Less than twenty-four hours after the horrible Champions League quarter-final defeat in Madrid, it is not a great place for any supporter of FC Bayern München to be.
Unlike past painful moments, I have found that this one has been particularly hard to scrub away. The final in 2012 was awful, but by the morning after I had been able to concede that we had been outsmarted by an otherwise inferior Chelsea side. A side that had come into the game well aware of their limitations, but with a clear game plan.
While I had not been able to watch the 1999 final for more than fifteen years, I had found it fairly easy to be more calm and philosophical by the following morning. Yes, we had been royally mugged—but by a football team playing football.
As the red mist started to clear after the events at the Santiago Bernabéu, I realised that in the 422 pages of my book Red Odyssey, there was no point where I had thrown a poison-pen dart at a referee. Indeed, I could only think of two moments where the Schiri had merited more than a couple of lines. Hans-Joachim Osmers would get a few laughs for his Phantomtor decision in 1994, and Peter Gagelmann was on the end of a written whipping for throwing cards about like it was Christmas in a heated Munich derby in 2008. In neither case was there any suggestion of bias, malpractice or incompetence.
Think about it. In over thirty years, I cannot think of one incident where I have looked to blame the referee for turning a game from a contest into a farce. My memories were more or less confirmed by Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s remarks, where he said that the team had been “shafted” and that he had found himself “filled with unbelievable rage for the first time”.
For the first time. Yes, that was it. Reading Rummenigge’s comments, I was finally able to put my finger on what was different about every other defeat and this one. In 1999 and 2012 it had been despair, pain and desperation. In 2017 against Madrid, it was nothing but pure rage.
In terms of refereeing errors, Hungarian official Viktor Kassai ticked all of the boxes. Well, Kassai and his equally myopic team of assistants—linesmen who are clearly more used to the sedentary Saturday afternoon pace of Videoton versus Zalaegerszeg. Not that this is an excuse, given that one of them was dead level with the play when Cristiano Ronaldo was a good yard offside.
You could have ridden a pushbike through the gap.
Referees are human. They are not perfect, and can make bad decisions. Sometimes these go in your favour, and sometimes not. Generally speaking, mistakes are few and the errors tend to balance themselves out. As a fan, you learn to swallow a bad decision and get on with it. You carp and moan for a while, but ultimately accept that it is part of the game. It irritates, it annoys, it even hurts. But that is football.
But when the one mistake becomes half a dozen, you cannot simply brush it off. When an opponent can commit fouls at will (I am looking at you, Casemiro) it is slightly disturbing. When a obviously good tackle is then rewarded with a second yellow card, you start to believe that it is not going to be your night. When it is quickly followed by two offside goals for the opposition, one can only wonder is there is something more sinister afoot.
Many post-match pundits and commentators have focused on Vidal’s 85th-minute dismissal as the final turning point in what was an entertaining and evenly-balanced contest, with the two offside goals from Ronaldo providing the twist of the knife.
For me, the first big decision would come in the 66th minute.
As Bayern built up from the back, Jérôme Boateng floated a lovely high ball over the Madrid defence, which was superbly taken by Lewandowski. With only ‘keeper Keylor Navas to beat, Lewy had the goal at his mercy. It was a wonderful chance, and you would have backed the Pole to slip the ball past the Costa Rican to double his tally and Bayern’s lead. Then the flag went up.
The replay would show that Lewandowski was onside. The linesman even had the pitch markings to assist him, with Marcelo being the last man. Maybe the Brazilian’s big mop of hair got in the way. Or something. Had Lewandowski put that chance away, it would have been 2-0. Bayern in front, Real forced even further on the back foot, and less than twenty-five minutes to play.
I do not think that there is any great need to talk about what happened after that. It has done the rounds on social media, and after the match the officials even had a visit from Lewandowski, Vidal and Thiago. Given the fans’ sense of frustration, one must have wondered what the players were feeling. In the post-match interviews that were conducted, none of them minced their words.
When a coach or player makes a comment on the referee or an opponent, that club will usually be quick to get them back into line. This time it was very different. Everybody, to a man, was unequivocal.
The match could have been a classic, but in the end it was just one more bitter chapter in the ongoing Real Madrid saga. Just one more layer to my long-held hatred for the Spanish side. It was as if Juanito had emerged like some horrible apparition, stamping us all into the ground while maniacally cackling “Hala Madrid!”
Meanwhile, the itchy-fingered Spanish police were wading into the visiting fans’ enclosure over some (probably fictitious) altercation involving a banner. It made for a miserable evening all around. Then we heard that Manuel Neuer had sustained a foot injury, ruling him out for the remainder of the season.
It never just rains. It pours. I am backing Juventus now.