Book Review: Blowing the Whistle

Posted by on Mar 19, 2017 in Book Review | No Comments
Book Review: Blowing the Whistle

Blowing the Whistle (Anpfiff)
by Toni Schumacher
Published by Star
1987, £2.99 (Amazon)

It’s now thirty years since the publication of Harald (Toni) Schumacher’s Blowing the Whistle and its German-language precursor, Anpfiff but there are far more reasons than a mere anniversary to dust down a volume that made an explosive impact on its release.

Schumacher was one of the leading footballers of the 1980s as evidenced by his appearance in two World Cup final matches for West Germany in 1982 and 1986 and the European Championships in 1980, the latter of which saw him finish on the winning side. Playing most of his career at his local club Cologne having been brought up in humble circumstances in nearby Düren, he became the successor to the great Sepp Maier as goalkeeper for the national team and was one of the major soccer personalities of the 1980s.

Of course Schumacher’s name is indissoluble from the incident for which he is best remembered — the notorious foul on Patrick Battiston as the Frenchmen bore down on goal in the dramatic semi-final of the 1982 World Cup in Seville — one of the greatest matches of all time. As Battiston hared at the ball, Schumacher launched himself airborne and sideways, catching his opponent with his hip and leaving him with a neck brace and needing artificial respiration.

Aptly, this watershed moment is dealt with at some length in the book and early on — an admittance from Schumacher that he’ll never be able to escape its consequences. It’s his contention that he had no intention of hurting Battiston and while this may be true, the level of recklessness involved still makes most viewers wince.

At the time, there was a strong residual narrative amongst pundits from other countries that West Germany were the bad guys. The distance between 1945 and 1982 is scarcely any longer than it is between 1982 and now — many thought it was still OK to make jokes about goose stepping, failed sense of humour and towels on deckchairs while the football team were still resented for World Cup final victories against richly more talented sides in Hungary in 1954 and Holland in 1974.

That image continued in 1982, further fuelled by the West Germans’ less than scintillating progress having lost their opening game to Algeria, colluded with neighbours Austria to sneak through the group stages and edged a dullest of dull second round groups ahead of England and host nation Spain. Opponents France, on the other hands, were the new musketeers of World football, led by Michel Platini and displaying the sumptuous talents of Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana, Marius Tresor and others.

3-1 ahead, the West Germans somehow managed to claw back into the game, winning on penalties after Klaus Fischer’s thrilling equaliser with a bicycle kick — that Schumacher’s assault on Battiston happened with the score still locked at 1-1 is something many forget — few had qualms about compiling a narrative steeped in high villainry.

This continued afterwards including a much anticipated friendly between the two sides to open border city Strasbourg’s La Meinau stadium the following year — but as Schumacher points out at length in the book, he and Battiston have long since become reconciled — the Frenchman gallant in his acceptance of the Cologne man’s apology.

Given all this, it would be easy for those few seconds of madness to overshadow the book but not a bit of it. At the time, Schumacher’s text created more waves for the salaciousness of its gossip than anything else.

Amusingly, the author loves recounting tales of winding up those exemplars of German football history — his national manager Franz Beckenbauer and undisputed star player of the time, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Rummenigge is mocked for his paranoia and accusations that a ‘Cologne Mafia’ is stirring up ill feeling towards him in the squad — and this from a Bayern Munich player. Elsewhere, Paul Breitner is portrayed as psychologically dominant and manipulative and a massive drinker to boot, the characters of a succession of journos of the time demolished and his main goalkeeping rival Uli Stein depicted as an out and out enemy who would stop at nothing to depose Schumacher from his number 1 status.

Most tellingly, it’s Schumacher’s contention that performance-enhancing drugs are a central part of the game that are most eye-opening. Ephedrine in particular is described as being a staple of a physio’s medical kit while cocktails of drugs, legal and otherwise, were fed to players before important games. You’d have to be naïve to consider that such activities were no longer part of football and the omertà  that surrounds this topic in professional footballing circles has surely got to be the next bastion for investigative journalists to tackle.

That such accusations ultimately blew over is perhaps due to Schumacher’s status as something of a loner as well as some remarkably nutty ideas. His suggestion for alleviating boredom during major tournaments — to provide players with comfort women subject to medical check-ups is outrageous from a married man (or indeed anyone) – and his assertion that fans who live further away from a stadium should pay less for tickets will please Manchester United fans and few others. The author is also excellent on the bitter rivalry between kit manufacturers Adidas and Puma and how players would often consider changing club before they would contemplate breaking a sponsorship deal.

Elsewhere, he does display perspicacity — his ideas for reforming the national football federation and the coaching structure are an earlier taste of the impulses that Gabriel Honigstein recounted in Das Reboot and the result was a deserved victory in the 1990 World Cup, albeit without Schumacher.

Subsequently, Schumacher’s involvement in football has mainly been as a goalkeeping coach and his one spell in the overall hot seat was with his home club’s cross-city rivals Fortuna Cologne. Earlier, towards the end of his playing days, he did play eight matches for Bayern and a single game for Borussia Dortmund. On a recent edition of the superb Football Fives podcast, the panel posed the question as to when ‘modern football’ started. On the evidence of this volume, the answer is longer ago than is often put forward.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 48 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

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