EURO cult heroes: Jean-Marie Pfaff, 1980

Goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff looks back on Belgium's voyage to the final of the 1980 UEFA European Championship.

Jean-Marie Pfaff stays alert during the 1980 final
Jean-Marie Pfaff stays alert during the 1980 final ©Getty Images

"We were the ones who put the Belgian national team on the map," remembered goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff of the Red Devils' voyage to the final of the 1980 UEFA European Championship.

Having made his senior international debut in a EURO quarter-final defeat by neighbours the Netherlands in 1976, Pfaff and his team-mates went to the 1980 final tournament in Italy with modest expectations. "Most of us still had regular day jobs and played football too," he recalled. "When we left for Italy, we saw it as a sort of holiday. But our efforts did not suffer from that one bit."

Humble origins

"Until I got married I lived in a caravan," Pfaff said of his early days in the Flanders town of Lebbeke. "Caravan park people are fantastic. We had a happy life with my brothers and sisters [all 11 of them]. Caravan park people seek contact with others, they are very social. Cosiness, love, friendship, working together, living together, playing a game together and taking care of each other – it was one big happy family."

The death of his father Honoré, a door-to-door carpet salesman, when Jean-Marie was 11, spoiled the perfect picture but the son made a promise: he would become a good goalkeeper. He worked hard. He had a job at the post office and was employed at a weaving mill when, aged 18, he got his break at Beveren. "That was initially my hobby; I still had the regular job," he said. "Every day I had to ride my bicycle from Beveren to Sint-Niklaas, rain or shine." A 25km round trip.

Watch the best goals from 1980
Watch the best goals from 1980

Sporting chance

He married his wife Carmen in 1974 and together they ran a sports shop while he established himself as first-choice keeper at Beveren. He was soon immovable, inspiring the club to league and cup success and being named Belgium's Player of the Year in 1978.

EURO 1980 represented another step up. His side drew 1-1 with England in their opener then beat Spain 2-1 before Pfaff kept a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with hosts Italy to clinch top spot in the group – and earn a final meeting with West Germany. Belgium lost 2-1 in the Rome decider, 'Heading Monster' Horst Hrubesch getting the 88th-minute winner, but even greater achievements lay ahead for Pfaff.

Peak period

In 1982 Pfaff quit Beveren for Bayern, and while he scored an own goal in a 1-0 defeat on his debut, his spectacular saves and idiosyncratic accent would make him a fans' favourite. He lifted three Bundesliga titles with the Bavarians, also losing the 1987 European Cup final to Porto.

Pfaff is still sure of a warm welcome at Bayern
Pfaff is still sure of a warm welcome at BayernGetty Images

It was at the 1986 FIFA World Cup that Pfaff gained his place among the game's immortals. He was indomitable, ending Spanish ambitions in a last-eight penalty shoot-out before running into a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina. Belgium returned to a heroes' welcome, with 10,000 squeezing into Grote Markt in Brussels to complete the homecoming. Pfaff flew back from Mexico with a new nickname too, 'El Simpático' (Mr Nice Guy) in honour of the smile and wink he regularly flashed.

Reality star

He left Bayern in 1988, winding down his career at Lierse and Trabzonspor before hanging up his gloves aged 36. He briefly coached but quickly found a more fitting platform for his garrulous personality with his charity work and as star of De Pfaffs, a reality show that for a decade beamed images from the Pfaff villa in well-to-do Brasschaat, near Antwerp.

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