Professionals | 23/03/2020

FC in Europe

A coin toss that made history

Perhaps the most evenly matched European Cup tie of all time, so much so that a coin toss could not pick a winner after the first attempt. What transpired between 1. FC Köln and Liverpool will never be forgotten, in a three-legged affair that had everything. Even snow.

Tumultuous trip to Tirana

The preliminary round saw FC face off against Partizani Tirana in the initial two-leg contest to begin the European Cup. The journey to the communist Albania was anything but simple. No scout could be sent to watch the games, each member of the travelling squad required five passport pictures to be allowed entry. It was quite a journey. From Düsseldorf, to Frankfurt, to Rome, to Bari and then eventually to Tirana.

While a 0:0 draw in the capital meant that Georg Knöpfle’s men had an advantage, it was not until the 75th minute back in Müngersdorf where they finally found a breakthrough in the tie. Hans Sturm was the man to grab the goal, with Wolfgang Overath finishing things off in the final minute of normal time to seal progression into the next round.

Going Greek

That would bring a trip to Greece, which meant more away fans. Unlike the 20 German/Austrian tourists who happened to spring upon the game in Tirana, Athens and Greek champions, Panathinaikos represented a more realistic destination. A special offer of flights and two nights’ accommodation for 540 DM was tempting for many.

The game took place in a sold-out stadium, as 33,000 fans made it an atmosphere to remember. While FC went ahead thanks to Christian Müller, Panathinaikos would not lie down. Knöpfle’s side had somewhat underestimated the Greeks and, after two big misses, Konstandinos Paputsakis punished FC with 15 minutes to go.

While the game took place in the heat of Athens on 11.11, there were no such worries of that in Köln. The concerns of snow were unfounded, as a cool breeze blew through Müngersdorf. 62,000 packed in, with 10,000 Greeks, to see Giannis Komianidis give Panathinaikos the lead after five minutes. Thankfully, that did not disrupt FC too much and Karl-Heinz Thielen got them level 15 minutes later. Patience paid dividens and Christian Müller struck late on to secure a last eight spot.

Schäfer sidelined, Liverpool calling

That would come at a cost, however. Hans Schäfer, the captain and heart of the side, suffered a serious meniscus injury and would be sidelined for months. Nevertheless, all eyes turned to Wien as the draw for the quarter-finals took place. Holders Inter Milan, were joined by the likes of Eusebio’s Benfica and Puskas’ Real Madrid. For FC, though, it was a trip to the River Mersey and Liverpool.

The Reds had strolled through the competition to date, winning each of their four games. After an impressive 11:1 aggregate victory over Icelandic side, KR, Liverpool followed that up with a 3:0 win over RSC Anderlecht at Anfield. Roger Hunt ensured that Bill Shankly’s men would continue their 100% record with a late winner in Brussels. The scene was now set for a clash of two great teams. 

Goalless in Köln

In order to try and get the jump on Liverpool, FC opted to train behind closed doors. Not just in Köln, but Knöpfle’s team headed to Sportschule Duisburg-Wedau to work on things. It was only on matchday that they returned to the city. Bill Shankly was convinced of his side’s capabilities, hoping for a close-run affair in Köln before “a big win at home that should do”.

While Chancellor, Ludwig Erhard made his way to the game and Eurovision showcased the clash in seven different countries, it failed to match the pomp and circumstance surrounding it. While Thielen thundered against the post and Hannes Löhr had a goal ruled out for offside, it was a case of two very well organised defensive line-ups. Hunt and St. John found it tough against Wilden and Weber, with Hunt classing the latter as “one of the best” he'd played against in a while.

After the game, both teams headed back to Geißbockheim for a banquet. Franz Kremer handed every Liverpool player a silver cup and a table lighter. The visitors were in high spirits after their draw against an FC side that sorely missed the talents of Schäfer and Heinz Hornig going forward. It would be a three-week wait until battle would recommence.

Snow stops the show

At least that is what they thought. FC had already made the trip to London on Saturday to take in Liverpool’s game against West Ham United. The Reds were 19 games unbeaten before the game at Upton Park, as the FC players watched on from the stands. Liverpool suffered their first defeat since November, as the anticipation continued to build ahead of the second leg.

Matchday rolled around and it was unusually cold on the Mersey. To the bitter cold came an equally chilling wind. Then snow showers. As kick-off approached, with Anfield already packed an hour before the game began, FC players headed in after their warm-up. The Danish referee called the game off, with the visiting staff furious and two policemen blocking the entrance to the referees’ dressing room. Liverpool fans were not best pleased either as, due to no tickets being handed out, the entire Kop end had to go back through the turnstiles to receive their refund.

That was not just a problem that Liverpool supporters had, however. 400 FC fans had to return to Köln without seeing a minute of football, and the trip had cost the club around 20,000 DM. FC would have more luck however, as statutes required Liverpool to put for half of the costs as the game was postponed. Even that was contested as the pitch was perhaps playable, but the snowstorm so strong that no-one could see the game.

Schumacher steals the thunder

So, take three in this seemingly never ending tie. 35 days after the first leg, the second leg was finally taking place. With Anfield in fine voice, the Kop was bouncing and creating a literal 12th man feeling on the pitch. Before Toni  "Tünn" Schumacher rose to fame, Toni Schumacher rose to fame. Anton Schumacher put in a performance that had the English newspapers churning out superlatives.

Such was the quality of Schumacher in goal, that the Liverpool fans applauded him off and Mayor Chaplan of Liverpool came into the FC dressing room to congratulate him afterwards. The Echo wrote of a goalkeeper who “beat” Liverpool on his own, who made “astounding” and “remarkable” saves, even going as far as to say that Schumacher “could have ended up in hospital” with a special stop from St. John at the back post.

Somehow - without Wilden, Müller and Schäfer - FC had managed to get the game to a third (fourth, snow included) and final match. That would be played in Rotterdam under the lights at De Kuip.

Drama in De Kuip

While FC were still without Wilden and Schäfer, Christian Müller was fit for the decisive clash in Rotterdam. What originally was meant to be 10,000 tickets would never suffice the demand from fans. That meant managing director, Heinz Holthoff had to travel to Rotterdam in order to organise another 6,000 tickets. In the end, more than 20,000 FC supporters ended up in De Kuip that night.

Whether it be car, train or private plane, almost 16,000 of the fans made the trip on the day. A 10 kilometre traffic jam then ended up at the border. The news made its way to Franz Kremer, who spoke with the German consulate in Rotterdam. Not long later, the Dutch customs turned a blind eye to the incoming FC invasions and the traffic soon cleared up. A red and white wall had arrived.

While the game began at a steady pace, there was an early blow for FC. After 22 minutes, Wolfgang Weber attempted a tackle on Gordon Milne that saw him remain on the ground. The early diagnosis was ruptured blood vessels in his calf and he was unable to continue for the remainder of the first half. Liverpool took advantage no less than a minute later after Ian St. John fired home.

From bad to worse to a mini-miracle

Things got worse soon after, as Thompson cracked the crossbar and Roger Hunt was in the right place at the right time to poke home. FC were down to 10 men, given that no substitutes were allowed, and 2:0 down. However, there was hope before half-time. Karl-Heinz Thielen popped up to finish off Hornig’s free-kick right before the whistle to hand FC a much needed morale boost.

Unbelievably, Wolfgang Weber managed to make it out for the second-half. After unbelievably "passing" the load test by springing off a bench, “Bulle” ended up on as a centre-forward. Weber had broken his leg in the 22nd minute, but somehow managed to carry on. His status as FC legend had been sealed within that short time, let alone what had come before and would come after.

Buoyed by the goal, FC levelled the game three minutes after the restart. Thielen crossed from the right and found Löhr, who picked out the bottom corner from 25 yards. The stadium almost collapsed with the celebration. Knöpfle and his side were in the ascendancy, and Bulle Weber almost did the impossible; but his shot was well over Lawrence’s goal.

While someone threw a bottle at Ron Yeats, the Liverpool man caught Hannes Löhr. That caused mayhem within the FC fans, as referee Schaut remained unmoved and the supporters had to be stopped by stewards from spilling onto the pitch. That was not the case five minutes later as Hornig scored what appeared to be a perfectly fine goal. Schaut disagreed, and the FC fans disagreed with him. The fans jumped the barrier and made their way towards the pitch, only to be apprehended by the police.

The coin that didn’t want to pick a winner

The game remained goalless from there, and also through extra-time. A situation that happened not all that often came around. A coin toss would decide the winner of a European Cup quarter-final. Schaut, who was refereeing his first game in the competition, was again the centre of attention. He automatically handed Liverpool the red side and FC the white side of what was a wooden coin. While that makes sense given the colours of the sides, it raised some questions.

Nevertheless, Schaut tossed the coin into the air. The tension was so thick in the Rotterdam night air that it could have been cut with a butter knife. Or, in this case, the edge of a coin. As only appropriate for the tie that had gone on for 300 minutes, the coin landed on its edge and the anticipation rose again. The coin climbed into the air once more and landed. It was red. Liverpool were through. FC were devastated and in pure disbelief.

The fallout from a falling coin

While it was of little to no consolation to the team, who were stood in tears around the pitch and Hansi Sturm in the middle of Liverpool celebration, FC earned sympathy around Europe. Letters and messages flooded in from fans across the continent, from fans who could hardly believe their eyes.

However, while there was plenty to be proud of, the European campaign had taken its toll. Wolfgang Weber’s broken leg and Hans Schäfer’s lay off until the early stages of April meant that the league form suffered. FC finished second in the Bundesliga, three points behind champions Werder Bremen. Three wins in the final three games – which ended as draws – would have been enough to have the title decided on goal difference. 

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Total table
131. FSV Mainz 0537
141. FC Köln36
15FC Augsburg36