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From Hoeness to Trezeguet - Thirty Years of Shoot Out Misery
by Dave Wiggins
The referee throws me the ball, and I make my weary trudge towards the penalty spot. It shouldn't have to be like this. We'd entered the Liverpool City Council 7-a-side tournament as something of a rag-bag wild card, and - somehow - contrived to make our way to the quarter final. That's where the problem started.
Just before we kicked off, at Picton astro, two games from the final, the organisers had told us - get this - that the 'finals night' was to be held at Anfield, in 4 weeks time. We've misheard him, surely' Sensing the shock of ourselves and our opponents, he repeated it. Anfield, 4 May 1991. Shit. Even though the bulk of our team were Everton supporters, this would be some prize to miss out on.
The quarter was a non-event, but they were even more nervous than us after that Anfield bombshell, and we won 1-0. Somehow, this was even worse. We were now 15 minutes away from Anfield, and we were going to go out in the semi-final. We would never smile again, Evertonians in the main or not.
With sphincters going like crazy, all across the pitch, we ground out the most tense 0-0 semi that you could imagine. This was turning into a nightmare; penalties to decide who would get the only opportunity of their life to turn out at a Premier League ground. Amazingly, given the pressure, the first 6 spot kicks are scored. At that moment, I despise my team mates who have found the net. Theirs' will be a summer of knowing that it wasn't them who cost us; that it was Wiggo who had been found wanting when he needed to stand up and be counted. With those happy thoughts swirling around my tormented swede, I placed the ball on the spot . . . . . .
Back before 1976, penalty shoot-outs were largely unheard of. But then, in the final of the European Championship that year, a 2-2 draw between West Germany and Czechoslovakia, Panenka became a legend in schools nationwide, for his audacious 'dink' over Sepp Maier - a technique that has been copied over the years, with varying degrees of success, by men with much more bottle than most of us (Yorke, Di Canio, and that Ukrainian greaser in the recent World Cup spring immediately to mind).
Whilst, though, most scholars were eulogising the aforementioned Panenka, I was sparing a charitable thought for Uli Hoeness, whose own ballooned penalty - sliced high and wide in the general direction of Poland - had given the muzzied Czech the chance to make a name for himself. What was going through Hoeness's mind, afterwards, and how would he live with what he had done. Just like Morrissey, that night had opened my eyes, and I have never slept soundly again after watching a match settled from 12-yards.
It's not always a knockout situation, of course, that leads to penalty kick heartache. Remember the likes of Robbie Fowler against Middlesborough, to give Man City a UEFA Cup spot, Gary Lineker to break the England goalscoring record, or that feller who could have given Deportivo La Coruna their first ever Spanish title had he not bottled it in the 92nd minute. Alright 'der Aldo, sound as a pound (except in '88). Hell, even the Business Houses very own Giannini, Kenny 'Wags' Welsh proved fallible from the spot in a tense encounter between Cox Radcliffe and Gregsons. By and large, though, it will be at the end of a cup tie, where reputations are forged, or lives ruined, by the failure to out-guess the keeper.
Indeed, it has become almost trendy, to collapse in a heap, inconsolable, when causing your team to be knocked out of a major tournament. They've all capitulated; Shevchenko, Platini, Van Basten, Maradona, Baresi, Southgate, that bloke at Tommy Smith's testimonial, Baggio, Dave Bamber (and 100 other play-offs journeymen), when the pressure became too much to bear or the keeper got lucky. Leaving aside my less than thrilling story at the start, I also stepped up and missed when the 1992 Old Boys League Division Six Cup Final went to pennos, so I know what its like.
So spare a thought for Trezeguet, whose life will never be the same again. Hero in Euro 2000, villain six years on. His team-mates, whilst gutted at not winning the thing, will be able to go on with their lives, and, when the disappointment has started to wear off, will be able to re-wind, time and again, to that moment when they buried a penalty, past Buffon, in a World Cup final. But not old Trez. As he's banging them in for fun in training, his mind will be haunted what might have been if he'd only put it a few inches lower, or rolled it to the other side.
...Meanwhile, back at Picton sports centre, I took a short run up, and placed it to the keeper's left. Time stood still, but he'd already dived to his right, and it trickled in. Relief washed over me. Even before I'd made it back to the halfway line, our keeper, Wootto, was saving their fourth, and it was left to ice cool Kenny Batin (yes, teachers at our school had a field day with the register - 'Master Batin'?) to drill us into the final at Anfield. But that, constant reader, is a tale for another day. For now, let us take a moment to remember all those players who've missed a vital penalty and whose lives will never be the same again. My heart goes out to each and every one (list of exceptions supplied on request).
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