European Under-21 Championship semi-final first leg

EngvGDR198016 April ~ Different times, different standards – FA Secretary Ted Croker talks about Sheffield's two "fine modern grounds", which that season had both seen near-50,000 crowds for the city's Division Three derbies.

He profusely expresses gratitude to Sheffield United for hosting tonight's game and, two pages later in bold print, the FA lauds "the Directors and Staff of Sheffield United Football Club for all their kind help and co-operation in staging tonight's International Match".

It's almost as though the FA asked the club to host and Sheffield United, with their arms folded, rather huffily asked in return: "Maybe, but how much thanks will we get in return?" Dearest Sheffield, we shall never take you for granted, no matter how long you're absent from the top flight.

Don't expect reams of sophisticated tactical analysis for your 30p programme. A piece pondering England's chances of reaching the final describes tonight's East German opponents as "a strong robust side".

Potential opponents in the final included Yugoslavia, "a good footballing nation, well organised", while Italy "are always a threat with their talented ball players at any level" – never mind that the Soviet Union had knocked Italy out a week earlier. You can almost hear the writer pleading: "I've done 250 words – will that do?" Yeah, but what about the USSR? "I can't, I've run out of vigour-related cliches for Iron Curtain countries!"

In the event, strong and robust East Germany were too much for England, despite the latter's recent "moral boosting" (sic) victory over Spain. Boosted morals won't do you much good in football, though – just ask GDR forward Ralf Strässer, who admitted in 2007 that he'd tested positive for banned substances while playing for Union Berlin in the 1980s. It was brushed under the carpet and he played on (Strässer claimed he had no idea that he'd been doped), while the team were merely ordered to sever ties with their doctor who'd supplied the "vitamin supplements".

Whether or not this GDR team swallowed extra vitamins to up their strength and robustness, they overcame England 2-1 on the night, and 1-0 in the return leg in Jena a week later. They went on to play the Soviet Union in the final over two games that produced just one goal (for the Soviets) and an uncomradely total of four red cards – an egalitarian two for each communist nation.

Did they really still say that? England striker Justin Fashann (sic) is described as "an exciting coloured player". He was subbed four minutes after scoring England's equaliser (the GDR scored the winner two minutes later) and did not play in the second leg.

In Sheffield no deutsch sprechen The GDR's league table is helpfully re-produced, naming teams such as FC Majoleburg (Magdeburg), Sachsuring Zwickan (Sachsenring Zwickau) and Carl Ziess Jene (Carl Zeiss Jena). A message in German welcomes the "Stieler und Betreue" of the GDR – which approximately translates as "handles and betrust", but is presumably meant to be aimed at the "Spieler und Betreuer" (players and officials). Best of all, the East German FA is listed as the "Deutscher Funball Verband". Funball – I almost hesitate to write the word in case it appears in the next Football League rebranding blueprint.

Result England 1 (Fashanu) GDR 2 (Raab, Dennstedt)
Crowd 10,039
England Bailey, Ranson, Sansom, Williams, Osman, Butcher, Hoddle, Fashanu (Crooks), Reeves (Birtles), Cowans, Hilaire
GDR Müller, Schmuck, Utess, Ullrich, Troppa, Kurbjuweit, Kreer, Dennstedt, Töpfer, Raab, Strässer

Ian Plenderleith

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