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.

“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.