The evening sun has long been casting shadows as the captain of the German team leaves the Wembley lawn with his head bowed. A security officer comfortingly puts his hand on Uwe Seeler’s back, the World Cup protocol chief paves the way to Queen Elizabeth II’s box of honor in the stands. In the background follow national coach Helmut Schön and defender Willi Schulz as well as the band, which will play the anthem for the winners a short time later.
Many press photographers have tried to capture this moment of the long-discussed German final defeat by England in 1966. Axel Springer jun. recorded, who called himself the photographer Sven Simon. It became the sports photo of the century.
After the final whistle, Sven Simon looked for the best position to take the shot. Standing face-to-face with Seeler, he snapped the shot that would make him famous with his Nikon analogue SLR and 80mm prime lens. Sven Simon captioned his photo: “Marked by the fight, beaten by the enemy, broken by a mistake”.
The picture combines Seeler’s exhaustion after the strenuous 120 minutes, his pain over the 2:4 defeat and the bitter disappointment at the irregular 2:3 from a German point of view by Geoffrey Hurst, the famous “Wembley goal”, into a snapshot. In 2000, it was named Sports Photo of the Century. The jury’s reasoning said: “The picture shows upright losers who were bent over, but left the field quietly and without hatred or quarrels.” The photo could only develop its effect without color – its black-and-white aesthetics are timeless A stylistic element of the enraptured and brings the captured scenery close to myth as soon as the camera is released. With his shot, Sven Simon created more than just a football photo. The picture is a masterpiece of reportage photography.
But: was it really dejection that made Uwe Seeler look down? Journalists had repeatedly suspected that Seeler had only looked at his loose shoelaces. The photo is overinterpreted. In April 2016, the German Football Museum discovered the contact prints of the final photos in the archive of the Sven Simon photo agency. What is exciting when looking at the negative strips is the scenic resolution of the motif from the photo of the century with the negative number 18A. In the two following recordings 19A and 20A, Seeler bends down and grabs his right neck. These two motifs were previously unknown, the agency photographer Sven Simon had not offered them for media distribution at the time – because otherwise the symbolic content of his main motif would have been destroyed? Does that one metaphorical moment for the Wembley defeat with Seeler’s head bowed turn out to be just trivial?
The following picture of the contact sheet with the negative number 21A does not confirm this assumption, on the contrary: Seeler straightens up from his stooped posture, as if he had only paused and paused for a fleeting moment. Now his facial expression can be seen for the first time: the gaze goes into emptiness and reveals disappointment, exhaustion and bewilderment. The photo of the century that was released three or four seconds earlier is now given a face. Seeler’s facial expressions and posture correspond.
This completes the overall impression of the scenery shown and opens up the context of the photo: Sven Simon had captured the symbolic moment of Wembley perfectly from a German perspective.
The contact sheet from the agency’s archive also dispels any remaining doubts that the photo of the century was not taken after the game. At times, even Uwe Seeler suspected that the scene came from the half-time break. After the photo, there are no more game scenes on the contact sheet, only the celebrating Englishmen with the World Cup trophy and the shots of the disappointed German players on their lap of honor through the stadium. This also clarifies the time of the recording.
It was a special moment to show Uwe Seeler the contact sheets in a Spanish restaurant in Norderstedt, five decades after the dramatic World Cup final, and to reveal Wembley’s last secret with him. In those days, Seeler would have been 86 years old, the honorary captain of the national team, who had played such a large part in the new image of Germans around the world, died in the summer.
After the World Cup final in 1966, the national team showed itself to be a fair loser against the Three Lions. Her upright attitude after what she saw as an irregular course of the game brought Germany a lot of sympathy 21 years after the end of the war.
Captain Uwe Seeler had kept his protesting teammates away from referee Dienst and linesman Bachramov after the controversial decision. The encounter resumed just 29 seconds after the Wembley goal. The darned third goal of the English in the 101st minute in extra time remained a mystery and to this day divides minds into two camps.
The scenes from the 1966 World Cup final are omnipresent – they have become key images in German and English memory history. The iconic photo of Axel Springer jun. aka Sven Simon, who traveled to England for Twen magazine and reported on the World Cup as one of 172 accredited photographers, became almost as famous as the Wembley goal.
In memory of Axel Springer Jr. WELT AM SONNTAG donated the Sven Simon Prize for the sports photo of the year in 1999. At 10,000 euros, it is Germany’s most valuable sports photo award.
The author is director of the German Football Museum
In order to preserve the memory of its former editor-in-chief, WELT AM SONNTAG donated the Sven Simon Prize. The son of the publisher Axel Springer, who passed away at the age of 38, was a passionate photographer under the pseudonym Sven Simon.
Also in 2022, a top-class jury chaired by Axel Sven Springer, son of Sven Simons, will choose the most beautiful pictures. Sports idols such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franziska van Almsick, Katarina Witt and Bernhard Langer vote for the winner. At 10,000 euros, the Sven Simon Prize is Germany’s most valuable sports photo prize. The award will be presented in 2023 during the opening of the traditional exhibition of all winning pictures in the German Football Museum in Dortmund.
The closing date for entries is December 30, 2022, as per the date of the postmark. Eligibility requirements: The photo must have been taken this year. The prints should be well labeled. Each picture needs a title. Please do not forget your sender and your telephone number. Send your pictures to: Welt am Sonntag, password: Sven-Simon-Preis, Zimmerstrasse 50, 10888 Berlin.