BERLIN (AFP) – Uwe Seeler, one of the icons of post-war German football and captain of West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final, has died at the age of 85, officials said on Thursday.
“Hamburg mourns the loss of Uwe Seeler. He was the first top scorer in the Bundesliga. Now he has died surrounded by his loved ones,” says a statement from the city of Hamburg, the city where he spent his club career.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz also commented on Twitter: “He was a role model for many, we will miss him,” he said.
Seeler, born in 1936, made his debut for Hamburg in 1953 and made 476 appearances before he retired in 1972.
He later served as club president but resigned in 1998 over a financial scandal in which he was not involved.
Between 1954 and 1970, Seeler played a total of 72 games for the Federal Republic of Germany, scoring 33 goals, but never became world champion.
However, he was the main architect of the post-WWII German football rebuilding that went hand in hand with the rebuilding of the country.
Fourth at the World Cup in Sweden in 1958 and beaten in the quarter-finals in 1962, Seeler had his finest time captaining the West German side that reached the final at Wembley in 1966, despite losing 4-2 to hosts England in extra time.
It remains arguably the most famous World Cup final of all time, as there is still some debate as to whether Geoff Hurst’s goal in England’s 3-2 win actually crossed the finish line.
Hurst’s shot knocked out goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski, the ball hit the underside of the bar, bounced off the line before being headed away by defender Wolfgang Weber.
– 1966 and so –
Seeler always insisted that the goal should not have been awarded.
“I was standing in the back of the penalty area and saw exactly that the ball didn’t go over the line,” he said in 2016.
“We were all in turmoil, none of us knew what was going on.
“Nobody (in the West German team) could understand why the goal was given.”
However, Seeler made peace with the decision, saying on the 50th anniversary of the final game that it was time to end the 1966 controversy.
“I think all the players have digested the events well by now,” he said.
“Even if it was a decisive moment, sometimes sport is like that. You have to pick it up and put it away.”
At the end of the game, Seeler picked up his collapsed teammates one by one and led them on a lap of honor that remains an iconic image in football to this day.
“There are many titles that make a player or a team legends, but few gestures that make them immortal,” wrote Sascha Theisen, author of the book “Helden” about German football legends.
“The German team of 1966 has become immortal because, on Seeler’s initiative and despite their controversial defeat, they turned that lap of honor at Wembley.
“The captain found the right gesture at the right time.”
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid tribute to one of the best players in the country.
“With Uwe Seeler we are losing a legend of German football and a unique, down-to-earth personality, an honest worker on the pitch and a brilliant goalscorer,” Steinmeier said in a message of condolence.
“(He) has given us many memorable games and scored inimitable goals… For all his fame and popularity, he has always remained true to himself. He never forgot that you can only reach the summit if you don’t walk the path alone.”
Germany’s women’s team has announced that they will play their Euro quarter-finals match against Austria wearing black armbands on Thursday night.