The news that FIFA has imposed a temporary ban from all football activities on “der Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer will come as pretty cold comfort to Leeds United fans of a certain age. They will remember all too well the massive effect that Beckenbauer, now 69 years old, had on the 1975 European Cup Final at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Beckenbauer, then as now, was a massively-influential figure in the game, having captained West Germany to World Cup success only the summer before. He certainly seemed to have an intimidating effect on French referee Michel Kitabdjian, who failed to give two seemingly clear-cut penalties to Leeds in the first half, and then quailed before the furious protests of der Kaiser – and, after a short delay, his Bayern Munich team-mates – having initially seemed to allow a Peter Lorimer volley in the 67th minute.
The rest, sadly for United – who had completely outplayed the defending European Champions up to that point – was history. Leeds, demoralised and feeling cheated of an advantage which would have been well-merited, subsided to two goals from Roth and Muller, putting an end to their dreams of being top dogs in Europe. It was difficult to overlook the undue influence that Beckenbauer had wielded over the course of the match, and the Leeds fans who remember the occasion still feel that the German’s standing in the game made it far too easy for him to alter the course of events in Bayern’s favour.
If the English club concerned had played in red, the protests from home might have been more vehement. As it was, the focus was more on the subsequent actions of disgruntled Leeds fans than on any perceived injustice. Beckenbauer had got away with two penalty claims, and he’d seemingly managed to sway an incompetent – at best – ref. It’s little wonder that the very mention of his name gives Leeds United supporters the conniptions to this day.
The fact that Beckenbauer is now in some bother with World Football’s governing body might give rise to a few quiet nods of satisfaction in LS11 and considerably further afield – although of course those old wounds will remain raw until the last Leeds fan to remember that night is long past caring. The current issue is nothing to do with the 1975 Final – it’s a different matter and it’s thirty-nine years too late anyway. It’s just that, when someone seems to have got away with such a blatant buggering-up of justice for so long, it’s nice to see them called to account for anything at all. You’re almost reminded of Al Capone’s notorious career, bloodstained and terror-strewn – when he finally went down it was for the white-collar crime of tax evasion. Hardly reflective of his undoubted crimes, but still. Justice – of a sort.
So we Leeds fans will hope that Beckenbauer’s current problems don’t go away any time soon. The man himself doesn’t seem unduly concerned though – and his continuing influence will more than likely see him walk out from under yet again. He wasn’t the first footballer to get away with on-field dodginess, and he won’t be the last – but the injury he helped inflict on Leeds that night bit deep and it took us a long, long time to recover – while Bayern continued to flourish.
Justice? It’s a gag, we all know that. But for a while at least, we might hope and dream that it’s finally caught up with der Kaiser.