Two days before his eleventh birthday Richard Gaulke straddled his bicycle, the one without gears, and pedalled the fifteen miles from his hometown Monheim to Düsseldorf, where Germany were playing the Netherlands. Germany won 4-2. A Bayern Munich forward scored a hat-trick on his debut. His name was Josef Pöttinger. There were 60,000 on hand and they went wild. The date was 18 April 1926. It was Richard Gaulke's first international. He was hooked for life.

Of course he didn't know this at the time. Over the following years, and then decades, he would watch first Germany and then West Germany only sporadically, whenever he had the time and the money, which wasn't often. The money, I mean. When Richard rode a train to see the team, it was third class. Yes, back then there was a third class. But just as often he tried to hitch a ride. "I never had any money," he told a reporter many, many years later. "But it was all worth it when I got close to the greats. Of course the star players were shielded from us, but somehow I had the feeling I belonged."

Those few lines are enough to tell you that Gaulke was confident and ambitious. He was also smart, and this is almost always the winning combination. He founded an electrical service company that quickly flourished into one of the biggest businesses in Monheim. Power was literally in his hands, as his firm kept the city's electricity plant running. Eventually, he was elected the local football club's president, started a family and lived in a villa with a maid. In Monheim, they called him ‘the Boss’. But despite his modest wealth, he never took a single holiday. That's because the one thing his business career allowed him to do was filling every minute of his spare time with his one single obsession: following the national team.

Gaulke went to the World Cup in Switzerland where West Germany upset the Mighty Magyars, but he also went to places that sounded mightily exotic to his fellow countrymen in the 1950s: Portugal or Norway or Iceland. Even for a moneyed self-made man like him, this unusual hobby was slowly becoming complicated and, well, a tad expensive. Then, in 1959, as Monheim FC president, Gaulke signed a certain Paul Janes to coach the team. At the time, Janes was Germany's most-capped player (and would remain so until 1970, when Uwe Seeler overtook him). Now Gaulke began to establish connections within the German football federation (DFB). People started to notice him. People started to give him tickets. People started to invite him to games. People started to call him by his first name, even officials and players. In 1965, Gaulke's streak started. He would not miss a single West Germany game for the next thirteen years. In 1970, he travelled to the World Cup in Mexico on the same plane as the squad. He was a celebrity fan without being a celebrity.

Until very recently, I had never heard of Richard Gaulke. Now I think there is some strange kind of bond between us, although we couldn't have been much more different as people. I was born the year after his streak began, in 1966 and in Dortmund. I assume you know what that means. There was never any question which sport and which team I'd follow. My brother led the way. He was and is twelve years older than I am and of course I idolised him. He had long hair, he wore torn blue jeans, he listened to progressive rock, he went to away games with Borussia Dortmund when they were in the second division. It doesn't get any cooler than that.

There was just one very strange thing about my brother which I couldn't suss out as a kid. He hated our national team. Our national football team, I should say. For instance, he was also a big ice hockey fan and celebrated when West Germany won the bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics. It was just the footballers he couldn't stand.

In 1978, when I was 12, West Germany went to the World Cup in Argentina without the Dortmund striker Manfred Burgsmüller, who had scored an astonishing 20 goals for a nondescript team. National coach Helmut Schön said that the player, at 28, was too old. Others said Burgsmüller's support of Amnesty International had barred his way to a tournament organised by a murderous junta. Either way, my friends and I were angry that our local hero didn't get the chance to play at the World Cup. My brother, however, was delighted. He said the national team was corrupting players. Although I had no real idea what that word meant, for the first time in my life I thought my brother was wrong.

Eight months before the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Richard Gaulke opened the doors to his Monheim villa to a journalist. He proudly walked his guest around and was beaming with joy when the man with the notebook marvelled at all the souvenirs and memorabilia Gaulke had collected during his more than five decades with the national team. When the reporter asked the Boss why there were no fewer than five well-laid tables in a large basement room, Gaulke explained that coaches and players often dropped by for an evening of reminiscences and chatting. Not just former coaches and players, like Sepp Herberger and Fritz Walter, Gaulke casually dropped into the conversation, but also active ones like Jupp Derwall and Klaus Allofs.

But, Gaulke added as wistfully as a man with such a domineering personality could, things were no longer quite the same. There was something wrong with the new generation of players, he said. They were chewing gum during the national anthem. Their autographs were indecipherable, which signalled these people didn't care about their fans. Perhaps worst of all, there were too many players who were only looking out for number one. When the reporter wondered why Gaulke was getting all worked up, the Boss said, "You have to tell it like it is. Such things can ruin the game."

It's probably a good thing he didn't join the national team on 2 June 1982, the day after Franz Beckenbauer's testimonial, when West Germany holed up in a hotel in the Black Forest for their pre-World Cup preparations. The hotel was near a lake called Schluchsee, destined to go down in German football lore as "Schlucksee", Lake Swig. Five years later, goalkeeper Harald Schumacher noted in his notorious tell-all biography that some players gambled "like addicts" and that others "screwed until dawn and then came crawling to the morning training session looking like damp cloth, while still others downed whisky in the manner of binge drinkers." Even if he was exaggerating for effect, and sales, he probably told the truth when he said he called his agent Rüdiger Schmitz from the hotel and told him, "Get me out of here! This is no preparation, this is total bedlam!"

I have no idea if Gaulke knew of the Black Forest debauchery. I certainly didn't. Perhaps you could have read between the lines of the press coverage if you knew what to look for. Dieter Adler, a well-known television presenter, noted in his public diary how the players arrived at the hotel late in the evening and then almost immediately made for their rooms, all but ignoring the 500 fans who had patiently waited for the squad. (Adler wrote: "Rarely before has the contrast been so glaring between the hope to be close to your idols for once, maybe even share a word with them, and the realisation to be nothing more than staffage meant to decorate the entrance of the stars.") But there were no reports about what went on at Lake Swig until long after the tournament, when people tried to understand how and why it had all gone so horribly wrong. On the day before the first game, we still thought it would be a normal World Cup.

No, make that a much better than merely normal World Cup. In West Germany, private television had only just been legalised and the first commercial station was still two years away. There wasn't much football on television, certainly not much live football. But for the next couple of weeks, we'd be able to watch two full games and often extended highlights from another one every single day. On 16 June 1982, for instance, there would be West Germany's first match, against Algeria, at 17.15. Three hours later, we'd be treated to highlights from England versus France before it was back to live football at 21.00, with Spain taking on Honduras. In some federal states, the summer holidays had already begun, but not in the part of the country where I lived. It meant I could discuss the games the next day at school. Which, as it turned out, became an important part of the story, as indignation usually mounts through retelling.

Of course, watching football is not always great fun. The Algeria game was covered by the veteran Rudi Michel, who had cut his teeth at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. With one minute left, and Derwall's team, one of the tournament favourites, trailing 2-1, he said in grave voice that was dripping with contempt: "I have seen and broadcasted many German internationals. I have never been more disappointed."  

The next day, Thursday, was a bank holiday, so I had to wait until Friday to discuss the game with my classmates. Nobody could remember a shock defeat like that – or such an arrogant performance. It soon transpired that Derwall had sent his assistants Erich Ribbeck and Berti Vogts to watch Algeria twice. Both times, the report that came back said this was no minnow but a very dangerous side. The national coach, though, had decided to keep this information to himself. He later defended this by saying the team wouldn't have taken him seriously if he had told them to be careful against such an unknown opponent. We thought it couldn't get any worse. We were wrong.

My brother was studying at Münster University at the time and only came home for the weekends. So it wasn't until late Friday that I had a chance to ask him if he'd ever seen anything like this Algeria game. "I don't know," he replied. "I didn't bother to watch it."

Needless to say, Richard Gaulke was staying in the same hotel in Gijón as the national team, the Príncipe de Asturias. The German FA had booked the entire building for the team, its entourage and the press. While the journalists and assorted friends like the Boss had rooms on the lower floors, one to six, the players were on the upper three floors, seven to nine.

Gaulke was as shocked as anyone else by the Algeria game, maybe more so. Two hours after the game, he must have watched his friend Derwall face the German reporters in the hotel. One of them wanted to know what the national manager would have wagered on a German win before the match. In a broken voice, Derwall said, "My life."

It seems safe to assume that Gaulke, munching on his trademark cigar, was one of the people who sat in the lobby until way past midnight, talking about the most embarrassing debacle since the 1-0 defeat at the hands of East Germany eight years before. And we can also take it for granted that Gaulke woke up at four o'clock in the morning. That's because most people on the lower floors did. For the first but not the last time at this tournament, there were packs of angry German fans in front of the hotel, loudly chanting, "Derwall out!", until they were chased away by security personnel.

As bad as this was, the Germans had a reputation as slow starters. At home, the expression was "Turniermannschaft", a tournament team, meaning the side tended to improve from game to game. The next one was four days later, against Chile. It was Gaulke's 67th birthday. He was allowed to eat with the team, which – as a newspaper later said – was the best of all possible gifts for him. (The same paper referred to him as "King Richard" to indicate he was the team's pre-eminent fan.) A few hours after the meal, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, although never fully fit for the entire duration of the tournament, scored a hat-trick and West Germany won 4-1. All seemed well again.

The irony of it all was that this commanding scoreline set the stage for the spectacle that became known as the Shame of Gijón. That, and the fact that Algeria played their final group game a full day before the Germans. On the afternoon of 25 June 1982, when Derwall's men left the Príncipe de Asturias to meet Austria at El Molinón stadium, barely a mile down the road, this is what the standings looked like:

It meant West Germany simply needed a win to reach the next round on goal difference, while Austria could afford a 2-0 defeat and still go through. Nobody I knew did the maths, though. The day of the match was a Friday, and the word on everyone's lips that morning at school was: Córdoba. Four years earlier, Austria had inflicted a famous and painful defeat on West Germany in the Argentinian city. As happens so often in football, here was a glorious chance to take revenge on a team that was at this point in time still Germany's fiercest rival. When the school bell rang, we rushed home to watch Germany knock Austria out of the tournament.

Most people have forgotten that this was very much the spirit in which the game began. No, honestly. Horst Hrubesch brought the Germans ahead early and only two minutes later, Wolfgang Dremmler was one-on-one with Austria's great goalkeeper Friedl Koncilia. Although Dremmler missed, the second goal seemed only a matter of time. A dangerous Paul Breitner shot was deflected at the last moment and after barely 20 minutes, West Germany had already won six corners. Some people in the crowd, and I'm not making this up, accompanied every German pass with chants of "Olé!". Until suddenly there was … nothing.

To this day, people want to know if there was some sort of verbal agreement between the Germans and the Austrians to run down the clock and just knock the ball about for 65 minutes. In all likelihood, and despite the recollections of Austrian striker Hans Krankl, who claims that Breitner said, "We've both made it, this thing's over", the bitter truth is that there wasn't. It's bitter because any form of conspiracy would actually be a redeeming feature. If you conspire or collude, it implies that you have a sense of wrongdoing, but the single worst aspect of what came to be known as the Shame of Gijón was that no player or official seemed to understand why he should feel ashamed.

On Monday, back at school, there were two or three lads who argued you couldn't blame the Germans for refusing to attack, as they had been in the lead. But none of them was a proper football fan. These were guys who never went to a game, didn't follow a club and only watched football during big tournaments. They just didn't understand that there was more to the game, any game, than goals and results. Most of my mates were utterly appalled and that was also the reaction in Gijón. When the team arrived back at the Príncipe de Asturias, hundreds of German fans were already waiting in front of the hotel to demand an explanation. One of them had tears in his eyes as he told a reporter, "I sacrificed my holidays, spent a lot of money and drove 2,000 km – only to have to be ashamed to be German."

When some of the players stepped out onto a balcony and waved at the fans – either because they misjudged the mood or, far more probable, were as cynical as they had been on the pitch – eggs and tomatoes were thrown from the crowd. They didn't reach the balcony but pressed against the windows of the rooms where the press and Richard Gaulke were staying. At least two players responded by dropping water bombs on the fans below. As Dieter Adler noted in his diary, almost all German reporters spent the evening somewhere in town instead of the hotel – because nobody wanted to be anywhere near the players.

The Shame of Gijón was Richard Gaulke's 171st Germany game. The next morning, he was sitting in the breakfast room, smoking a cigar because he didn't feel like eating. "I'm upset," he kept saying, "I'm very upset." Later that day, a man appeared at the hotel and introduced himself as the mayor of Belmonte de Miranda, a place some 50 miles southwest of Gijón. He said his town had donated a prize for the best goal scorer of the tournament's first round and he would be honoured to present Karl-Heinz Rummenigge with the trophy. When he was told Rummenigge was having lunch and didn't want to be disturbed, the mayor sheepishly grabbed the trophy and left. 

During the afternoon, a few writers spotted Gaulke in deep conversation with the national team's chef Hans-Georg Damker. Like Gaulke, Damker came from the Rhineland and had hardly missed a game since the 1960s. The two men were good friends. "I am still upset, I can't get over this," Gaulke told Damker. The Boss then went to a restaurant called Las Delicias, a 10-minute drive from the hotel, to have dinner. He noticed a few reporters and joined their table. He repeated he was upset about the game. Then he turned blue in the face and collapsed.

It tells you a lot about Gaulke's status that immediately after calling an ambulance, the journalists phoned Professor Heinrich Hess, the national team's doctor. Hess dropped everything and hurried to the hospital. It was too late. When Hess walked through the door, he was informed that a massive heart attack had killed Germany's biggest fan.

When we played in the streets during those summer weeks in 1982, nobody wanted to be a German player. Everyone was Zico, Sócrates, Eder or Falcão. For those of us too young to clearly remember the Dutch team around Johan Cruyff, the Brazilians were easily the most exciting side we'd ever seen. They were everything the Germans were not – passionate, entertaining, skilled, enjoyable. Nine days after Richard Gaulke's death, they were knocked out of the World Cup by a man who'd just come off a ban for match-fixing. And a few hours later, a scoreless draw between England and Spain meant that West Germany had somehow qualified for the semi-finals. It was such an infuriating travesty that I seriously considered not watching the semis at all.

In the end, of course, I did. West Germany versus France became one of the great, epic World Cup dramas. But the next day at school, all everybody talked about was the Battiston incident. This time, opinion was rather divided. Football was a much more brutal game back then, maybe that's why some of my classmates argued it was an unfortunate collision rather than an assault.

The only Dortmund player in the squad was the young reserve goalkeeper Eike Immel. (He was also the player Schumacher meant when referring to compulsive gambling at Lake Swig.) Many years later, Immel recalled he couldn't believe that Schumacher "was leaning on his goal-post, chewing gum" after he'd hit Battiston, while the French players feared for their teammate's health, perhaps his life. Immel said Schumacher only realised what he'd done when his mother called him the next morning to say how awful it had looked on television. "She gave him a right bollocking," Immel said. Somebody should have done that a lot earlier to the entire team.

Three months after the World Cup, West Germany travelled to London to play England at Wembley. Rummenigge scored a brace and Derwall's side became the first non-British national team to win two games on English soil. My brother had a soft spot for English football. There were Leeds United and Derby County pennants in his room and he would sometimes tell me about teams none of my mates had ever heard of, like Huddersfield Town. The next day he asked me what I thought of a young Spurs player by the name of Gary Mabbutt who'd made his full England debut at right-back against the Germans.

"I don't know," I replied. "I didn't bother to watch the game."