An exile investigates the Bundesliga and beyond
What is the true measure of a footballer’s greatness?
Is it the number of medals he wins? Is it how loud the crowd roars when his name booms over the tannoy?
Or is it whether he can kick a ball through a hole on prime-time TV?
Well, in Germany they know what side their bread is buttered on, and they much prefer the kicking-the-ball-through-a-hole method.
It’s not just any hole, but the iconic Torwand – ‘Goal Wall’ – that separates the men from the boys.
And it has been a feature of German football culture since it debuted on the Saturday night football programme Das Aktuelles Sportstudio in 1966.
The Torwand is a goal-shaped wall with two holes cut in it: one in the bottom right hand corner and one in the top left.
That doesn’t quite do it justice though – it’s a gloriously old-school contraption that clashes marvellously with the slick surrounds of a 21st-century television studio.
It looks something like a blackboard with the squares of a net drawn on it in chalk by hand, possibly by a six-year-old but more likely by an under-paid intern.
Guests on the show get three shots at each hole in front of a baying studio audience and often come a cropper under such intense scrutiny.
In its 40-year existence, no one has put all six away.
So iconic has the Torwand become that copies of it pop up at fairs and in kids’ playgrounds the country over.
It’s the great leveller – a chance to beat the pros at their own game.
If you can score more than Rudi Völler, Jürgen Klinsmann or Frank Ribery, preferably in front of a mate or two, you are instantly a legend in your own lunchtime.
It's perfect for kids aspiring to match their idols, and not bad either for portly dads who can do away with all the running-around malarkey that makes up actual football matches and let their silky touch speak for itself.
But who are the heroes of the real Torwand, the stars who have embellished their reputations with a stunning Saturday night performance beamed to millions of German viewers?
The original and best is the one and only Gunter Netzer – the quintessential German maverick and one of the finest passers of the ball the country ever produced.
In 1974 he became the first person to score five times at the wall, doing so with a nonchalance that further cemented his place in footballing folklore. Watch him here.
It took until 1985 and Rudi Völler before anyone matched Netzer’s haul and since then six others have grabbed five goals at the Torwand, though no-one since 1999 has accomplished such a colossal feat.
Perhaps that says something about the modern player – one who has to take himself very seriously in public, especially when the cameras are rolling.
The real challenge of the Torwand, then, is not placing a ball in the holes, but doing so in your civvies, when you’re portraying yourself as person, not a player, have left your game face in the dressing room, and want to impress without showing that you’re fussed about impressing.
It’s a tough act to pull off.
The mighty Franz Beckenbauer, in one of his later cracks at the Torwand (statesmen of the German game will often be invited on the show several times), gave the perfect example of how to cut loose and enjoy the experience.
By 1994 he was liberated from the travails of being a player in the media spotlight, but was still a national treasure and figurehead at Bayern Munich when he rustled up this little beauty.
It's the Kaiser at his coolest – somebody get that man a(nother) pint.
A couple of honourable mentions should go to Frank Rost, the only goalkeeper to score five, and German comedian Otto Waalkes, who apparently back-heeled a shot into the top hole, though I can’t find video footage of this impressive stunt.
Even Lewis Hamilton managed four in 2007.
The big question for English fans should be – can we train our players to be any good at this?
If so, then perhaps we could skip penalties and settle future England vs Germany clashes at the Torwand.
It would be great to see FIFA officials ceremoniously wheel out the clunky old thing after 120 minutes of agonising drama in a World Cup knock-out game.
David Beckham would be nailed on for six out of six, justifying his place in the squad.
Aaron Lennon meanwhile could rustle up some daisy cutters to dribble through the bottom hole and Wayne Rooney would probably obliterate the damn thing.
There’s even a chance Emile Heskey could find the back of the Torwand.
Hang on. I’m going too far here...
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Ribery broke it!
@dmvdc: Hi, yes he certainly did. But it was arranged as a prank by his then team-mate Lucas Podolski as revenge for all the pracitcal jokes Ribery played in the Bayern dressing room :)
Ah. I'm just learning to read German, so I wasn't sure what was going on when Podolski showed up.
I have sadly had to leave Berlin behind, but before I returned to dear old Blighty, I dug in in front
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