Euro 1976

After impressing the world with Total Football in 1974, Oranje went to play the Euros in 1976. Chin up, chest out…we would win this one.

But like in 2012, the Euros following silver at the World Cup was a disaster.

This is the semi finals between Holland and Czechoslovakia. A very tough game with English ref Clive Thomas ( family of Webb??) who lost control over the match. Special goal for Holland in this one :-). And a couple of red cards…

The situation is simple. Holland is not in a great mood to start with. When the score is 1-1, Holland is chasing the game. Extra time ensues. When Cruyff is fouled and Thomas allows the game to proceed, the Czechs score again. Van Hanegem is narcy and refuses to come to the ref when Thomas calls him. “I’m not his dog!”. Willem gets a red card, while Nees already was sent off.

Here’s an interesting account (thanks to the Guardian):

“The romantic story of Holland’s failure to win the World Cup in 1974 and 1978 is one of the first things they teach on the Football History curriculum in these parts. Yet nobody really talks about why they failed to win the tournament in between, Euro 76. Unlike in 1978, their team included Johan Cruyff and Wim van Hanegem, yet they were beaten 3-1 by the eventual winners Czechoslovakia in a nasty semi-final in Zagreb, a match played in fierce wind and rain on a pitch that the Times described as “a paddyfield”. If the match is barely remembered over here, then it will never be forgotten in Holland. In 2008, it was the subject of a half-hour documentary.

The focus of the documentary was one incident in extra-time. Both sides were down to 10 men by that stage, with Johan Neeskens sent off for a savage hack at Zdenek Nehoda.

With the score at 1-1, there were six minutes of extra-time remaining when Johan Cruyff was fouled badly by Antonin Panenka. The Welsh referee Clive Thomas gave nothing and the Czechoslovakians broke to take the lead a few seconds later. For a Dutch team who had been moaning at Thomas all game, this was the final straw. They were already in a foul mood before the game because of the usual infighting, and Cruyff had earlier been booked for again trying to become football’s first player-referee. “My friend Johan,” said Clive Thomas as he watched the video 32 years later, “trying to tell me what the laws of the game are.”

Van Hanegem was booked for dissent on the way back to the halfway line after the goal and sent off before the game had kicked off again. He already distrusted Thomas because of an incident in a match between Feyenoord and Benfica four years earlier, when he says he called Thomas a “thief”. Thomas said he didn’t hear this, and that had he done so he’d have “tried to get him a 10-game ban, in fact maybe for life. No one says that to me.”

Precisely what Van Hanegem said and did when he met Thomas again at Euro 76 is not entirely clear, because his and Thomas’s versions of the story are different. This is not just a controversy; it’s an unsolved mystery. Thomas says, both in his autobiography By The Book and David Winner’s Brilliant Orange, that he told Van Hanegem he would send him off for dissent if he stepped over the halfway line before the kick-off was taken. When Van Hanegem did that, he was off.

Van Hanegem’s version is that Thomas ordered him to take the kick-off. “I said ‘Why? I’m a midfield player. Ruud Geels is the striker – he should take it,'” says Van Hanegem in Brilliant Orange. “Thomas said: ‘Come over here.’ Normally the referee comes to the player, so I stayed where I was. He said again: ‘Come here.’ I stayed where I was. I am not his dog… Then he sent me off.”

The video supports Van Hanegem’s version. There are two other players waiting to take the kick-off, and Thomas seems to point for van Hanegem to come towards him. When he doesn’t, Thomas pulls out the red card. And Thomas’s accounts aren’t entirely consistent. In Brilliant Orange (released in 2000), he says, “I’ve looked at that tape and I know I was right.” In the Dutch TV documentary, eight years later, he says it is the first time he has seen the incident since it happened.

Thomas was insistent that players should come to him – “I am not prepared to run around the field to seek out a recalcitrant footballer” – whereas Holland thought the referee should come to them. What Van Hanegem failed to realise is that Holland were up against the only referee in the world who was even more stubborn and self-righteous than they were. Thomas was never, ever, going to back down. “At the time,” says Van Hanegem, “I wanted to kill him.”

At first Van Hanegem refused to leave the field, and Thomas was in the process of walking off and abandoning the game when Van Hanegem finally shuffled off. With Holland down to nine men, Czechoslovakia scored a third to go through to the final.

In that Dutch TV documentary, Thomas accepts it was a foul on Cruyff. “I apologise,” he says. “It was the wrong decision.” This does not vindicate Holland’s behaviour; these mistakes happen all the time, and Holland would not have played at the 1974 World Cup without a serious refereeing error. Nobody covered themselves in much glory, but Thomas surely had more right on his side.

The Dutch players are content to forgive now, with one exception. “He needn’t take 32 years to do that acknowledge his mistake,” says van Hanegem. “That strikes me as a little long. [Narrator: it was the first time in 32 years he’d seen the images.] I can’t imagine that, don’t try to convince me of that. He’s just incredibly vain, when you see that little man walk, so pedantic, an annoying little fella, always saying, ‘Come here’. You don’t think he has those images? That he sends Neeskens off? That he calls Cruyff over to give him a yellow card? He had it enlarged. He was the first to have one of those plasma screens, believe me, to watch that. That’s the sort of little man he is.”

In this case, as there were only 4 nations competing, we did win bronze :-).

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One comment

  1. The Dutch football has been always my favorite, I was (am) a huge fan of the Holland National team since 1974 and Ajax/Feyenoord clubs since 1969 but… this article is 150% wrong. Email me if interested in further discussion

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