Simagine it’s game of the century – and you have to go to bed at halftime. July 8, 1982 was a Thursday, and for the eight-year-old that meant school the next morning, and his parents didn’t show any mercy. Football wasn’t what it is today either. And so the first memory of a World Cup has nothing to do with football in the narrower sense: that the evening was over before nightfall in Seville.
But you don’t have to have football socialization that started under such adverse circumstances to be happy about a book like Manuel Neukirchner’s. “The Night of Seville” is not the only work that has appeared on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the World Cup semi-final between France and Germany, that by Stephan Klemm with the same title has already been discussed here, a French adaptation elsewhere.
But it creates something that not many would believe in the medium of the book (of which it is said that it is no longer what it was back then) in the football age of its media arbitrariness: to experience something – to catch up – as if you were yourself included.
The turning point of the game
Neukirchner, founding director of the German Football Museum in Dortmund and studied literature, thoroughly examined sources and heard eyewitnesses for his view of Seville and then assembled the quotes from those involved into a “football drama in five acts”. This has an optical effect, because the text is draped over the large-format pages like a facsimile theater book. However, a play that brings together small and large dramas in a rare density, even bigger than the “Century Play” from 1970, does not automatically become a drama in the literary sense.
Some of the descriptions of the main and secondary characters provide enlightenment, for example when it comes to insights into the psychology of penalty kicks (Breitner) or when the very different real temperaments of the German players in particular become clear from the character speech (Breitner!), and now and again for amusement: “Oh mon dieu! Rümmenisch!” French leader Mitterrand can be heard groaning in anticipation when the German striker comes on – it’s the turning point of the game.
But all in all, the construction principle does not produce the sparks that one might have hoped for with this effort. Maybe because the roles are too clearly divided for that, good and bad, Battiston and Schumacher, French football art and Teutonic mentality machine.
The golden age of sports photography
Nevertheless, the story develops an irresistible pull, thanks to another thorough research. The 1982 World Cup took place in the golden age of sports photography, and even if the images are sharper today, the lenses are no longer as close to the protagonists as they were then due to a wide range of regulations.
And what Neukirchner has collected and composed from Seville in this respect lets you immerse yourself almost in person in the events, in the German cabin hung with images of Christ and Mary, on the lawn of the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, with breathtaking perspectives from the turf to the steep ranks in the background, and then to the heart of the teams when it’s all or nothing (penalties) and in the meantime also, it has to be said, life and death (Battiston).
The true drama of that night in Seville is played out in the faces of Platini, Schumacher, Stielike, Six and others, and it’s hard to imagine a more impressive panorama of human extremes than reflecting sport. In the juxtaposition of image and text, the night of Seville comes to life once more: as a spectacle that sends the French to hell, where, understandably, they would rather see the victor burn.
On the night of July 8, Chancellor Schmidt sent a telegram to Mitterrand about a “divine verdict that is inherent in every duel, true to the classic myths,” and expresses the sympathy of the Germans to the French. At least that’s how the “postlude” is reproduced by Neukirchner.
There was also a sporty one, the final against Italy. Even the eight-year-old was allowed to see that to the end, with Breitner’s arm stretched up after the 3-1 as the only memory. It must have been very prosaic.