Toni Schumacher has a lot to do as a football legend these days. One interview after the other, and of course the French TV crews were already there. At our meeting in Cologne, he says wearily: In ten years, for the next milestone anniversary, he’ll have to tell the whole story again. But really everything has been said now. Schumacher, long-time goalkeeper of 1. FC Köln and the national team, two-time runner-up world champion, European champion and German champion, is also a professional icon.
The much-cited “Night of Seville”, July 8, 1982, is now a part of his life, like six cruciate ligament and meniscus operations, his kidney contusions and finger and rib fractures, capsule and tendon tears. He accepts with stoic composure that Germany’s World Cup semi-final win against France on penalties has entered the collective memory.
Every five and ten years he plays the leading role in a major narrative. As at a Rolling Stones concert, where the fans expect satisfaction at the end, he speaks willingly, but now without much emotion, about the 57th minute of the game and his momentous collision with French defender Patrick Battiston.
In the crowded Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in Seville, on that sultry evening in the summer of 1982, Franco-German friendship is in danger of collapsing. It’s always the same record, the identical reception of this moment. The centuries-old German-French hereditary enmity can be condensed so wonderfully strikingly in this one minute of play. Stereotypically, German and French columnists, authors and filmmakers fire razor-sharp attacks on the man from Cologne, who plays the role of the bogeyman.
The old headlines keep popping up over and over again: “The Monster of Seville”. It is so on the 40th anniversary and it will be so again on the 45th and 50th anniversaries. Then it’s all in unison: Schumacher strikes Battiston down like a battering ram, the Frenchman is carried off the pitch unconscious – and Schumacher casually leans against his goalpost, chews gum and promises after the game: I’ll pay him his jacket crowns.
So there he is again, the ugly German! L’Équipe ran the headline at the time: “Schumacher, profession: inhuman!” And Paris Match writes: “They haven’t changed: Prussia! Reichswehr! Air force! Boches! Schumacher, the executioner of France!”
No, I do not agree with this same chorus of accusations. I don’t presume to say that Schumacher rammed Battiston on purpose. And Schumacher’s much scolded behavior immediately after the crash and then after the game? Yes, is it always black or white?
Let’s just listen to the protagonists from back then. The whole story begins with Bernard Genghini’s injury. France coach Michel Hidalgo sends defender Patrick Battiston on for the French attacker after 50 minutes of play. What happens then, seven minutes later, is described by Battiston in a poetic manner in the documentary film Un 8 juillet à Séville.
When Michel Platini releases him, Battiston runs towards the goal of the German team. “I feel like I’m on the Champs-Élysées at five in the morning on an August day. There is no one. I feel great, free, in a state that allows me to do everything.” Toni Schumacher stands opposite him. Both are in full sprint.
“I’ll get the ball,” the goalkeeper begins his description much more soberly than the former AS Saint-Étienne professional. Another change of perspective: “I really want to touch the ball,” says Battiston, “I have the impression that the ball is going up in the air and stays there. How am I supposed to accept it?”
Then Battiston perceives a black mass. Schumacher jumps off. “I pull my knee up, make myself big. I fly towards Patrick. I try to turn away while flying, but I hit him in the head with my right hip.”
The Frenchman comes to himself in the treatment room of the stadium. “How is it?” he asks team doctor Maurice Vrillac, who gives him oxygen and checks his reflexes, heart function and breathing.
Vrillac tells him that Marius Trésor and Alain Giresse have just made it 2-1 and 3-1 in extra time when Battiston loses consciousness again. He only wakes up again in the Sagrado Carazón hospital. The doctor treating him reveals his diagnosis well after midnight: concussion, three knocked out teeth, a gaping laceration and a fractured cervical vertebra.
The other truth is also bad for Battiston: Germany equalized in extra time through Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Klaus Fischer’s incredible overhead kick. And Toni Schumacher of all people saved the shots from Didier Six and Maxime Bossis in the penalty shoot-out after Uli Stielike had already missed. Germany is in the final against Italy, France is playing the unloved game for third place against Poland.
As is well known, Germany loses like France, but the discussion about the semi-finals continues to this day. Why didn’t Schumacher take care of the injured Battiston? All of a sudden Toni Schumacher gets emotional. “I’m standing alone at my goal, on the corner of the six-yard box. That I play with the ball is embarrassment. And cowardice. Yes, maybe for the first time in my life I’m really a coward.”
Afterwards, a German journalist will call out to him on the corridor from the seat to the changing room: “You, Toni, Battiston has lost a few teeth”, and Schumacher, still full of adrenaline, will whisper back carelessly in passing: “Thank God, if it’s just that, I’ll pay him the jacket crowns.”
His “Thank God” and “If it’s just that” don’t make it into the media memory, it remains a naked, contemptible: “I’ll pay him the jacket crowns.” Schumacher’s relief immediately after the final whistle when he learns that Battiston is not critically injured, over the years it will go nowhere.
Much has been written and reported about the infamous Seville night. Some see a brutal foul in the 57th minute of the game, others a terrible collision. And for the French, the more than two and a half hours at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán is a collective national tragedy.
Poets and thinkers have proclaimed the extension of the Franco-Prussian wars and are fueling anti-German resentments that were thought to be buried long ago, like the French journalist and writer Pierre-Louis Basse in his book Séville 82: “I haven’t seen a game. I saw a battlefield where the blue died. Death made them heroes. I saw fair angels, Platini, Tigana and Giresse, the protectors of the little Mademoiselles of Paris, who had to fight against bull-necked monsters like Hrubesch and Briegel.”
Stop it! Let’s make this semi-final on July 8, 1982 in Seville what it is: a match of the century between two great teams, with all the dramaturgical highs and lows that football can offer, one of the most memorable games in the history of football World Championship.
Or to put it another way, in the words of the then French team captain Michel Platini: “I experienced the emotions of a lifetime in this one tremendous football game. Even if we lost, I was still an actor in a big drama.”