Tuesday, 26 July 2016

A HERO OF 1966 - THE 'RUSSIAN' LINESMAN


ONE  of the most dramatic moments in the history of football is recalled  in a new e-book.

It was during the World Cup Final 50 years ago on July 30 that linesman Tofiq Bahramov controversially signalled that, yes, the ball had crossed the line and England's third goal against West  Germany should stand.

It was the turning point of the match which England went in to win 4-2.

Whether or not he was correct, the book insists  that, at this  critical moment, Bahramov's  prompt, decisive and authoritative action got the Swiss referee off the hook and probably  saved the situation from degenerating into a fiasco of confusion which could have put a touch paper to the integrity of the match.

His action was taken with a flourish and a  flamboyance that - at least for a few moments that summer afternoon - made him a latter-day Boris Johnson.

Actually from Baku in Azerbaijan, Bahramov became  known as the "Russian linesman" because, at that time,  his country was part of the Soviet republic.

Following the match he was subjected in West Germany to a campaign of derision which lasted for months.

Media there claimed  he had a grudge against their country, motivated by a thirst for revenge for atrocities said to have been committed by German soldiers on Russians  during bitter fighting at Stalingrad in the Second World War.

This was compounded, it was claimed, by West Germany's defeat of the Soviet Union in the semi-final of the 1066 tournament.

Perhaps because the goal had been awarded, most English pundits were initially more favourably inclined, but here, too, Bahramov's reputation subsequently went into decline such that  he is now frequently referred to as the "dodgy Russian linesman".

There was a mischievous suggestion he had only been appointed to the Final  itself after having induced  an official of FIFA's referees' appointments panel with a gift of caviar - a speciality of Azerbaijan and the Caspian region.

More recently, former Barclays Premier League referee Graham Poll was among those who  joined in the condemnation, even scoffing at  Bahramov's  belly which, for some reason, he claims was "substantial".

But author Jim Wright says there is no shred of evidence to support any of the personal scorn heaped on the linesman.

He insists: "Bahramov made a brave and honest  judgement based on his view - which, even if an optical illusion - would certainly have indicated that the ball had crossed the  goal line in that famous incident.

"He could have ducked the moment, If that had happened,  the referee, who had been uncertain whether or nor the ball had crossed the line, would have had to have guessed - and the whole world would have known he was guessing."

FIFA certainly had no problem with Bahramov's performance - he was subsequently selected as one of the officials for the final stages of the next World Cup in Mexico.

In between, he was to referee  many important matches in European competitions, including those involving Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

If West Germany did have cause for complaint, it was probably that the referee had to allow play to continue in the build-up to England's fourth goal, even though he should have stopped play because several fans had run on to the pitch.

Writing in the aftermath of the match,  Denis Howell, a former referee and Minister of Sport in the government of Harold Wilson, said all three match officials had "amply justified the confidence placed in them by FIFA".

During his research on  the career and background of Bahramov - who died of heart failure, aged 68, in March 1993 - the author  also unearthed much else about the famous Wembley final.

For instance, most of  the England players were paid £400 by an up-and-coming  German sportswear manufacturer to wear new branded boots for the final, but some stayed loyal to those which they had worn previously - and, with the grudging acceptance of Adidas, painted white  stripes on the sides of them.

BBC TV commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme, who was on medication for a heart condition, had pre-match concerns about his health, while Alan Ball's wife, Lesley, succumbed to a fainting fit when West Germany equalised in the last minute of normal time.

At the post-match banquet at a London hotel, the atmosphere among  the German players was so sour  that they could not get away soon enough - they headed for a disco in London's  Leicester Square where they were unrecognised.

The 'Russian' Linesman is available, price £0.99, only as an e-book from Kindle. 

https://kdp.amazon.com/bookshelf?ref_=kdp_RP_PUB_savepub# 



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