s” recently wanted to auction the jersey in which Geoff Hurst shot us Germans with three goals in the then World Cup final – but nobody buys it.

A shelf warmer.

Actually, any halfway sophisticated English souvernir hunter would have to sell house and home for a piece of 1966 World Cup breath, but Hurst’s hero shirt, estimated at 600,000, did not even attract the minimum bid. The red piece of fabric with the “10” is shunned as if it had blood on it. Yet it is only Hurst’s sweat and the tears of Hans Tilkowski, Willi Schulz, Siggi Held or Uwe Seeler that will open the DFB exhibition in Dortmund on Sunday. When they hear about Hurst’s shirt flop, the German players will be winking up at Helmut Haller – and our unforgotten rascal from Augsburg will be slapping his thighs with his rascal grin and warbling the old popular song “Souvenirs, Souvenirs” by Bill Ramsey.

For Haller, who crowned the legendary midfield trio Haller-Beckenbauer-Overath at that World Cup, stole the ball after the final whistle.

The brazen theft is documented by pictures: Haller is seen curtsying to the Queen in the box with the ball tucked under his arm. Or later at the closing banquet, when he has the Three Kings of the World Cup sign their autographs on it: Pele, Eusebio and Bobby Charlton. Helmut Haller was a master of investment. He felt that what he had snatched up was the most famous ball in football history – the ball that wasn’t in it.

That brings us back to that bloody, bloody 101st minute. Geoff Hurst shoots, the ball hits the crossbar – and down. Off the line? On the line? Behind the line? Referee Gottfried Dienst, a postal worker from Basel, doesn’t know. His linesman Tofik Bachramov, a mustachioed man from Baku on the Caspian Sea, doesn’t know either, but suddenly yells at Dienst: “Is gol, gol, gol!” 3:2. The goal of the century has been scored, but only one person in the world has really seen it: Heinrich Lübke, our head of state. It’s still just after the war, and in a dissolute mix of German humility, political correctness, and incipient dullness, the German president claims: “The ball was in.”

Even Geoff Hurst is far less sure later (“Goal? Probably not”), and his 4:2 is irregular in any case, because on this last counterattack he has to sprint past English fans who are already celebrating on the pitch. Helmut Haller takes advantage of this chaos to steal the ball with the presence of mind. At home in Augsburg, he gives it to his son Jürgen for his fifth birthday, and he practices so diligently with the round thing in the garden that he later becomes a Bundesliga player. Sometimes Papa Haller also lends out the ball, for example at parties, exhibitions, and company anniversaries. Until, thirty years later, the English scratch their heads: “Where is our World Cup ball anyway?”

“I don’t have it,” Hurst swears. A triple final goalscorer, Sir Geoffrey, knighted by the Queen, suddenly believes himself to be the rightful owner of the ball, and the English revolving press goes to war, launching the great homecoming campaign as part of an emotionally stirred-up campaign. Finally, in April 1996, the time has come. Haller’s son flies to London with the object of desire, and the ball is kissed by Hurst in a flurry of camera flashes after landing. It then lands in a display case at “Waterloo Station”, and well greased it now crowns the National Football Museum in Lancashire.

Did Haller have a heart for Hurst? More credible sounds the thesis that a patriotic English group of investors had paid a ransom of 240,000 marks to the smart Augsburg, whereupon the tabloid “Sun” immediately foamed at the mouth: “That greedy Kraut.” Either way: Helmut Haller was better served with the World Cup ball than Hurst with his jersey. As the inventors of fair play, the English are apparently so fussy that they won’t even give this dodgy shirt a pinch.

For Sir Geoffrey, it’s all rather embarrassing. And “Sotheby’s” looks enviously to Munich, because unlike in London, there were buyers there without any problems the other day when Adolf Hitler’s socks, Eva Braun’s burgundy summer dress, and Hermann Göring’s silk pants were auctioned off.

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