Words by Neil Boardman

Let’s set the scene. Its 1976, the world is a lot different to what it is 2019. Some would probably say that the world was better in 1976 than it is in 2019 and maybe it was, but that’s a conversation for another time because 1976 was the year that should be remembered for one certain thing. No, it wasn’t the formation of the Toronto Blue Jays, the fact that The Ramones released their first album or the Eurovision title being won by the UK. It was something that occurred in Belgrade on the night of the 20th June.

Czechoslovakia took a 2 nil lead in Belgrade within 25 minutes. In the final of the ’76 instalment of the European championship against World Cup holders West Germany, the side must have been confident. However, in typical German football style, the Nationalelf pulled it back. A quick response to Karol Dobiaš’ lovely effort from just outside the box, from Dieter Müller saw the game go into half time at 2-1 to Czechoslovakia.

The final carried on as you would imagine a 1970s international to do so. The two sets of players are kitted out in the way you would imagine players who were playing in a 1970s international, to be so. The red shirt of the Czech national side, coupled with the red and white Adidas shorts (that are obviously pulled up way above the knee and Adidas will obviously be re-releasing, much to my delight, when an international competition comes around again), cannot help be intimidated by the classic white and black attire of the West German team.

You can never back against Germany in international tournaments. I don’t care what anyone says about this matter – backing Germany to lose a game is daft. The people of Czechoslovakia on the ‘Nacht Von Belgrade’ may have just been thinking the same. Was the inevitable going to happen? When will Germany score? Yet the Reds were not breaking. For 44 minutes, West Germany failed to equalise, the hopes of a nation were on a high – the celebrations were starting back home in Prague, then it happened. In typical German fashion, they bagged an equaliser. In the 89th minute, Bernd Hölzenbein rose higher than the rest to head home a German equaliser.

The nation of Czechoslovakia went from the high of seeing their team 2 nil ahead in the final of an international tournament, to the low of seeing the game go to 2-2. We all know the feeling, don’t we? Seeing our team up in a big game, playing well, cruising. It’s a great feeling at that point, no doubt about it. But the feeling doesn’t always last for long, does it? Next thing we know things aren’t looking good. You’re soaking up the pressure, things aren’t looking good, everything is shaping up to the inevitable equaliser. Then it happens. Always has to be a scrappy goal doesn’t it? From a corner or tapped in by their poacher, something like that? It is one of the worst feelings in the world.

Of course, chances are if you’re reading this, it is likely that you can relate what has just been described to a mid table league one game as opposed to an international final. I know they all hurt but just imagine that. It must be painful mustn’t it. As extra time went on, the wounds of the Czechoslovakian team grew more open in preparation for the salt, of West Germany, to be rubbed in. As extra time went on, confidence amongst the reds can’t have been getting any higher. After all, who on earth is backing themselves against Germany on penalties?

However, there was one man in that Czechoslovakian XI that was unphased by the prospect of a penalty shootout. The same man, who had his penalty thought out long before the penalty shootout was confirmed, long before the game had even kicked off. ‘I will give it to Maier in the middle’, he had told keeper Ivor Viktor before the game. The man being described is no other than Antonín Panenka.

As extra time came to a conclusion, it was time for the shootout to take place. The first three penalties were all successful for both sides. A fourth positive effort from the Czechoslovakian side, courtesy of Ladislav Jurkemik, gave the Reds the advantage in the shootout. It was now time for Uli Hoeneß to step up for the West Germans, hopes of a nation on his shoulders. Little was he aware, at this point, of the plan in the head of Panenka. Hoeneß missed his crucial spot kick, making it 4-3 to the Reds – Panenka was now well aware that the fate of a nation rested in his feet.

Antonín Panenka stepped up to the penalty spot with a plan, a plan that wasn’t going to be altered or changed by anyone. With a run up as cool as you like, West German goalkeeper Sepp Maier would’ve been completely unaware whether the Czech number 7 was going to put the ball to his left or right. Maier guessed left. Maier guessed wrong. Panenka’s right foot had just chipped a ball down the middle of the net to win a European final. Watch it here:

The penalty was unbelievable, to many football fans across the world it was a thing of beauty. The celebration of Panenka showed just what it meant to him and the people he was representing. With his arms raised in there, as he runs away from the goal in ecstacy, the spectators couldn’t quite believe what had just happened – Antonín Panenka probably couldn’t either.

That penalty had just secured a win in a European final for the Czechoslovakian team, but that wasn’t the only thing it did – this penalty cemented Antonín Panenka as a figure in the football world. The Panenka penalty is one of the most beautiful things to watch in the world’s favourite game. Now, when we see a penalty that resembles that of Antonín Panenka’s, it makes us experience a different emotion to how we usually view a penalty. The Panenka style penalty is satisfying. It makes us laugh to ourselves a bit and think ‘fair enough’.

It takes a certain calibre of player to pull this form of art off. The poet, Panenka, was one of those players who had a certain charm that surrounded his game, which allowed him to pull such a thing off. You’ve probably seen your mate trying to ‘do a Panenka’ in an intense penalty shootout on the park after school; your mate probably failed. You have definitely seen your mate trying to pretend they know how to take penalties on FIFA, punting the ball down the middle of the goal and claiming they were attempting a Panenka penalty.

Zidane. Messi. Pirlo. Hazard. Aguero. All names that we associate with greats of the modern game. Also, names that can boast a famous example of a Panenka-style penalty on their CV. It goes to show just how far, one second of a game played in Yugoslavia, can travel. Antonín Panenka retired in 1993, at the time playing in the lower leagues of Austria. Now, at the age of 70, his time is spent looking after Bohemians 1905 in Prague as club president. His decision in 1976 to take a penalty in an unusual manner will cement his legacy for years to come and we can all enjoy the underrated spectacle of one of our favourite players chipping a penalty down the middle of the net.  

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