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The most spectacular foul

Olivia Fritz / phJuly 3, 2013

There are no more famous photos of a foul in the Bundesliga than the one that cut open the thigh of Ewald Lienen. A tough defense was the hallmark of the Bundesliga’s 1980s.

Ewald Lienen sitting on the pitch deploring the gash in his thigh +++ picture-alliance / Sven Simon
Image: picture-alliance/Sven Simon

August 14, 1981. The second day of the Bundesliga season. An incident after 20 minutes of play left the fans at Werder Bremen holding their breath.

Arminia Bielefeld striker Ewald Lienen took possession, controlling the ball at knee height.

Werder Bremen defender Norbert Siegmann arrived a moment too late, but has already committed to the tackle.  There was no turning back.

Lienen was fouled, got back to his feet, looked down at his leg in disbelief and fell back on the pitch, yelling in pain and shock.

In his right thigh gaped a 25-centimetre long and five-centimeter deep flesh wound.

The bone was visible.

"It's just a shock to see one's own leg open," Lienen recalled.

The referee, at the other side of the pitch could not see the wound and simply showed Siegmann a yellow card.

To this day, Siegmann calls it a 'Allerweltsfoul', or 'everyday' foul.

"Football was like war."

At that time, maybe it was. Defenders were not just tough, but sometimes even dirty and brutal.

Referees took a far more liberal approach, and defenders followed the motto: "He is not human, he is not an animal - he is number four (the number of his jersey)."

In those times, it was the result, not the fairness by which it was achieved that counted, explained Lienen.

It was war, each side without respect for the other and the health of the opposing players, he said.

Lienen wanted to change that. "For me, it was a milestone and a sign that the brutality that existed at that time in football needed to be brought to an end."

While still in hospital, Lienen decided to bring legal action against Siegmann and then-Bremen coach Otto Rehhagel. 

Lienen, who stood out on and off the field with his left political leanings and long hair, hereby implied that Rehhagel had instructed his players to foul their opponents.

But the courts saw things differently. 

Footballers should acknowledge the possibility of serious injury, the judge said.

The prosecutor argued that a boxer had no grounds to complain either if he was beaten, Lienen recalled.

"I'm glad that this ridiculously primitive view of the prosecution in Bremen at the time did not prevail in the end, and that we now have socially acceptable football, where such people and such behavior are not condoned."

Death threats against Siegmann

Although Lienen returned to the pitch after four weeks, the issue rumbled on.

The media sensationalized the issue and the fans were upset.

At the return match in Bielefeld, Rehhagel donned a bulletproof vest on the bench.

Now dubbed ''Der Schlitzer' (The Ripper), Siegmann received death threats and was placed under police protection.

Lienen regrets that now: "Norbert had become the victim. What happened to him could have happened to any central defender back then, because that was the way football was played at that time."
After more than three decades Lienen and Siegmann met again.

"Norbert Siegmann apologized in a nice letter straight after the incident back then. It was clear to me that he had not intended to injure me like this. After that intolerable foul, he changed his actions towards others," Lienen said.

The meeting between the two after more than 30 years was calm and pleasant.

"I was a little concerned at first and wanted to cancel (the meeting),” Siegmann said afterwards. “But I did go there in the end. And it was wonderful. It was healing."