Like the Berlin Wall collapsing, President Kennedy’s assassination and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, some powerful, era-defining events are so visceral in their meaning, signifying changing orders and societies, that their ramifications are felt beyond the span of their years so even people who weren’t even born at the time can almost recollect them as if they were there.
Saturday sees the European Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan but 50 years ago, a final took place that was so monumental, that many observers argue that it changed the face of the sport itself forever.
Eintracht Frankfurt, a tough, all-German team, had routed the pride of Scotland, Glasgow Rangers, by 12 goals to four on aggregate in the two semi-finals and denied them a place in the final that was to be held in their home city at Hampden Park, the home of the Scottish National Team. They would meet Real Madrid, who despite winning four consecutive European Cups previously, had yet to convince the insular British audience of their superiority. It would only take 90 minutes.
134,000 people crowded into the terraces of Hampden and watched a legend form. Both teams lined up with then conventional 3-2-5 formations with an emphasis on attacking play and it was actually the Germans who took the lead on 18 minutes through Kress. The naturalized Argentinean Spaniard Alfredo Di Stefano scored twice in three minute to give Real the lead and fellow Naturalized Spanish Hungarian, Ferenc Puskas added a fourth before half time. Some spectators believed that this would now be a signal for the Spaniards to take it easy. Not a bit of it.
Puskas added two more in four second half minutes, one penalty, and scored a fourth on 71 minutes to make the score 6-1. Frankfurt pulled one back a minute later through Stein before Di Stefano completed his hat-trick on 73 minutes. A minute later and another goal, Stein again for Frankfurt and although they labored to get back some more pride, the match ended in a scarcely believable 7-3 scoreline. Ten goals in a major final, seven between two players, both incomparable and at the peak of their powers, five consecutive wins for Madrid.
The ramifications of this performance are hard to calculate, many watchers and tacticians simply went home open mouthed, tore up their tactics books and started again; amongst them Sir Alex Ferguson and Don Revie, the latter who would make his future Leeds United teams play in all-white as a tribute to the great Real team. Talk about damning with faint praise. It is probable that the basic four-man defense we know and love today came about specifically after this match as it was apparent that three men just couldn’t contain the likes of the Spanish Supermen who waltzed around the Glasgow turf like it was a cloud.
The Times of London, not duly noted for praising anything beyond those shores proclaimed: “Real Madrid, with its brilliant performance on Scottish soil, has maintained the suggestion that it is the best club in the world.” The Daily Mail went further: “It’s just a pity that the thousands of people at the game, and who have to return to watching Scottish football, must have thought they were dreaming.”
No matter how great a final is played on Saturday between two powerful teams, it is unlikely it will become a legend, with the power to make grown men involuntarily hold their breath and little boys dream, but it might. And that is why we continue to watch. No matter how many turgid 0-0’s or hit and hope performances from your own team, you keep watching because maybe one day, you will be able to tell your own “I was there” tale.
Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.