Magdeburg 1974: A surprise from the east

THE year 1974 was a notable one for East German football; 1.FC Magdeburg won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup and the Deutsche Demokratische Republic (DDR) beat their decadent neighbours from across the Berlin Wall in the World Cup. Two years later, East Germany’s football team won gold at the Montreal Olympics. On the face of it, this was the start of something significant, but it wasn’t to be. The Communist party didn’t really know how to capitalise on what was seen as a talented generation and they were never as successful again.

East German club sides made limited impact on European club football in the 1950s and 1960s, although Carl Zeiss Jena reached the semi-final of the Cup-Winners’ Cup as early as 1962. Dynamo Dresden made the last eight of the European Cup in the mid-to-late 1970s and in 1972, Dynamo Berlin were semi-finalists in the Cup-Winners’ Cup. In 1974, as well as Magdeburg’s success, Lokomotive Leipzig were one round away from the UEFA Cup final, losing to Tottenham Hotspur. Although most clubs from the DDR were never involved in the battle for honours, they were, nevertheless, difficult and stubborn opponents, particularly on their own soil.

East Germany saw the Olympics as an opportunity to emphasise the country’s sovereignty and to gain recognition from the international community. Athletes were used as missionaries for the state and to give socialism some degree of personality. Sport was encouraged across the DDR and dedicated sports festivals and societies were a characteristic of everyday life.

The sports system was very successful, producing world class athletes, although rumours persisted, with some justification, that mass doping was used to gain an advantage. In 1968, East Germany were ranked fifth in the Mexico games, winning nine gold medals to West Germany’s five. Four years on, in Munich, East Germany were ranked third and won 20 golds, 23 silvers and 23 bronzes. Olympic football was also seen as a benchmark of the country’s physical strength and in 1972, they shared the bronze medal with the Soviet Union. In the group phase, they beat the West Germans by 3-2 in the Munich Olympic Stadium in front of 80,000 people. The DDR team included names like Jürgen Croy, Jürgen Sparwasser and Joachim Streich, while West Germany had a young Uli Hoeneß in their line-up. Magdeburg provided five players to the DDR Olympic football squad in 1972 and most would play a key part in the club’s golden period.

The state presided over a radical change in East German football that saw them dispose of old club names and introduce sports groups attached to industry or government institutions. Hence, clubs had names that included Chemie (chemicals), Aufbar (construction), Stahl (steelworks) and Wismut (mining), as well as the notorious secret police link in “Dynamo”.

1. FC Magdeburg was formed in 1965 following a series of practical and political moves that started with BSG Stahl Magdeburg and then BSG Motor Mitte Magdeburg before SC Aufbar Magdeburg’s football department became the club that won three Oberliga titles in the early 1970s.

Magdeburg 1973-74

PlayerPosD-O-BBirthplacePrevious clubEG caps
Ulrich SchulzeG25.12.47DarlingerodeLokomotive Leipzig1
Manfred ZapfD24.8.44StapelburgYouth system16
Helmut GaubeD22.2.46MagdeburgYouth system 
Klaus DeckerD26.4.52Salzwedel, EGYouth system3
Detlef EngeD12.4.52SchwanebeckYouth system 
Jörg OhmD14.3.44HaldenslebenChemie Leipzigu-21
Axel TyllM23.7.53MagdeburgYouth system10
Jürgen PommerenkeM22.1.53WegelebenYouth system53
Wolfgang SeguinM14.9.45MagdeburgYouth system19
Detlef RaugustM26.8.54MagdeburgYouth system3
Jürgen SparwasserM4.6.48HalberstadtYouth system49
Siegmund MewesM26.2.51MagdeburgYouth system 
Hans-Jürgen HermannA4.9.48StendalLocomotive Stendal 
Martin HoffmannA22.3.55GommernYouth system62
Wolfgang AbrahamA23.1.42OsterburgLok. Stendal 

Magdeburg’s fortunes changed when Heinz Krügel was appointed coach in 1966. When he was a player, a bad knee injury curtailed his career at the age of 29. He went into management and had roles with Hansa Rostock, Vorwärts Leipzig, Rotation Leipzig and Chemie Halle. Between 1968 and 1976, when Krügel was removed from his job by the East German FA, Magdeburg were remarkably consistent, finishing out of the top four just once.

Krügel was never really trusted by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, who tried to influence figures like football club managers and players, some of whom were used as Informelle Mitarbeiter (informal collaborators), who would spy on their team-mates. On one occasion, the Stasi bugged Bayern Munich’s dressing room when they met Magdeburg in European competition. Krügel, when presented with the tapes, refused to cooperate, an incident that made him something of a marked man.

Magdeburg won their first DDR Oberliga title in 1972 with a 100% home record. They finished three points ahead of BFC Dynamo Berlin, the pet club of State Security Minister, Erich Mielke. The title was clinched in the penultimate game, a 1-0 victory against FC Vorwärts Frankfurt/Oder thanks to a goal from young midfielder Alex Tyll. Magdeburg didn’t start the campaign well, losing two of their first three fixtures, but their success was built on two long unbeaten runs, notably eight consecutive wins that culminated with the Vorwärts decider.

In 1972-73, they relinquished their title to Dynamo Dresden, but they won the FDGB Pokal, beating Lokomotive Leipzig in the final 3-2, with Sparwasser scoring twice. Sparwasser was to enjoy a stellar season in 1973-74 and would go on to make global headlines in the summer of 1974 for the national team.

Magdeburg were caught in a four-way fight for the title, with Carl Zeiss Jena, Dynamo Dresden and Vorwärts Frankfurt in the mix. It was only in the final fortnight that top spot was secured after a 12-game unbeaten run. But it was the European Cup-Winners’ Cup that really brought Magdeburg to the attention of the football world. They became the one and only club to win a major European prize, no mean achievement given they beat AC Milan – Gianni Rivera, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger et al – on a windy and wet night in Rotterdam.

Magdeburg’s team was youthful – they were considered a “focus club” by the state, one that had preferential access to talent – and very local, almost every squad member was drawn from the region and most were products of the club’s youth system. The player who attracted most attention was the diminutive Martin Hoffmann, a speedy winger who would surely have been snapped up by some of Europe’s biggest clubs if he enjoyed freedom of movement. Sparwasser was also rated highly and he was Magdeburg’s top scorer in 1973-74. Midfielders Jürgen Pommerenke and Wolfgang Seguin would also be part of the DDR’s World Cup squad at the end of the season.

Magdeburg disposed of Dutch side NAC Breda, Czechoslavakia’s Banik Ostrava, Beroe of Bulgaria and Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon to reach the final at Feyenoord’s iconic De Kuip arena. AC Milan, who had won the cup in 1973 by beating Don Revie’s Leeds United, were very confident of adding to their roll of honour, but their mood bordered on arrogant and they were certainly complacent. Schnellinger, rather foolishly, said a defeat to Magdeburg would be a disgrace for Italian football. Ironically, he was one of the players that was singled out for criticism after the game.

Milan started the final as if they meant to stroll to victory, but Magdeburg’s speed and fitness soon started to expose the Italian defence. The first goal came three minutes from the interval, Detlev Raugust racing down the flank, crossing for Sparwasser but seeing the ball skid into the net via Milan defender Enrico Lanzi. Sixteen minutes from the end, Magdeburg secured the trophy when Axel Tyll sent over a Crossfield ball and from a tight angle, Seguin fired past Milan keeper Pierluigi Pizzaballa.

Magdeburg were clearly the better side, but nobody had expected them to beat a club considered part of European club football’s royalty. Sadly, only 6,500 people saw the game, with just 288 from Magdeburg, most of whom were drawn from East German ships moored nearby. The team donned post-match bath robes to celebrate their victory, making for a bizarre scene, but the delight of the young Magdeburg players was there for all to see.

However, the success of Magdeburg drew praise from the media and Krügel was soon besieged with interest from clubs outside East Germany. Juventus, for example, were keen to hire him but there was a caveat – he should be able to take Hoffmann to Turin. Within two years, and another league title, Krügel fell from grace, accused of failing to develop East German athletes. He was suspended from football, later turning up in a menial role at a minor club. The state had effected punishment by simply humiliating him.

East Germany had a mixed World Cup, but they won their first stage group by beating the West in Hamburg, with Sparwasser netting the solitary goal. It was a major shock for the host nation, but they had the last laugh, winning the trophy against the migh-fancied Dutch. The scorer of the DDR’s most celebrated goal would later defect just before the fall of the regime. His name was written in very indelible ink in the chronicle of German football. As for Magdeburg, their success forms an important chapter in East German sport, an often forgotten slice of important social and political history shaped by the events of history.

I took U2 and found what I was looking for – floodlights and Dynamo


WE hear a lot about the democracy of German football and its user-friendly ticket policies, but not everywhere is it cheap to watch the game in the home of the world champions. I paid no less than EUR 18 to watch a game in Regionalliga Nordost, which is below the three division main structure of Bundesliga, Bundesliga 2 and Liga 3 – effectively non-league football in Germany.

Admittedly, the game was between Berliner FC Dynamo and Wacker Nordhausen. You’ll recognise the first name listed there as Dynamo Berlin were the dominant force in East Germany before Die Mauer came down in 1989. Unfortunately, the club in its past guise was very unpopular during the old DDR years, playing in front of 8,000 people even though they were a constantly-winning team. This was largely because Dynamo had become the plaything of the Stasi (secret police) and its chief, the notorious Erich Mielke.

Mielke and his colleagues made sure that Dynamo were perennial champions of the Oberliga and between 1979 and 1988, they won the title every year. They reached the last four of the European Cup-Winners Cup in 1981-72 and the quarter-finals of the European Cup in 1979-80 and 1983-84.

It was no coincidence that just as the DDR collapsed, Dynamo’s stranglehold – allegedly boosted by sympathetic referees and favourable player transfers, ended and in 1990-91, their average gate was barely 1,000.  As Germany become one, the club changed its name to try and distance itself from the past and it ended up as Berliner FC Dynamo.

Like all of East Germany’s leading clubs – students of the game will remember “crack” clubs like Carl Zeiss Jena, Lokomotive Leipzig, Magdeburg and Dynamo Dresden – Dynamo Berlin suffered after reunification. Eastern German sides have been rare in the Bundesliga and most of these old names from the DDR are now playing at a low level. Regionalliga Nordost includes the second strings of Hertha Berlin and RB Leipzig as well as the first XIs of Lokomotive, Carl Zeiss and Energie Cottbus, who spent a brief period in the Bundesliga.

eberswalderDynamo’s home, the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark, can be found close to the Eberswalder Strasse U-Bahn (U2 line) station in trendy Prenzlauer Berg. You take a stroll up the strasse and then they hit you – the communist-era floodlights – like many Eastern Bloc stadiums, the sportpark has huge tripod-like structures that resemble something from a sci-fi film. Floodlight porn at its best.

Dynamo do not have the home of a non-league club – far from it. The stadium was opened in 1952 as East Berlin’s sporting showpiece. Friedrich-Ludwig Jahn, incidentally, was considered to the “father of German gymnastics”.

When those giant lights were switched on, nesting birds, which had buzzed and chirped their way around the lamps, were seeking refuge in the Berlin dusk. In the near distance, you could see the famous Fernsehturm, the DDR attempt at showing the west that it was a technological hub.

In contrast to the DDR days, Dynamo have something of a reputation for hooliganism – skinheads with far-right political views – and even for the game against Nordhausen, there were vans of police outside the ground. I asked if they expected any trouble, and I was told, “a bit…maybe.” I didn’t see any hint of problem at all – the Dynamo fans were in fine voice all evening, sitting along the opposite side to the main stand where, before reunification, backed onto the wall and the so-called “death strip”.

p1100045Perhaps it is the police bill (apparently, when Hamburg played there in the cup recently, the place was packed with law enforcement officers) or the rent on the stadium that drives the price of football at Dynamo up. They may be a cult club, but attendances are not especially good – I was told by a steward that the Nordhausen game might attract 2,000 – 2,500 people, but actually it was just over 600 (last season, they averaged about 1,100). In a 24,000 capacity stadium, that doesn’t go a long way, although there was plenty of room to spread out!

The game, which for some reason kicked off 20 minutes late, was entertaining on a balmy September evening. Nordhausen included in their line-up one Marco Sailer, a heavily bearded character who featured in Darmstadt’s rise to the Bundesliga. Sailer’s presence was noted by the crowd and his scurrying figure and mass of facial hair, making him even more hipster than the characters sitting in the ground, was greeted with comments whenever he touched the ball. Unfortunately for Sailer, he was injured and stretchered off after half an hour, but the home crowd gave him a good send-off.

Dynamo went ahead after 15 minutes, Kai Pröger cutting inside and drilling the ball home. In the 32nd minute, it was 2-0, as Serbian midfielder Zlatko Muhovic followed up to score after the Nordhausen defence failed to clear a low ball into the area. The best was yet to come, for in the 45th minute, Dennis Srbeny, a local lad, netted with a superb strike into the top corner of the net.

Both teams earned red cards – Tino Semmer of Nordhausen leaving the field on 66 minutes, with some Scottish fans (yes, Scots from Aberdeen, who have formed an alliance with Dynamo) giving the departing striker a chorus of “who are you…who are you”. This was soon followed by a red card for Dynamo substitute Tim Siegmeyer. Dynamo wasted countless chances in the second half and there was no more scoring. They had done all the hard work in the first 45 minutes.

So it’s not all packed stadiums and tickets that are cheap as Currywurst in Germany. That said, a visit to an iconic club in an iconic stadium, alongside some eccentric supporters, in one of Europe’s most vibrant and exciting cities is worth 18 euros of anyone’s money. Just make sure you get out of the stadium quickly, though, for as soon as the game’s over, those huge floodlights are turned off, leaving you to grope your way out of the ground.