Coin Toss

Heads or tails? When football matches were decided by a coin toss

How do you decide the winner of a football match without playing a game? How about a coin toss?

While the Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’ hopes to get the 2019-20 season wrapped up with matches being played behind closed doors in June and July, there is still a real possibility that football games will be too risky for players’ safety amid the coronavirus situation.

If that is deemed the case, the FA has stated that it will not sanction the season being voided or relegation being scraped, and has asked the Premier League to come up with a solution to decide the outcome of the campaign, based on sporting merit.

While some football leagues around the world have chosen a method of deciding final league placings on a points-per-game ratio, is there another way to decide games, without playing?

Penalty kicks often settle drawn matches, Major League Soccer also introduced a 1v1 shootout decider when it was launched in 1996, while at the World Cup in 1990, the second and third spots in England’s group were ultimately decided by a mini draw, after Netherlands and Republic of Ireland finished with identical records.

But there have been times when an even more random method of settling football matches, and big ones as well, has been used: the coin toss.

In fact, the Premier League’s runaway leaders Liverpool have themselves benefitted from the coin toss to send them into the last four of the European Cup.

Back in March 1965, Bill Shankly’s Reds took part in an epic quarter final contest with German champions Cologne. After two 0-0 stalemates, a postponement, and a 2-2 draw in a play-off game on the neutral soil of Rotterdam’s Feyenoord Stadium, the two sides could still not be separated.

Following 300 gruelling minutes of football, the tie was to be settled by the toss of referee Robert Schaut’s coin, and even that took two goes.

With Liverpool skipper Ron Yeats and his Cologne counterpart Wolfgang Overath flanking Schaut, and surrounded by a crowd of players and staff, the official flipped the coin.

Yeats got into the referee first, calling tails before it was tossed into the air. As it came down, though, it stuck in a divot in the bobbly pitch. Another flip was needed and though the German captain looked angered, the referee tossed the coin once again, and it came down tails.

Liverpool celebrated on the pitch before heading down the tunnel and towards a semi-final meeting with the eventual European champions, Internazionale.

That season’s competition had also seen other games decided by ‘heads or tails’. Anderlecht got past Bologna and Dukla Prague prevailed against Gornik Zabrze thanks to random 50/50 flips in the preliminary round.

Three years later, a similar method decided the semi-final of the 1968 European Championships.

In those days, the ‘finals’ was a four-team mini tournament, which was staged in Italy. In the opening semi-final game in Naples, the hosts were held 0-0 after extra time by the Soviet Union. So the captains were called together in the dressing rooms for a coin toss with German referee Kurt Tschenscher. The Azzurri’s Giacinto Facchetti correctly chose tails, which sent the home nation into the final, where they would beat Yugoslavia after a replay in Rome.  

While a coin toss is unlikely to be used to decide matches in the current situation, it might be fairer than points per game. What do you think? How would you like to see the season decided?

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