The legend goes like this: At 14, Walter Eschweiler, a youth from Bonn, wanted to attend a prestigious match between two street teams.

The war had ended five years ago, the leisure opportunities were limited - also for the orphan Eschweiler, who grew up as a foundling first in the children's home and later with foster parents.

Just before the kick-off, young Walter broke his right foot.

Without further ado he was appointed referee for the match and did the job so conscientiously that he was approached by a strange man after the final whistle.

It was Peco Bauwens, referee, building contractor and since 1950 President of the German Football Association, who had been lured by the wild cries of the football field on a nearby construction site.

"Boy," said Bauwens to Eschweiler, "you have talent. Don't you want to be a referee?"

Instructed by the former NSDAP member and final referee at the 1936 Olympic Games, Eschweiler passed his test as a referee shortly afterwards and, at the age of just 18, headed his first game in the amateur league.

The beginning of a great career in black.

Eschweiler - tall, bolt upright and a diplomat in the Foreign Office off the pitch - was one of the best German football referees in the 1970s and 1980s.

His sometimes smug demeanor later even earned him the nickname "Diva", which is atypical for pipe men (and women).

Last Sunday Eschweiler turned 85 years old.

More than 54 years earlier, in August 1966, when Dortmund's Borussia beat Fortuna Düsseldorf, Eschweiler ("The first thing a referee has to learn: go deaf ears") made his debut in the Bundesliga.

153 games in the German elite class and more than 100 international missions should follow.

What set the Rhinelander apart from his whistling colleagues early on was his nonchalant cosmopolitanism, the result of his wages and livelihoods as an employee in the diplomatic service.

Eschweiler had already been hired by the Foreign Office in 1958, and he is said to owe the job to his work as a referee for football matches among politicians.

This task almost made him one of the first German professional judges: Because he had been a referee in the local premier league for four weeks on the sidelines of a state visit by Federal President Heinrich Lübke to Mexico, the Central Americans offered a permanent position.

Two games a week, 4,000 marks a month.

But Eschweiler flew back to Germany and soon established himself as a communicative game master with a penchant for self-presentation.

If one believes the "pipe from the Foreign Office" (


from 1976), then this interpretation of the rules has often met with approval, at least among the players.

"A referee," Eschweiler

once told

his colleagues from

11 friends

, "has to exude absolute calm even in the hustle and bustle. That is the most important thing. And humanity. As a referee, you shouldn't take yourself so seriously." 

Like that encounter with hot spur Uwe Seeler, who yelled at the referee during a game: "These politicians from Bonn, they are not only overpaid, they also look pretty bad."

Answer Eschweiler: "I even know licensed players who see pretty badly."

The situation dissolved in mutual favor.

The argument with the then Offenbach coach Otto Rehhagel during the 1975/76 season ended less amusingly, who loudly accused Eschweiler of bribery and was banned for three months.

The referee even offered the furious Rolf Rüssmann ("Referee, you stupid pig!") A second chance, only when the Schalke repeated the insult when asked, the referee threw him off: twelve weeks forced break.