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Netherlands Neverland: World Cup ’74 ~ West Germany versus Holland

May 31, 2010

Dutch courage: The Oranje look nervous before the ’74 final – would they hold their nerve and win their nation’s first ever World Cup with the hippy-esque ‘Total Football’ philosophy…?

1974. For many across the UK and the USA, it’s a year that generally doesn’t conjure up fond memories. Strikes. The three-day week. Watergate. The Birmingham pub bombings. The Middle East oil crisis. Israel and Palestine at each other’s throats. Even the Bond film that came out that year, The Man With The Golden Gun, was a rare mis-step for the  cool superspy – it’s arguably the artistic nadir of the hugely popular cinematic series. What was needed was something to cheer everybody up. How about a World Cup in the summer? That’d do the trick, wouldn’t it?

For this, the third World Cup special here at George’s Journal in the run up to next month’s much anticipated football-athon in South Africa, we’re looking at the ’74 tournament and easily the most remembered match from it – the final. Of all World Cups this was a particularly interesting one and that final an intriguing match, to say the least. And, together, yes, they probably did go some way to cheering up most folks that summer. Well, unless you were English, that is.

For the times, they had ‘a-changed. Charlton, Hurst and Moore (more or less) had gone and Sir Alf Ramsey himself was now on the brink. Why was the once messiah-like manager about to lose his job? The answer lies behind the reason why Englishmen weren’t looking forward to this World Cup – you see, for the first time, England hadn’t made it. Not that it had been for want of trying. Well, in one match in the qualifying campaign, at least.

Into the light, back to the dark: The bright, bold and stylish logo and poster for West Germany’s World Cup of 1974 ; a secretary forced to work by candelight during Britain’s three-day-week in the winter of the same year

The notion that England wouldn’t reach the World Cup was unthinkable – in England, that is. But following a drab qualifying campaign, that was the prospect facing the team that lined up next to Poland on October 17 1973 at Wembley, and the entire nation as it sat in front of its TV sets to watch this final World Cup qualifier live – a very rare occurence at the time. Unfortunately, none of them would end up wallowing in what they saw. The men in white lay seige in the Polish half and a fair amount of the game was made up of continual attacks on the opposition goal. All the shots were either missed or saved by the outstanding keeper Jan Tomaszewski, whom before the match young Nottingham Forest manager and rising star of the domestic game Brian Clough, in the comfort of a TV studio,  had branded a ‘clown’; the man clearly, most assuredly wasn’t.

Then, in a moment of madness, Bobby Moore’s replacement for the fixture, Leeds centre-back Norman Hunter, inexplicably pulled out of a tackle and the impressive Grzegorz Lato raced away in a counter-attack and passed to teammate Jan Domarski who put the Poles – unthinkably – 1-0 up. England managed to draw level before the end thanks to an Allan Clarke penalty, but that wasn’t enough, just like all their efforts that hadn’t gone in the net. They had needed the win and hadn’t got it and, thus, wouldn’t qualify for the World Cup. In their place, Poland would.

Perhaps one saving grace though, come the World Cup itself, was that oddly three other big-time European football forces hadn’t qualified either, namely Spain, France and Hungary (the latter having had a legendary side in the ’50s). In fact, this development had ensured there were places for some unusual first-time entrants to the competition proper – making their debut then were the exotic-sounding quartet of Zaire (the first ever African qualifiers), Australia, Haiti and East Germany.

It couldn’t happen, could it?: the programme for a fateful match at Wembley; and Grzegorz Lato, the Pole who made hay while England crumbled – watch out the World Cup…!

Indeed, the East Germans’ presence gave the contest a fair degree of spice, not only because it was being held by their fast globally-developing West German neighbours, but also because the two nations had been drawn in the same opening group and would meet each other. This match, one of the real early highlights of the tournament, to much surprise resulted in a 1-0 win for the Eastern half of Germany thanks to a goal from midfielder Jürgen Sparwasser, who 14 years later was to defect while playing in a veterans’ tournament in West Germany.

To say the West Germans – with the talent at their disposal including  1970 survivors captain Franz Beckenbauer and striker extraordinaire Gerd Müller – were disappointed would be an understatement; to say they were emabarrassed would be very fair too – especially given the fact that at this time, of course, the Cold War was very much still raging and the political and cultural division between the Soviet-driven East and the US-led West was defined in this carved-in-two-country like nowhere else on earth. Indeed, this defeat for West Germany made them take a long, hard look at their approach to this competition and the changes that yielded would pay them unquestioned dividends.

While they were the hosts and, as the tournament progressed, proved to be one of its strongest sides, West Germany, however, weren’t the star turn at this World Cup. If the yellow of Brazil had been the colour of the ’70 tournament, then the orange of Holland was very much the colour of this one. Like the Brazilians of four years before, the Dutch brought a style, a brand, a philosophy of football that was radically new and a complete break from what had gone before – it was called ‘Total Football’, and it was totally brilliant.

Grudge match: West German captain Franz Beckenbauer and East German captain Bernd Bransch shake hands before their sides’ group game; later, East Germany take a shock lead

Make no mistake, Holland had never been a football power (the last time they’d qualified for a World Cup was way back in 1938), yet their emergence this year wasn’t entirely a bolt from the blue – or, rather, amber – either. Using this radical tactical revolution, the Dutch champions Ajax had won the European Cup a highly impressive three years in a row in the early ’70s, and the Dutch national team of ’74 was almost exclusively made up of the best from Ajax’s ranks. Chief among these was the incredibly talented Johan Cruyff – a player who, by the end of the decade if not earlier, would be spoken of by many in the same breath as the extraordinary Pelé. And not just because of his natty trademark move – coined the ‘Cruyff turn’ – which was debuted in this tournament’s Holland-Sweden match, and saw him feign to play the ball one way and then drag it behind his standing leg and, turning 180 degrees to perfect the deception, move off in the other direction, leaving an opposing, facing player looking like a right charlie.

Cruyff ostensibly lined up as a centre-forward, ostensibly being the operative word. For the notion behind ‘Total Football’ was that each of the ten outfield players of a team – Cruyff and everybody else – would essentially be able to play in any role on the pitch (attacker, midfielder or defender) depending on where they found themselves at any one moment and as circumstance dictated. The philosophy was all about space; a player would fill the space of another who had received the ball and was now attacking the opposition with it, therefore the player would need to be talented enough to play anywhere on the field. It sounds simple and the Dutch, amazingly, made it look simple.

In their opening group they brushed aside Uruguay 2-0, thanks to two goals from ‘forward’ Johnny Rep, and took Bulgaria apart to the tune of 4-1, with another goal from Rep and two from Johan Neeskens (both of which were penalties), and finally they drew 0-0 with Sweden. Their form was easily good enough to see them through to the next round as group winners. Joining them there were Brazil – perhaps predictably, but with nothing like the side of four years before – and Yugoslavia, who both qualified from the same group at the expense of Scotland and Zaire.

Yes, that’s right, in England’s absence, the plucky Scots were flying the flag for the home nations, and they were plucky too. But ultimately unlucky. Somehow, they, Brazil and the Yugoslavs all managed to accrue exactly the same points tallies from playing each other, meaning the two sides that would go through would be the two who beat Zaire by the most goals – Yugoslavia put a whomping nine past them, Brazil three and Scotland could only manage two. So the Scots went home without losing a match and after holding the once mighty Brazil to a 0-0 draw. At least, when they got home, they’d have the bragging rights over them down south.

Elsewhere, East Germany qualified for the next round above West Germany from the same group (thanks to their win over them), while, their unexpected draw against the English seemingly a sign of things to come, Poland also made it through, shocking both Italy and Argentina on the way, beating them as they did. The Argentines squeaked through with them; the Italians, shamefaced, went out.

Now, what followed was a peculiar, and often forgotten thing in football lore, yes, the second round of this and the next two  World Cups was a second group stage. Why there weren’t  just quarter finals and then semi-finals instead, as there had been in the ’60s tournaments, frankly is anyone’s guess – it would have been far more sensible and simpler. But, rather like Claudio Rainieri, FIFA decided to tinker substantially in the ’70s, so the eight remaining teams now found themselves split into another two groups of four, the winners of which would go on to play each other in the final.

“Rumor had it I was richly rewarded for the goal, with a car, a house and a cash premium. But that is not true.” ~ East German Jürgen Sparwasser on his crucial contribution to the politically charged 1-0 defeat over West Germany in the ’74 World Cup

The first of the two new groups pitted the increasingly irresistible Holland against the South Americans, and the Dutch didn’t disappoint – they beat Argentina 4-0, with two goals from Cruyff, and Brazil 2-0, in which Neeskens grabbed another. Easily the class act of the group, Holland went through to the final; Brazil finished runners-up. The second group saw a revitalised West Germany storm through with three wins out of three – Müller grabbing a goal each against Yugoslavia and Poland. Yet, for their part, the Poles didn’t give up. Indeed, they managed to win their other two games (Lato scoring in them both), which meant they finished second in the group, setting up a play-off against the Brazilians.

Believe it or not, their fine form didn’t end there either, thanks to yet another strike from the goal machine that was Lato, they defeated Brazil,  ensuring they amazingly ended the tournament in third place. Lato himself won the Golden Boot award with seven goals, and would go on to play in the next two World Cups for his country. Some football fans, given his exploits,  believe the feller to be one of the sport’s great underrated players – quite frankly, you can see where they’re coming from.

And so to the big one – the final. The competition’s class acts versus the hosts. The cultured Dutch versus the efficient Germans. Undeniably, as they were beginning to make a habit of doing (and, of course, would carry on doing for decade upon decade), the Germans had done well to pull themselves together and, like a well-oiled BMW engine, motor their way through to the last two. But the men from The Netherlands were more than a well-oiled machine, they were like an oil painting on a football pitch – with big, beautiful brushstrokes of orange paint. Surely the final was there for the taking for Cruyff and co. Wasn’t it? Perhaps they thought so themselves.

Genius at work: Johan Cruyff pulls off the move he gave his name to against Sweden

You see, for all their talent and promise, the Dutch had a weakness in this World Cup – one which only surfaced in this final tie. Namely, they knew how good they were. Many great sides are aware of how good they are, of course, but the trick is not to get carried away with it, to keep a level head, have some humility. Sure, Holland weren’t exactly strutting about like arrogant troubadours, but for the same token they weren’t exactly shy and retiring like little mice hiding in clogs either. It’s probably fair to say they were guilty of a fair bit of football hubris going into the final.

However, if that were the case, it’s very understandable. The extraordinary notion-made-practice that was ‘Total Football’ had already been proved (remember Dutch giants Ajax had triumphed in the European Cup three seasons in a row coming into this World Cup), so the national team had enormous belief they could repeat the trick, despite their virtually non-existent record in the competition’s history. And putting this liberated, free-flowing, fantasy-like football philosophy in place had forged an interesting collective personality in this Ajax/ Holland group of players, which rather mirrored ‘Total Football’ itself. In short, the Dutch team were, well, rather hippy-ish.

Many footballers of this era – like a lot of blokes – had long hair, of course, but Cruyff and his teammates seemed to have something more; they acted cooller, more aloof, more ‘above it all’ than other teams; almost as if, like their sixth sense on the pitch, there was some higher or spiritual understanding at work among them. Over the years since, there have even been rumours the players and their wives dabbled in  ‘free love’ – substantiating those rumours, though, would be nigh-on impossible, I’d imagine. Still, when it came down to this final 90 minutes of football, all that added up to a weakness for the Dutch, and one which – in their resilient, resourceful way – the West Germans exploited.

Goal machine: Gerd Müller takes his World Cup tally to a record-breaking 14 goals – across just two tournaments – as he scores in the final

Not that it started out that way, mind. The Dutch kicked off at Munich’s Olympiastadion (home of Bayern Munich football club) and, thirteen passes later, Cruyff went on a short solo run, beating defender – and, later, Germany national coach – Berti Vogts and was brought down by Uli Hoeneß centimetres outside the penalty area. Nevertheless, in his infinite wisdom, English referee Jack Taylor awarded a penalty, which Neeskens put away. The Dutch had scored inside a minute (from a penalty, the first ever scored in a World Cup final) and before the Germans had even touched the ball. Shocking stuff. The Dutch, then, were on their way and looked to be cruising for the next 25 minutes until Bernd Hölzenbein fell in the Dutch penalty area and Taylor awarded another controversial pernalty, which full-back Paul Brietner tucked away. This, unquestionably, was the turning point.

Holland seemed, rather oddly, stunned – yet it wasn’t the first time they’d conceded a goal in the tournament – and the Germans’ belief and endeavour increased. They began to push and in the 43rd minute, just before half-time, Müller characteristically scored an opportune goal (his 14th and final World Cup goal – a record he held for 32 years until Brazil’s Ronaldo broke it) giving his side a lead they were never to relinquish. Both the Germans and the Dutch had chances in the second half – the former having a goal disallowed and a penalty appeal waved away – but victory, surprisingly, was the host’s. ‘Total Football’ had been defeated and the Dutch dream was over.

So what can you make of that final and the ’74 World Cup in general? Well, yes, the exciting yet cool Netherlands and their fancy fantasy playing style had failed – and it’s easy to suggest that this group of players with their hippy-esque football conceit proved unsuccessful rather like how hippies themselves and the counter-culture itself faded and went out of fashion by the middle of this decade. Yet, maybe it would be too neat to come to that conclusion, and perhaps it’s more pertinent to look at the victors and what this competition meant for them. For, surely without doubt, both physically and psychologically the winner of this World Cup was West Germany, not just because they won the thing, but also because they hosted it. Yes, after the colourful sunniness of 1970, this one is often remembered as the one that seemed to be constantly beset by rain and lacking two or three major nations, but it was a huge advert for West Germany – indeed, a country that by this point could no longer  be ignored on the world stage.

Kaiser chief: Beckenbauer lifts the new World Cup trophy high as Adrian Chiles successfully lurks in the background

Thanks to the bolstering of its economy by the United States and the other Allied powers immediately following the Second World War (in order to ensure both West Berlin and the western half of Germany in general didn’t fall to Communism and the USSR), the country achieved what is commonly referred to as the West German Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). So much so that, in 1973, just one year earlier than the World Cup, it could boast the world’s fourth largest gross domestic product (GDP), 5.9 percent of the world’s total. While the likes of the UK suffered economic turmoil in the ’70s, seemingly lurching from one crisis to the next, there’s no doubt that the nation England had defeated in the ’66 final was well and truly on the up. And winning the World Cup on home soil, with all its glittering, impressive stadia, was surely the icing on the cake. After all, they’d won the European Championships in 1972 and, thus, now held the two most coveted trophies in football at the same time.

Yes, there was no doubt about it, West Germany was now the top dog in Europe and – in football, at least – across the entire world. But what would happen in four years’ time in 1978 when the competition would head back to South America? Could Die Nationalelf hold on to their trophy? And what would this World Cup as the ’70s headed towards their end bring? Well, there’s only one way to find out, folks, yes, you’ll have to read all about it in the next World Cup special here at George’s Journal – until then, like an opponent having just been done by a ‘Cruyff turn’, watch this space…

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