Legend in black

Legend in black

Anna Demchenko, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza

World football stars have attended opening of a memorial to Tofiq Bahramov in Baku in 2004. Geoff Hurst, a legendary centre forward, the only football player in history to score a hat trick in a World Cup final, unveiled the memorial. He thanked Bahramov’s family on behalf of England. FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini attended the opening ceremony.

Tofiq Bahramov became a legend for his decisive role in the FIFA World Cup Final 50 years ago. His decision allowed the UK to win the Cup.

Tofiq Bahramov was born in Baku on November 29, 1926. He son said: “Of course, he loved to play football and played since early childhood. He even tore his boots once when he got carried away by the game. Considering that his childhood was experiencing very hard times, it was clear that torn boots could reduce his mother to tears. Little Tofiq Bahramov immediately ran to a shoemaker to get the shoes fixed and prevent his mother's despair.” He started playing as a member of the Spartak Junior Club, then he switched to Neftyanik. Tofiq was the captain of the team at the ASSR Cup. Nonetheless, his brightest feature of individuality was not his football skills, but rather his deside to start arguments with referees whether there was a reason or not. Such were the vigours and independence of the young football player’s mind. It was clear from the very beginning that he would make a splendid referee.

Tofiq’s fate was decided by a matter of chance. After a serious leg injury, he could no longer play football, but he could not imagine his life without it and found a way to continue participating in the sports. In 1951, Tofiq became a referee at the USSR Cup. In 1964, he judged his first international match. He judged two legendary World Cups: the FIFA World Cup Final of 1966 (England-Germany) and the Semifinal in 1970 (Brazil-Uruguay). Bahramov became the second Soviet citizen after Nikolai Latyshev to referee at the World Cup and the first Soviet referee at the European Cup Final.

Tofiq Bahramov loved his job. In his memoirs, he wrote that each match was full of unexpected turns and even real miracles and that his work allowed him to be a magician, even if it lasted only 1 and a half hours.

Bahramov’s hour of triumph happened at the FIFA World Cup Final in 1966. The scores were 2:2 when additional time was given for the game. Hurst made a kick, but the ball bounced off the pole and landed on the goal line almost perpendicularly. The English team called it a goal, but Germans disagreed. Gottfried Dienst, a Swiss referee, was looking the other way during the goal and could not make any decisions. He stopped the game and talked with Bahramov. Tofiq saw the disputed moment and nodded to Dienst, confirming the goal. Bahramov’s son said that the linesman decided that it was a goal “by the fluctuation of the net. Back then, they were made of nylon and very sensitive.” Then “the ball went on the field and the German backs kicked off.” But the ball had been in the goal before that.

The German team was fiercely protesting the referee’s decision. Seeler and Haller tried to explain why Bahramov called it a goal, demanding the decision to be nullified. The game continued, however, the linesman reacted to the pressure from the German team calmly and with full confidence in his decision. As a result, Hurst scored another goal for England. The game ended with a score of 4:2. Despite the first doubts about fairness of the goal, Uve Seeler approached Tofiq after the match and apologized on behalf of the whole German team.

The event became a part of football history. All the three judges received Golden Whistles from Queen Elizabeth II for the historic match. Such rewards had only been given to chief referees until then. Moreover, Elizabeth II rewarded Bahramov with a copy of the Golden Goddess.

Referee Dienst thanked Tofiq for the decision and believed that the linesman saved his reputation. It is hard to overestimate the gratefulness the English team expressed for the complicated but just decision Tofiq made despite pressure from the German team.

Being a soul-sensitive man, Bahramov was worried about the situation, despite settlement of the issue. Nothing could deter his self-confidence, because he was absolutely confident in his historic decision. After 1966, he judged many matches of European cups, including the Ajax vs. Independiente match of 1972.

Tofiq lived in the atmosphere of love and admiration. When he was walking with his son in Baku, everyone could recognize the famous referee. They were often stopped for an autograph. A fan brought him a tray with a kebab on when he was swimming in the sea. Even Margaret Thatcher asked for a meeting with Bahramov during a visit to Baku.

Even in the late years of life, Bahramov worked as the head of a subdepartment at the APU named after Akhundov and Secretary General of the Azerbaijani Association of Football Federations. He died after a second heart attack on October 12, 1993. He is still famous in Azerbaijan and England. The largest stadium in Baku was named after Bahramov. Elton John performed a special song dedicated Tofiq Bahramov at a concert at the stadium in Baku in 2007. Writer Arthur Hopcraft wrote an article about the referee in his The Football Man: People and Passions in Soccer. British football fans made t-shirts dedicated to Bahramov. The t-shirts have inscriptions: “We will never forget this legendary Man in Black.”

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