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The Most Controversial Match In World Cup History

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When Algeria lines up for their crucial World Cup Round of 16 match against Germany, it will be the first time the African nation has ever participated outside the tournament's group stage. They had a chance in 1982, but a dubious result between two other nations denied them the opportunity. That match was so controversial, fans burnt flags and money, television commentators begged viewers to change the channel, and FIFA eventually changed the World Cup's format to prevent anything like it from ever happening again.

One of the teams in that controversial match was West Germany, which makes Algeria's upcoming showdown all the more dramatic. Let's go back to the 1982 World Cup to find out what exactly happened on the pitch in Gijón between West Germany and Austria. Take us to Spain, Naranjito!

In 1982, West Germany were the most dominant force in world soccer. After winning UEFA Euro 1980, they cruised through qualification and easily earned a spot at the World Cup in Spain. Their first match was against Algeria, a team that West Germany could have beaten while chomping on cigars. Those aren't my words — a member of the West German team actually said they would be able to trounce Algeria while enjoying cigars. Another German reportedly boasted, "We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs."

When they actually played the match, however, there would be no dedications to Fräuleins or German Shepherds. Algeria beat West Germany 2-1, turning the entire tournament on its head. No African nation had ever even won a World Cup match until four years prior (when Tunisia topped Mexico 3-1), and now Algeria had put a global superpower on their keisters.

As group play continued, West Germany rebounded and thrashed Chile 4-1, while Algeria stumbled against Austria and lost 0-2. Then, on June 24th, Algeria squeaked out a 3-2 victory over Chile and earned a spot behind Austria at the top of the group with four points (back then, a win was only worth two points). West Germany still had their last group match to play against Austria, scheduled for June 25th. The Algerians had 24 hours to wait and hope for either a draw or an Austrian victory (a West German win by three goals or more would have also sufficed, as it would have knocked Austria below Algeria via goal difference).

The Algerians had reason to hope, too. Austria shocked West Germany 3-2 in the round of 16 of the previous World Cup (a.k.a. "The Miracle of Cordoba"), and before the 1982 match, Georg Schmidt, Austria's manager, said, "My players always find a special motivation against Germany." A valiant effort from the Austrians looked to be in the cards before kick-off, and not the result that would send both European teams through: a narrow West German win.

But then the match started at El Molinón stadium in Gijón. Horst Hrubesch (the pride of Hamm, Germany) scored in the 11th minute. And then...well, not much else happened. It soon became evident that the 1-0 scoreline was on remarkably sturdy ground. Some half-chances fell to the teams here and there, but they looked content to pass the ball around and conserve energy. According to the Guardian, at half-time, "one of the German players makes a beeline for an Austrian...puts an arm round his shoulder and engages him in discourse." Rumors abound that the two teams had decided at half-time that 1-0 was how it would end.

Now, here comes a big fat hedge: There is no concrete proof that the two teams conspired to achieve this result. It's not like they formed a circle around the ball and sang "Im Mӓrzen der Bauer" as the clock neared 90'. It's entirely possible that the world just witnessed an especially drab match, and not a monumental loogie to the face of sportsmanship. It's even more likely that both teams knew this result was mutually beneficial, and they decided to conserve energy and subconsciously suppressed their killer instinct (not easy, given the participants).

BUT...a hedge is different than a pardon. The Guardian compiled some stats to see just how lackadaisical the play was:

Opta have a detailed archive of every World Cup game since 1966, and there are some belting statistics for [the second half]. There were only three shots, none on target. West Germany made only eight tackles, around one every six minutes. Both sides had an overall pass-completion ratio in excess of 90%, a level usually reserved for people like Xavi and Paul Scholes – and, more tellingly, Jamie Carragher, the king of the no-risk pass. Austria had a 99% success rate with passes in their own half; West Germany's was 98%.

You can also check out these "highlights" and decide for yourself. (Man of the Match has to go to the video editor responsible for culling anything approaching competitive play from the available footage):

If you don't think something fishy was going on, spectators and commentators at the match certainly did. A huge section of Algerian fans in the stadium waved money and lit it on fire as soon as they suspected foul play. A German supporter in attendance reportedly burnt his country's flag and Robert Seeger, the man doing play-by-play for Austrian TV, asked viewers at home to change the channel. Afterwards, "a group of West German fans went to the team hotel to forcibly articulate their interpretation of the game...the players bombarded them with water bombs from the balcony."

The match is still known as "The Disgrace of Gijón" or, to those who have no qualms about equating sports with war, the "Anschluss."

The Algerians demanded that FIFA investigate the result, but the federation's three-and-a-half hour meeting about the subject returned no proof of tampering or illegality. Instead, they changed the rules to make it so the last match of each World Cup group stage happen simultaneously in the hopes of preventing any sort of collusion ahead of time. Obviously, this is little consolation to the Algerians, who in 1982 had to watch West Germany make it to the World Cup Final from the discomfort of their homes.

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Pop Culture
The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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History
Hans Schmidt, the "Nazi" Wrestler Who Incited Riots
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Waiting inside the locker room of the Pioneer Memorial Stadium, The Des Moines Register reporter Walter Shotwell thought he had found a clever way to discredit a visiting professional wrestler named Hans Schmidt. Just a few days prior, on August 1, 1953, Schmidt had been seen on national television barking into a microphone using a thick German accent. He dismissed the concept of sportsmanship and vowed to “win ze title and take it back to Germany vere it belongs.”

In the years following World War II, a German nationalist was not likely to be cheered on anywhere in the United States, but the vitriol Schmidt encouraged was unlike anything pro wrestling had ever seen. Schmidt had fans practically frothing at the mouth, stabbing him with hairpins, waving cigarette lighters in his face, and vandalizing his car. Fearing for his safety, police would often have to escort him through angry mobs. It didn’t really seem to matter whether Schmidt was truly anti-American or just playing a role. Either one seemed egregious.

Shotwell suspected the latter. During his interview with Schmidt, he handed him a newspaper clipping and asked him to read it out loud in German. Schmidt refused, saying that Shotwell wouldn’t understand him. Looking at it closely, Schmidt could see it quoted residents of Munich, where he claimed to hail from, who said they had never heard of any Hans Schmidt.

Shotwell pushed it a little further, until Schmidt made it clear he wasn’t going to continue to play along. Had he admitted the truth—that he was not an actual Nazi, but a French-Canadian named Guy Larose—then he likely would have missed out on a career that would eventually make him one of the highest-paid and most reviled athletes in the world.

Courtesy of Dave Drason Burzynski

If pretending to be an enemy of the state was his destiny, then Larose was born at the right time. He was 24 in 1949, the year he decided to become a pro wrestler; his dream of joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had ended while he was still in training after the police and several RCMP students tried to enforce an alcohol ban on a nearby Native community and had their vehicles pummeled with baseball bats.

Eager to exploit his six-foot-four, 240-pound frame, Larose turned to wrestling. In Michigan and across Canada, he was able to book contests but found that neither his persona nor his real name was drawing a crowd.

Arriving in Boston in 1951, Larose met wrestling promoter Paul Bowser, who took one look at the stern-faced wrestler and declared that he should adopt a Nazi persona. Larose wouldn’t be the first—Kurt Von Poppenheim had already devised a similar gimmick—but he’d have an opportunity to do it on television.

At the time, ring sports like boxing and wrestling were ideal for the burgeoning medium. Cheap to produce, they could easily fill programming schedules on networks like the DuMont Television Network, a onetime rival to CBS, NBC, and a burgeoning ABC that aired grappling contests from Chicago. Although Larose—now Schmidt—had been stirring up attention prior, it was his August 1953 appearance and interview with Chicago Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse that drew more disdain than usual.

After declaring “Germany has been good to me” and claiming that he believed there was no place for sportsmanship in wrestling, Schmidt was cut off by Brickhouse. With the emotional wounds of World War II still fresh, his appearance had struck a nerve. DuMont, Brickhouse would later recall, received more than 5000 angry letters from viewers who were disgusted by Schmidt. At least one viewer recommended he be deported.

Larose, however, exercised some restraint. The word “Nazi” was rarely tossed around, and he never goosestepped or carried a swastika with him. The implication of his allegiance seemed to be more than enough to stir the crowd into a frenzy, especially when he would remain seated during the National Anthem or turn his back at the sight of the American flag. He had been a motorcycle dispatcher during the war, he told journalists, and was once shot down while in a plane.

Although those details weren’t true, on many nights Larose may have felt as though he was in a war zone. Walking to the ring, he’d often be jabbed by women using their hairpins, or by men trying to singe him with their cigarettes. During matches, his “cheating”—using chairs to brain opponents, or kicking them in the groin—would draw crowds toward the ring in an effort to start a riot. At one engagement in Milwaukee, the ensuing chaos led to a brief ban on pro wrestling in the arena.

When the journalist Shotwell asked him what kind of car he drove, he hesitated. “A Lincoln,” he said. “I don’t want to describe it any more than that. I don’t want it wrecked.” He often came out of arenas to find ice picks in his tires.

Whatever argument existed about the good taste of Larose’s performance, there was no question it was lucrative. People who wished to see him get beaten in programs against the likes of Verne Gagne or Lou Thesz filled arenas. Once, special guest referee Joe Louis decked him in a staged climax. There was some kind of catharsis in watching Larose get pummeled.

Photo (C) by Brian Bukantis, www.wrestleprints.com

According to pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, who inducted the Schmidt character into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2012, Larose made roughly $1 million in his 20-year career, which wound to a close in the mid-1970s. Other “foreign menaces” like Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik were coming in, diversifying wrestling’s villain culture.

The kind of loathing he had drawn from the crowd remained rare in wrestling, which hates its heels but usually doesn’t attempt to stab them or burn them with fire. It wasn’t until Sergeant Slaughter turned away from his patriotism and became an Iraqi sympathizer in the early '90s that emotions got a bit too heated for entertainment’s sake. The WWE (then WWF) was forced to assign security to Slaughter’s family until the act was dropped.

By that point, Larose had long been out of the spotlight, having returned home to Quebec. He died in 2012 at the age of 87, his status as one of the most infamous performers of the 20th century having been largely forgotten. Never once did he admit during his prime that he was from Canada.

“Of course I’m from Germany,” he told Shotwell. “Do you think I’d go on television and say things that weren’t true?”

Additional Sources: Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw Jobs: The Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped Wrestling; The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos (C) Dave Drason Burzynski from the book This Saturday Night: Return to the Cobo, available at Wrestleprints.com. Used with permission.

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