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.

Soccer City: Minsk – brave or foolish?

WHILE the rest of the world has placed its football kit in mothballs, switched off the electricity at grounds and watched the grass grow at their stadiums, Belarus started its 2020 season, suggesting the game was good for morale.

True, one of the things football fans have recognised is the absence of the regular weekly fix has left something of a vacuum on a Saturday and Sunday. However, the ambivalence of Belarus towards the Coronavirus is somewhat disturbing, especially if it becomes a trend.

The highlight of week two was the Minsk derby between FC Minsk and Dinamo, a game watched by a capacity crowd of 3,000 (although some foreign websites claim the ground was half full) and won 3-2 by the home side.

There was a time when Minsk, when it was part of the USSR, was something of a footballing hotbed. Dinamo were one of the best supported clubs in the Soviet Union, playing at a very notable stadium which was recognisable for its classic style and huge floodlights. It was built in 1934 but was almost destroyed during WW2, “The great patriotic war”, only to be rebuilt and extended, eventually hosting football in the 1980 Summer Olympics. The ground fell out of favour in the 1990s and was used as a market place and a concert venue. Since then, the Dinamo Stadium has undergone several renovations and has a current capacity of 22,000. Simon Inglis, in his Football Grounds of Europe book (1990), called the stadium a “flamboyant curiosity”.

Dinamo have been Belarusian champions seven times, the last occasion being 2004. The club won the Soviet league once, in 1982, with a team that played a purist style, managed by Eduard Malofeev. Dinamo beat off the challenge of Dinamo Kyiv, winning the title by a single point after winning 4-3 at Spartak Moscow in the final game. Among the players adored by the fans was leading scorer Igor Gurinovich and the bohemian midfielder Alekdandr Prokopenko, who had a unique relationship with the supporters. Dinamo were the only club from Belarus to make an impact in the Soviet league.

A handful of Dinamo players made it through to the USSR World Cup squads. Malofeev was one such player, appearing in 1966 and playing in the Soviet team that finished fourth. Others who made the squads include the excellent Sergei Aleinikov (1986), Sergei Borovsky (1982) and Andrei Zygmantovich (1990).

When Dinamo won the Soviet title, they averaged 26,000 at their home games, making them the fourth best-supported team in the league. By 1991, that figure had dropped to 11,000 and by the turn of the century, Dinamo were attracting 2,000 to their home games. They have lost their pre-eminent position in Belarus football and BATE Borisov, a club that has benefitted from developing talent on a regular basis, shrewd player trading and regular European football income, has taken over as the country’s most successful club.

Minsk FC were formed in 2006 after aquiring the licence of Smena Minsk, a student-based team that dated back to 1954. The club’s only major honour so far is the Belarusian Cup, which they won in 2013, beating Dinamo Minsk on penalties at the Torpedo Stadium in Zhodino.

FC Minsk play before small crowds, less than 1,000 at a stadium that was only completed in 2015.

There are other clubs in and around Minsk. FC Torpedo Minsk have been having a rough time recently, losing their sponsor and due to financial problems, withdrawing from the Belarusian Premier League in 2019. FC Energetik-BGU are another small club, averaging less than 700 at their tiny stadium. FC Isloch Minsk Raion, also based in Minsk, are named after the Islach River.

Like all former members of the USSR, Belarus – and its football clubs – had financial problems after the collapse of the union. At the time of the dissolution, the country was one of the world’s most industrially-developed states. After a steep economic decline, Belarus became one of the fastest-growing former Soviet Republics. The country still has a strong relationship with Russia, who account for 56% of all imports into Belarus.

Minsk has a population of around two million. It has a reputation for being a safe city, but the Mercer 2019 Quality of Living index ranked it 188th, the lowest position among European cities. At the same time, other similar studies place Minsk higher than the likes of Barcelona, Milan and London.

Will football continue in Belarus and its capital city, or is the can being kicked down the road? Belarus has had 100 cases of the Coronavirus and so far, not a single death. The country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, who dismissed the crisis as a “psychosis”, has advised people to drink vodka and work on a farm to combat the virus. “The fields heal everyone,” he insisted. As fans filed into the Minsk stadium, their temperature was checked, but some demonstrated their resilience and cojones by watching the game completely naked from the waist up.

Despite the relaxed Trump-like tone coming from the top, not everyone is so laissez-faire about the virus in Minsk. Public transport is less full than usual during the busy working hours and over-65s are being encouraged to stay indoors. On the other hand, bars, cafes and shops are still open.

Until something changes in Belarus, this former Soviet state is likely to be in the spotlight among football followers desperate for some action in their favourite pastime. As one wag suggested, “by the end of the lockdown, everyone will have their favourite Belarusian team.” The Belarusian Premier League has signed 10 new TV rights deals, including Russia, India and Israel. These are strange, worrying times indeed.

While it’s important to keep spirits up, it is hard to be so blasé as the death toll rises elsewhere. Is Belarus merely behind the curve in being heavily affected and in dealing with the virus or is a diet of optimism, vodka and fresh air really why they do not appear to be in the front line? The people of Minsk may soon find out.


Photo: PA