“Der Bomber” scored winner in finals of World Cup, European Championship and European Cup

icon gerdmuller12 October ~ I found myself, a Scot, delighted when 1FFC Frankfurt striker Célia Šašić grabbed the first hat-trick of this summer’s Women’s World Cup finals, in a 10-0 win over Ivory Coast. I loved that the first hat-trick of the 2014 men’s World Cup was scored by Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller. Both wear Germany’s No 13 – the shirt made famous by Gerd Müller, last week announced as suffering from Alzheimer’s.

German football is rallying round arguably the greatest striker the game has known. Following those who inherit his shirt is just one of the tenuous ways I’ve always supported “Der Bomber”, who retired from international football 41 years ago, as I turned five.

Growing up as Scotland’s World Cup failures went from heroic to comedic and VHS tapes of football history proliferated, Germany’s tournament consistency became a stolen security blanket, Müller’s stats a self-help book for young adulthood. Derided by his first Bayern Munich coach as “the short fat Miller”, he became 1970 European Footballer of the Year through close-range scoring. So being classed “a lazy poaching git” wouldn’t shame me out of my teenage place in a Sunday league team.

The humble stoicism of the Nationalmannschaft was the perfect antidote to Scotland’s extremes of arrogance and insecurity. We capped dishevelled alcoholic geniuses, treated wins like Bannockburn, defeats like Culloden and consistently underachieved. Yet squat, inelegant Müller – fond of a bevvy and representing a nation universally unforgiven for a war which ended the year he was born – scored the winner in the final of the World Cup, European Championship and European Cup.

My dad saw him score against Scotland at Hampden, my uncle against Rangers at Ibrox. While his is the only autograph I’ve ever hunted (obtained outside Glasgow City chambers in 2002), I never saw him play. Yet when Brazil’s Luís Antônio Corrêa da Costa put Scotland out the 1990 World Cup with a strike and nickname both originating in 1940s Bavaria, I knew the original “Müller’s” career would always be visceral to me.

Holland’s Marco van Basten, needing one to beat Müller’s record of 16 European Championship goals, couldn’t score throughout Euro 92. When he missed in the semi-final shootout against Denmark I was off the sofa, delighted he couldn’t even claim a tie-breaker.

Peter Schmeichel was still in goals for Denmark four years later when Croatia’s Davor Suker, who would reach 20 during the Euro 2000 qualifiers, equalled Müller’s record with a famous chip at Hillsborough. Sheffield “neutrals” asked Manchester United’s Schmeichel the score. I sat among them, knowing it was 16 each.

In 2006 I supped tea-time pints in the pub nearest my work, masochistically watching Brazil’s Ronaldo equal then overtake Gerdy’s record of 14 World Cup finals goals: his two against Japan and one versus Ghana were scored at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, the site of Müller’s first international goal. So it was worth waiting eight years to see Miroslav Klose reclaim that record for Germany on Brazilian soil – his 15th against Ghana, his 16th in the 7-1 rout of the hosts.  

Klose, because of that record; the Faroe Islands’ Jan Allan Müller because of his surname; and Thomas Müller because he has the surname, shirt, Champions League with Bayern and World Cup Golden Shoe: I’ve loved seeing these players score live, simply because of their varyingly direct links with my retrospective hero.

Müller shouted “I’m Max Morlock,” while playing as a kid. Nuremberg’s Morlock, wearing 13, scored Germany’s opener in their triumphant 1954 World Cup final. When they next won a World Cup, in 1974, Müller scored the winner wearing his hero’s number. It embodies the beautiful memories he’s provided for millions that, four decades later, middle-aged Scotsmen could still be seen waddling round Glasgow five-a-side courts, hailing every jammy sklaff from three yards with “Ich bein Gerd Müller!”. Alex Anderson

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