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UEFA Europa League
 By Uli Hesse

Memorable April Fools' Day moments in German and Austrian football

Were Lothar Matthaus and Berti Vogts the subject of April Fools' jokes in the 1990s?

On Wednesday you might come across some outlandish news reports. Maybe Pep Guardiola will be dismissed by Bayern Munich or Barcelona star Lionel Messi will announce he is moving to rivals Real Madrid in the summer.

In the digital age, April Fools' pranks have become so widespread in football that they now form their own comedic subgenre. According to the German social media charts website, the most infectious April 1 joke in 2013 was spread by a football monthly, 11Freunde.

In mid-March 2013, Galatasaray had eliminated Schalke from the Champions League. Two weeks later, the magazine reported that striker Didier Drogba had been ruled ineligible for the Turkish champions and that UEFA would reinstate Schalke to the competition.

Perhaps it was the (doctored) image of Drogba's Twitter account that made the news credible. "Sacrement! L'Uefa sucks!," the Ivorian striker seemed to have tweeted. The prank was shared, liked or commented upon more than 10,000 times until people finally wised up to the publication date.

But sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between a seasonal joke and the truth. When the Independent reported on April 1, 2011, that "Portugal 'sells' Ronaldo to Spain in £160m deal on national debt", the hoax was obvious. But what about The Sun a year earlier, when the tabloid informed its readers that Sir Geoff Hurst had finally admitted his second goal in the 1966 World Cup final was illegal, because "it didn't cross the line?"

During a press conference at which Hurst announced he was teaming up with a betting website, he told the reporters: "I've always said that I couldn't see it because I was falling backwards but my view was perfect and all of the ball didn't cross the line, but I wasn't exactly going to say that at the time, was I?"

Later the same day, the website revealed that it was all a publicity stunt. Meanwhile, Hurst said: "Of course I scored a hat trick and it was the proudest moment of my life to do that for England and, what's more, help take home the World Cup."

Now, for a German, the story behind the prank looked suspiciously like the real April Fools' joke. After all, everyone -- save Hurst and the website, it appears -- knows that the ball indeed never crossed the line.

England won the World Cup in 1966.
England's 1966 World Cup win featured a controversial goal. Did its scorer admit it never crossed the line?

Still, when it comes to uncertainties over potential jokes, it's hard to beat the three events which shook German and Austrian football around All Fools' Day in 1999.

First, though, some important background.

In May 1997, Bayern Munich's assistant coach Klaus Augenthaler announced that he would leave the club after 22 years as player and manager to join Grazer AK, the tradition-laden Austrian club from Graz. In his first season at the helm, GAK finished third, the club's best league position in 10 years.

In September 1998, Berti Vogts resigned as Germany's national coach. After a protracted search for a successor, the German FA (DFB) finally settled on Erich Ribbeck, offering him a short-term contract until the end of Euro 2000. Ribbeck lost two of his first four games in charge, against Turkey and the USA, and never became popular with the fans.

On March 27, 1999, Austria suffered a 9-0 defeat at the hands of Spain in Seville, the team's worst result in 91 years. While Germany's qualification campaign was haphazard, Austria's was an unmitigated disaster and, two days later, national coach Herbert Prohaska resigned from his post.

Thus began a sequence of very strange news.

On March 29, the same day that Prohaska stepped down, Augenthaler held a surprise press conference. GAK were in third place and it was the day before their derby vs. Sturm Graz so journalists were stunned when the manager said he was going to resign with immediate effect. They were even more surprised when club president Peter Svetits then presented unknown Lithuanian coach Albertas Klimaviszys as the new man in charge.

Meanwhile, on March 31, the German weekly Sport Bild reported that Lothar Matthaus was a leading candidate to replace Ribbeck as Germany's national coach. The magazine drew attention to off-the-pitch events during Germany's game against Northern Ireland a few days earlier. After coming off with an injury, Matthaus hadn't sat down with the other subs but "cavorted through the coaching zone in front of the bench," like a manager.

Sport Bild then quoted Franz Beckenbauer as saying that Matthaus was "predestined" to become Germany coach. "He can read a game, he can analyse it, he can assess it," the Kaiser said. "He has everything it takes." The magazine asked Egidius Braun, the president of the DFB, for comment and he replied: "Lothar can convey the game well. God has given him the gift of speech."

On April 1, the Munich-based newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that Braun and Beckenbauer were not only racking their brains over who should coach Germany in the future, they were also lending the Austrians a helping hand in their own search for a new coach and both had the same man in mind. "The best thing for Austrian football," Braun said according to the broadsheet, "would be having Berti Vogts follow Prohaska."

Braun reportedly told Beppo Mauhart, the president of the Austrian FA, that Vogts was a "winner". He must have been convincing, because on the same day, April 1, the Austrian newspaper Kurier quoted Mauhart as saying: "I consider Vogts a competent man. His is certainly an interesting name."

Augenthaler, Matthaus, Vogts. Of those three curious tales, dear reader: which were a hoax and which were legitimate?

All three? One? Two? None?

Klaus Augenthaler was in on the joke his Austrian club played on reporters in 1999.

Amazingly, the speculations surrounding Matthaus and Vogts were the real deal, although in the end things never went past these early stages.

The DFB gave Ribbeck a chance to do well at the Euros and earn himself a new contract. As we all know, that tournament turned into a debacle, whereupon Christoph Daum became the designated new Germany manager. Meanwhile, Austria finally settled on the veteran Otto Baric as new national coach in mid-April.

Which leaves that press conference in Graz. When a journalist asked Augenthaler where he was headed, the coach said: "I'd like to use the occasion to thank the club, and especially Peter, for their understanding. They have always said that when a big European club came calling, they wouldn't put any obstacles in my way."

He explained that he had been in talks with this other club for two weeks but wasn't yet allowed to mention names, all he could say was that it was a club from France. Then GAK president Peter Svetits asked the writers if there were any questions for the new coach, Albertas Klimaviszys. The first one was: "The spelling, please?"

The mustachioed Klimaviszys, smoking a cigarette, wearing a mullet and sitting next to his wife, spelled out his last name. The next question was whether he thought Augenthaler's sudden resignation would have an adverse effect on the team ahead of the big derby.

Klimaviszys replied: "We say in Lithuania: parauta askinkau. That means: if the rooster is dead, the chicken can still lay eggs. That says it all, I guess." Then he talked about out-of-form star striker Igor Pamic, who had been signed for a record sum but still hadn't found the target. Klimaviszys said Pamic needed "a psychiatrist" and might be tried out in a new position.

The coach also remarked that he had won a very good first impression of the club. He reserved particular praise for the showers, saying that unlike in Lithuania they had hot water without having to insert a coin first.

Klimaviszys finished his first news conference as GAK's new coach by rising to his feet and singing what he called a famous Lithuanian football song. That was the moment when Augenthaler, incredibly convincing and serious up until this point, had to shield his eyes with his hand and avert his glance.

It was also the moment when the assembled journalists should have realised they were being taken for a ride. But they didn't. Two radio reporters even stepped up to the desk to record the rendition with their microphones.

Finally, Klimaviszys's wife stood up as well and sang her own traditional Lithuanian song. Now even her alleged husband and new GAK coach slipped out of character and began to laugh. But the press pack was still buying the charade.

The same went for the players. While the local radio station reported that Augenthaler had stepped down, president Svetits informed the squad about the recent developments and introduced them to their new coach, who then held his first training session which mainly consisted of somersaults.

After half an hour of this, the coach demonstrated what he called an exercise from "cosmonaut training." He told his players to grab their left ears with their right hand, their noses with their left hand, turn around and then shoot at goal. That's when the players had enough.

Muttering curses, they walked off the pitch. The man who called himself Albertas Klimaviszys looked into the camera, smiled and said: "Well, it worked a treat so far."

His real name was Hans-Peter "Hape" Kerkeling. He was a German comedian, filming this spoof for his new television show. GAK president Svetits explained the hoax to the reporters before the end of the training session, but you could tell from the looks on their faces that they still didn't grasp what was going on. Kerkeling/Klimaviszy had to assure them: "Augenthaler is staying!"

A day later, GAK won the derby away at Sturm Graz. The only goal of the game was scored by Igor Pamic. And I'm not joking.

Uli covers German football for ESPN FC and has written over 400 columns since 2002.


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