'Tragedy of Seville' still painful for Battiston
Patrick Battiston had a distinguished playing career. He won the French league on five occasions and was part of his country's 1984 European Championship-winning team, but he is rarely reminded of the good times.
To this day, 32 years on, not a week goes by when he is not asked about being the innocent victim of the most notorious foul in World Cup history.
Battiston was the player so brutally knocked unconscious by Harald Schumacher in the semi-final of the 1982 tournament, an incident that will be constantly relived ahead of what is only the second subsequent meeting between Germany and France at a World Cup finals.
Schumacher's reckless shoulder charge on Battiston was so severe that, to this day, he has a cracked vertebra and damaged teeth. It became known as the 'Tragedy of Seville', with Schumacher, staggeringly, not booked or a foul even given by referee Charles Corver.
Now 57 and the manager of Bordeaux's youth academy, Battiston remembers noticing even before he came on that Schumacher looked highly strung. "I remember his attitude even when I was sitting on the substitutes' bench," said Battiston.
"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."
With the scores level at 1-1 and just seven minutes after being introduced as a second-half substitute, Battiston's suspicions were confirmed.
Michel Platini had played him through clear on goal with a defence-splitting pass. Schumacher charged from his line and, even though Battiston comfortably reached the ball first, followed through with a grotesque shoulder charge. Battiston lost two teeth, suffered three broken ribs and also the back damage that remains.
Schumacher's initial reaction was almost as outrageous as the foul.
While Battiston's France team-mates gathered around and called for a stretcher, Schumacher simply stood waiting to take a goal-kick with a rather bored-looking expression. Schumacher was not even contrite when he was informed after the match that Battiston had lost some teeth. "I will pay for the crowns," he said.
Battiston's response remains measured and he is satisfied that the foul was not deliberate. "That was not a very wise remark – it was pretty gauche," he said. "Maybe he did feel guilty, one can draw all sorts of conclusions as to what he did feel. All I know is that Schumacher was someone who wanted to win at all costs and he went way over the top that evening."
The wider French public were outraged. The West German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, and French President François Mitterrand eventually released a joint press release to ease tensions and the players appeared at a joint press conference.
Battiston's main grievance is how the incident subsequently impacted on France's chances of reaching the final and also the wider performance that day of referee Corver. Only two substitutes were then permitted in the World Cup, meaning France had used up all their changes after 57 minutes. The match went to extra-time and a tiring France were eventually beaten on penalties, despite having led 3-1.
"Entrenched in our memories is this charge by Schumacher who flattened the little Frenchman," Battiston told 'Agence France-Presse'. "That's how things are. People talk to me about 1982 often. But it wasn't only about me."
For the first time, Battiston recently watched a replay of the remaining hour of the match after he had been carried off. "The refereeing by Corver who did not whistle for obvious fouls when Germany went behind – that struck me as odd and we have the right to be astonished by that," he said.
The festering sense of injustice, however, was to be partially sated when the great French team of Battiston, Platini and Jean Tigana triumphed in the 1984 European Championship. Gérard Houllier, who was then managing Lens, contends to this day that the Battiston incident was to have a direct impact on France's subsequent victory. "People started loving football in France from that time," said Houllier.
"Everyone thought they were a victim of something and in France we like victims and we got together. Two years later we won the European Championship." (© Daily Telegraph, London)