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.

Red Star Belgrade 1973-74 – the team that changed English football

IN 1978, Chelsea chairman Brian Mears, desperate to change the fortunes of his ailing club, started to court Miljan Miljanić the Yugoslav coach rated among the best in Europe.

Miljanić sat in the Stamford Bridge stands, dark glasses shielding him from the autumn sun and watched a calamitous first-half display by Chelsea against Bolton Wanderers. For a man used to rubbing shoulders with Europe’s footballing elite – he had coached Real Madrid between 1974 and 1977 – the prospect of fighting relegation at a club that was clearly in decline was not enticing. Chelsea came back to win 4-3 and Miljanić told Mears, “With spirit like that, you can get out of trouble.” Miljanić  had his escape route and within weeks, he was appointed manager of Yugoslavia’s national team. He was wrong about Chelsea, though, for they endured five years in the old Football League second division.

The fact that Miljanić was Chelsea’s target was not just a publicity stunt – it was the second time in three years that a London club had been seduced by his methods. Arsenal, when they were looking to replace Bertie Mee, had toyed with the idea of installing him as coaching supremo at Highbury. English football was not quite ready for such a bold and forward-thinking hiring, but if he had joined either Arsenal or Chelsea, he might have had the sort of lasting impact that Arsene Wenger had two decades later.

red

He made his name with Red Star Belgrade, a club that enjoyed a reputation in the cold war years of being one of the trickiest eastern European teams to play against, especially on their own turf. Red Star won the European Cup in 1991 amid the troubled region the Balkans became, but in the 1970s, under the charismatic  Miljanić, they were more influential than many people realise.

In some ways, Red Star were distant and cautious relatives of the Dutch/German Total Football axis. Given the politics of the time, they were never going to be as revered as the pseudo-hippy Dutch or the ruthlessly efficient Germans, but Yugoslavia was considered to be “user friendly” Communist – people “even” went on holiday there, stepping into the unknown with their Ambre Solaire, telling themselves it was a cut-price Italy.

In 1970-71, football pundits, including the much revered Geoffrey Green from The Times, predicted a Red Star win in the European Cup, a victory that would have made them the first eastern bloc team to lift the trophy. The team had shown some quality in beating Hungarian champions Ujpest Dozsa 4-2 on aggregate, coming back from a 2-0 defeat in Budapest, UT Arad of Romania 6-1 and Carl Zeiss Jena of East Germany 6-4 on aggregate. In the semi-final, they were paired with Greek champions Panathinaikos, who were managed by none other than Ferenc Puskas. The media expected Red Star to reach the final, especially after a Stevan Ostojic hat-trick helped them to a 4-1 first-leg win. But in the second leg, Red Star capitulated and were beaten 3-0, allowing Panathinaikos to win on away goals. Most people agreed that Red Star versus Ajax would have been a far more interesting final than the emerging Dutchmen against the Greeks.

Generally, Red Star didn’t travel well away from home, but in Yugoslavia, they won the league title four times in six years between 1967-68 and 1972-73. They also lifted the Cup three times in that period.

It was a two-legged tie with English champions Liverpool in 1973-74 that really woke people up to the technical brilliance of Yugoslavian players. The national team had always been seen as a team of “nearly men” that could challenge the more fancied nations like Germany, Italy and England. In 1968, they had reached the final of the European Championship, with England beaten 1-0 in the semi-final. The players who knocked England out, Dragan Džajić, was a Red Star hero and finished third in the 1968 European Footballer of the Year voting. Even the likes of Pele enthused about Džajić: “He is a Balkan miracle, a real wizard. I’m just sorry he’s not Brazilian, because I have never witnessed such a natural footballer.” In 2013, he was named the greatest Yugoslav player of all time.

Yugoslavia missed out on both the 1966 and 1970 World Cups, but they were in Germany in 1974 and hosted the 1976 Euros. Consistency was always their problem, but as far as raw skill and ability was concerned, Yugoslav players were among the best. Not for nothing were they nicknamed “the Brazilians of Europe”.

Džajić didn’t play in the two games with Liverpool in the autumn of 1973, but Red Star were built around the pace and trickery that he brought to the team. Miljanić’s team relied on swift counter-attacking and precision passing. It was largely Serbian, but also included Montenegrins like Nikola Jovanovic, later of Manchester United,  and Macedonians.

Miljanić was a big fan of Rinus Michels’ Ajax and the West German team of 1972. He bought into the “total” aspect of their ethos: “It is necessary that the player in possession of the ball finds himself as often as possible with a very rich choice of several solutions. This can be done only when a team’s players all take part in the attacking play and in defence.” He was also a scholar of English football, in particular the Tottenham “double” winning team of 1961. Following the 1966 World Cup, he spent quite a bit of time with Bill Nicholson, manager of Tottenham, to study the Spurs way.

Miljanić’s approach was perhaps a little more defence-minded than the Dutch and Germans, but Red Star could produce devastating football when they stepped up a gear. Liverpool were beaten twice by 2-1 and Bill Shankly and his backroom staff were devastated. Red Star had been too “smart” for Liverpool. The 4-2 aggregate defeat prompted Liverpool to reassess the way they played in Europe. What followed was a more patient, passing style that might not have always entertained, but demonstrated a more continental, “game management” style that would shape Liverpool’s football for 15 years and raise the bar for English football.

Red Star, after beating Shankly’s men, went out of the competition in the next round. But the games with Liverpool did bring Red Star’s players to the attention of other European clubs. Yugoslavia introduced a new market economy in the late 1960s and although the concept of buying and selling footballers was alien to a Communist bloc nation,  players were permitted to travel abroad when they were 28, so as the Red Star team reached their more advanced years, they were snapped up by French clubs – Ognjen Petrovic (Bastia), Kiril Dojcinovski (Troyes), Slobodan Jankovic (Lens), Stanislav Karasi (Lille) or, like Vladislav Bogicevic (New York Cosmos), Petar Baralic (Tampa Bay Rowdies) and Vojin Lazarevic (Toronto), they went further afield to North America.

Miljan Miljanić left Red Star in 1974 to take up a lucrative offer from Real Madrid. A few years earlier, he had received an offer of USD 50,000 from Brazil to prepare the great team of 1970 for the Mexico World Cup, but he elected to continue the work he had started at Red Star, where an academy had been established that yielded almost 150 players. At Real, he won La Liga in his first two seasons but after 1976-77 ended without silverware, he resigned.

History will look at Red Star’s 1991 team as the pinnacle of the club’s history, but the line-up from the early to mid-1970s taught a wily and opinionated old Scot how to reshape his team for an assault on Europe’s top prize. They still talk about that night in Liverpool in November 1973 as a catalyst for a new era for English football. From 1977 to 1984, English teams won the European Cup seven times. Prior to 1977, it had happened once. Red Star Belgrade and Miljanić clearly taught us something.

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