April 6, 2009 / 5:18 PM / 10 years ago

Henry Kissinger: Diplomat, Nobel laureate, soccer fan

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Ever the diplomat, Henry Kissinger refuses to take sides in one of the 20th century’s thorniest controversies.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speaks at the International Economic Forum of the Americas/Conference of Montreal June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Shaun Best

It was a simple. Was Geoff Hurst’s second goal, and England’s third, in the 1966 World Cup soccer final, legitimate?

Did the ball cross the line after hitting the bar in the match against West Germany at Wembley stadium? The German players naturally said no, but the Swiss referee and Russian linesman overruled them, the goal stood and England went on to win the title game 4-2. But the debate over the goal has raged ever since.

“I’ve seen replays of that a hundred times — you can argue it either way,” Kissinger said in his throaty German-accented drawl during an interview.

Kissinger, 85, was secretary of state for Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon and won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Vietnam War. He also founded a consulting firm and held academic positions.

He is also an avid soccer fan and has been recruited by the U.S. Soccer Federation to help lobby for the United States to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

Kissinger’s love of the game started in Germany where he followed his Bavarian hometown team, now called SpVgg Greuther Fuerth and played in the German Bundesliga’s second division.

“When the Nazis came in, for anybody of Jewish origin to go to any crowded place was a risk. Kids would beat you up,” he recalled. “I went anyway. There was no rational reason for it.

“(But) after ‘33, going to a soccer match was some adventure for me, I left in ‘38.”

His family fled to England and America, where he served in the U.S. Army of Occupation in Germany.

For most Germans, the 1954 World Cup victory by West Germany is an emotional watershed in the country’s history. But not for Kissinger, who became a U.S. citizen.

“You know, my experiences in Germany were not that great. You would think I am a natural fan of the German national soccer team. I follow them, I wish them well, but I don’t feel about them the way I do the (New York) Yankees.

“It was a tremendous thing for Germany,” he said. “It was during that decade that Germany became respectable again. Nobody thought the Hungarians could be beaten, they were the first foreign team to beat England on English soil (6-3 in 1953)

Kissinger, who has seen every World Cup except 2002 in Japan and South Korea, says teams reflect national character.

“Nobody would mistake a Brazilian team for a German team. The French teams are always the most elegant team in Europe,” he said. “I like the way the Portuguese play, they play like Brazilians,” he said.

He still supports Fuerth. “I don’t know why the hell I should care ... but I do,” he said, adding that he also follows the fortunes of Juventus of Turin, and, inexplicably, two teams in England, Manchester United and Arsenal.

Kissinger also let slip a perk of being secretary of state — every time he visited Europe or South America, he would get prime tickets to see the top matches.

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