Uwe Seeler: Hamburg hero who captained West Germany in 1966 World Cup final

World Cup England 1966 – West Germany Photocall
(Image credit: PA Photos)

Shoulders slumped and head bowed, Uwe Seeler appeared disconsolate as he trudged off the Wembley turf at the end of the 1966 World Cup final.

The prolific striker’s mood was in stark contrast to the jubilation of the home nation as a marching band prepared to salute England’s contentious success.

Seeler, who has died at the age of 85, was West Germany captain for the agonising 4-2 extra-time loss in London.

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The black-and-white image of him leaving the field was later voted sport photograph of the century in his homeland due to its depiction of magnanimity in defeat.

His dejection had replaced disbelief after Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst controversially awarded England a crucial third goal when Sir Geoff Hurst’s thunderous shot on the turn crashed down off the crossbar and bounced close to the goal-line.

“None of us understood why they allowed the goal. It was a clear decision in my eyes and that’s why I was so startled about the call,” said Seeler, speaking on the 50th anniversary of the final in 2016.

Uwe Seeler, left, and England captain Bobby Moore before the 1966 World Cup final

Uwe Seeler, left, and England captain Bobby Moore before the 1966 World Cup final (/PA)

Seeler’s 43 international goals in 72 caps make him Germany’s eighth-highest goalscorer.

His Wembley appearance came just 17 months after he suffered a career-threatening ruptured Achilles which forced him to wear custom-made boots for two years.

He graced the same four World Cups as Pele, playing 21 games and registering nine goals across the 1958, 1962, 1966 and 1970 tournaments, but never won the competition.

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While he contested the validity of the second goal of Hurst’s famous hat-trick throughout his life, he remained gracious.

“Even if it was a defining moment, sport is sometimes like that. You have to absorb it and put it away,” he added.

“When Geoff or Bobby (Moore) or Jackie (Charlton) came over here for a visit, we’d all have a bit of a laugh together. They know exactly that the ball didn’t go in. They saw it themselves as well.”

Born into a footballing family on November 5, 1936, Seeler followed in the footsteps of his father, Erwin, by representing his hometown team Hamburg, playing in the same side as elder brother Dieter.

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He did so with distinction, scoring a club record 404 goals in 476 league games and spending his entire 19-year professional career in Germany’s second largest city to cement his spot as the club’s favourite son.

Diminutive in stature, Seeler’s muscular, ox-like frame earned him the unflattering nickname ‘the fat man’.

The 5ft7ins forward made his senior debut in 1953 and was superb in the air while possessing a powerful shot, a fearsome fighting spirit and – as evidenced by a memorable bicycle kick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1970-71 campaign – excellent technique.

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Alongside Dieter, who was five years his senior, he helped Hamburg become German champions in 1960, in addition to claiming a hat-trick in the German Cup final success three years later.

While he never won a Bundesliga title, he was top scorer with 30 goals in the inaugural season of the competition in 1963.

His individual performances did not go unnoticed. He was a three-time German Footballer of the Year, finished third in the 1960 Ballon d’Or, and regularly attracted interest from Europe’s top clubs.

“Inter Milan were second to none – and they had some cash. Their offer went up every day,” he told the Bundesliga YouTube channel in 2013.

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“But I made a gut decision to do something else (stick with Hamburg) – thank God I don’t have to regret that.”

His unwavering loyalty to Hamburg was rewarded with hero status.

A giant statue of his right foot was erected outside the 57,000-capacity Volksparkstadion in 2005, while he is affectionately known in the city as ‘Uns Uwe’ (Our Uwe).

He also served as club president from 1995 to 1998 and became an honorary citizen of Hamburg in 2003.

Uwe Seeler is denied by Russia goalkeeper Lev Yashin during the 1966 World Cup semi-final at Everton's Goodison Park

Uwe Seeler, right, is denied by Soviet Union goalkeeper Lev Yashin during the 1966 World Cup semi-final at Everton’s Goodison Park (PA)

At the age of 33, Seeler exacted a modicum of revenge on England at his final World Cup: Mexico 1970.

Having become the first man to score at four World Cups with a goal against Morocco in the group stage, he equalised with an instinctive backward header over England goalkeeper Peter Bonetti as Germany came from two goals down to win 3-2 after extra time in the quarter-final tie against Sir Alf Ramsey’s side.

Once again Seeler and Germany fell short, though, finishing third following a 4-3 semi-final defeat to Italy.

Having passed on Germany’s goal-scoring mantle to the great Gerd Muller – who claimed the winner against England as well as the 1970 golden boot – he called time on his international career after the tournament and hung up his club boots two years later.

Uwe Seeler, top right, with the 1966 West Germany World Cup squad

Uwe Seeler, top right, with the 1966 West Germany World Cup squad (PA Photos)

Bizarrely, six years after retirement, Seeler scored twice in a league fixture for defunct Irish club Cork Celtic in 1978 after wrongly assuming it was a charity game.

His footballing legacy lives on through his grandson, Levin Oztunali, a former Germany Under-21 midfielder born in March 1996, who spent time in Hamburg’s academy and has represented Bayer Leverkusen, Werder Bremen, Mainz and Union Berlin in the Bundesliga.

Seeler was married to wife Ilka for more than 60 years and had three daughters – Kerstin, Helle and Frauke.

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