Oranje fizz and oompah bands: Media memories from Euro ’88 in West Germany

The Netherlands won the eighth UEFA European Championship, held across eight cities in the former West Germany 36 years ago; before the Munich final, a sea of Dutch fans stretched beyond the stadium; in a pre-digital age, the travelling press pack were entertained and kept busy on and off the field…

By Philip Barker

Marco van Basten celebrates with the UEFA European Championship trophy after the Netherlands’ victory over the USSR in Munich in June 1988 (VI Images via Getty Images)

Munich’s Allianz Arena, where Scotland open the European Championship finals against host nation Germany on Friday, did not even exist the last time the Euros were held in their entirety on German soil.

In 1988, the final was held across the city at the futuristic Olympiastadion.

Not only did the final competition look very different 36 years ago with only eight teams but the continent of Europe was also another place.

Russia was then just the largest state in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. They had the letters ‘CCCP’ – the cyrillic equivalent of ‘USSR’ – emblazoned across their shirts.

They were drawn in the same group as England, the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland, another focus for the British media because Jack Charlton was manager and so many Irish stars played in England’s top flight, then known as Football League Division One.

The media were made to feel very welcome in Germany.

“We want to be good hosts and shall try to meet all individual wishes in spite of all feverishness,” German Football Federation (DFB) president Hermann Neuberger said in a message which may have lost something in translation.

A press brochure issued by Euro ’88 organisers

England’s followers were less welcome, for it was only three years since the start of a European competition ban on English clubs triggered by the Heysel Stadium tragedy after over a decade of trouble from hooligans. Most on the continent viewed them with trepidation and suspicion.

It was why the first port of call for many journalists was the Dusseldorf police headquarters. England’s potentially explosive meeting with the Netherlands was scheduled for the city.

BBC Television presenter Des Lynam and Sir Bobby Charlton watched on in horror as depressingly familiar pictures came down the line on the nights before the match.

A police spokesman described it as “the worst football violence the city had ever seen”. Some 1,300 officers were put on standby as the nightly arrest toll remained high.

On the field, England were undone by a brilliant hat-trick from Marco van Basten. Truth be told, many heaved a sigh of relief when England headed home without a point after the group stage.

Ireland’s involvement ended at the same stage but their first major tournament had seen victory over England and a Ronnie Whelan spectacular against the Soviets in a 1-1 draw.

Only a point was required in Gelsenkirchen against the Netherlands for a semi-final place but the Irish lost to a late header from Wim Kieft.

The press handbook

The Euro ’88 media chief was one Wolfgang Niersbach, then a Graham Taylor lookalike who later became DFB President.

There was no online coverage in those days, just written press, television and radio.

On arrival, each journalist was also given a pocket-sized handbook with information on squad lists, training schedules, hotels and even church services.

This little gem also included some other ‘vital’ information.

On the eve of the first match, there was a “Riverboat Shuffle” for media guests in Dusseldorf.

Before the second semi-final, the VfB Stuttgart clubhouse offered a “beer garden / Swabian buffet”.

A Euro ’88 beer mug

In Munich, on the eve of the final, a reception at the Englischer Garten had a seemingly endless supply of the local brew served in giant mugs with the Euro ’88 logo.

There was also a Bavarian oompah band high in the Chinesischer Turm.

There were so many stars of European football, it was as if those Panini sticker books really had come to life.

Legendary Soviet keeper Lev Yashin was among them and our interview request was met with a smile.

He was not in good health; a leg had been amputated. Yet through an interpreter, he explained his famous all-black uniform and how he had considered it an honour every time Pele scored against him. The parting shot was “give my regards to Gordon Banks”.

The final programme

The 1988 Soviet vintage had reached the final against the Netherlands, but it seemed that most of the spectators were Dutch.

Watching from the television tower, 291 metres above the stadium, as the terracing filled up, it was as though a vast vat of orange juice had been spilled.

It was the place where Johann Cruyff’s team of “total footballers” had lost the 1974 World Cup Final to West Germany. It was also the 10th anniversary of a second consecutive World Cup Final defeat in Argentina in 1978, so would redemption come?

Fan zones are now an essential and heavily-sponsored part of any big tournament but back then, it was a plastic marquee, the kind of thing you might hire for a wedding reception, with only a tiny television set.

Ticketless Dutch fans watched in that tent as everything went right for their team.

Ruud Gullit scored the first…

… and then in the second half, Van Basten lashed the ball into the net from a seemingly impossible angle.

Soon afterwards, Dutch keeper Hans van Breukelen also saved a penalty. It seemed the stars were truly aligned.

The delirium of the Dutch fans, both in Olympic Park and at Marienplatz in the city centre, was unconfined.

The victorious team turned out at their hotel the following morning to face the media. Skipper Gullit must have switched languages at least four times in a matter of minutes. His performance was in stark contrast to Van Basten, ill at ease facing the media.

Then again, he had done his talking on the pitch with that goal 24 hours before.

Rinus Michels (L) and Van Basten (R) enjoy the moment in Munich (VI Images via Getty Images)

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