Antonín Panenka: Legend behind famous penalty style turns 75

Antonín Panenka

Antonín Panenka, one of the greatest names in the history of Czech football, turns 75 on Saturday. With a famous cheeky penalty kick in 1976 he created a new soccer term – “the panenka” – that is still used all around the world to this day.

Antonín Panenka's famous penalty at Euro 1976 | Photo: Czech Television

In the penalty shootout that ended the 1976 European Championship, Antonín Panenka scored the winning spot kick, securing Czechoslovakia’s only ever major trophy.

It was the manner of the kick – when he cheekily chipped it into the middle of the goal as the opposition goalkeeper dived to one side – that made the Czech a legend.

Indeed, to this day millions upon millions of football fans around the world know this technique as “a panenka”.

Antonín Panenka, who turns 75 on Saturday, says he began trying such penalties a couple of years prior to the European Championship, thinking he might try one if it came to it in Yugoslavia. But otherwise his technique was always the same, whether he did a “panenka” or not.

“My system was that I always had a long run-up, because during it I could respond to the actions of the goalkeeper, whether he jumped or risked it, and so on. But it was all about me, using my behaviour, my gesticulations, my run-up, my eyes to make the ‘keeper go where I wanted him to go. I was trying to convince him to go left or right.”

Antonín Panenka | Photo: Alexis Rosenzweig,  Radio Prague International

In the 1976 European Championship final West German goalie Sepp Maier dived to his right. He could only watch in agony as Panenka gently chipped the ball into the very middle of the net to finally decide a game that had ended 2:2 after extra time.

Forty-seven years later, the Czech responds to the suggestion that he deliberately embarrassed Maier, victim of the original “panenka”.

“The Western media said that I had made a mockery of him. Which is not true at all. It’s absolute nonsense. I don’t know anybody who’d like to ridicule somebody on the last penalty in a Euros final. I just had that kick well trained – it was the simplest way to get the goal. Western journalists said I’d made him look like a clown. That’s not true. But it is true he was angry with me for at least 30 or 35 years.”

Panenka and Maier have since made up.

Antonín Panenka and Sepp Maier | Photo: Michal Krumphanzl,  ČTK

On the eve of his 75th birthday Panenka says the most celebrated moment of his career reflects his personal philosophy of football.

“I guess the penalty entered football history. My credo was always to play for the crowd; I played for my own pleasure and also gave them something to remember, something to talk about, a reason to look forward to the next game. And that penalty was the highest point in my career, which I’m a bit conflicted about. On one hand, I’m delighted. On the other, it kind of overshadowed everything else I did in my career.”

Football stadium of Bohemians Prague 1905 | Photo: Kristýna Maková,  Radio Prague International

Antonín Panenka scored 17 goals in 59 games for Czechoslovakia. He won the Austrian league twice with Rapid Vienna but is most associated with the Prague club Bohemians, which is holding a celebration of his 75th birthday on Saturday.

Antonín Panenka | Photo: Czech Television