Nobody’s perfect: the curious case of a referee admitting a mistake

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Mention the words “Russian Linesman” and many people will immediately think back to the 1966 World Cup Final and the incident with Geoff Hurst’s second goal. But for some in Greece and Bulgaria the words “Russian Referee” conjures up a whole different image.

During the 1972-73 European Cup a strange incident took place when a Russian referee called a game over, then admitted he’d made a mistake, so the game was replayed.

These were the days when only the league champions took part in the competition. The occasion was the First Round in September 1972. Champions of Greece, Panathinaikos were up against Bulgarian side, CSKA Sofia.

The incident occurred during a penalty shootout. CSKA were 3-2 up when the Greeks missed their fourth kick. Russian referee, Valentin Lipatov then declared the Bulgarians winners despite the fact it could still end up 3-3 after five kicks.

Panathinaikos were managed by Hungarian legend, Férenc Puskás. They had just won their 11th league title and their seventh in the previous 12 years. Their 1971-72 championship was the first under their Hungarian boss.

This came a year after he’d steered them to the European Cup Final against Johan Cruyff’s Ajax team, where they were beaten 0-2 at Wembley.

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CSKA were managed by former Bulgarian footballer of the year, Manol Manolov. He’d spent nearly his whole playing career at the club, winning the league a record 12 times.

He returned to the club as manager in 1969 winning the league in 1971 and 1972. He would go on to make it a hat-trick during the season in question. When they entered the European Cup they were coming off the back of a domestic league and cup double.

The first leg in Sofia ended with the home side winning 2-1. Bozhil Kolev and Plamen Yankov scored either side of a goal for the Greeks from Juan Ramón Verón. Verón is the father of Juan Sebastián Verón.

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Verón had just moved to Europe after five successful years at Estudiantes where he’d won the Copa Libertadores three times.

Two weeks later in the Leofóros Stadium, Athens, the two teams lined up for the second leg. Verón was again on target for the Greeks. Two minutes later the second of their trio of South Americans, Araken de Melo put them ahead on aggregate when he scored from the spot.

Brazilian de Melo had started his career in Brazil before moving to Danubio in Uruguay. After a couple of years, he moved to Argentina and spent four years at Huracán. He too had recently moved to Europe and the Greek champions.

The Bulgarians needed a goal. Midway through the second half Stoil Trankov got it. Scores were then level on aggregate and the Greeks’ away goal in the first leg was cancelled out. If Sofia scored again, Panathinaikos would need two.

Despite a number of chances for both sides, neither could find the net again and the game ended 3-3 on aggregate.

A penalty shootout was called for to decide the winner.

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Roberto Gramajo and Verón were successful with their kicks for the home side with Kolev and Aspurah Nikodimov also scoring for the Bulgarians.

Nikodimov had already won four Bulgarian titles with Sofia and was in the Bulgarian squad at Mexico ’70. He went on to take part in the World Cup in West Germany in 1974 and would later return to CSKA as manager, winning a further five league titles.

Next up for Panathinaikos was the Greek legend, Mimis Domazos. The 30-year old captain of the team stepped up but Yordan Filipov saved it. Advantage Sofia.

Filipov had been a regular in the team since signing for the club back in 1965. He’d been part of four championship winning teams too.

Central defender, Boris Gaganelov was next up for Sofia. He’d been at the club for 12 years already, winning six league titles. He’d been part of the Bulgarian World Cup squads in 1966 and 1970.

He converted his kick and CSKA led 3-2 in the shootout after three kicks each.

The third South American in the Greek side, Severiano Irala, was up next. The Paraguayan had won two domestic league titles with Club Olimpia before he moved to Greece.

Filipov guessed right again and saved Irala’s penalty. But just as the next CSKA kicker was getting ready the referee blew to declare the Bulgarians as winners.

Yet if their next player missed, the Greeks could level things with their fifth kick.

Oddly enough, both teams accepted the ref’s decision and everyone trooped off the pitch and the crowd went home.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

After the game the Greeks immediately complained to UEFA. The Russian referee admitted he’d made a mistake. The only thing for it was to annul the game and call for a replay.

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The referee in question, the Moscow-born Lipatov, was fairly new to officiating in European competitions and his inexperience not only got the better of him, but possibly saved him from censure. The 40-year old didn’t receive a ban or punishment of any kind, and there was no suggestion of anything untoward in his decision-making.

This was only his second game in European competition, having taken charge of a Cup Winners’ Cup game in Belgrade a year earlier.

A year after this incident he took charge of another Cup Winners’ Cup tie and also a UEFA Cup match too, so UEFA didn’t hold it against him.

A month later the two teams returned to Athens to try again.

Within four minutes of the kick-off, CSKA had taken the lead through Petar Zhekov. Again this cancelled out the away goal Panathinaikos scored in Sofia.

The Greeks now needed to score three times to win it. But a minute into the second half saw Kolev score for the Bulgarians. They now lead 2-0 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate.

Panathinaikos never got back into it and the game was settled in normal time. Once again CSKA was declared the winner, but at least this time there were no errors from the officials.

The Bulgarians didn’t progress further than the next round as they were up against holders, Ajax and lost 1-6 on aggregate. The Dutch went on to lift their third successive European Cup trophy.

Lipatov did get to witness a legitimate Bulgarian win when he was back in Sofia in 1977 at the Georgi Asparuhov Stadium when Levski-Spartak beat Slask Wroclaw 3-0.

CSKA came in contact with Lipatov again when he was in charge of the Bulgarian Cup Final in 1978. Despite being overwhelming favourites, CSKA was beaten by Marek Dupnitsa.