Mother of all fouls and the tragedy of Seville revisited

This isn’t football, really: French defender being carried off the field as captain Michel Platini comforts him during the 1982 World Cup semifinal against Germany in Seville. Battiston collided with goalkeeper Harald Schumacher.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Photographs of the wedding at Metz, located at the confluence of the Moselle and Seille rivers in north-eastern France, mostly radiated joy. Some struck a poignant note though. One image had the bride, Anne Gusse, helping her husband-to-be, Patrick Battiston, put on his cervical collar.

In keeping with her marriage vows, for better or for worse, she had stood by her man. For, barely 10 days before, she had nearly lost him.

The Amneville-born defender had hovered between life and death for half an hour in what the football world would call the Tragedy of Seville. Battiston needed six months to regain fitness from two broken teeth (later to be exhibits in a Berlin museum) and three cracked ribs. (Damage to his vertebrae remains, over three decades later).

It was the 1982 World Cup semifinal between France and West Germany at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, on July 8.

Bristling for a fight

Level 1-1 during the changeover, Battiston came in for an injured Bernard Genghini. The German goalie Harald Anton ‘Toni’ Schumacher appeared to be bristling for a fight, it seemed to the substitute, until then seated in the sidelines.

“I observed his behaviour, the way he clashed with Dominique Rocheteau and Didier Six. I thought he was very hyped up, very excitable. I remarked on this to the other players on the bench,” Battiston reminisced.

Similarly, the custodian’s studs had bruised French captain Michel Platini’s thigh. Minutes later, clutching a Jean Tigana cross, Schumacher didn’t check his forward rush and knocked Six to the grass, hustling the striker away when they disentangled. When Platini pleaded with him to calm down, Schumacher’s smouldering eyes were locked on Six. Platini’s out-of-the-planet pass from midfield reached Battiston racing towards the rival rectangle, well before Germany’s Karl Heinz Forster, devouring ground rapidly, sweeper Uli Stielike and the onrushing goal-tender.

Hapless target

Footage of the incident showed Schumacher rushing headlong even after the ball bypassed him, Battiston becoming his hapless target instead. The strapping German’s forearm, swivelling torso and swinging hip felled the Frenchman, left him unconscious from taking full impact of the collision.

The stretcher arrived three minutes later, the Red Cross being banned from the pitch strangely by Seville’s police. Platini thought his teammate was dead. “He had no pulse. He looked so pale,” France’s armband-wearer said later.

Schumacher meanwhile remained unmoved at the edge of his six-yard box, chewing gum nonchalantly, one hand on his hip, the other clasping the ball, waiting to take the goal-kick.

Like the rest of the world, referee Charles Corver’s eyes had followed Battiston’s bid that had rolled past the upright, out of harm’s way. He’d completely missed the most blatant foul in the world’s most widely watched spectacle’s history.

After the men in blue bowed out in the penalty shootout, the first in the tournament’s history, Platini was almost nostalgic: “That was my most beautiful game. What happened in those two hours encapsulated all the sentiments of life itself. No film or play could ever recapture so many contradictions and emotions. It was complete. So strong. It was fabulous.”

On the eve of Battiston’s wedding, Schumacher visited him with a gift. Two years later, the duo met in Strasbourg during a friendly, after which they exchanged jerseys, not on the pitch, but in the dressing room’s privacy.

Prior to the 1986 Mexico World Cup, Battiston said, jokingly perhaps: “I don’t plan to get close to Schumacher, no closer than 40 metres. And this time I will be more careful. I have paid my dues.

”When quizzed about the incident before another World Cup, Battiston replied, “I do not have sympathy for him but I do not have a problem either. I have forgiven. Over time, I realise that people have forever marked him with this. But now it’s finished.”

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 6:32:39 PM |

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