Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Paper Man

Here I was thinking the hero of the day post was done and dusted, when I realized that yesterday while doing my (well in advance) research for today, I ran upon the fellow above. His name is Matthias Sindelar, and he was born this day in Kozlov, Moravia then a part of the Autro-Hungarian Empire. His claim to fame is that he was the captain of Austria's Wunderteam. That team, for which he scored 27 goals in just 43 caps, had from the time he joined in 1926 until 1934 won or drawn 28 out of the thirty one games it had played, and was considered the first team to play "total football." He led Austria to a four place finish at the 1934 World Cup, and it was widely thought that the referee in the semi-final Austria lost to Italy made an extremely harsh decision that led to the Austrian defeat. It was while playing for this fantastic national side that he earned the nickname "The Paper Man" for his slight build, and the way he fluttered around opponents on the pitch. One of his most famous games came against the stinking Germans in 1938. And when I say the stinking Germans in 1938, I mean Hitler's stinking Germans. The Nazis did not like to lose, and they did not want to lose to a country that they had recently been "rejoined" with in the Anschluss of earlier in the year. The game was supposed to represent Austria's "coming home to the Reich," and the deal was that the game should end in a lovely scoreless draw. For about 70 minutes Sindelar and his strike partner, Karl Sesta, played like they had two, very clumsy, left feet, but after a while it became more than they could bear. First Sindelar, and then Sesta scored, and the game ended in a 2-nil Austrian win. Sindelar decided to celebrate quite lavishly in front of the Nazi big wigs attending the game. Ten months later, he was dead. There has been all sorts of stories about his demise, he was found naked on the bed with his latest (and last) girlfriend unconscious beside him, after a friend noticed he had seen Sindelar in a while, and broke down the door to his apartment. He was already dead from carbon monoxide poisoning, and the girlfriend, beyond all hope, died a few hours later. The theories about his death are thick on the ground. He was murdered for showing up the Nazis, he committed suicide because he could not face what was happening to and in his country, or it was a gangland hit tied to his huge gambling debts, or the most likely theory, it was an accident caused by a stopped up chimney flue. How he died is not really that important, it is what he did in the precious few years he had on the planet. For a few of those years, he was quite simply the most talented fellow to step onto a football pitch, and it is for that Matthias Sindelar (February 10th, 1903-January 23rd, 1939, at the age of 35), you are my (170th) hero of the day.

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