Berlin (AFP) – Uwe Seeler, one of the iconic figures of post-war German football and who skippered West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final, has died at the age of 85, officials said Thursday.
“Hamburg mourns Uwe Seeler. He was the first top scorer in the Bundesliga. He has now died surrounded by his loved ones,” said a statement by the municipality of Hamburg, the city where he spent his club career.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also commented on Twitter: “He was a role model for many, we will miss him,” he said.
Seeler, who was born in 1936, made his debut for Hamburg in 1953 and went on to make 476 appearances before his retirement in 1972.
He was later club president but resigned in 1998 because of a financial scandal in which he was not implicated.
Seeler played a total of 72 matches for West Germany between 1954 to 1970, scoring 33 goals but never won a World Cup.
He was, however, the major architect of the reconstruction of German football after the Second World War, which went hand in hand with the reconstruction of the country.
Fourth in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, and beaten in the quarter-finals in 1962, Seeler’s finest moment was captaining the West Germany team that reached the 1966 final at Wembley, albeit losing 4-2 to hosts England after extra-time.
It remains arguably the most famous World Cup final ever because of the controversy which still rumbles on over whether Geoff Hurst’s goal to put England 3-2 up actually crossed the line.
Hurst’s shot beat goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski, the ball hit the underside of the crossbar, bounced on the line before being headed away by defender Wolfgang Weber.
– 1966 and all that –
Seeler always insisted that the goal should not have been awarded.
“I was standing at the back of the box and saw exactly that the ball didn’t cross the line,” he said in 2016.
“We were all in a state of commotion, none of us knew what was going on.
“No one (in the West Germany team) could understand why the goal was given.”
Seeler, however, made peace with the decision and on the 50th anniversary of the final said it was time to put the 1966 controversy to bed.
“I believe all the players have now well digested the events,” he said.
“Even if it was a defining moment, sport is sometimes like that. You have to absorb it and put it away.”
At the end of the match, Seeler picked up his collapsed teammates one by one and led them on a lap of honour which remains an iconic image in football.
“There are many titles that make a player or a team legends but there are few gestures that make them immortal,” wrote Sascha Theisen, the author of the book “Helden” (“Heroes”) on German football legends.
“The German team of 1966 became immortal because they took that lap of honour at Wembley, on Seeler’s initiative and despite their controversial defeat.
“The captain found the right gesture at the right time.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid tribute to one of the country’s finest players.
“In Uwe Seeler, we have lost a legend of German football and a unique down-to-earth personality, an honest worker on the pitch and a brilliant goal scorer,” said Steinmeier in a message of condolence.
“(He) gave us many unforgettable games and scored inimitable goals… For all his fame and popularity, he always remained true to himself. He never forgot that you can only get to the top if you don’t walk the path alone.”
Germany’s women’s team has announced that it will play its Euro quarter-final against Austria on Thursday evening wearing black armbands.
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