A referee who erroneously gave a goal to Bayern Munich was hounded by fans and reporters, mainly owing to bad timing. Hans-Joachim Osmers' phantom goal ultimately made Bayern Munich champions and saw Nuremberg relegated.
April 23, 1994: The end of the season was near, Bayern Munich was leading the table and hosted regional rival Nuremberg, who were fighting against relegation. The Olympic Stadium in Munich was sold out. 63,000 fans watched what turned out to be one of the strangest matches in Bundesliga history - unaware at the time that it would soon be annulled.
In the 24th minute the score was still 0-0. Bayern won a corner, the ball entered the penalty area and was flicked on to Thomas Helmer. There was a kerfuffle in the box, Nuremberg's goalkeeper Andy Köpke went down grappling for the ball, while Thomas Helmer bundled it narrowly past the post from point-blank range. Helmer helped Köpke back to his feet, the striker looked disconsolate for missing a sitter.
But then came the whistle: Referee Hans-Joachim Osmers awarded a goal.
Köpke was dumbfounded in the Nuremberg goal, the Bayern players rejoiced.
The linesman's verdict
"I couldn't make the call by myself," Osmers said later. "I had my doubts." He said he'd waited for the linesman's decision. "When I got his signal that the ball was in, I made my call," he said. Linesman Jörg Jablonski was certain he'd seen the ball cross the line into the goal.
And Bayern striker Thomas Helmer had no objections.
"My explanation for the decision was that maybe the ball had already crossed the line before I got it and kicked it past the post. But that obviously was been the case, but I hadn't seen things clearly at the time," Helmer said.
Bayern won the match 2-1, and not only thanks to their gift of a goal. Nuremberg's Manfred Schwabl, a former Bayern player, also failed to convert a penalty kick in the fateful game.
Death threats for the referee
The referee and his linesman then had to run the media gauntlet. Osmers gave interview after interview. "This is a bad time for my family. They are getting their share of abuse and have even been threatened with murder. The last few hours have been very bad," he told reporters not long after the match was over.
Nuremberg protested the result. The German Football Association annulled the goal and ordered a replay.
But Nuremberg's "luck" ended there. Bayern won the subsequent match easily 5-0, thereby clinched the Bundesliga title. The result also consigned Nuremberg to relegation courtesy of an inferior goal difference.
The game that never was, with its goal that never was, could have proven decisive: Had there been a draw, Kaiserslautern would have won the Bundesliga in 1994 and Freiburg would have been relegated instead of Nuremberg.
To this day Osmers is trying to come to terms with that fateful wrong decision he made.
"That was the worst mistake I could have ever made. The footage of that situation is still being replayed on TV. Sometimes people still ask me about it. I can never forget. It sounds a bit dramatic, but I will take this to my grave."
The phantom goal also dealt a deadly blow to the referee's and linesman's professional careers: While Osmers managed to stay on for another year, linesman Jablonski was demoted to the amateur league. But their status with German football fans, perhaps even to this day, could be described as "gone, but not forgotten."