Palotai: from Olympic Gold winner to Champions Cup Final

We all remember the final of the 1976 European Champions Cup in Glasgow, at least from the mouth of the players and coaches of the time. But a leading part in this legendary evening never gave his version. The Hungarian Károly Palotai, now 80 years old, refereed the party, although, as a player, he never reached this level of competition with his club Gyor, in western Hungary. Not far from the railway station where France Bleu met him, he kept all his memories in notebooks. Five pages are devoted to the 1976 final.
- When did you know that you can referee that final of the European Champions Cup? What was your first reaction on hearing the news?
- Inevitably, before a match of this kind, we need time for preparation, but I was, at the same time, very excited. I had already been refereeing a few international games in 1976, but for a final it was necessary to prepare even further. It was in Glasgow. A final of the European Champions Cup, this is a mission that we gladly accepted and respected. Both teams played good football. I knew better Bayern because I had led a match of the FR Germany. This is where I met Beckenbauer, who had a big personality. He tried two-three tricks during the match and I calmed him down thanks to my knowledge of German that I developed when I went there two years between 1956 and 1958. I walked into his direction and I told him he should improve his behavior. I saw how he reacted and it worked right away. I received the news about two to three weeks before the big day, when UEFA has sent a letter to the Hungarian Football Federation in Budapest. A sports journalist named István Somos gave me the info and told me that I would be the referee. I was delighted to be named, of course, especially since I had a Scotland-England to ensure in stride. I refereed many important games and, thanks to God, everything went well in that one and the other also. That is why I kept everything in writing, process, organization. I was happy that everything is in order because it does not always happen like that. It takes a bit of luck in football and refereeing.
- Thirty thousand fans Greens were in Glasgow. What did you think of this strong mobilization?
- First, I will tell you a story that happened off the field. Ten minutes before the kick-off, I walked into the locker room to check the studs of the players. Beckenbauer was very friendly and recognized me. There were no problems or hooligans, everyone encouraged responsibly their team. Fans shouting and singing merrily on either side do not bother me. Sure, but the main for me as a referee, it was mostly that players respect the rules and my decisions during this match. They accepted my judgments and my experience helped me to manage this game as it should. I did not want to discuss anything with them and distract me, especially in a game with so much at stake.
- During the exchange of pennants, you were between Larqué and Beckenbauer and probably you remembered that you were in the same position in the semi-final of the 1965 European Champions Cup with your club in Győr against Benfica of Eusebio. It was certainly a special moment for you...
- I was the captain of Győr when faced Eusebio and his incredible team. It was truly an amazing group who deserved his reputation. So yes, I obviously remember these exchanges of pennants, as a captain of my team or as a referee in international matches. For me, it was very powerful.
- Bathenay and Santini have stumbled upon the famous "square posts". Were they approved according to the regulations?
- I controlled the goals as I did before any game. It was verified as normal to see if everything was ok so that can start the game. We wrote what we saw. The choice of jerseys also posed questions, which often happens. We followed the procedure. It was absolutely natural, normal. There were things to see, like ironing a white chalk layer to a ground location, for example, but the posts were approved. Worries were really rare.
- So really no concern should be reported?
- The ground was well prepared as for any great international match. The organizers have worked well. From my perspective, there were absolutely no problems. Really none.
- The field Hampden Park was poor, the grass was a little dry?
- Yes, well, it's a bit exaggerated. It had rained, certainly, but not a flood that could lead to the cancellation of the game or hinder players; nothing extraordinary. It just needed a little more careful attention. Inevitably, it bothered the players and what was even more annoying for them is that they did not know how to react to that.
- Playing conditions seemed acceptable to you?
- The conditions were acceptable for a game of this level. I have never cared or asked any questions about the quality of the lawn. It has been maintained as it was. Everything was well planned and organized so that the match is taking place under the best auspices.
- As a player, you beat Yugoslavia of Ćurković and won Olympic gold in 1964 in Tokyo with Hungary. After Glasgow, "Curko" reproached you have opened the shooting angle for Roth and making play before the wall of St. Etienne will be grouped. Was his criticism fair?
- Interesting, especially! (Laughs) I knew anyway that he would be there since I found his name on the score sheet. Of course, the referee did not know the players he would have under his responsibility until he gets that famous paper.
- But then, what happened with this wall?
- Well, that kind of such a little confusing situation is sometimes part of the game. Maybe Ćurković is right, but perhaps also he needed to take my whistle seriously.
- So players have not been sufficiently attentive?
- No. 
- So that's why they have conceded this goal? 
- Exact. It's still annoying that players now challenge it. 
- They have not done it afterwards? 
- No, they did not. 
- So Ćurković was frustrated and that's why he spoke that way in your opinion? 
- Well, yes, I think so. 
- Your ruling was just... 
- Yes, I did not make any error. 
- Roth had waited for the whistle to shoot and the goal was valid? 
- That's it. Honestly, that time has not remained as a negative memory to me. 
- Lopez and Bathenay were at Parc des Princes on 1 September 1978 at a France-Sweden qualifier for Euro 1980 in Italy that you refereed. Tell us about it. 
- A pleasant match by the two teams that have also had bad luck because they have cashed their respective second goals in the last minutes of the game, which ended 2-2. João Havelange, then FIFA president, came to visit us before the game. Sepp Blatter was also there and I was very satisfied with the game. I spent three wonderful days in Paris. Everything was done to make us feel better there. No yellow card was given during the game, which is rare enough to be stressed. 
- Neither Lopez nor Bathenay have reminded you about the "square posts"? 
- Surprisingly, no. I immediately thought of the next match that I had to referee in Austria and then in Eindhoven - Glasgow Rangers, where the Scots won 3-2. A superb clash. (Source: France Bleu)

                                                   Karoly Palotai


- Bekescsaba (1953-1955)
- ETO Gyor (1955-1956, 1959-1967)
- Freiburg (1956-1958)
- Hungary (Olympic Games 1964)
- FIFA World Cup 1974, 1978, 1982
- UEFA Euro 1980
- Olympic Games 1972, 1976
- Champions Cup final 1976, 1981
- Cup Winners' Cup final 1979
- UEFA Cup final 1975