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Uwe Seeler, German soccer champion, dies at 85

Uwe Seeler, one of the greatest German footballers and arguably the best striker in the world of his day, who captained West Germany to their dramatic and controversial World Cup final defeat 1966 World Cup against England, died on July 21 at his home in Norderstedt, near Hamburg. He was 85 years old.

His longtime club Hamburger SV (SportVerein or Sporting Club) announced his death, citing his family, without specifying the cause. But he had suffered from health problems in recent years, after a car accident in 2010 and a hip fracture in 2020. He had also been fitted with a pacemaker.

He played in four World Cups – held every four years – for what was then West Germany, and he scored in all four tournaments, in 1958, 1962, 1966 and 1970.

In total, “Uns Uwe” (Our Uwe), as the Germans affectionately called him, scored 43 goals in 72 games for West Germany, including 40 as team captain. For his club Hamburg, where he spent his entire nearly 20-year career, he found the net 490 times in 580 appearances, a remarkable average. At that time he was known as a centre-forward, now called a striker, the leading scorer.

Legendary Brazilian Pelé once said that Uwe Seeler (pronounced OO-vay ZAY-lir) was one of the greatest players he had ever faced. “His ball handling was perfect, his shooting precise and what really amazed me was his ability to direct the ball,” Pele told Brazilian news channel O Globo in 2004.

And this despite the fact that Mr. Seeler was only 5ft 7in tall and was often referred to by fans, again affectionately, as “Dicker” (Fatty). Even his wife, Ilka, called him jokingly. Squat and chunky he certainly was, but he made up for his build with his poise and remarkable ability to direct, getting the ball going precisely where he wanted it.

He also became a master of the overhead kick or scissors kick, often scoring with his back to goal. He was named West German Footballer of the Year three times, in 1960 (when he scored 36 goals for Hamburg), 1964 and 1970 and remains Hamburg’s all-time top scorer.

Uwe Seeler was born in Hamburg on November 5, 1936, just when Hitler was consolidating his power and was already considering annexing or invading neighboring countries. Uwe’s father was a barge worker in the Port of Hamburg who had previously played for the Hamburg football team, and his mother was a housewife.

Mr Seeler signed for Hamburg in 1953, aged 16, and earned his first international cap for West Germany against France the following year. His first appearance in a World Cup final came in Sweden in 1958, the year 17-year-old Pele burst onto the world stage as the star of the winning Brazil side. Mr Seeler scored in that opener, a 3-1 win over Argentina.

He became known, among other players and opponents such as Pelé, for his humility, his sense of fair play and his loyalty to his home club. At that time – the 1950s and 1960s – it was relatively rare for footballers to join clubs outside their home country.

Mr Seeler has received offers to leave Hamburg for Spain or Italy, always turning them down out of loyalty and his desire not to upset his family. An offer from Inter Milan in 1961 would have made him a millionaire overnight. West German broadcaster ZDF quoted Inter Milan manager Helenio Herrera at the time as saying: “I’ve never seen anyone turn down so much money.”

With Hamburg, Mr Seeler won the German league championship (now known as the Bundesliga) in 1960 and the German National Cup in 1963, although failing to lift a European trophy.

He married Ilka Buck, who played handball for Hamburg, in 1959. In addition to his wife, survivors include three daughters, Frauke, Kerstin and Helle; and seven grandchildren, one of whom, Levin Öztunali, plays for club Union Berlin in the Bundesliga.

“Uwe Seeler represents everything that characterizes a good person: down-to-earth, loyalty, zest for life, and he was always approachable” to the fans, said Jonas Boldt, board member of the football team of Hamburg, on their website.

What could have become the highlight of his career came when West Germany faced England in the World Cup final at Wembley Stadium, London on July 30, 1966, watched by nearly 97,000 people in the stadium and over 32 million viewers in the UK alone. and 400 million worldwide.

After the full 90 minutes the score was 2-2 and was therefore extended for another 30 minutes, in which England scored one of the most controversial goals of all time. A shot from England striker Geoff Hurst hit the crossbar and, with some backlash, appeared to hit the goal line. A Soviet linesman ruled that the entire ball had crossed the line, and so it was a goal.

Modern technology suggests not, and until his dying day, Mr Seeler, the team’s captain that day, insisted that not all of the ball had crossed the line. West Germany were demoralized and Hurst himself scored another goal in the dying seconds to make it 4-2. Mr Seeler had participated in the tournament despite having ruptured an Achilles tendon the previous year and having it replaced with an artificial tendon.

He then appeared at the World Cup in Mexico in 1970 when West Germany finished in third place and Pelé’s Brazil beat Italy to win the title at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. He will soon be replaced for West Germany by another stocky striker, Gerd Müller, for whom he becomes something of a mentor.

After retiring, Mr. Seeler became a representative of the German sportswear company Adidas, founded by his friend Adolf “Adi” Dassler, before starting his own sportswear company among other small businesses. He was also president of Hamburg Football Club in the 1990s and rarely missed a home game.

In 2005, he was honored with a giant bronze sculpture of his right foot outside the Hamburg club’s Volksparkstadion.

In an interview with German broadcaster ZDF last year, he said: “The best thing in the world is just to be normal. I’m boringly normal, and I like it.

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