BY GILES METCALFE
Rudolf “Rudi” GlÃ¶cknerâ€™s name has largely been forgotten, but to Welsh fans over 50, his name will forever be associated with one notorious and violent match involving the Welsh international side.
GlÃ¶ckner, from what was then East Germany was the first German to referee a FIFA World Cup final when he officiated at the 1970 final between Brazil and Italy in Mexico City.
He was awarded the 1970 final because the Brazilians didn’t want a European referee as this was seen as favouring Italy, and the Italians didn’t want a South American referee because of perceived bias towards Brazil. There were no Asian or African elite referees in 1970, so FIFA settled for one from the DDR, as Communist East Germany was seen as having no potential bias towards either side. Until then, Rudi GlÃ¶ckner had only had a few matches refereeing national teams under his belt, but the 1970 World Cup Final made his name.
He had played football for Rotation Leipzig and took his referee exams in 1952. He was a DDR-Oberliga referee between 1959 and 1977, and officiated in four DDR Cup finals.
He had a long international refereeing career, spanning over 15 years. He officiated at four Olympic Games, two World Cups, the 1970 International Cup, the 1971 Fairs Cup, the 1974 European Cup Winners’ Cup, and matches in the 1976 UEFA Cup (including the Final), the 1976 European Cup Winners Cup and 1976 European Championship.
However, he was heavily criticised for his refereeing performance in the Quarter Final games between Dutch side ADO Den Haag and West Ham United in the 1976 European Cup Winners Cup, which finished 5-5 on aggregate (West Ham going through on the away goals rule), and also for his handling of the European Championship game between Wales and Yugoslavia at Ninian Park, Cardiff.
In what is one of the most infamous matches in Welsh footballâ€™s history, GlÃ¶ckner made some baffling refereeing decisions and disallowed perfectly good goals, causing what was already a volatile atmosphere to descend into violence.
In what has been called one of the great forgotten stories of Welsh sport, Wales trailed 0-2 to Yugoslavia after the first leg of their European Championship quarter final in Belgrade (European Championship matches were played home and away in the participating countries in those days, rather than being hosted in one single country or a grouping of countries as is the case now), but Wales still had everything to play for in the crucial second leg at Ninian Park in Cardiff. The ground would be packed with fervent and vocal Welsh support, and the game would be televised (still a relative rarity then).
Football hooliganism was endemic in 1976, and Ninian Park had become one of the first grounds in the UK to erect perimeter fencing to prevent hooliganism spilling over onto the pitch. Alcohol could still be taken into football grounds as there were no preventative measures to prohibit fans bringing it in if they could get through the turnstiles or over a wall with it.
Wales playing a match at home in a must-win international for a place in the semi-finals, unrestricted alcohol inside the ground and an all-pervading culture of violence must have given the Heddlu (Welsh Police) nightmares over what could happen; and those fears were justified as, on the night, GlÃ¶cknerâ€™s performance actively stoked the fires.
Herr GlÃ¶ckner had refereed the UEFA Cup Final without major incident only a week before his trip to Cardiff, so most thought that the match was in the safe hands of a tried and tested, elite referee. With his brylcreemed short-back-and-sides haircut and Teutonic manner, GlÃ¶ckner looked like a 1930s anachronism surrounded on the pitch by players still in the stylistic throes of the arse-end of hippydom and prog rock-y hirsuteness of the pre-punk mid-1970s.
Within 20 minutes of kickoff, GlÃ¶ckner had enraged the Welsh fans by awarding a highly-dubious penalty to Yugoslaviaâ€™s Popivoda. GlÃ¶ckner blew for a foul in the penalty area when he adjudged Wales and Birmingham City defensive midfielder Malcolm Page to have brought down Popivoda, although the replays on TV clearly showed that the Yugoslav had dived and conned the ref.
Katalinksi scored from the spot to make it 3-0 to Yugosalvia, leaving Wales needing to make a comeback of Lazarus-like proportions to win the game and reach the semi-finals.
Ian Evans of Crystal Palace scored before half-time to level the tie on the night, and it looked like game-on after the break when the mighty John Toshack squeezed the ball home from teammate John Mahoney’s knock-down. However, GlÃ¶ckner disallowed the goal and gave a foul to Yugoslavia as he decided in his wisdom that Mahoney’s bicycle kick assist â€“ which would have been allowed by any referee in the British Football League â€“ constituted dangerous play.
The 30,000-strong Welsh crowd went ballistic, raining insults and full cans of beer down on the referee. Angry fans attempted to scale the perimeter fences in order to get onto the pitch and attack him, and the TV pictures show some spectators making derogatory Nazi salute gestures at the East German.
The game was halted whilst the Heddlu and Match Stewards struggled to contain the crowd and restore some semblance of order, and GlÃ¶ckner threatened to abandon the match altogether, which would have led to the game being awarded to Yugoslavia anyway.
Within minutes of the previous incident he enraged the Welsh players and fans further when he disallowed another John Toshack effort, for offside this time. This led to more accusations of bias or worse from the terraces and another hail of beer cans was launched from the Bob Bank stand.
GlÃ¶ckner did award Wales a late penalty, but when Terry Yorath missed it the Welsh crowd’s misery was complete.
They had lost the match, the tie and were out of a competition in which some Welsh fans and pundits thought they had a chance of at least reaching the final. The blame for this was aimed squarely at the referee.
As he blew the final whistle, 16 policemen rushed onto the pitch and made for GlÃ¶ckner before the enraged Welsh fans could get on there and attack him. They then attempted to escort him off the field, past the crowd in the stands and back into the dressing room in safety, avoiding any further incident.
All this was shown on TV of course and, as the cameras zoom back, itâ€™s possible to make out a long, thin, white object flying directly towards GlÃ¶ckner in the coverage (which still exists). Itâ€™s a corner flag, uprooted by a fan and hurled spear-like, pointed end first, towards the East German referee. It nearly reaches its intended target but one of the police escorts flanking GlÃ¶ckner takes it in the neck. The live TV coverage was then pulled but the subsequent gory pictures taken by press photographers at the match were wired to newspapers around the world and published. This led to Welsh football supporters being vilified as hooligans and attempted murderers, and ultimately to Walesâ€™ World Cup qualifier against Scotland being played â€œabroadâ€ at a neutral ground, (in fact, the neutral ground was Anfield â€“ easier to get to for the Welsh fans than for the Scottish contingent).
GlÃ¶ckner didnâ€™t face any formal allegations over his refereeing performance in that game, despite the fansâ€™ justifiable accusations that he was biased or â€œbentâ€, and, in total, he must have taken charge of at least 1150 matches in his career. Those two bad refereeing performances stain his character though, but weâ€™ll never know if he had a guilty conscience over them as he died in 1999, aged 70, in his hometown of MarkranstÃ¤dt without speaking publicly about them.