Gerd Muller

 @BBCSport Bayern Munich and Germany legend Gerd Muller is receiving treatment for Alzheimer’s – 06.10.15

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We live in a world of seemingly torrential bad news. War, strife, hunger. The internet driven daily news is filled with conflict, tragedy and disaster. In fact, it’s almost too much for one human mind to absorb. So maybe that’s why this small post on the BBC Sport twitter feed caught my eye. The former West German striker Gerd Muller was receiving treatment for Alzheimer’s. In a sea of desperation, one small familiar island somehow ‘counts’.

Irrational I know.

And unfair too, but we are seemingly geared to only be able to deal with news that has some personal quality to it. Personal? I never met the man. Yet Gerd Muller was part of my youth. Very much so. He will never know it, but his feats in the white shirt of West Germany and the red of Bayern put him on a superhuman pedestal in my early ‘70s world.

Not that I ever met him. Nor would I really know what to say if I did.

I actually know very little about him in truth – other than the fact that he scored goals. Particularly goals against England.

Was he actually ‘the greatest’ goal scorer of my lifetime?

Truthfully, I don’t know how Gerd Muller’s numbers stack up against the Peles, the Cristianos and the Linekers. I deliberately haven’t fact-checked anything to write this short tribute. Probably there are others who supersede him.

The reason I haven’t done that, is because I wanted this to come purely from the memory. I wanted to describe the impact that Gerd Muller had on me. A 13 year old growing up in a suburban council estate in South East London. I wanted to capture something of the mythical quality that Muller held in my mind – and still does to this day.

Gerd Muller represented a one man slayer of the British Empire that I had heard so much about, yet had never known. Not only that, Muller was a German slayer. A representation of all of the bad guys of the Sunday afternoon war movies so beloved of my Mottingham home in 1973.

Only in this Commando comic … it was Fritz – not Tommy – who pulled off the daring victories.

I was too young to really know or understand what the 1966 World Cup win meant. I was vaguely aware of the 1970 Mexico tournament, in which reigning champions England were defeated by West Germany (as it was then – and still is instinctively in my aging mind). A defeat blamed on stand-in goalie Peter Bonetti, but really due to the goal-hungry machine that was Gerd Muller. Whose close range volley sealed a two goal comeback in a game that England should never have lost.

On such small moments, huge changes in (football) history can turn.

Instead of being World Cup semi-finalists, with an expectation to be in with a chance of winning the thing, we became a nervous-breakdown country who struggled to qualify for successive tournaments all through the 1970s.

If there is such a term, I became ‘football-aware’ from about 1972 onwards. The advent of colour telly and discussing who supported whom at primary school, serving to fuel my interest in the game. This, just as England were beginning a long-term wane and West Germany were on the rise. Two trends incidentally that I would argue continue to this day.

The European Championships of 1972 stick vividly in my mind. England and our German nemesis had been drawn together in a home and away two-leg quarter-final.

First up being the Saturday night floodlit leg at the old Wembley Stadium. This to be played out in vivid colour in our front room, thanks to my Dad who had had a good run at work. Pockets full, he bought Bang and Olufsen TV from a specialist shop in Bromley – as was his wont when times were good. He even rigged up a super-duper aerial in our loft, pointing straight at the Crystal Palace TV tower. Let’s just say that the picture, by the standards of the day, was razor sharp.

Memories of the match itself at this far remove are scanty. The green of the Wembley pitch. The green of the German shirts. The green of my envy as Gerd Muller, short and squat, seemed to spin like a top on the edge of the English penalty area and slide home what we called a daisy-cutter shot at school. This past the imploring arms of our great Gordon Banks in goal.

I can still see that moment now, as I write this. Green shirts. Yellow arms reaching out. Muller’s arm raised aloft in his trademark. Disbelief as England crashed out 1-3 at home.

Admiration too.

That was something that I never expected. To lose so devastatingly and yet find the mental space to admire the qualities of the opposition. Was I traitor? I never spoke of it back at Castlecombe school on the Monday. Instead the talk was how England might yet win the second-leg by three clear goals – as kids do. We can still beat ‘em! Hande hoch!

Of course we didn’t.

Press the fast-forward button by two years and there was Muller again. Winning the 1974 World Cup with a reflex strike inside the Dutch penalty area.

The fiendishly well organized Germans defeating everyone’s favourite football romantics, in a crushing display of real politik. All played out in what looked like a space-age stadium in Munich.

Again, it was hard not to feel admiration, jealousy and fear in equal measure. How could we English ever match up? Maybe we never could … or maybe we could, with hard work and application. Hmm, big life lesson there.

As for Muller? he followed the classic path of hitting the heights – and then taking the path down the mountain to hell. Down, down, down.

Alcohol. A poorly judge period in the USA chasing money. Alcohol. More alcohol. Most of us lost track of him as he disintegrated of the footballer. We all know how the story goes…

Yes, such is the power of football that Gerd Muller, the German goal-scoring machine, did leave his mark on my life. Thanks to Gerd, I learned that the stereotypes of my youth were essentially hot air. That yes, you could lose a game, yet admire your opponent’s skill. Of great value it has been too as a Millwall supporter.

I learned that despite seemingly devastating losses, they were in fact only football matches that counted for everything and equally counted for nothing. Certainly  the sun still rose tomorrow.

I learned that sometimes, the only real response is to try to learn from the approach of a nation who had suffered an immeasurable wartime defeat just 30 years before; and were now able to rebuild themselves into something better. An amazing achievement.

Gerd Muller inspired an interest in me for Germany that lives on to this day. Not only would I like to thank him for that, but I also want him to know that yes, he really was the greatest striker of my lifetime.

A man who made his mark – and then some …

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