“Uns Uwe” – an all-action hero from Hamburg

AT first glance, Uwe Seeler never looked like your classic footballer. Stocky and balding, 1.7 metres in height, he was deceptively good in the air and over short distances, lightning quick. He was combative, strong and was an expert of that most acrobatic of goal attempts, the bicycle kick.

Seeler was a child of Hamburg, born in November 1936, so his family would have endured the horrors of war and what followed after 1945. His father, Erwin, was passionate about football and played for Hamburg, hence his two sons, Uwe and Dieter followed in his footsteps.

Uwe made his debut for Hamburg in 1954 and in his first season was joint top scorer with 28 goals. Over the next 18 years he was, almost without fail, Hamburg’s leading scorer every season. In 1962-63, the Bundesliga’s inaugural campaign, he topped the league’s scoring list with 30 goals.

Seeler was incredibly loyal to Hamburg and rejected multiple offers to leave his beloved club. There was one especially tempting proposition, though, in 1961 when Inter Milan’s Helenio Herrera met with him and the Italian club offered a signing on fee of 250,000 Deutsche Marks and a salary of 150,000 DM per year. His rejection only served to make him more loved by the public.

Why was he so cherished by Hamburg people who called him “Uns Uwe”, which translates to “our Uwe”? Those that met him always commented on his unassuming, down-to-earth nature – to use that well-worn adage, “what you saw was what you got”. Unsurprisingly, his autogiography was called “Danke, Fussball”.

Seeler made his debut for West Germany in October 1954 just a few months after the Germans won the World Cup in Bern. He was only 18 years old. By the time the 1958 World Cup came around, he was becoming a fixture in the team and scored twice in Sweden that summer. He played in four World Cups, bowing out after the 1970 tournament in Mexico as a 33 year-old. He scored in all four of his World Cups, the last of his nine goals, the famous looping header that brought West Germany level against holders England in the quarter-final.

He never won the Jules Rimet Trophy, although he captained his country at Wembley in 1966 when England beat them 4-2 after extra time in the final. Many of his team-mates were angered by the controversial third England goal by Hurst, but after the game, despite being very visibly dejected, his comment underlined his sporting nature: “The English team was exceptional and worthy of the title.” Seeler had returned to the national side after sustaining a serious achilles tendon injury that could have ended the career of lesser players. In 1970, West Germany went out in the semi-final after the famous “match of the century” in which Italy beat Seeler and co. 4-3. The Germans, with Seeler’s heir, Gerd Müller scoring prolifically, were arguably the second best team in that memorable competition.

Seeler’s career was not laden with trophies and medals, although he was capped 72 times and scored 43 goals. He was player of the year in Germany three times (1960, 1964 and 1970) and finished in the first three in the Ballon d’Or in 1960. As Hamburg’s talismanic centre forward, he won just two major prizes, the German championship in 1960, where he scored twice as Hamburg beat Frankfurt in the title play-off, and the DFB Pokal in 1963 when his team overcame Borussia Dortmund thanks to his hat-trick. His brother, Dieter was captain of the cup winners.

After his playing career had yielded almost 500 goals in close to 600 games, Seeler had a brief spell in Ireland with Cork Celtic, but he was, inevitably, part of the football scene at Hamburg in future years. He had a short stint as president, but during his watch, the club was embroiled in a financial scandal. Seeler, predictably, took responsibility although was not implicated. He remained a popular, much-loved figure and a bizarre statue of his right foot was erected to commemorate his contribution to the club. A depiction of strength, simplicity and reliability, perhaps – the very qualities that made Uwe Seeler the football hero that he was.

Hamburg 1979 – the mighty mouse roars

HAMBURG is Germany’s second biggest city by population and one of Europe’s biggest sea ports. It is home to two major football clubs, Hamburger SV and FC St. Pauli.

Until the 1970s, HSV was an under-performing club. They had been German champions twice in the 1920s, but the Bundesliga, which was inaugurated in 1963, had been beyond them. In 1968, they reached the European Cup Winners’ Cup final, losing to AC Milan, but until 1976, when they finished runners-up in the Bundesliga, their league performances had fallen short of expectations. Some top players had lined-up for the club, notably the legendary Uwe Seeler and Willi Schulz, who had both appeared in the 1966 World Cup final for West Germany

That 1975-76 campaign pointed the way forward for the club. They finished four points behind Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga, won the DFB Pokal by beating Kaiserslautern in the final, and also reached the semi-final of the UEFA Cup, narrowly losing to Belgium’s Bruges.

The following year, they won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, overcoming holders Anderlecht in the final in Amsterdam. Hamburg were an ambitious club and wanted everyone to know. But when Liverpool and England’s Kevin Keegan signalled he was leaving the English champions to try his luck abroad, Hamburg were the first club to show an interest. Keegan had been very vocal about his intentions, almost inviting Europe’s big clubs to “come and get me”, but in truth, Hamburg would not have been on anyone’s list of likely buyers.


Manny Kaltz

Keegan moved to Germany and earned Liverpool a £ 500,000 fee. On a personal basis, he secured a lucrative deal that amounted to multiples of his Liverpool contract and his status as an international superstar meant his total earnings were around a quarter of a million pounds. Unlike some big names, Keegan knew how to manage his career and always gave 100% on the field.

Hamburg’s general manager was then Peter Krohn, an entrepreneur who was trying to elevate the club in the eyes of the football world. He latched onto the idea of trying out pink shirts in a bid to appeal to female supporters – a cliché perhaps, but nevertheless a demonstration of forward thinking.

The Hamburg side that Keegan walked into was a tight-knit group, almost a clique. There was some resentment around the arrival of the poodle-haired England striker, as well as the other main signing, the Yugoslavian defender, Ivan Buljan from Hajduk Split.

Keegan’s first season was disappointing, although he still won the European Footballer of the Year award in 1978 and the great Hamburg experiment almost ended after a year. His Bundesliga debut was not in the script, a 5-2 defeat at Duisburg, and it took a few games before Keegan netted his first league goal. But the problems went quite deep, Keegan himself felt he was not getting the ball enough and by lining-up in midfield, the club wasn’t getting the best out of their new man. Keegan knew it, the fans knew it, but the management was slow to react to the divisions in the dressing room or the fact they had an unhappy star man. The Hamburg side was mostly German as only two foreigners were allowed per team. Keegan’s relationship with the management was also rather strained and after a poor campaign, he gave the club an ultimatum – use me properly or I will have to leave. Real Madrid, apparently, were waiting in the wings.

Big man, little man

Keegan was talked back onside, largely due to the efforts of the club’s new general manager, Günter Netzer, who persuaded him that his future lay with HSV. Hamburg, meanwhile, bought some new players and hired a new coach. Horst Hrubesch arrived from Essen for £ 450,000 , a possible attempt at recreating the “big man, little man” model that had worked well for Keegan at Liverpool with John Toshack. Jimmy Hartwig, one of Germany’s first non-white players, was signed from TSV Munich 1860 and Bernd Wehmeyer arrived from Hannover. The new coach was the Yugoslav Branko Zebec, a slightly controversial figure who developed a problem with alcohol.

Felix Magath

Keegan was popular with the fans, who gave him the nickname Machtig Maus –  mighty mouse. He took his time to get on the scoresheet in his second season, despite the presence of the powerful and intimidating Hrubesch. That first goal came in a 5-0 demolition of Borussia Dortmund on November 4. Keegan was ever present in 1978-79 and, starting with his opening goal, he scored 17 goals in 23 games. He was well on the way to retaining the Ballon d’Or for 1979.

Hrubesch also needed a bedding-in period and didn’t find the back of the net for his new club until his sixth game, but finished with 13 goals. Hrubesch benefitted from the pinpoint crosses of Manfred Kaltz, an impressive full back who perfected the art of bending the ball into the area, the Banananflanken.  Hrubesch, who was known affectionately as Das Kopfball Ungehauer (the header beast), summed up the way the two players would link up: “Manni banana. I head. Goal.”

Kaiserslautern made the early running in the Bundesliga, but HSV closed the gap to one point just before Christmas with a 1-0 victory at Bayern Munich and a 3-1 success against Arminia Bielefeld, a game that saw Keegan score a hat-trick. After 17 games, the halfway stage, Kaiserslautern, Hamburg and VFB Stuttgart were separated by just two points. Bayern were way behind at this point, but had a far better second half of the season.

After the winter break, Hamburg appeared to be off the pace and earned one point from their first three games. By the start of April, a 3-0 win against Kaiserslautern seemed to destabilise the leaders, who then only won two of their last nine games. Stuttgart were also in the running but were scuppered by a 1-4 home defeat at the hands of Köln in their penultimate game. Hamburg, meanwhile, were in fine form and went 12 games unbeaten, culminating in a nervous 0-0 draw at Arminia Bielefeld that gave them the title as Stuttgart capitulated.

Hamburg were now uncatchable, three points ahead of their nearest challenger. There was one game left, however, at home to Bayern Munich, who had climbed into the top four. Bayern won 2-1, but it didn’t matter, Hamburg finished the campaign with 49 points, one more than Stuttgart.

Golden years

The 1978-79 season was the start of memorable period for HSV. In 1979-80, they reached the European Cup final, losing to Nottingham Forest and also finished runners-up in the Bundesliga. Two more titles followed in 1981-82 and 1982-83 and in 1983 they were European champions, thanks to a goal from 1979 skipper Felix Magath. Keegan, who had found the intense training regime adopted by coach Zebec too much, had one final season after the 1979 title before moving back to England and Southampton. He was by no means the only outstanding player to don the HSV shirt in that title-winning season, but he truly left a mark in Germany and paved the way for other British players to move abroad. As for Hamburg, who now find themselves in Bundesliga 2, the late 1970s and early 1980s represent a wonderful era in the club’s long history that they must surely long for today.



Photo: PA