Bob Valentine: Former Scottish referee at centre of World Cup controversies recalls infamous Schumacher-Battiston collision and West Germany v Austria farce
Not even VAR, soon to be introduced to Scottish football, would permit such an extended period of reflection. But this has been Valentine's fate since he was in the right place at the wrong time – or was it the wrong place at the right time? – in Seville on 8 July 1982.
Valentine, now 83, was playing in a crunch bowls match on Thursday evening for Fairfield against Montrose in the Angus championships.
He was bracing himself for several references to one of the most notorious incidents that has ever taken place on a football pitch, particularly since the fixture fell on the eve of the actual anniversary of Harald Schumacher felling Patrick Battiston with an appalling body check during the World Cup semi-final between France and West Germany.
Battiston, who had only been on the pitch for ten minutes, was carried off barely conscious. Schumacher’s recklessness was compounded by his seeming dispassion.
He stood with his hand on his hips waiting to take a goal kick - which was indeed how the game restarted. Somehow Schumacher stayed on the pitch to take it. Somehow France were denied a penalty.
Now, of course, it would be very different. They would have replayed the incident multiple times and from several angles.
On that sweltering night in Seville, there were no such helpful aids. The officials were not mic’d up to one another. A decision had to be made there and then, for better or worse. It was for worse.
Dundonian Valentine was running the line in that half of the pitch. If not for Michel Platini’s genius, we would not be having this discussion. The French midfielder split the West German defence with a pass from his own half and set in motion an episode that holds its charge to this day, though Battiston has long since forgiven Schumacher.
“When the ball is played on, it was high speed – one was coming out of the box, one was heading into the box,” recalls Valentine. “They just battered into each other. The strangest thing of all is the fact that (Michel) Hidalgo, the French manager, made no complaint at all at the end of the game. He came and spoke to us for five minutes and then went on his way. Didn’t mention it.
“We had spoken about it, the referee, other linesman and myself. But we hadn’t seen it (again). Hidalgo had obviously seen it. It was worse than it looked at the time. It didn’t seem like he (Schumacher) had gone out to injure the guy.”
Charles Corver, the Dutch referee, claimed not to have seen the collision because he was following the ball. He said he went to Valentine, who told him it was “not intentional”. In retrospect, the referee added, he should have sent Schumacher off. He also stressed to his dying day two years ago that he was given the highest mark of the entire World Cup by FIFA assessor Nikolay Latyshev, who rated his performance as 9.5.
“It was the referee’s call,” says Valentine now. “I was running down towards the corner because, if no one had touched the ball, it could well have ended up in the goal. Obviously there was a lot of concern because he (Battiston) was down on the ground for quite some time. But it was not one of those were you would say – ‘oh that was brutal’. He did not stamp on him. It was not that kind of foul. The best word you could describe it was a collision.”
Valentine could be forgiven for wondering what was happening to the beautiful game. The extravagantly talented Brazil had been eliminated three days earlier at the hands of Italy, in a match since described as the day football died. But there were a few candidates for that tag at Espana '82 – including the semi-final featuring Schumacher’s horror tackle. Perhaps even more distastefully, since it was seemingly premeditated, was the shame game between West Germany and Austria. Gijon was the venue on this occasion. Valentine was the man in the middle as the two sides contrived to stage a 1-0 win for the West Germans, which meant edging out Algeria on goal difference.
Horst Hrubesch scored the only goal of the game after ten minutes, whereupon it descended into a version of veterans’ walking football that has become popular today. All well and good but this was the World Cup finals, the greatest sports event on earth. Understandably, the Algerians were seething.
“There were about 8000 Algerians in the crowd,” recalls Valentine. “They were pushing money through the fences. They obviously felt something untoward was going on. As far as the game was concerned, I would say it took me maybe 15 minutes to say to myself, ‘these boys are not killing themselves here’. One or two were overplaying it – they would get to the half way line, nothing was on, so they just pushed it all the way back again and it would start again – building up at walking pace.”
Valentine maintains that he was not aware of the scenario prior to kick off which meant both sides would progress at the expense of Algeria if the Germans won 1-0 or 2-0.
“At half time I realised something was not right here,” he says. “The linesmen were of the same opinion – they were saying if the ball went out, no one was going for it!
“There was nothing you could do. It was not a boxing match. You can’t stop the fight and tell them they need to get fighting here, the way a boxing referee can do if the fighters are just holding each other, hugging each other, and not throwing any punches. There is no such thing in football. You can’t say, ‘you must score a goal!’”
Valentine had met stiffer refereeing challenges at places such as Forfar. He produced just two yellow cards – both for time wasting. But the contest, if that’s what it can be called, had significant ramifications for football. FIFA changed the format which is why all last group games now kick off simultaneously. It was a farce but it was a historic farce.
Valentine was given another contentious game – the 0-0 second round clash between USSR and then communist Poland at the height of the Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement – before his semi-final appointment. He then returned to Scotland, where he barely had time to catch his breath before getting it in the neck from Alex Ferguson during a friendly between Aberdeen and Ipswich. His next continental trip was to take charge of a Cup-Winners' Cup clash between Red Star Belgrade and Barcelona in front of nearly 100,000 fans. Diego Maradona scored twice in a 4-2 win for the Catalans. The stories Valentine can tell.
He calls it a "privilege" to be on the same pitch as France when they beat Belgium 5-0 in a Euro '84 group game in Nantes. "The best team I had refereed to that point - and they still are," he says. Aberdeen in their pomp were, in his experience, the finest in Scotland.
He enjoyed a good relationship with Ferguson despite the inevitable brickbats. “I remember an Aberdeen v Dundee United game at Pittodrie. Alex was screaming at me, calling me a homer! ‘Wait a minute,’ I say. ‘I am a homer? We are in Aberdeen! You’re the homer!’... ‘Ach, you know what I mean,’ he said. But he always came in afterwards and said hello.”
And Jim McLean paid him the ultimate compliment of inviting him to park his car in his driveway when he was playing bowls across the road at Broughty bowling club. “I found him to be a very shy man,” says Valentine.
He considers being disliked by fans on both sides of the Dundee divide to be another huge compliment. Dundee fans thought he favoured the other lot – particularly in a 1980 League Cup final between the sides. United supporters reckoned he was a Dee.
“I just went out and did the job I was sent to do and left it like that,” he says. “You try to take the players along with you. Some could be a bit difficult. Luggy, Paul Sturrock, was a wee bit mouthy. It wasn’t always bad, it was sometimes quite funny. But a wee bit off putting.
“That shows how well I was doing,” he continues, with reference to the vexed question of his loyalties. “They couldn’t make up their minds! Some would say in the pub that I was Dundee and others would say I was Dundee United. I kind of left it like that. That somehow suited me.”
It might not happen now, but he took charge of many Dundee derbies. What certainly wouldn’t be allowed now – and talking of homers - is Valentine’s appointment as fourth official for the second leg of the 1987 Uefa Cup final between….Dundee United and IFK Gothenburg. “I don’t know the circumstances of it at the time,” he says. “Someone might have called off at short notice. The chances of me being called on were minimal. But they took a gamble with it. If the referee had suffered a hamstring strain they’d have a look at who was there…who was the most experienced. It did not come to that.” His duties were no more onerous than holding up the substitute boards.
It wasn't only quips and backchat from fans and players that Valentine had to endure. Even work colleagues were prone to take the rise out of him – perhaps understandably as they watched him swan off to places like Barcelona for midweek European matches.
“I worked at DC Thomson and after 40 years you got a Longines watch,” he explains. “The chairman of the company came up to my department where I worked and gathered everyone around and started a speech: ‘Now, as you all know Bob is a busy person with his commitments in football and all that, but he has given 40 years to the company.' Someone shot back: ‘Aye, but he’s only worked 25 of them!’”
The firm were extremely supportive when it came to their high profile refereeing employee, since they felt Valentine's success reflected well on them. He repaid them by agreeing to be the DC Thomson resident expert when it came to deciding where the ball would have been in Spot the Ball competitions.
Valentine’s actual role as a compositor - someone who arranges type for printing - was sometimes lost in translation in ‘Tonight’s referee’ profiles in matchday programmes abroad.
“I’d go all across Europe and they’d ask me, and how is the music coming along? ‘Music?’ One time I got hold of a programme – it said Mr Valentine is a composer!”
He did have songs sung about him, of course. But then referees need to have thick skin. And there’s abundant perks – such as becoming friendly with Pele. Valentine first met the Brazilian legend during the 1982 World Cup because they were staying in the same hotel for a ten-day period. Somewhat implausibly, they were reunited in the boardroom at Dens Park.
“I had refereed a game in Scandinavia,” Valentine recounts. “Sweden had played Brazil in the World Cup final in ‘58 – and there is a famous picture of Pele sitting holding up the Jules Rimet trophy while on the shoulders of his teammates. The Swedish FA commissioned 200 plates with this photograph and each of them was individually numbered. So, when I was in Sweden for a game they gave me one of these plates and a certificate of authenticity..."
Fast forward several years and Valentine walks into Dens Park one night. And who is standing there? Pele. “No one believes me when I tell them this,” he says. “It was the Under-16 World Championship in 1989 that was held in Scotland. He was an ambassador.
"He said: ‘Bob! How are you doing?’ I told him that I wished I knew he was coming here. I said: ‘There’s something you could help me with. This plate I got from the Swedish FA, you must have got one too?' He said, ‘no, I never got one’.
"I told him that my house was about seven minutes’ walk away. ‘Do you want me to go home and fetch it and let you see it?’ ‘Yes,’ he said.
“So I go out of Dens Park and up the road and get the plate and the certificate. He said: ‘I have never seen it before. I will be on to them to get one for myself!’
He signed it for me: ‘To Bob Valentine, from Pele.’” Valentine returns the plate to the side-board.
And that’s enough name-dropping, he announces, blowing the whistle at the end of a fascinating conversation. There’s no extra time, no penalties. He’s off to the barbers for a trim ahead of the big bowls match. “There’s life after refereeing,” he says.
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